How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Movie

A few months ago, I started selling digital downloads of my movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” It seems like a lot of filmmakers are considering this option but don’t know how to do it for themselves or rely on third-party platforms that take a big cut of their profits, so I thought I’d write a quick guide to setting it up. I’m using WordPress, PayPal, and Amazon Web Services S3. I’m going to link to a lot of sites/services here but none of these are affiliate/sponsored links. When we’re done, you’ll be able to put buttons like these on your site to sell directly to your audience.

Okay, you want to sell your movie like Louis CK? Here’s how….

First, the infrastructure…

Here are the things you’ll need:

  1. A web hosting account with WordPress installed. There are plenty of options and tutorials for setting this up, so Google it to find the best one for you. (Note: If you plan to store your video on your web host, make sure your plan includes enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.) [I use Namecheap, if you’re curious.]
  2. A PayPal account. I signed up for a free business account so I can show my company’s name instead of my personal email. People don’t need a Paypal account to pay you and you’re able to accept credit cards. (Square is cool, but not currently supported.)
  3. Optional: Cloud storage – An Amazon Simple Storage Services (S3) account–or you can use Dropbox if you have a Public folder (your account has to have been opened prior to July 31, 2012). The key is using a cloud storage service that lets you link directly to the file. (For instance, Google Drive and Dropbox accounts created after July 31, 2012 do not currently allow you to link to the actual MP4 file.) Having an Amazon S3 account will also be more secure and reliable than your web host or a free service. If lots of people start downloading your movie, you don’t want them to encounter problems that will make them unhappy and take your time responding to angry emails. Amazon S3 pricing is here (about .12 cents per month to store and about .18 cents each time you serve a 1.5 GB video) but if you’re a new S3 customer, you’ll probably get most of what you need free for the first year.

Encode an MP4 file

If you’re going to sell your movie, it’s a good idea to make sure it will work on as many devices and operating systems as possible. Right now, your best bet is an MP4 file. I used the resolution 1280 x 720 because it’s technically HD and isn’t as large a file to download as 1920 x 1080. (My 96 minute feature is 1.75 GB. I think it’s best to keep a download under 2 GB.)

You should be able to export an MP4 from your editing software (Premiere, Final Cut, etc). Or you can encode an MP4 using a program like HandBrake or VLC. (I love HandBrake!)

I try to give the file a clear name so when someone downloads it, they’ll remember what it is. Avoid acronyms and spaces, use underscores. For example, instead of DYKA-HD-1280 x 720.mp4, use Did_You_Kiss_Anyone.mp4

Upload the MP4

Once you have the MP4 file encoded, you’ll need to transfer it to your web host or to a third-party cloud storage company like Dropbox or Amazon Web Services S3.

  1. Web host: Again, if you upload it to your web host, make sure your plan has enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.
  2. Dropbox: If you upload it to Dropbox, place it in the Public folder. You’ll probably have to use the Dropbox desktop client (not their website) because the file is so large. If you don’t have a Public folder (because you opened your account after July 31, 2012) then you can’t currently use Dropbox for this.
  3. Amazon S3: Upload the files using your S3 Management Console. You will have to create a “Bucket” to put them in and once it’s uploaded, right click it to make it Public. There is also an Amazon S3 extension for Easy Digital Downloads so you can manage the uploading from WordPress.

Install the “Easy Digital Downloads” plugin for WordPress

Easy Digital Downloads is a free plugin for WordPress. This will make it easy for you to create a shopping cart environment on your WordPress site and deliver downloadable files to your customers who have paid via PayPal. If you’ve just started your WordPress site and only plan to use it to sell downloads, EDD has designed free Themes as well. (If you like the EDD plugin, consider buying the developer a coffee!)

To install “Easy Digital Downloads,” log into your WordPress admin console and go to:

  1. Plugins > Add New > Search for: Easy Digital Downloads
  2. Click Install Now.
  3. When it’s done, you should have a section on your WordPress admin menu called “Downloads.”

