Netflix is seen as the golden goose of film distribution these days, and many hold the opinion that if your movie isn’t on Netflix, it’s barely released at all.
This, of course, isn’t strictly true: for one, Netflix isn’t the be all and end all of streaming (iTunes, Hulu, Amazon and even YouTube are equally viable alternatives). Secondly, it’s still entirely possible to eschew video streaming on the major platforms and get your movie to your audience on your terms, but filmmakers choosing this road have a tough uphill battle ahead of them.
While recognizing that getting an independent movie on Netflix isn’t the only goal you should focus on when emerging from your producing MFA with film in hand, it can be a massive factor in your project’s success.
Here’s how to get your independent movie on Netflix, and some pitfalls you should be mindful of in the process.
It’s All About the Database
It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear you can’t just email someone at Netflix and ask them to pop your work on the homepage. Getting your independent movie on Netflix starts with one key step, and unfortunately it’s a step you have very little control of: get on the Netflix database.
The Netflix database can be considered a long list of movies they’re considering for inclusion. How do you get on the Netflix database?
You don’t. They decide.
Unless you have some serious contacts in and around the Netflix arena, your odds are against you but some third party distributors have inroads. Getting one of these distributors on board, however, presents its own challenges and, somewhat ironically, video streaming itself is killing your chance of getting on Netflix—with DVD sales through the floor, distributors are reluctant to take on independent movies in this market since the returns from Netflix are so low.
Now, that’s the depressing news out of the way. There is an indie distribution company (owned by IndieGoGo) that can help get your independent movie on Netflix and all of the other major streaming services: Distribber.
Distribber does charge a fee of up to $1,600, but you keep all rights to your movie as well as 100% of the revenue it goes on to make.
Next Step: Raise an Army
Assuming you’ve made it onto the Netflix database (congratulations), you’ll need to prove there’s demand for your independent movie. In order to demonstrate this, people will have to request the movie in their Netflix queue (known as the ‘queue demand’).
It’ll behoove you to do a big marketing push and ask literally everyone you know to do this; not only will it improve your chances of getting your independent movie on Netflix, but it’ll also increase the amount you’ll get for it if and when they make you an offer.
How Does the Money Work, Anyway?
Unlike most of the other platforms, Netflix doesn’t pay you per view since it isn’t contingent on ad revenue. Instead, it pays you a one-off fee for a license (usually lasting one or two years) to stream your movie to an unlimited audience.
How much will this be? This is anyone’s guess, since it depends hugely on the demand (see above), but it’s usually less that you’d hoped for. Expect a four figure deal, and praise the stars if you get five figures.
Increase Your Chances
While the queue demand appears to be the biggest factor for success in Netflix’s nebulous decision process, there is some evidence to suggest other considerations are made. A legitimate IMDB listing, a great score on Rotten Tomatoes, and wide press coverage may help get your independent movie on Netflix, and should be on your to-do list regardless.
The Bigger Picture
A wise approach to film distribution is to remove any and every barrier to entry between your movie and a potential viewer as possible, and you need a very good reason not to do this.
Don’t focus solely on one streaming service—hit them all.