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Why Amazon Prime Could Be The Best Platform To Release Your Independent Feature Film On

It wasn’t long ago that self-distribution was an extremely difficult avenue to pursue, and was simply a last resort for filmmakers who couldn’t secure traditional distribution… But in the last few years, that’s all changed.

For many filmmakers, self-distribution has not only become a viable option, but the single best option out there. As I outlined in this blog post last year, many traditional distributors simply don’t offer enough value to independent filmmakers, especially those working in the micro-budget realm. So more filmmakers every year are making the choice to self-distribute to retain control over the sales, marketing, and exposure of their work.

For a small fee (or in some cases for nothing at all), you can upload your movie to your choice of TVOD, SVOD, or AVOD platforms and make it immediately available to millions of people. Add to the mix a creative PR campaign and some social media ads, and an ultra-low budget movie can compete with a multi-million dollar blockbuster.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the process – just like the craft of filmmaking itself, distributing and marketing your movie is complex and requires a lot of specialized knowledge. But if you can learn the skills to make a movie, you can learn the skills to market one. You just have to be willing to take that path.

When I decided to self-distribute my feature film Shadows On The Road, I knew there would be a steep learning curve… I had never distributed a movie before, but I was willing to learn and willing to fail, and that mentality gave me the freedom to take some risks.

Throughout the process I worked with two different aggregators, ran multiple paid and organic campaigns, and released the film on half a dozen platforms – my favorite of which has been Amazon (more on that later).

For a bit of context, Shadows On The Road was released exclusively on iTunes upon launch. This was intentional, as I wanted to create an “iTunes window”, where it would not be available on any other platform for at least 2 months. This way, all initial sales would be directed to iTunes, helping the movie climb the charts faster than it would if it were also available on other VOD services.

I promoted the iTunes release through my blog, social media, newsletter and podcast, but didn’t spend any more on paid ads during this time.

This strategy worked fairly well – within 2 days of launching on iTunes we broke way into the top 100 pre-orders for all of iTunes, and stayed there for weeks. To my surprise, we were beating out some major films (at least in terms of pre-orders), and that was pretty exciting.

By the time the film was available to stream, I had already started shooting my next feature (White Crow), so I put my organic marketing efforts on hold. I thought I would sit back and see what happened over the next couple of months, and then re-assess once I was wrapped on production.

As the months passed, sales began to plateau as I was no longer actively promoting the film… So the next logical step was to experiment with paid ads.

I started by running multiple Facebook ad campaigns targeted at several different demographics. Some of these ads were purely text and image based, and other ads used videos, such as our theatrical trailer or this 15 second social media teaser.

Around this same time, I also released the film on Vimeo On Demand so it would be available for international audiences too (currently the feature is only on the US and Canadian iTunes stores).

The ads I ran promoted both the iTunes and Vimeo On Demand links, and were most effective when directing users to this very basic landing page.

As more people bought the movie, I would re-invest that revenue into more advertising on social media. So in a way, the ads were really paying for themselves. I wasn’t making gigantic profits (my margins were pretty slim), but it was working. People who didn’t know me in any way (personally or through my website) were being exposed to the movie and choosing to buy it. That was pretty cool.

Because the film was made for such a low budget, it didn’t take long before I was able to recoup costs. And at that point, my primary goal shifted. It was no longer about profit, but rather exposure.

With that in mind, I decided to release the film on several more platforms.

I had previously used Distribber to release the film on iTunes, but this time around I used FilmHub to release it on several other platforms. FilmHub is interesting in that they don’t charge you anything to distribute your film to any platform, but they take 20% of your profits. In comparison, Distribber (like most aggregators) takes none of your profits, but charges a fee (about $1500) to list your movie.

Filmhub was the natural choice to distribute to platforms where I was unlikely to make a ton of revenue, but could still get some added exposure (like TubiTV, for instance). That said, I specifically requested that they did not provide any services for delivering the film to Amazon.

