Recently, Amazon made it possible for independent filmmakers to self-distribute their own work through its streaming service. From short films to features, Prime Video Direct allows creators to upload and release content without a middleman.
That step alone is a breakthrough for independents struggling to find a distribution deal or for those like me who have had bad experiences with the wrong distributor. But that’s not the only great benefit of Prime Video Direct: through this platform, it is actually possible to make a profit. I know this because it’s happened with my films and it can happen with yours as well.
Though profit in any aspect of film distribution is never a guarantee, there are ways you can positively affect the outcome of your title. I would like to share some tips I’ve learned after releasing six feature films through Amazon’s Prime Video Direct—hopefully they will help increase the profitability of your title.
1. Build Your Base
Before launching your film on Amazon or any other streaming platform, it is essential to build your audience base. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, many filmmakers take this important step for granted. There’s a mentality of “If you build it, they will come,” to quote Field of Dreams. But we’re not dealing with the ghosts of baseball legends; we’re talking about your future customers.
From the development of a project to its completion, work gradually and consistently to grow your followers. This can be done through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Focus on whichever social media outlet you have the most luck with. For me, it has always been Facebook. Or perhaps you want a more old-school approach: collect a database of email addresses and use a service such as MailChimp to send out monthly or even weekly updates about your project(s).
The more people hear about your movie or see it mentioned on a social media post, the more likely they are to watch when it is finally released. This base of followers will include your family and friends, their friends, and anyone searching keywords who shares an interest in your subject or content.
If you’re releasing a movie next year, start promoting it now. With the freedom Amazon gives filmmakers (all you have to do is upload your film and provide closed captions), you can confidently tell them that your film will be released on the streaming service when it is ready!
2. Make the Weekend Release Big
The day your movie goes public should resemble a blockbuster coming out in movie theaters: make it a big deal! Some filmmakers drop their movies online, make one social media post, and then expect the film to somehow magically do well. Instead, be proactive and use that base you’ve built to organize an impressive weekend launch. People won’t get excited unless you give them a reason to.
While I suggest scheduling your film’s release on a Friday, Amazon’s publishing timeline can be a little unpredictable; for this reason, you may want to do a soft launch a week or at least a few days in advance. For instance, you may schedule your film to come out Friday and that day, during Amazon’s process, they inform you that your poster doesn’t meet the service’s standards. Once you have fixed the problem, Amazon will take another 2-4 days at least to publish your film. This happened to me on my Western Blood Country. The service can be picky and my title wasn’t big enough on some of the key art. My team and I missed the well-promoted deadline and the buzz fizzled. A test launch will give you enough time to fix any errors Amazon catches.
In terms of promotion, here are a couple of ideas you may want to try:
- Create a Facebook event page for the release date and have your cast/crew invite as many people as possible. True, this isn’t an event with an actual space but it might qualify as the most important event in your movie’s future so treat it like one.
- Offer prizes and perks to the followers who share your film announcement most on the day of release or to viewers who write the first five Amazon reviews (more on these coming up).
- Consider using a Facebook ad to boost your exposure that weekend and be sure you research how to best reach the audience that makes sense for your project.
3. Consider Customer Reviews
This might be the most important element in your success on Amazon. I have seen my titles’ revenue go up and down based solely on customer reviews.
Reviews are a huge part of Amazon’s algorithm for determining where your movie fits in the recommended titles section. On any Amazon project page, you’ll notice a gallery of films below your synopsis. that is labeled “Customers who watched this item also watched.” More often than not, when you click on these pages, your film will also appear on their page also.
When my film Porches and Private Eyes received four to five new positive reviews from satisfied customers, I saw a surge in viewership. Digging deeper, I saw that these reviews (and other factors in Amazon’s algorithm) had placed us as the number one recommended movie on a new Woody Harrelson release. Weeks later, the film received a handful of negative reactions and fell off of that list. The numbers dropped.
What can be done about this? It’s simple but not easy. Do your best to encourage the people you know who like your movie to write a review on Amazon. Remind them that this feedback doesn’t need to be eloquent. Of course, it should be genuine but it can also be as simple as “good movie.” The important thing is to encourage the admirers of your film to take action.
4. Change Your Key Art
These days, it isn’t enough to have one good poster. In the streaming arena, the competition is vast; there are endless movies and TV shows to choose from. This means that the “key art” you choose to represent your film should not only be enticing (both in large form and as a thumbnail) but it should also be dynamic.
On an alternate streaming service like Netflix, you’ll notice how often the cover image for a title changes. If it’s a film starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, one week you might see the theatrical poster for the film, whereas another week the cover will include a close-up of Kidman’s face with the title branded below, or later, Cage holding a gun in mid-air. Regularly adjusting a film’s key art entices more people to see the movie and perhaps even rewatch it.
For Prime Video Direct, you must include two key art pieces for your project: one vertical (poster-style) and a horizontal image. Both are incredibly important, featured prominently on different devices. I recently revisited my titles and realized that I was not taking full advantage of promoting films with my horizontal key art. I made new submissions and saw revenue rise over the following weeks.
For other films, I am planning to change my key art at the beginning of each month. What doesn’t attract one viewer might attract another. It’s always good to keep your marketing fluid.
5. Know Your Genre
It’s essential to know where your title fits in the movie world. On Amazon, the genre of a movie affects how it performs in the site’s algorithm and where it might end up among the lists of recommended titles.
Prime Video Direct gives filmmakers three genres to choose from. Not long ago, the distribution rights to one of my films were returned to me after being controlled by a distributor. The Amazon dashboard for the project was turned over to me and I was appalled to see they’d only picked one genre of three possible choices. No wonder the title had underperformed under their control. I immediately added, “Drama – Suspense” and “Mystery – Thriller” as my two other genres. The title’s number increased dramatically as a result.
Choose what best represents your title and select attractive, popular options. If your film is a true crime story with dramatic elements, you may want to select “Crime – Drama” over “Drama – Historical”. Take the time to research and browse Amazon.
The best part about genre selection is that it can be adjusted. Like your key art, you can log in to your dashboard at any point and change these to see new results. I continue experimenting to see where some of my titles might get the most attention.
Since Amazon now provides independent filmmakers with the option to self-distribute, they also offer the opportunity to turn a profit on independent films. I hope these five steps will lead you in the right direction for a financially successful streaming release.