About the author + Why?

So I'm some random animated filmmaker named M dot Strange. No that's not my real name but c'mon its the internet! 

I went searching for the cheapest and easiest way an indie filmmaker can do a Louis C.K. style release as I was about to release my newest animated feature film Heart String Marionette.

Now my goal was to make sure it was cheap in that the overhead was really low…lets say less than $50 per month. I also wanted it to be as easy as possible as I'm a filmmaker not a webstore makin and sellin guy. I figured $5 worked for Louis C.K. so I wanted to be able to sell my film for $5 as well.

Why do a digital download release anyway? Because its the cheapest and easiest way to sell your film. I did a DVD release of my last film "We are the Strange" it took about 3 months to create/encode all the assets for the DVD and to author it ….and it cost $6000 to make 5000 discs. Let's not even get into order fulfillment, packaging and shipping dvd's and trying to get into retails stores with their return fee's and payment withholding etc… it sucks! There are awesome companies like Indieblitz who will do all that stuff for you but someone still has to create and pay for the dvd's. A lot of these companies also do digital releases but I wanted to try and do it on my own first.

You may say… why not sell your film in Itunes? Well the thing is an individual filmmaker CANNOT sell their film in itunes directly… you must work with a distributor or aggregator… my last film is in the Itunes store but ummm yeh its not really that exciting. Itunes has regional restrictions, you must sign up with them to buy a film, the films have DRM, Itunes takes a %30 cut, they have strict submission guidelines and they charge $$$ to encode your film for their store. So yeh… IT SUCKS.

*My last feature film is on Itunes so I'm not knockin it without tryin it!

There's also Amazon prime and a few others but none of them are what I want. What I wanted was BANDCAMP FOR FILMS… but it doesn't exist. I also make crappy music and I sell my music on bandcamp…its really easy and cheap (FREE) its everything an artist would want.  Unfortunately there is NO equivalent site for selling films.

So my goal was to make my own bandcamp for films. 

The I read about Louis C.K.'s live at the Beacon release and I found this article discussing how someone could replicate it. I learned about Amazon S3… $0.12 a gig for bandwidth wasn't too bad! I've used paypal for a long time and I know you can make your own cart and all that BUT there is no way to sell SECURE downloads… that is to say you could host your film somewhere and sell access to it BUT then anyone with the link could download it eating up your bandwidth and costing you $$$

So I needed a way to sell secure download links. I was familair with e-junkie.com from buying several scripts and plugins from aescripts.com. I found it to be a really easy and nice buying experience so I began to look into E-Junkie. E-junkie has a file size limit of 2 gigabytes. I knew I was going to sell an HD version of my film that would be over 3 gigabytes so that was a no go.  This is what they had to say about the file size.

File sizes above 2GB or so have shown a consistent pattern of problems, so we recommend 2GB as a sensible "soft" maximum file size; files slightly above that size may still do okay, but the more your file exceeds that guideline, the more likely you will have problems.

My initial plan was to use E-Junkie's shopping cart and secure download system, process orders with paypal and use Amazon S3 to host the files. After learning of E-Junkie's 2gb file limit I began to look elsewhere. I stumbled upon Fetchapp.com and asked them about selling files over 3gb on their system.

When I asked Fetchapp about excessive bandwith usage which would happen if you sold a couple thousand 3-4gb downloads this is what they had to say...

We'd actually switch you to a metered plan where you pay a flat rate per GB of bandwidth.  Our current rate is $0.25/GB

Their using Amazon S3 which costs $0.12/GB... so if their going to charge double what an individual could pay I asked if I could host the files myself using Amazon S3...

Yes we have a "Pro" plan that you can use with your own storage, it's a flat $25/month per month.  Again, 4.5GB is a lot for most people to download, especially in rural areas or smaller countries. 

Fetchapp seemed pretty nice… that was until I discovered Dpd!