Personalize the customer experience

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Settings. There is a good YouTube tutorial and some official documentation, but here is what I did:

  1. General
    • Change the Purchase Page to “Checkout.”
    • Change the Success Page to “Purchase Confirmation.” (I also edited this page to be more personalized and gave contact info in case something went wrong.) 
  2. Payment Gateways
  3. Emails
    • Fill out all the fields with the necessary info: From Name, From Email, Purchase Email Subject.  (I used “Your download from mikevogel.com” for my subject.)
    • For the Purchase Receipt area, you can use their template tags to customize it.
  4. Under “Styles,” I changed the button to Orange (you can change this on the download page too). I didn’t touch the “Misc” tab.

Create your first Download product

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Add New.

  1. Title: I named mine after the movie title, then added (Download Movie) after. For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Download Movie).
  2. Post: I kept it simple. A tagline and the trailer. The purchase button is automatically entered once it’s saved.
  3. Download Configuration: I also uploaded a Featured Image so a thumbnail image would show up on my downloads page.
    • Pricing: I priced my movies at $5.00, which is sort of the standard set by Louis CK and seems right for a feature.
    • Download Files: I named the file the same as the movie (Digital Download). For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Digital Download). For the File URL, paste the direct link to your MP4 file. This will either come from your web host, Dropbox, Amazon S3, or some other cloud service.
    • Purchase Text: The default is just “Purchase” but I like to make it longer because once they click Purchase, the button changes to Checkout. It’s the same number of letters, so it’s hard to tell that the button changed. I ended up putting: Buy “Did You Kiss Anyone?”
    • Link Style: Button
  4. Here’s the link to Easy Digital Download’s tutorial “Creating your first download.

Test it out (with Discount Codes)

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Discount Codes.

I created two discount codes to test. One is a 100% discount and the other is 99% discount. I used the 100% discount code to check to make sure the emails are formatted correctly and that the download link works. Once that was squared away, I used the 99% discount code to check and make sure PayPal is working.

When you’re done testing, don’t forget to Deactivate or Delete the discount code.

Promote it!

You have different options when spamming informing your social networks…

Individual link: Each product has it’s own page, so you can send a link out to that specific movie:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads/did-you-kiss-anyone-digital-download-mp4-hd/

Link to all downloads: Or you can send people to all of your downloads, which show up on a /downloads page:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads

Widgets: It’s also important to keep links to your downloads present on your site. I added a link to my Downloads page on a Widget, so it’s available on any page. I also used the “Downloads Cart” Widget that comes installed with Easy Digital Downloads to add a shopping cart type presence in case someone wants to navigate to other products.

Shortcodes: Every product you create has a shortcode that can be found in your WordPress admin console under the All Downloads page or on each individual product. It will look something like this (but in brackets):

purchase_link id=”2560″ text=”Buy: The Waiting List” style=”button” color=”orange”

When a shortcode is pasted anywhere on your site, it looks like this (shameless plug!): 

You can also use Discount Codes to promote your movie. Since my movie has “kiss” in the title, I discounted it on Valentine’s day so it would only cost $2.14. You can also set limits on the number of times a discount code can be used, so if you want to give away 5 copies or give a 25% discount on the weekend, you can easily do that.

Provide Support

Remember to give people an easy way to contact you in case things go wrong. And reply quickly if there’s an issue.  I make sure they know they can reply to their confirmation email, and I have my Contact info on my website.

Do-It-Yourself, AGAIN!

If you’re reading this,  you probably took a DIY approach to making your movie. Don’t just hand that over to a third-party platform and give them 30% of your earnings (possibly tempting you to raise your price to absorb that loss) when you have all the tools to do it yourself. You made your movie, now go sell it. Make it easy for people to buy it. Cool (and famous, established) people like Louis CK are doing this. It’s okay to try and do something awesome too.

How to flirt with a stranger in a movie theater

Betty and Jared (Meredith Adelaide and Bryce Flint-Somerville) flirt in a bar in a scene from Did You Kiss Anyone?

Did You Kiss Anyone?” is premiering at the Bagdad Theater exactly one week before Valentine’s Day–a day many people desperately need a date.  The easiest way to start a conversation with anyone at the screening is to ask: “Did you work on the movie?”  Over 100 Portlanders worked on this movie, so your chances are good.  And if neither of you did, you have that in common, so start making out.

If you need more inspiration to hit on a stranger, just imagine you’re IN a movie….