Amazon is unlike most other VOD platforms in that they allow you to upload your movie directly to Prime without using an aggregator. This is something that is just not possible on iTunes, and for micro-budget filmmakers who are squeezing every last dollar, saving that $1500 is pretty amazing. Anyone can upload their movie through Prime Video Direct. And that’s exactly what I did.

It cost me exactly $0 to make the film instantly available to millions of their subscribers, who can now buy the film outright or stream it for free with their Prime membership. This means I can generate revenue from Amazon as both a TVOD and SVOD provider with the same upload.

The reality is, there is not much money in SVOD, at least not for a micro-budget indie. You get paid per minute of viewing, and the rate is quite low… But the real value for filmmakers is in the added viewership.

When I first uploaded Shadows On The Road to Prime, I assumed it would get little to no traffic until I started promoting it with paid ads. To my shock though, after checking the Amazon stats on a whim, I found an incredibly high volume of streams. It was clear that Amazon was able to do something no other platform could – Get massive amounts of people to watch the movie without requiring that I run organic or paid campaigns.

Over the past few weeks, the film has been streamed thousands of times, and has been viewed more on Amazon Prime than any other platform. Part of this is due to the fact that it is available on SVOD (and it’s easier to get someone to watch when they aren’t paying per view). But the other huge variable – or so I think – is how Amazon promotes movies to its users, which is seemingly more effective than what any of their competitors are capable of.

Take iTunes for instance – When I browse the iTunes Store looking for something to watch, I genuinely find it hard to discover anything relevant to my tastes. I’m always bombarded by the same “Top Movies”, which seem to just be shuffled around and placed into different sub categories throughout the store. Yes, you can dig really deep and find the titles you are looking for, but it takes work…

I watch a ton of foreign films, but they virtually never show up on my iTunes homepage. It just promotes the same movies to me as it does to everyone else. It’s not customized for my taste, and therefore makes it harder for me to discover movies I would really want to see.

Amazon on the other hand, seems to tailor it’s recommendations far more effectively. For better or worse, they know their users behavior; What they watch, when they watch, and how they use their platform for things outside of movies (like shopping or purchasing books). They have a tremendous amount of data on their users, and can (in theory) suggest titles to them that are actually relevant.

I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Amazon’s system/algorithm, or how it decides which films to promote to which subscribers. But I can say that whatever they are doing seems to be extremely effective. They are able to suggest titles that are far more relevant to users, and make them visible in multiple ways on their interface.

Not everyone is going to want to watch a $12,000 micro-budget road movie like Shadows On The Road. That goes without saying… But there are people out there that watch this type of content, and Amazon seems to know exactly where to find them. They of course will still highlight their flagship movies on their homepage just like any other VOD provider, but it doesn’t end there…

Above all else, Amazon seems hell bent on serving their customers. And if those customers happen to like micro-budget indies, that’s exactly what they will offer them.

A lot of thought and strategy needs to go into the release of any film – big or small. So I am by no means suggesting Amazon (and Amazon alone) is the only option for DIY filmmakers. What I am saying however, is they are definitely worth considering as a major part of your release strategy.

Turning a profit with your film is a matter of how you effectively know how to market. Amazon can’t do that for you, but they can make it easier for your movie to be found by people who would actually want to see it. And for many independent filmmakers, the #1 goal above all else is not to simply turn a profit, but also to find an audience.

For more content like this, be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

33 Comments

  • Skyler
    January 31, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    Looking back, was the decision to go with iTunes first while you worked toward other goals an integral part of the strategy or is it just the direction you happened to take? In other words, do you think the success you had on Vimeo then on Amazon linked to going with iTunes first or could you have mixed up the order and still had the success?

    Reply
  • Todd Drezner
    April 16, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    Hi Noam. Thanks for this very helpful post. I found it because I’m considering placing my recently completed documentary with FilmHub. It sounds like you had a good experience with them. Anything else to add about how they were to work with? I requested a demo from them and ended up getting it from Alan, the CEO, which seemed like some nice personal attention for a small, independent documentary maker.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks, Todd! I’ve only worked with Filmhub in a very limited capacity, but based on that experience have no complaints!

