Securing Distribution with Netflix
Many filmmakers want to reach Netflix's 16 million subscribers, but submission guidelines and criteria for films without third-party distributors aren't quite clear yet.January 12th, 2011
By Michelle L. Martin and Katie O'Connell
If you want tons of exposure for your film, Netflix—the world’s leading internet subscription service for movies and television—is the place to be. Netflix reaches over 16 million members in the United States and Canada. About a year ago they added 300 on-demand streaming indie films to their service. Getting your film distributed by Netflix, however, can be difficult. Even with a well-thought-out marketing plan and as much dedication and passion as you put into the making of your film, Netflix might not pick it up, and the company has yet to announce more specific requirements for independent film submissions.
Steve Swasey, vice president of Netflix corporate communications, says that for independents to get picked up by his company for distribution, they need a mixture of some or all of the following: queue demand, critical appeal, sizeable audience appeal, buzz, and film festival premieres. He says these are in no specific order and declines to give a specific number of requests needed for the Netflix queue. “If your film was profitable and gained plenty of exposure, the film's audience should be there to help support your film on Netflix,” Swasey says. “If your film got folks in their seats at film festivals and you spent time on marketing and building and audience then your chances are slightly higher.”
Swasey agrees that presenting a film to Netflix is akin to presenting a business plan to investors—you need to do your homework and deliver a great package in order to get considered for a Netflix run. You can always consult the company’s guidelines for more information on submissions.
According to the guidelines, they prefer to purchase films from a third-party distributor. If you find a distributor that already has a good relationship with Netflix, that will likely improve your chances. If you aren’t able to find a distributor, or prefer to DIY, they do accept submissions directly from filmmakers, but you must meet their criteria, and take Swasey’s suggestions into mind, before you send it in.
Whether you’re considering submitting to Netflix through a distributor or submitting yourself, marketing and buzz are as important as a script and camera equipment. Anthony Mora, of Anthony Mora Communications Inc., says if you’re hoping to eventually get distribution for a film, producers must develop a public relations strategy before the first day of shooting. “Too many [people] produce a film with no plan in place to market it. If they can afford a publicist, it is money well spent,” says Mora.
Mora recommends creating a basic press kit, both online and in paper form, and launching an online and traditional public relations campaign. Make sure to factor these costs into your overall budget. In other words, you can have the Picasso of films in the can ready to go, but according to Mora, if you can’t spread the word and create buzz, no one will know about it.
As Netflix offers no precise numbers in terms of audience size or queue requests needed for a green light, there is still uncertainty as to what will definitely get you noticed by Netflix. In some situations, they may pursue your film themselves. Randy Mack, producer of Burning Annie, says that his film, released in 2003, got noticed by Netflix while they were still in their festival run. Netflix went so far as to create a web page for the film. “I still have no idea how we got on their radar or why they were so sure we were going to get distribution,” Mack says. Burning Annie is currently available for distribution on Netflix, but isn’t available for streaming. “Our distributor says Netflix didn’t request that and they don’t know why,” says Mack. “This seems a little weird to me, since Netflix is making streaming the forefront of their service.”
Netflix gives filmmakers an opportunity to connect with a huge audience, but the relationship between Netflix and independent filmmakers is still evolving. Regardless if you’re trying to get on the Netflix service or not, marketing your film, creating buzz, and finding an audience will prove useful with or without Netflix, and might even help to secure distribution for your film through another company.
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