Romantic Comedy Style

As you slide past in the aisle, clumsily spill your beer in his/her lap.  Apologize profusely and start dabbing napkins in inappropriate places (if a guy, on his crotch region; if a girl, on her boob region). Suddenly become mortified by your additional blunder. One week later, walk past the boutique shop they own and spill a frappachino on him/her.  Talk about finding your one true soulmate, then discover he/she is engaged.  Help plan their wedding.  Just before the ceremony, spill champagne on him/her, profess your love, then dash home.  Wait while he/she runs to your brownstone apartment in the rain where finally you kiss.

Quirky Sundance Movie Style

You’re sitting alone in the theater while everyone else is shallowly enjoying their unexamined lives, distracted by their iPhones.  Then you notice a manic pixie dream girl sulking at the end of the aisle, also alone.  She’s reading a used paperback copy of Cat’s Cradle, so you slowly raise your vintage copy of Breakfast of Champions.  You nod to each other as the lights dim for “Did You Kiss  Anyone?”  After the movie, you’re stuck in the aisle behind shallow people tweeting their reactions and she gets away.  But she left her book on the seat! There’s a name written on the inside cover.  You write your name, cryptic geographic coordinates, and a date/time under her name then turn it into the Lost and Found. You sulk around while an Elliot Smith song plays.  You do a lot of staring and have difficulty communicating with your overbearing mother/grandfather.  On a gloomy day, you sit waiting on a park bench in an ironically outdated suit as a Menomena song plays.  The girl from the theater arrives in a funeral dress:  “Thanks for returning my book.”  You notice scars on her wrists.  You do not kiss, you simply sit on the bench next to each other staring ahead as a Decemberists song plays.

Spy Movie Style

He’s the most handsome man in the theater–and also alone.  This works out well for you because you’re there to assassinate him.  Somehow you manage to lose him in the pizza line.  You take a seat in the balcony, scanning the crowd for him.  “Looking for someone?”  He’s in the row behind you.  You feel a gun pressed against the back of your skull.  “I’m here to kill you,” he says.  “But you’re too beautiful.”  “I’m here to kill you,” you say, cocking the gun already pointed at his heart.  With guns pointed at each other, you watch the movie and fall in love.  Over drinks at the Back Stage Bar, you hatch a plot to fake your deaths so you can live together on a tropical island.  Operation Romeo and Juliet is a crazy plan… but maybe just crazy enough to work.

French Movie Style

You see her dragging her cello case down the aisle.  Who brings a cello case to a movie?  Only the most brooding and troubled woman in the world, whom you must meet.  You immediately begin an affair that includes full frontal nudity, lots of smoking, but sadly, no berets.  There is a complicated political metaphor that defines your relationship and which makes it impossible for you to stay together.  She’s heartbroken and you find her on the Hawthorne bridge with her cello case.  You are sure she is going to jump to her death.  Instead, she plays a song on her cello that halts all traffic and people from all walks of life, all political views, are momentarily joined together by music.  She kisses you on the forehead, then jumps to her death.  Fin.

Meta Experimental Style

You ask, “Did you work on the movie?”  They answer, no.  You say, “I promise I won’t spill my beer on you or try to assassinate you.”  They uncomfortably avoid eye contact and move one seat away.  You explain that you were actually referring to a blog post the director wrote, giving tips on how to flirt with strangers at his screening.  They ask, “Are you flirting with me?”  You say, “Your exact response was predicted in his blog post. And even what I’m saying now is verbatim from the blog post.”  “It’s like a movie within a blog post within a movie theater.” You point to the screen, where a Kiss Off message is being shown with those exact words. You begin making out with your future Valentine’s date until the movie starts and you both realize you forgot to silence your cell phones.

I sincerely believe any of these techniques have a 100% chance of working, unless you do something to blow it. See you at the Bagdad: Tuesday February 7th, 7pm!

Film Festival Marketing on a Nanobudget

When you’ve got a nanobudget movie in a film festival, the marketing costs can quickly approach the same amount as the film’s budget. But that’s only if you do things like print out postcards people will immediately throw away and make t-shirts or hats that will sit in a dusty corner of a closet. There are a lot of tools out there if you’re willing to get creative, and you can be smart about marketing your movie at a festival without spending a lot of money. Here are some things I did for my screening at the Salem Film Festival–it all ended up costing under $40.

Newspaper: One of the first things I did when I found out we got into the festival was send an email press release to @shawnlevy, the film critic for The Oregonian, which is distributed in Salem. I was excited to see the movie title mentioned in the A&E section. (That’s the second time this year a movie I directed was mentioned in A&E.)