      Reply
  • sarah pirozek
    February 29, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Hey Noah, have you had any experience w Giant?

    thx sarah

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 2:15 am

      Not myself, but have heard good things!

      Reply
  • Amanda E
    January 9, 2020 at 5:47 am

    Amazing Noam. Wonderful article – you are a hero to all those who have no clue about VOD. We must pay it forward to help you!!

    The only problem I see with Amazon are the NEGATIVE REVIEWS from the losers who’ve never made a film. This is a serious problem on IMDB as well (not taking into account that IMDB has a very unfair ratings system which is another topic).

    How do you combat the negative reviews which could come from anyone: Actors who didn’t get the part, fired crew members, jealous filmmaker wannabes, etc?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:19 am

      Hi Amanda, thanks for the note! That’s an interesting question – I would consider getting the ball rolling with positive reviews first as much as you can before your film is live. Have friends, family, fans of the movie, etc. pre-write reviews and incentivize them to get those reviews out there right away, on day one of the launch. Often times, a bunch of good reviews up front will sway other reviewers one way or another, so that’s one organic way to try to combat it…

      Reply
    • Faith Granger
      April 2, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      Back in 2011 when i released my multi-award winning film DEUCE OF SPADES, my film’s ratings on IMDB went OVERNIGHT from 9.0 to 4.1 . None of the actual viewers rating had changed!! When we contacted Imdb they stated they have their “own algorithm” to weigh the film’s “real ratings” and that they were (and I quote) “not at liberty to disclose what that algorithm was”…

      It took 7 years to slowly climb back up to 7.0 – 7.2 range. All the while, the true rating should be over 8.5

      the film, when released, was an instant success so viewer posted rave reviews on Imdb, and rated very high. This resulted in Imdb thinking I was fudging my ratings by having friends and family post these flattering reviews (which was not the case).

      Currently (as of right now) the film ratings has once again been arbitrarily altered and went down to 6.7 while the details page actually shows Arithmetic mean = 8.3 Median = 9 !!!!

      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1384586/ratings?ref_=tt_ov_rt

      7 film awards, cult status, over 50 rave reviews from official magazines over 600 reviews from users and STILL Imbd lowers the rating of my film to “weigh it down” 🙂 how cute!

      I wonder if they ever have been sued over this unfair business practice.

      Luckily for me, I didn’t seek distribution and simply sold over $500K worth of DVDs on my own website, directly to my fans, keeping 100% of revenues and thus recouping my film’s costs 6 times over.

      Unluckily for me and us, the DVDs (and their sales) are fading/phasing away and I am now thinking it’s time to look into VOD. But the inability to have viewer/buyer’s info and real control (tangible proof) over sales figures makes me nervous. :/

      Noam, thanks for the post it has been helpful in educating me :).. I’m in LA we should meet up sometime and talk shop.

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        August 5, 2020 at 3:31 pm

        Appreciate you sharing your experience here! Very curious to hear about how things go on the VOD side if you decide to take that path now.

        Reply
  • Jesse Griffith
    January 2, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    Insightful article. Thanks so much for posting…. especially your recommendation about Quiver. That Distribber disappearance threw me for a loop.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:11 am

      Likewise! And thanks for the note, Jesse.

      Reply
  • Josh
    October 8, 2019 at 11:10 am

    What service did you use to get on iTunes?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 22, 2019 at 9:19 pm

      Originally Distribber – which is famously now out of business. I would recommend Quiver as an alternate, based on recommendations from other working filmmakers I know.

      Reply
  • Christopher
    July 15, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    A critical question is if a prime member can get a film for free whether the filmmaker wants that or not. I saw that in a comment above, but have never heard that before. I looked up several indie films on Amazon while I was signed in to Amazon and they were NOT available for free. If that is true thats very good news, as the demographic for our feature, In the Orchard, are people over 40, perfect for a platform like Amazon.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 1:45 am

      Sounds like it could be a great fit for you. And as I mentioned to one of the other readers, you should definitely be able to turn off the SVOD option if you choose.

