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Saturday, August 09, 2008

How to Get Your Indie Film on iTunes (...It's Not Easy)

If you are a filmmaker who wants to self-distribute your work in digital form, there’s probably nothing more frustrating to you than Apple’s indifference to helping you do that.

You may own a Mac. You may use Final Cut Pro for editing. You may carry an iPhone or iPod in your pocket. You may have a MobileMe or .Mac account.

But Apple doesn’t seem to want to help you do business online.

I’ve harped on this issue since 2005, the year that Apple first started selling movies and TV shows on iTunes. Since then, iTunes has become the dominant marketplace for legal movie sales and rentals; in June, Apple said iTunes users were renting or purchasing 50,000 movies a day. (Apple’s rivals, like Amazon Unbox, Movielink, and CinemaNow, have never disclosed how many movies they sell and rent – but my belief is that they’re bit players.)

So how do you get your movie sold on iTunes?

It’s not easy, and Apple doesn’t make things any easier by supplying absolutely no official information to filmmakers who’d like to sell their work on iTunes. (By contrast, here’s CreateSpace’s crystal clear explanation of how to sell your work on Amazon Unbox – the best non-iTunes option that exists today.)

Here’s the scoop: Apple’s strategy thus far has been to only work with aggregators, or services that will collect a number of indie films and then deliver them to iTunes. They don’t want to work directly with filmmakers. But there is no aggregator yet that will take just any finished film and deliver it to iTunes, in the same way CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon) will take any finished film and sell it on Amazon Unbox.

So, who (aside from indie-majors like Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) is working with iTunes today? Here's my list. (If you know of others that would be interesting to indie filmmakers, mention them in the comments below.)

- New Video seems to be getting a lot of full-length features onto iTunes, including “King Corn” and “Bomb It,” both recently-released docs, and Henry Jaglom’s “Eating,” from 2004. They also connected Ed Burns with iTunes for his latest film, "Purple Violets." One filmmaker who got his doc onto iTunes via New Video told me the split is 70/30, with 70 percent going to the filmmaker; he’d initially contacted Apple about selling his movie on iTunes (he has been self-distributing DVDs, and selling tens of thousands), and was told to get in touch with New Video. Here’s their contact info. And here's a recent story from Video Business about their relationship with iTunes.

- Shorts International in the UK has distributed a few dozen short films through iTunes, including the recent Oscar-winner “West Bank Story.” Here’s the page that explains how to submit your film.

- The Independent Film Channel (IFC) has a handful of features on iTunes, including “Four Eyed Monsters,” “Does Your Soul Have a Cold?” and “Before the Music Dies.” Oddly, all of them are priced at $3.99 instead of the usual feature film price of $9.99. Contact info here, here, and here.

- Mediastile is the company that offered Sundance short films earlier this year on iTunes. One of these films, “Sick Sex,” is currently #2 on iTunes’ list of best-selling shorts, sandwiched in between two Pixar shorts. Mediastile also handled “The Tribe,” a short film that played at Sundance in 2006, and was briefly an iTunes best-seller last year. I’m not aware of any feature-length films that the company has handled, and no one at the company’s Lake Tahoe headquarters answers the phones, returns messages, or answers e-mail. (I happened to have the e-mail address of their president, and he did e-mai me to insist that the company is still in business, but didn’t return my phone calls.) I wonder what would happen if you wanted to call them to ask about getting paid? Their Web site, for the bold and courageous, is here.

So this is the best that Apple can offer indie filmmakers? Apparently so.

I’ve been told for the past year that other aggregators will soon, any day now, begin working with iTunes. Some of them may be more open to submissions than the four I’ve listed above. (By open, what I’d like to see is an aggregator accepting any finished film where the filmmaker can guarantee that there are no rights issues that will result in lawsuits… or at the very least any finished film that has played at least one festival.)

Here’s who else could soon be delivering films to iTunes:

- The Independent Online Digital Alliance. Already distributes music to iTunes. Their online application is here. IODA chief Kevin Arnold says via e-mail that they are "working on initial deliveries and ingestion now. No solid ETA yet though."

- Film Baby. Film Baby’s sister company, CD Baby, already distributes music to iTunes.

- IndieFlix. Co-founder Scilla Andreen told me this week that she expects a few IndieFlix titles to show up on iTunes in the fourth quarter of 2008, at the earliest.

- The guys at Cinetic Rights Management say they're close to a deal to work directly with iTunes.

Again, Amazon.com's CreateSpace is the best option today for selling your film in digital form, in my opinion. But you'll have to drive customers to your work -- unlike iTunes, where the customers are already buying movies in big numbers.

And if you know of other routes to getting onto iTunes, or have opinions about the ones I've listed, post them here!

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