Monday, October 26, 2015


I do a lot of public service announcements (PSAs.)  I love making them.  I usually get to be creative and the organizations are all non-profits that are championing a good cause.  I get to help them and that's just good for the soul.  Recently I've been doing a lot of stop motion animation.  Below is a PSA I made for the Asheville Humane Society for a fundraising event they're having.

I've been doing PSAs for Homeward Bound for years now and soon I'll be releasing their 3rd PSA. I'm very excited to share this one that focuses on veteran homelessness.  I got to work with Greg Hudgins as Cinematographer.  He was so great to work with and the footage looks amazing!  Brian Alexander was invaluable on set, as always.  Our actors were all top notch, but I have to give special thanks to our lead Allen T. Law who not only turned in brilliant performances, but he did them in freezing rain and through some pretty adverse conditions.
We couldn't afford to shoot at the airport.  It was $3000 just to have the insurance we would need for 1 hour! So we used a blue screen in my living room coupled with some stock footage.
Brian and I got to play doctors!  FYI: Stethoscopes are fun to play with and the human body makes a bunch of strange noises.
The war scene shots were the most complex and expensive.  I didn't keep the gas mask shot in the PSA because it didn't work in end.  It was hard to let it go because it took so much to make it happen, but that's the nature of storytelling through film.  If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.
We shot during a hurricane.  Well we weren't technically in the middle of the hurricane, we were just in the middle of torrential downpour from it.  It made for miserable shooting conditions, but great footage!

Monday, June 01, 2015

How to Distribute an Independent Film in 8 Steps

Self-distribution used to be a sad term for people who made movies so bad no one wanted to pay money to see them.  Today it’s not shunned the way it used to be, in fact there’s great potential for the artist making the movie to cut out the middle man and go straight to audience members.  Everyone wins right?  Well sort of.  Most artists make terrible businessmen and vice versa.  There’s a ton of media available on a ton of different platforms, how are people supposed to find your little film among the fray?  If you’re going to self-distribute, you the artist are now responsible for getting your film to audience members.  Most filmmakers study shot composition and acting.  We’re storytellers not story sellers.  So how does it work?  I don’t know yet.  This is my first foray into being a story seller, but here’s a candid break down of what I’m doing with my first feature film, My Toxic Backyard

Click the Links to go more in depth.

Feature films fees average about $50 per entry.  Then if you make it in, you want to be able to attend and network.  The costs can add up quickly.  Did you remember to budget for it?

You have to spend money to make money right? 

Having a theatrical release seems really lofty, but it’s totally doable.

Because I had a documentary film, it made sense to broadcast it over the air for free on TV.  This might not make sense for most projects, but I’ll tell you why I did it.

With multiple ways for people to view your movie, you can make it available only one way at a time and maximize your revenue and announcement process.

This used to be the only way to go, but now with alternative distribution you have choices to make.  Traditional distribution has both advantages and disadvantages.

What do you need to have together to get your movie ready for distribution?  How long will take?  I went with Createspace.  I'll tell you why I did and what I learned through out the process.

I keep talking about this film My Toxic Backyard that I am in the process of selling.  Check out the actual film and see how it looks on Amazon and in my official store set up through Createspace.

Everything you read here is just my opinion and my personal experiences going on this crazy roller coaster ride.  If you're not a filmmaker, I hope you gained a little insight into what it's like as an independent artist trying to make it in the world.  If you are a filmmaker, hopefully you'll have a little more knowledge after following my film's journey and maybe it'll save you a little frustration with your own work.


My Toxic Backyard for Sale

My Toxic Backyard is available for sale on the webpage and at Amazon.  

You can buy DVDs directly on the webpage. Click "purchase" and it will take you to the official store here:  If you'd rather go through Amazon here's a link for DVDs: You can get free shipping with orders over $35.  

If you haven't read about how I messed up my first project with Createspace you can go back and see why there's a separate page and project that I manage for VOD (Video on Demand.)  That link is here:

UPDATE: After about 14 weeks, the VOD option is now live on Amazon.  I was bringing a retired project back out of retirement and was told it should take about 2 weeks.  I think this long wait was a fluke.  The staff was very helpful every time I reminded them that I was still waiting.  My main takeaway is, make sure your project is live and available on Amazon well before you want to announce it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Self-Distribution: How to Navigate CreateSpace

I chose Createspace / Amazon / IMDb / Withoutabox (it’s all owned by the same umbrella company, but you will deal with each individually.)  Create Space is the place I’m selling everything through.  I picked it because Amazon is a large platform, it doesn’t cost anything up front and still has some flexibility in how I want to release.

Let me start by saying Create Space had me pulling my hair out on more than one occasion with timely, yet vague, responses from their staff.  They will not hold your hand through the process of getting all your work into their system and it’s a pain!  They give you all the information you need to do it, but it’s not easy to follow and the information you find online from others is probably outdated.  I’m going to write up a step by step process for 2015, for all those filmmakers out there feeling the frustration I felt.