Blog and YouTube video: I don’t know much about Salem, but I know they have a giant golden statue. And I recently made a silly video involving talking statues. So I decided to make a ridiculous video for Salem that included all the info for my screening. I posted it to my blog, along with some photoshopped images of the statue in scenes from my movie.

QR Code poster: I drove down to the Salem Film Festival on the Saturday before my screening for one of the festival parties and to put up a couple of homemade printed posters. Printed one-sheets look really nice but they cost a lot of money and I wonder if anyone actually looks at them. I decided to make a poster that wasn’t a typical one-sheet and let people watch an exclusive clip if they scanned a QR code. I put this up by the theater exit (also where people would line up for popcorn), as well as on the door a pizza place/bar across the street where some moviegoers go to hang out. I used a bit.ly link for the QR code so I could see how many times it was scanned–not many. Which either means people don’t scan QR codes, or people don’t look at one-sheets, or both.

Google Adwords: I wanted people who might attend the film festival to be aware of my movie so I bought keywords on Google. So anytime someone in the Salem/Portland area googled “salem film festival” they would see the name of my movie. I got about 10,000 impressions in two weeks and I was usually in the top ad spot. The AdWords campaign cost $18.92.

Facebook ads: I also created some Facebook ads and targeted people who lived within 10 miles of Salem and liked the Salem Film Festival or a bunch of other movies, actors, and directors. I also set up a few ads targeted at anyone in Salem with a bachelor’s degree, in case they weren’t the type of people who went around liking things on Facebook.

The main campaign was seen by 6,817 individuals (not impressions), they each saw an ad about 12 times, and 664 of those people saw the ad with the name of a friend who liked our Facebook page or RSVPed to our screening event (this is called Social Reach). This campaign cost $10.59.

I did another ad on the day of the screening that was seen by 6,781 individuals, they each saw an ad about 8 times, and 284 of them saw it with Social Reach. This campaign cost $9.92. The total for both Facebook campaigns was $20.51. Here’s what the ads looked like…

Show up: Actors and crew from the movie drove down for the Q&A. If I were attending a screening at a film festival, I’d want to see someone from the movie there. We had actors, cinematographer, location manager, and me (writer/director). Only the actors and I were up front for the Q&A but everyone else was ready to answer questions too.

Brian (cinematographer) and Amanda (lead actor)

And now for the payoff…

We did a technical check before the screening. This was the first time I’d ever seen Did You Kiss Anyone? projected in a movie theater. It looked great. The screen size is hard to tell from this photo, but you can see the tiny green exit sign to the right for reference.

I took this photo while addressing the audience briefly prior to the movie. We had a good sized crowd, even more impressive when you considered it was a Wednesday night. I like to think the $40 I spent helped convince a few of these people to attend.

I was relieved when almost everyone stayed afterward for the Q&A. One woman leaving stopped to say she couldn’t stay for Q&A but that she loved the movie. That’s exactly the first thing you want to hear after showing your movie to an audience.

Bob, Audrey, me, Brian, Amanda after the Q&A

After the Q&A we went out for drinks to celebrate. Four pitchers of beer and a huge order of tots cost more than my entire marketing budget for the festival. Money well spent.

Drew and Bob (actors) (also, the eye of Tamar from Suck My Box.)

 

Dani and Brian (location manager & cinematographer) (They look surly because it was dark and I used a flash.)

 

Audrey and Sara (actor and wife)

 

Sara and me

 

Audrey and Uncle Jerry

Go check out DidYouKissAnyone.com for more info on the movie. And if you’ve done something cool to market your nanobudget movie at a film festival, let me know so I can steal your ideas for the next one.

Fun ways to shave a Novembeard

Novembeard is the stupidest thing ever. I hate beards. But I had fun shaving off my beard in stages. Here they are, for your amusement/ridicule.

