DIY FILM DISTRIBUTION The Low Down on DVD
Owen Thomas the producer (and now distributor) of the UK's first DV feature, the acclaimed One Life Stand, directed by May Miles Thomas, offers advice from his foray into DVD distribution on How To Sell Your Film (Not Your Soul)
Six years ago everyone was talking DIY filmmaking - how digital tools would revolutionise cinema. But time has proved them wrong. More films do get made, but few get seen.
So now everyone’s talking DIY distribution. Will they be right this time? Is it now possible to make both films and money outside the mainstream?
I have no idea. All I know is six years ago we made One Life Stand. In spite of killer reviews, the film never sold to the industry. So it went on the shelf. Until three months ago, when we released it ourselves. And it’s selling very nicely, thank you.
But how do you actually go from film to DVD? There are plenty of inspiring words about self-distribution, but how do you comply with all the specs and systems, contracts and laws? It’s not impossible, but it is involved. And to make the most profit, you must do it all yourself.
Only you can decide if your film is worth selling. But if you know what’s required that helps the decision. So here’s our brief guide to high margin DVD releasing:
Of all third party material, clearing music takes the most time. If you have only cleared non-commercially for festivals assume at least three months to re-clear commercially. Also, the process is different for DVD.
Almost all publishers license exclusively through MCPS for DVD use, so you must deal only with them. It can take a long time but the big plus is you only pay per disk sold so there are no up-front costs.
For performance, deal direct with individual record labels as usual. Pay fees up-front. Less well known tracks or performers are likely cheaper. Music copyrighted to exclusively US companies will cost more.
To play properly and be acceptable for manufacturing a DVD must be correctly coded; the MPEG streams, the design of the disk, the manufacturing data. This requires knowledge acquired by trial and error, but all the tools and advice are available online for little or no cost.
It’s best to code the disk Region 0 (Region Free) so that it will play anywhere in the world. PAL disks, though, won’t play in NTSC regions (principally North America). Copy protection is not worth having as it’s expensive and easily cracked.
The BBFC requires a submission form and your material on VHS or DVD (since January). All moving image material (including motion menus) is timed, viewed and certified. You can request the certificate you think appropriate. Without cuts, the process takes less than a month.
If you send one tape, the whole is certificated together and can only be released that way. If you supply each work on a different tape, each gets separate approval and can be used independently in the future.
The BBFC must also see the packaging to approve the use of their symbols. You don’t have to pay the fee for VPRC approval but, without it, shops are unlikely to stock the DVD.
Website & Shopping Cart
When choosing shopping cart software for your website ask yourself three questions. Will it work with my web host? Does it offer too little or too much functionality? Will I be able to maintain it? Unless you just want the standard look and functions, some redesign will be needed.
Read up online and ask lots of questions of all the parties that must come together. If it’s too daunting, find a web host that bundles a cart in an online package. But this will cost more.
The simplest method of taking card payments securely is PayPal. It’s relatively cheap, but using them looks less professional.
To inspire confidence and save money on a reasonable volume of sales, it’s better to use a ‘gateway’ to check the card and a ‘processor’ to move the money. The market is competitive and fees are negotiable so speak to all the banks and specialist agencies. For these services you have to pass credit checks.
Check the gateway integrates with your shopping cart so the two websites can swap data. If handling card data yourself, you’ll also need secure web space for your site.
The DVD manufacturer will print the sleeve inserts and labels. Good companies will supply templates and technical specs. Sleeves will be four colour CMYK outside, but can be simplified inside to save cost. Labels may be thermal, screen or litho printed. Thermal is basic and cheapest, so not suitable for photographs.
Remember to include all necessary symbols: the obligatory BBFC logos on sleeve and label, optional VPRC approval on the sleeve, and information logos, such as region coding. MCPS may also require their logo on the disc. The DVD Video logo is copyright. Its use depends on the status of the manufacturer.
Don’t forget the copyright statements you require, and any credits you are obliged to display.
You don’t need a barcode but, without one, you won’t be able to sell through any third party, who will need it for stock control. MCPS may also prefer you to have a barcode, as evidence of legitimacy.
Join GS1 UK. They authorise your company identifier which forms the stem of each product barcode. An add-on to your graphics program or a small standalone will code and draw it out. You must leave a specific area of white space on the sleeve to fit the barcode.
Budget for replication, which ensures the disks are fully playable; a glass master is used to stamp out copies. Cheaper per disk than duplication (burning), a quote should include box, printing, wrapping and delivery.
If the playing time is less than 90 minutes a DVD-5 single layer disk is probably sufficient. Over 90 minutes you probably need a DVD-9 dual layer disk. Some manufacturers claim to be able to master direct from a burned single layer disk, but they definitely cannot master from a dual layer.
The correct way to supply DVD data is to convert the DVD files to the ‘DDP image’ that the mastering machine can read. For a DVD-9, this conversion also ensures the layer break is correctly calculated. Standard authoring programs will not do this for you. It requires specialist software which you can find online.
Agree the delivery medium. Many manufacturers work exclusively with tapes, but setting up for this is not economic. Instead find a company that can work from DDP images on disk.
In the UK small scale fulfilment is in its infancy. Some pressing plants, though, will hold stock, pack and ship as orders come in. But they take a bite, so do it yourself.
You need a clear and simple system for tracking and processing orders so both you and the customer have an accurate record. You also need terms and conditions for dealing with delivery, complaints and returns. Look at other websites for examples. If you set up card processing, the payment processor will check your T&C.
You need space to store your stock. 1000 DVD’s in boxes occupies almost 1m3. It’s a lot when you see it. Adding a soundtrack CD almost doubles the volume.
Operating a business, you must answer to the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise. You’ll probably gain by registering for VAT; recovering VAT on outlays and passing on sales VAT to the customer. The card processors may be less cooperative if you are not registered.
Selling out of the UK, VAT is charged on sales to 24 EU countries. Outside the EU, you sell VAT-free. You can ship any quantity to EU countries without difficulty. Selling outside the EU, your customers must understand they will pay import duty on shipments worth roughly more than $100, depending on country. You will also have to do customs paperwork.
It looks complicated but it’s easier than making the film. And, when you’re done, you’re ready to start selling. But that’s a whole other story.
Of course, this article is part of me selling to you. So, please, if it’s been useful, show a little good faith and buy a copy of One Life Stand, a truly great DIY film.
I can endorse that. It really is a great DIY film and thanks to Owen for filling us in on DIY distribution via DVD, a truly useful resource for those of us with a feature who are wondering whether to distribute via the DVD route to get it "out there."
Don't forget, you can purchase One Life Stand on DVD and a great sountrack CD at a discount through Netribution. Simpl click on one of the One Life Stand advertising panels found page right on many Netribution pages and follow the instructions there. Once again, thanks Owen - and good luck with the film.
Owen's website is well worth a visit too - it is packed with informatuion about the making of One Life Stand.