I was still wary about selling such large files until I found getdpd.com and asked the man in charge some questions about large file sizes…this is what he had to say..

DPD has no problems delivering files of any size (Amazon S3 does have a hard limit of 5GB per file, but we cache huge files like that locally). The real problem you're going to have is older computers opening zip files that are greater than 4GB in size. Windows XP, for example, can't open zip files that large- it will just lock them up.

He let me know that Amazon S3 has a file size limit of 5gb and in his professional opinion individual file sizes over 4gb are to be avoided for various reasons. I would later find out that the Ps3 and Xbox360 cannot natively play video files over 4gb either. So I knew I did not want to sell a video file or individual file over 4gb in size.

I looked into Dpd a little more and signed up for their free 30 day trial. It had everything that I wanted and more! You could customize everything easily… your store, the emails that are sent to customers, all product info. Everything was laid logically and everything in your dashboard has a built in help. If you don't understand what a field is for… simply hover over it with your mouse and an informative text pops up.

Dpd seamlessly integrates with paypal and several other online payment processors. I was still worried about bandwidth and file size as some of the other services I looked into charged you by the gigabyte. 

Surprisingly DPD allows you to have unlimited bandwidth?! Which is great! Their various plans are separated by the amount of storage space you're allowed and the number of products you can sell. All the plans provide unlimited bandwidth which is perfect for a filmmaker who is going to be selling some really big files.

I initially wanted to be able to sell the 1080p version of my film as that is the native resolution but after doing some research and compression tests I came to the conclusion that my film had to be around 6gb's to look good at 1080p. Knowing that 4gb was my file size limit I scrapped the idea of selling a 1080p download on my own and instead focused on the 720p version. I was of course going to use the H.264 codec to encode the film for download as its the best looking at low datarates in its class.

I was able to get the 120 minute 720p film down to a file size of 2.8gb, well under the 4gb limit. I did this by using a datarate of 3500kbps. My film has tons of fog and dust so I had to keep the datarate pretty high to prevent the images from being total crap. If your film is somewhat clean when it comes to grain, dust, and fog you should be able to make the file much smaller. 

A smaller file means a faster download for your customer and if your using a service that charges you per gb it will cost you more money. The balance between file size and quality is an important one. Your film might look perfect but perspective customers might scoff at the large file size conversely the download could be lighting fast with a small file but if it looks like total crap an unhappy customer you'll have.

So now I had the file I wanted to sell on dpd and I already had a paypal account. I just used the basic paypal account, not any of the business or pro options. My goal was to keep my overhead as low as possible. I felt the normal paypal fee's were reasonable for me which equaled out to a fee of $0.30 to paypal for each $5 download and sale.

I went through the dpd options and customized my store, shopping cart, and the emails that are sent to customers. I made sure it felt like a personal transaction by replacing the boiler plate with my own words and adding a photo from the film or of myself into the emails. I wanted to make sure people knew they were buying it directly from the filmmaker, and I wanted to show that I appreciated them for doing so.

Dpd makes it really easy to customize the buyers experience, it took me about an hour in total to customize things. Once I had the store set up, I sent the link to a few friends so they could make sure it all worked. Dpd allows you to create test products/free downloads so you can test out the whole experience for yourself. 

Everything worked as advertised. I was honestly quite shocked and excited that everything was so easy and worked so well! I was like OMG I could actually sell my own films directly to the audience and it not super expensive or cumbersome wow?! There's no one to tell me what I can or can't do and I can sell anything I want at any time?!! 

I had never heard of filmmakers using affiliate programs to sell their films before but dpd had a built in affiliate program so I said why not! Why not let people in your audience make some $$$ promoting your film? Something they were going to do any way?! So why not let them make some money as well? It took one minute to activate the affiliate program, I set the commission to %20 giving an affiliate $1 for each $5 movie sale attributed to them. I added an affiliate link to my films site and off it went. 

I hope this was helpful to some of you!