      Reply
  • sarah pirozek
    June 22, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    Sorry, my first comment didn’t post : thx for your intel- my question is about iTunes… I am all about getting revenue for my film so iTunes pays the best is that way you would go with that first if you were doing this over?

    thx Sarah

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 1:32 am

      No worries! Just responded to your other post as well. For your film, I don’t think you can go wrong releasing on iTunes first. It’s definitely the gold standard in my opinion… But don’t write off Amazon or other SVOD platforms as they can be hugely beneficial too.

      Reply
  • sarah pirozek
    June 22, 2019 at 11:49 pm

    And PS when you say ” If it were this scale, I would probably still release on iTunes first, but I would likely push it a lot harder and more strategically than I did this time!”

    Where would you push a lot harder ? And how ‘more strategically’?

    Thx Sarah

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 1:31 am

      There are tons of ways to promote the film – Facebook ads, PR interviews, email campaigns, etc. And with a higher budget, all of those efforts could be ramped up. Depending on the unique needs of the project, I would try to configure a marketing plan that leverages our assets to reach the biggest possible audience using data, insights, and analytics from our social and web presence.

      Reply
  • mark schneider
    May 24, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Noam

    Thanks for the information. I do have lingering questions it seems so hard to get anyone in the indie film business and or VOD platforms to answer that are crucial questions needing direct answers in an effort for investors like me to make quality decisions.

    a. What are some of the top “revenue” Indie films streamed and exactly what are those revenue numbers generated? I cannot find anywhere and or any person in the industry to offer these answers. Even when you look for Amazon, Netflix. Hula, Itunes, etc success stories, you are never given the revenue numbers.

    IE Such and such film XXXXXX has been streaming on VOD platforms for 1.5 years and to date has generated $450K in revenues with XXXX total download streams. ( these type of examples).

    b. How can revenues be maximized on VOD’s and what is the best way to stand out from anyone else in these crowded platforms? Are there defined marketing keys for success and validated case examples.

    c. if a filmmaker spends $300k to $500k to get a film completed what are real distribution opportunities to generate rentals and or sales to recoup the investment and or makes revenues for profits?

    I really think we need the veil of truth exposed with real views and real revenue numbers instead of the guessing game for those trying to figure it out.

    Thanks Again

    M.S.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 1:15 am

      Great points, Mark. I certainly wish more filmmakers would share this type of info, as it really is so valuable when considering distribution paths.

      To answer your questions –

      a. I can only speak for my own experience and don’t have data on other films. That said, if/when I come across something relevant, I’ll be sure to share it here.

      b. This is really dependent on the film – genre, cast, time of release, etc. all play a role in the overall strategy. All things equal though, great key art, an amazing trailer, and ideally some published reviews on the VOD platform (or better yet Rotten Tomatoes) can all go a long way.

      c. Again this depends on the movie. For instance, some films with $300K – $500K are able to land big name actors, which alone could drive sales/rentals way up. Even without name talent, films vary so much in terms of quality, story, and general appeal that it is impossible to make a blanket statement.

      The challenge of selling films on all levels is that no two are alike. Each will require a different formula and configuration, so there is never a one-size-fits-all solution.

      In the future I’m aiming to do a follow up post about our film with some real numbers. Hopefully that will be helpful in some way!

      Reply
  • Ted Jones
    May 3, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Hey Noam,

    Great post. Thank you for sharing your experience. Few questions for you:

    1. I wanted to watch your film on Amazon Prime, but noticed it’s now a “rent or buy” option. Did you recently make that change? Were you able to do that yourself on the Prime Platform, or did you have to go through FilmHub?

    2. What commission does Amazon take on sales?

    3. Have you recouped your initial 12K investment?

    4. How was your experience at DWF? Were there any potential distribution companies present and did they show any interest in picking up your film?