What I Learned about Createspace:

1. You need an unencrypted disc image file (.iso) you can burn this with toast on a mac, which is what I did.  You might also be able to burn one on a PC with Windows Disc Image Burner.  I can't speak to the PC way of burning this since I didn't go that route.

2. Your iso file must have 2 folders and only 2 folders on it and they must be "VIDEO_TS" and "AUDIO_TS." Nothing more.  If you're like me, you might have a disc that only has the video folder.  If that's the case, you must create an empty audio folder before you burn the iso.  Createspace will reject your file if it isn't done exactly this way.

3. When your submission gets rejected, the Createspace staff won't tell you exactly why.  They'll give you a standard rejection message basically saying something didn't meet their standards.  You just have to try to figure out what specific guideline you failed to follow.  They will reset your submission status fairly quickly so you can try again.  I think I submitted iso files 3 times before they finally approved my last one.

4. I accidentally started a VOD only project and now there are 2 My Toxic Backyard pages on Amazon...forever.  Unfortunately someone bought a copy before I had the file deleted (even though on my dashboard it was listed as still pending approval and I couldn't delete it myself, plus the purchase didn't show up in my royalties so I had no way of knowing that someone purchased it.) After many messages back and forth trying to understand what happened, Createspace informs me now that they can never get rid of this second page on Amazon.  So make sure if you want to give people the option of purchasing a DVD that you are doing a DVD project when you start!  You can add a VOD option all in the same project later on or at the same time.

5. Expect to wait 4 to 6 weeks for your files to be approved.  You want to start this process well in advance of your release!  Once approved, you will still have to enable it for sale, which will take at least an additional 30 days for VOD.  You must order a test DVD (about $7) and check it before they will let you sell it.  You can't skip this step.  When I enabled my DVD for sale, it was available within a day.  Trying to enable the VOD in the same project, has proven to be taking much longer.  At the time of posting this, I'm still waiting.  They won't tell you when your project is up for sale either, you just have to keep checking it. (Be sure to check on Amazon, don't trust your createspace dashboard, mine said "pending" when it was actually "available.")

6. You can set the price for your DVD sales, but you can't set the price for you VOD download and rental.  You only get to suggest VOD pricing.

7. You also have the option to make a Createspace store front that you can have directly on your website and you'll make more royalties from it, but it's separate from Amazon, so anyone buying from your store will have to enter their shipping and credit card information to make the purchase and they don't have an option to get free shipping.  You can offer coupon codes for your store to sweeten the deal for your customers, but the coupon codes don't work on Amazon.

8. The price you set for your DVD will be the same on Amazon and in your Createspace store front.  You can't make one less than the other. So keep that in mind when setting your price.

9. Amazon takes a huge cut.  They do all the order fulfillment so they are taking a lot of the burden off your hands.  Just don't expect to get rich quick unless you sell lots and lots of copies.

10. The money you earn from sales (royalties) gets paid out either once a month or once every 60 days, depending on the type of media.  For example for VOD if someone rented your movie in February, you would not get the royalties for that until the end of April.  You also have to meet a threshold before they will give you any money.  You must earn $10 or more for direct deposit and $100 or more before they will issue you a check.  So if only one person rented your movie in February and you only earned $1, you still don't get paid at all.  You need at least 10 rentals or some other combination of purchases that gets you up to $10, if you have direct deposit.

11.  You will see royalties reported for DVD sales right away.  So if your friend says, I bought a DVD from you! You can look on your Createspace dashboard and there it is.  VOD sales are not reported in real time.  You will see those sales 30 days after the end of the month the purchase was made.  So if someone rented your movie in March, it would appear in the sales report at the end of April. 

12. Closed Captioning.  Remember earlier how I was doing closed captioning for broadcast, well I also needed it on Amazon.  The process for submitting your closed captioning file is a little strange given the rest of the process.  You don't upload it anywhere from your account.  You have to email your .scc file to and you have to make sure you name the file properly so they know which project it goes to.  If you have questions about it, you can also email the same address and ask them.  Again, they won't tell you if captions are required or not.  You have to figure that out.

Hope that helps clear a few things up!  Leave a comment if you have questions or want more info.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Traditional distribution

This used to be the only way to go, but now with alternative distribution you have choices to make.  Traditional distribution has both advantages and disadvantages and a lot of how you choose to proceed will depend on the kind of deal you’re offered.  Going with traditional distribution may not be the best way to get your movie seen and sold...

But it never hurts to try.  The advantage with traditional distribution is that established distribution companies have experience and will market your film and get it seen places that you might not have thought of.  The downside is they take a huge cut out of the profits to do this and many times the filmmaker hardly sees a dime.  Another downside is that there are many small distribution houses that will take your film and sometimes your money and do nothing with it.  You have to do your research and be really careful who you trust.  One good rule of thumb is don’t give them any money up front.  Look at their library of other work and see if your film is a good fit there.  And ask what their marketing strategy is for your film and how they plan to sell it and reach audiences.