I'm totally in a band
Nicely Trimmed Beard
Showing a little cheek
That Guy
The Edge from U2?
Tequila
Bro, I just need enough money for the bus home
EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS AWESOME
I'm an artist and you're not
Jammin' to some yacht rock!
Don't make fun of this one
Gross hairy sink

Using Ustream to promote your microbudget indie movie (Part 2)

Mark your calendars!  April 20th, 2010 is the day I’m going to be livestreaming my entire first movie, The Waiting List, on Ustream.  It’s already available on DVD, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve purchased more than five DVDs in my life and I most likely will never purchase another.  I watch movies in theaters and on computers.  The Waiting List was shown in theaters while playing at festivals like the Phoenix Film Festival and during a local screening here in Portland.  But there aren’t currently any options for watching it online (ahem, Hulu, Netflix, iTunes–I’m working on it!).

Being a nanobudget filmmaker means you never have to ask permission.  So if I want to put my movie on Ustream for free and invite everyone in the entire world (I don’t have everyone’s email address yet) then I can do it.  And because I made The Waiting List to be enjoyed by as many people–especially parents–as possible, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

It’s going to be fun.  You can chat with me during the movie (the text kind of chat so we won’t get shushed).  And I’m hoping to get some of the cast members to join in as well.  I’ve got some outtakes that have never been seen before–and aren’t even on the DVD–that will be shown after the movie.

So, again, April 20th (Tuesday). First show at 7:30pm PDT followed by another at approximately 9:00 PDT.  You will go here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-waiting-list

Here’s the Facebook invite and the Google Calendar invite.

Read Part 1 – Using Ustream to promote your microbudget indie movie

Using Ustream to promote your micro-budget indie movie (Part 1)

If you’re making, or have made, a micro-budget movie, your plan probably looks similar to mine:

  1. Build an audience on Facebook and Twitter and maybe even a crowdfunding site like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter
  2. Make movie, hopefully without going broke
  3. Screen at film festivals and in your home town
  4. Sell movie on DVD, Amazon, hopefully even get it on iTunes, Netflix and Hulu without paying exorbitant “encoding” fees.
  5. Sign royalty checks (my first royalty check just came for $14.56!)

But the problem is that the audience you built in step #1 isn’t clamoring to buy the DVD/download you’re selling in step #4.  Maybe they re-tweeted the link.  Maybe they even shared it on Facebook.  Whipping out the debit card?  Not so much.  Your master plan (okay, fine, my master plan) had a fatal flaw in that people’s support of your project is occasionally limited to things that do not require them to make purchases.

And remember, that’s the mindset of your FANBASE.  People who actually like and approve of what you’re doing.  So how do you get people who have never heard of you or your movie to pay for it?  Well, maybe you don’t…

The Waiting List was my first micro-budget movie.  It’s based on an experience I had waiting overnight in a preschool to get my daughter enrolled.  It’s a movie about parenting, by parents and for parents.  And I would really like every parent (who doesn’t mind vulgar language and uncomfortable honesty) to see it.  Which is why I decided to do a little test earlier in the week to see if my slow-ish home network was capable of streaming it live on Ustream.

I sent out a link on Facebook and Twitter moments before streaming the entire movie live, for free.  I’d love to say hundreds of people showed up, but it was really more like ten.  Which isn’t bad considering it wasn’t actually promoted.  My interest in this first round was just to see if it would work from home and if the video looked good.  A few of the cast members showed up and we started chatting about the making of the movie in a DVD commentary kind of way.  (It devolved into too many raunchy jokes–sort of like being on set.)

It made me think that maybe a few live Ustream screenings should be on the distribution checklist of any micro-budget filmmaker.  Giving your product away for free might not make sense on the surface.  But…  Will people show up knowing they’re getting something for free they’d usually have to pay for?  Will any of those people decide to buy the DVD now that they’ve seen it and chatted with the filmmakers?  Will they tell their friends (people you don’t know) about it because they’ve had an actual experience watching it?

This is an experiment.  One of the best things about being a micro-budget filmmaker is that you have nothing to lose and don’t need to ask permission.

So I’m planning another live Ustream screening for April.  Things you’ll be able to do?

  1. Watch the movie for free
  2. Live chat with the director and some of the actors (like an interactive DVD commentary)
  3. Possibly a live video Q&A (ask questions in the Chat window and see them answered via a webcam)

But I’m not a Ustream expert.  What else could be done to make an online screening fun?  What are other ways a filmmaker can interact with an audience during a live stream?  And–in addition to selling a DVD–is there any way to increase the film’s “box office?”  Sell t-shirts?  Tip jar?  Crowdfunding page?

What would draw you to watching a micro-budget feature on Ustream?