Lance Weiler on Digital Distribution for Indie Films

Independent filmmaker Lance Weiler authored a piece in Filmmaker magazine titled “Navigating the Digital Divide” that describes the opportunities and trade-offs of various digital distribution channels for independent filmmakers.

Last year Knowledge@Wharton interviewed Weiler about his ideas for successfully marketing an independent feature film. (See “The Movies Meet Web 2.0: Lance Weiler on the New Economic Model for Independent Cinema“) In the Filmmaker piece, Weiler surveys the current landscape for digital distribution and reviews alternatives from Vudu, iTunes, and direct creator-to-consumer downloads.

One of the more interesting aspects of the article is Weiler’s description of the complexity that has already enveloped many of the new distribution models. In some cases the alternative channels have become as Byzantine as traditional Hollywood movie distribution. Filmmakers seeking digital distribution may be required to deal with subaggregators in order to reach digital distributors who, in turn, can place content with virtual retailers like iTunes, Amazon Unbox, and Vudu. As Weiler writes, “What can be confusing to filmmakers is that sometimes a subaggregator is needed to reach an aggregator before a title can land in a retail or rental outlet.”

Despite the many links in the chain, each provides some value to the filmmaker:

“The value of a subaggregator or even a sales agent is that they can help to guide a filmmaker through the delivery process and in some cases offer an advance to help cover costs…. Some traditional outlets require closed captioning, and all outlets will ask for trailers, behind the scenes shorts, EPKs, high-res photos and artwork.”

Perhaps most importantly, the subaggregator or aggregator may be able to provide the “errors and omissions” insurance required for access to the major distribution channels:

“One thing that is always constant is that a movie’s rights and clearances need to be in place and documented. This is where a subaggregator can assist by carrying your movie under their E&O insurance policy.”

And, as he stressed in his previous Knowledge@Wharton interview, Weiler advises independent filmmakers to retain control of any rights outside the scope of the specific distribution arrangement by, for example, “plac[ing] a clause in the contract that allows you to exploit certain digital rights in the event that the aggregator cannot.”

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