You might be able to use multiple distributors for different markets.  There’s domestic (US) and foreign sales and you might strike one deal with one distributor and have a different deal for a different region with another. You can find distributors online through web searches.  The search method I've used is to find a film similar to mine, see who the distributor is and look up the contact info and just cold call.  You'll stand a better chance of getting through to someone if you have a sales agent.  They can be expensive though and your film will probably be one of many in their roster, but they have connections that you don't.

If you can't afford a sales agent and want to have a better chance of making a connection with a few, well researched distributors you might consider a trip to a film market.  The Cannes Film Market (Le Marché du film) is the largest market in the world and The American Film Market (AFM) is the largest in America.  You'll want to set up multiple meetings well in advance and do lots of prep work on who you want to meet, your pitch and your business card.  Attending a market is an expensive endeavor and you definitely want to do your homework ahead of time.

For My Toxic Backyard, I’ve been approached by a few acquisitions people.  These are the people that look for new films to add to their company’s inventory.  You’ll find them at film festivals and film markets and when you win awards, they’ll start to find you.  I’ve sent screeners to them, and I even followed up to see if they’d had a chance to see my film but it never went anywhere. 

Being a documentary with educational value, my next step will be to approach companies that distribute educational copies to college and university libraries.  Media copies are much more expensive than personal copies (like what you would buy or rent at home) because with media copies you get licensing to have screenings in classrooms full of kids and it can be checked out and seen over and over without additional fees.  Media copies can run anywhere from $100 to $500.  And since it’s a completely different kind of licensing and audience, it won’t interfere with distribution for home use.  Next I'll talk about self-distribution.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Scheduling Releases

With multiple ways for people to view your movie, you can make it available only one way at a time and maximize your revenue and announcement process.  I’m planning more than one release.  First, there were film festivals, then a limited theatrical release, then broadcast.  After that comes the opportunity for people to purchase the film on a DVD and finally it will be available as VOD (video on demand, both rental and download.)  

The reason I’m doing it that way is, I’ll be able to do more than one release announcement blasted on social media and I’ll make more through DVD sales than VOD so I’d rather most people that are interested purchase a DVD.  Making that the only option for a while, will get impatient people to do just that.  I don't want to miss out on sales though, so shortly after the DVD release will be VOD so that the documentary is widely available to as many potential audience members as possible.

Make sure you have a plan for how you want to release your movie, before you get to that point.  You don't want to miss out on a chance to have your movie in a film festival because you released it online too early.  And you don't want people buying a copy at home before you do a theatrical release, if you want to go that route.  Timing is important.  Make the most of it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Because I had a documentary film, it made sense to broadcast it over the air for free on TV (I should say free for anyone to view, not free for me to play it.  Buying air time was actually pretty expensive.)  This might not make sense for most projects, but I’ll tell you why I did it.

First and foremost, I wanted to make sure that everyone in the area had an opportunity to see the documentary without having to purchase a copy.  I think it's important information for people to have no matter where they live, but most especially in Western North Carolina where the documentary was shot.  Having it broadcast also made it eligible for awards like the Emmys and I wanted to have a chance to enter it.  I should hear if it's nominated in May.  Keep your fingers crossed.

In order to have it broadcast, it had to be closed captioned.  There are multiple ways to close caption a film both in how you create the captioning and how you deliver the film with captioning.  I used Adobe Premiere to caption and I ended up needed 2 types of files for delivery.  For broadcast I had to embed the closed captioning in a quicktime file.  Later for selling on Amazon I had to create a separate file called a scenarist closed caption or .scc file.

After having done the work myself, I now know that I'll probably hire someone next time.  It's not that expensive to have a company do it for you and it's so worth the money.  Captioning was long and extremely tedious, but I'm glad for the experience and for gaining a better understanding of how it all works.

I had some difficulty finding a local station that would air my movie because it's a point of view documentary.  Here's a link to a previous post with more on that. 

Warning the follow is boring technical information.  Only Read this if you want more info on captioning in Adobe Premiere CC:

1. You can import a file into premiere or do it from scratch.  I made mine from scratch.  Right click in your project window and choose "new item - closed caption" (bottom right of the project window.) The default is CEA-608 and CC1.

2. You won't be able to see any captions until you go to the upper right corner menu in your program and source monitors and click on "closed caption display - enable."  But that alone isn't enough. You must make sure you are enabling CEA-608 (the default on the monitor was CEA-607 for me. You won't see the captions unless the type you are making matches what you've set to display!)

3. To edit your captions go to the "window" menu and click on "captions" to see the window you'll need to edit in.  Click on the add a new item in the bottom of the project window and choose "captions." (make sure you have selected the caption file in your timeline to see it in the captions window.)

4. Hit the plus button to add a caption and start typing.  You can see the in and out in the timeline, but to change the in and out you have to adjust the time code in the project window.  Text doesn't wrap, so you have to do a hard return at the end of each line.

Those are the basics.  If you have an specific questions leave a comment. Hope that saves you a little frustration in your captioning endeavors.