    5. I noticed your post for DWF was dated May 23rd and your premiere was on June 15th. How far in advance did the festival let you know you were accepted, and did you have to pay for your own travel & accommodations?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 17, 2019 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks, Ted! Please see my answers below –

      1. The film should be available to stream! Are you signed into your Amazon account when you look at the movie’s page?
      2. Amazon takes 50% of the sales/rentals, but the vast majority of revenue is from streams in my case.
      3. Yes! But not only though Amazon, through several other platforms as well.
      4. DWF was a really fun festival. I’m not sure how many distributors are actually physically present at the event, but they definitely reach out to films that screen there.
      5. I believe we were notified 2 or 3 weeks before I made it public. But we already suspected we were getting in, as we were getting questions from the festival programmers.

      Reply
  • alex
    March 19, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Noam,
    just wondering why you didn’t try offering a low BUY or RENT option on Prime first and then switch to the pay per minute model they have?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 17, 2019 at 9:50 pm

      I definitely would do this in the future. This time around, it had already been up on iTunes as a Buy/Rent item for a while, so I was eager to hit the SVOD market.

      Reply
      • Julian
        June 12, 2019 at 8:47 pm

        As I understand it on Amazon the filmmaker receives 50% of the sell and rent revenue from Amazon from non-prime members but since most Amazon users are probably amazon prime members the filmmaker gets only 6 cents per hour watched when its rented or bought by prime member. Or is there a way to offer the film only with rent and buy prices without having to offer it at all with the 6 cents per hour deal ?

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          August 22, 2019 at 1:21 am

          I believe you can make it available for purchase/rent and not have it on prime as SVOD, but we released through all channels in our case.

          Reply
  • […] shares the distribution strategy for his latest feature Shadows on the Road: TVOD for two months, then SVOD and finally […]

    Reply
  • Dylan Sunshine Saliba
    February 26, 2019 at 11:39 am

    I just spent $1k on a 15 minute short and uploaded to Amazon. The trickiest part for me was the closed captions. I even mixed and mastered it in 5.1 surround sound and the captions were tougher! I figure I can get 1000 watches of it just from my network and get my money back at the very least! Hopefully pay for the next one! Thanks for sharing your experience Mr. Kroll.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 5, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      Cool to hear, Dylan! Congrats on getting it done, and best of luck.

      Reply
  • Tom Huang
    February 24, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Hi Noam! Thanks so much for this incredibly helpful info from a fellow micro-budget filmmaker. Wondering if you might share a couple thoughts:
    1) now that you’ve gone through things with “Shadows,” if you were to do it again, would you start your VOD campaign exclusively on iTunes again, or would maybe do your exclusive window on Amazon instead? I’m trying to decide that right now for my micro-budget feature, “Find Me.”
    2) I know you’re planning on sharing your Facebook ad experiences later, but was wondering if you had any thoughts as to how much to budget for Facebook ads for a micro-budget. I just can’t figure out how much would be the minimum to make an impact without losing your margins. And how much to spend on just a test run of ads to see how effective your targeting is? Any thoughts on that would really help.
    And big congrats on the success of your film! Excited to see it…

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 5, 2019 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Tom, great questions. To answer them –

      1. I would still release it the same way, since I am not making much $$ from Amazon. For me, it was important to recoup costs first, and then release on Amazon to gain more exposure. However, for a different film it may make more sense to release on Amazon right off the bat.

      2. Hard to say an exact amount, but I will say that you need to budget for some “trial and error” campaigns. I spent about $500 – $1000 before I started seeing any solid results. It takes some time to A/B test your campaigns and figure out what works and what doesn’t…

      Reply
  • Danny Villanueva
    February 19, 2019 at 10:52 pm

    Next time around, what would you do differently? Would you still use the same window strategy with your initial launch on ITunes for the 2 months?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 5, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      It really depends on the specific project… If it were this scale, I would probably still release on iTunes first, but I would likely push it a lot harder and more strategically than I did this time!

      Reply

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