Is film distribution dead?

Distribution for independent filmmakers

I really wanted to call this week’s show “Distribution is dead” – because I suspected it had died – at least for independent filmmakers.


The stories I’ve been hearing about payouts from streaming services were alarming but incomplete.

It is difficult to figure out how much money you can realistically expect to make with your independent film. There are a lot of platforms and the payout structure can be confusing.

What I’m going to do is give you a glimpse of the distribution picture and a strategy for monetizing your film you may not have considered.

The distribution picture: a work in progress

If you self-distribute, you can upload your short or feature to Amazon for their Video Direct program.

If you make your project available for purchase or rental, you receive 50 percent of net revenue.

I see movies you can rent for 99 cents, while others might cost $5.99 to rent in HD for 30 days (Dr. Strange) or buy for $19.99. Most indie projects are on the lower end of the scale. They are also much more difficult to find on Amazon Video.

For filmmakers in the United States, if you decide to make your video free with Amazon Prime, you will receive 15 cents per hour viewed. If your movie is 90 minutes, you receive 22.5 cents per view.

It would take a LOT of views to recoup the cost of a $10,000 micro-budget movie that way. It would have to be viewed 44,444 times. That may not be realistic for most low budget movies.

My advice would be to offer your film on the rental and purchase program to start. If it costs two bucks to rent, you “only” need 5,000 views to get to $10,000. Once the movie stalls on the rental and purchase option, switch to the free-with-Prime option to milk it for some more pennies.

I don’t have good data on how many views you can expect on Amazon Video, but I’d be willing to bet many will struggle to get 1,000 views.

You’ll face a lot of challenges getting noticed on the platform with so many titles competing for attention. I do feel you’ll be better off in the science fiction genre with this program since there is less competition.

There are other options on Amazon Video such as Free with Ads and Subscriptions. I don’t have much information about those options yet.

Be aware there are technical hurdles you face on Amazon Video. They have some picky quality standards that can prove challenging. You also have to provide a closed caption file with your video – it isn’t super simple.

Harley Quinn with gun

5 Lessons Learned from my Profitable Indie Documentary—2017 Update (article on

Three years ago, filmmaker Griffin Howard released a 33-minute documentary called Sriracha.

“The goal in producing the film wasn’t to make money, but after spending $12,728 on production three years ago, the film has generated $136,813 in revenue, from 720,848 views.”

  • The project got over 230,000 views (10 cents per view) on Amazon Video from Prime members for a $23,000 profit. The Amazon Video on Demand contributed only $1,600 profit, so my strategy from before may be flawed.
  • Hulu recorded 292,000 views (7.5 cents per view) for over $15,000 profit.
  • Vimeo on Demand got over 43,000 views and over $23,000 profit.
  • This project also made money on YouTube, iTunes, DVD sales, public performance rights, licensing film clips, and other sources. Amazon, Hulu, and Vimeo were the big money makers for this film.

Sriracha is a documentary about a very popular hot sauce with millions of fans. It might be difficult to expect the same kind of profits for an indie feature film by an unknown director.

Other options

Netflix pays a one-time fee for your film and you’ll have to go through a distributor. Netflix doesn’t report how much they pay for movies, so it’s not realistic to provide a useful sample fee.

To get on iTunes, you can pay a fee to go through an aggregator or you can apply directly to iTunes.

There are other platforms for indie filmmakers. We will provide more information about distribution options in future shows and try to compile that information in one place so it’s easy to compare options. I suspect someone may beat us to the punch on that, but we’ll see.

The radical option

Finally, I want to offer another monetization option for indie filmmakers: crowdfund your movie and give it away for free.

This model takes most of the risk out. Just don’t go over-budget.


Let’s talk about a simple example: you plan to make a 90-minute science fiction feature with a small cast at a few locations. You spend a lot of time and effort to create a realistic budget of $25,000. In this budget, everyone gets paid, but not a lot.

You set a crowdfunding goal of $40,000 to cover production costs, the commission on the crowdfunding platform, and the rewards to backers. In the crowdfunding campaign, you let your backers know you’re giving the movie away for free.

If you meet your crowdfunding goal and make the movie for $25,000 or less – congratulations! You just made a profitable movie. Give the movie away for free. That free movie can help you get the word out about you and your next movie.

You could continue to give away your movies this way or you could use crowdfunding to cover your production costs and use distribution for your profits.

Maybe distribution isn’t dead.

Our feature

Some of you may have noticed, I haven’t talked about our feature project, “Planet Burlesque”, much lately. We got stalled and we’re working to get un-stalled. We are growing our team so we can move forward on this. More details soon.

If you want to stay in the loop as we make our short film and our feature, “Planet Burlesque”, you can subscribe to The Sci-Fi Maker Show on iTunes and you can “like” our Facebook page.

Stay tuned! We’re making our movie on the Internet!

Do you have a science fiction film project you’ve completed or that you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who is making a science fiction movie. If so, send me an email – – and tell me about it. I love to showcase other filmmakers on the show.

As always


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