To finance my movie, I raised some money — about $1,000 — on Indiegogo. I also served as my only crew member, since funds were tight. I couldn’t afford to pay a producer and an editor, so I made them both a deal, offering a piece of the profits and producer credits. (Thanks, Zaire Baptiste and Andrew Seger.)
Two years, about $3,900 and several editors later, I learned that even without a lot of money, it is essential to pick the right person for the job — and not just the right person because they are doing it for free. But I had a film.
Instead of applying to festivals and spending more money to follow my movie through the circuit in hopes of getting a distribution deal, I used VOD to get a return on the investments I’d already made of my money, my time and a little bit of my soul. I sold Sex Drugs and Comedy to VOD aggregator Gravitas Ventures. You could say I took a gamble — I turned my film over to Gravitas without an advance, opting instead for a bigger percentage of the profits. I will get 90 percent of all VOD sales; Gravitas will take 10 percent. I figure it’s worth it: Just like that, this company instantly offers my film to 70 million homes throughout North America.
Another component of VOD is the need to develop a marketing strategy that is DIY — which, in the 21st century, means using social media to your advantage. To spread the word, I set up a Facebook page and Twitter account and also created a presence on FourSquare, YouTube, StumbleUpon and any other digital space I could find where lots of people congregate. African Americans are the biggest users of social media, so, like Master P driving with a trunkload of VHS tapes, I’ve gotta go where the people are.
The downside with VOD is that the filmmakers have to pay for most of this P&A, or publicity and advertising. The upside is that filmmakers take a much bigger slice of the profit pie. Instead of bringing in 15 cents on the dollar, if they’re lucky, using the old distribution method, the filmmaker will be bringing in 75 to 90 cents on the dollar — and actually receive a royalty check! With that profit, indie moviemakers can reinvest the money they earn to do more films.
Independent filmmakers are happy because, with VOD technology, they are finally making money on something they love. Audiences are happy because they have a place where they can discover the next Spike Lee from the comfort of their own homes … But everybody better hurry. Hollywood is coming. Once the studios step into the VOD landscape, they’re sure to change it forever.
Ralph Richardson’s Sex Drugs and Comedy is now available on Amazon and on VOD. He lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn, N.Y.