×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Independent films going online

Anne Thompson on Hollywood

Somewhere over the rainbow is a place where indie filmmakers use the Internet to sell their movies all over the world. They don’t have to spend a fortune on prints and theatrical distribution; they sell their movies online directly to their target audience, and pocket a hefty cut of the revenues.

That magic moment may not be far off, says producer Linda Nelson, whose microbudget crime drama “Shifted” is available as a video download, a DVD or rental at www.Unbox.com.

While the pic’s sales to date are nowhere near that of a major studio release, Nelson is on a mission to get filmmakers away from established distribution — to remove what she sees as greedy intermediaries from the system. Nelson Madison Films has launched Indie Co-op, a subsidiary, to help filmmakers self-distribute their films on the Internet.

“This could break up the logjam and allow more content to flow out,” she says. “A lot is falling into place right now.”

Nelson co-wrote “Shifted,” a bare-bones thriller about a homeless man, with her business and life partner Michael Madison, who directed.

Filmed under a SAG indie contract with deferred actors’ salaries, “Shifted” cost about $100,000 to make. “It stinks,” admits Nelson. “(But) for what we had, it’s amazing.”

While the movie has tallied less than $1,000 in sales on Amazon Unbox, Nelson says she’s applying what she’s learned to help other indie filmmakers release their films without giving away the store to distributors.

Since arriving in Los Angeles in 1980, the former overseas investment banker and computer systems analyst has had an adversarial relationship with the movie business. She ran up against at least one shady business partner, and her ambitious plans to renovate eight movie palaces for large-screen formats ran afoul of both Imax and the ’90s exhibition bust. She and Madison gave up on large formats after they failed to close the DVD rights to their 2002 Iwerks concert doc, “INSYNC: Bigger Than Live,” which grossed $1.8 million in North America.

Unable to raise funding after two years for a slate of indie features, she and Madison finally “got brave,” she says. They picked themselves up and shot “Shifted,” a picture they couldself-finance and control.

The film’s producer and director of photography, Nelson bought a light Canon XL S1 camera and shot with Madison, who doubled as her director and leading man. They filmed inside a self-storage facility they were managing.

After many rejections from film festivals, “Shifted” was accepted by L.A.’s Dances With Films in July 2006, where it scored positive reviews from FilmThreat.com, SilverBulletComicbooks.com’s Don’t Call Me Fanboy blog and CBS Radio.

“We knew we didn’t have the quality to stand up to a theatrical release,” Nelson says. “But we got five offers from DVD distributors.” Nelson, however, was shocked by the deal terms, which were typical: No advance without a star or a decent budget. No piece of the backend. The distributor hangs on to its rights for seven to 10 years. And when they sell the DVD on the Internet via Amazon or Netflix, the distrib takes 25% of the gross and subtracts all expenses, including replicating and supplying DVDs and marketing. (Netflix won’t take any films without a distributor.)

Nelson was amazed, too, by the distributors’ lack of accountability. “They send quarterly reports by country,” she says, “But they don’t tell you how many units they sold. They don’t keep track by film. They don’t have systems or bookkeeping capabilities. There’s no such thing as making money. What you get upfront is what you are going to see.”

But this situation won’t last much longer, Nelson predicts. “Everything is changing,” she says. Any neophyte filmmaker faces a huge puzzle when it comes to selling theatrical, TV and video rights around the world. But it’s nothing the right software can’t solve.

Nelson found a do-it-yourself-DVD distribution company called CustomFlix, which was bought by Amazon in July 2005, and started supporting Amazon’s video download service in December 2006. “Shifted” was the first CustomFlix movie to be sold on Amazon Unbox.

Nelson sent CustomFlix her movie, uploaded her artwork, figured out how much she wanted to charge, and posted her trailer, pictures and posters. All she had to do was click a box, and “Shifted” was for sale on Amazon Unbox.

Unlike other DVD distribs, Amazon Unbox and CustomFlix offers a 50/50 deal: Half of the revenue goes to the filmmaker. Even if the money has yet to add up to $1,000, “I get a check every month,” says Nelson.

On the Amazon Unbox “Shifted” Web page, the film is available to rent for $2.99 for 30 days, for video download for $8.99, or for DVD sale for $14.95. The “studio” is listed as CustomFlix.

Another Nelson discovery is inDplay.com, a business-to-business application for buyers and sellers of film rights and a digital marketplace. “It’s fabulous software, a DRM management system that is usable by anyone,” Nelson says.

Via inDplay, filmmakers can create, edit and approve contract offers, and list their film libraries. Nelson hopes that inDplay will soon work with CustomFlix to stream movies for free for distributors, doing away with mailing clunky DVD screeners.

At long last, as Nelson chases her vision of a nimble do-it-yourself future for filmmakers, she seems to have found her niche.

To see Anne Thompson’s blog, go to www.ThompsonOnHollywood.com

More Film

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Citizen Kane,” “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, has died at 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of the fund. With partner Mario Kassar, Vajna [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. Araiza [...]

  • 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Review: A Quietly

    Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate'

    John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan may have received major award nominations this season for their fine work in “Stan & Ollie,” but there’s arguably a superior Laurel & Hardy tribute act to be found in the droll Danish comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate.” As a pair of bumbling losers who turn an already dubious business [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content