Film Distribution 2.0 = Self Distribution?

I am not a producer, nor a distributor, so this is a bit of a strange topic for me to write about. It started after a series of talks with a like minded friend who wanted to build a portable cinema for short films, and hasn’t left me since. So I’m spilling my guts and hoping for a discussion, and maybe some thoughts from the real producers and distributors who might read this.

"Varde" by Hanne Larsen

"Varde" won Hanne Larsen the Norwegian Amanda in 2008. It is available on DVD from the Norwegian Film Institute.

The number of short films made each year in Norway must be in the hundreds, maybe thousands depending on where you set your standards. They are generally sponsored by different governmental talent programs or through the Norwegian Film Institute, sometimes in cooperation with private investors and enthusiastic film workers with a big heart, and they are the main arena for up and coming Norwegian directors to strut their stuff. The best of these films are amazing pieces of entertainment, but after a year or two of screenings at selected film festivals, they are generally left in a drawer somewhere, never to be seen again. That’s an utter shame, and a total waste of a potentially huge market.

I have an iPhone. You have an iPod, or maybe another media player or fancy mobile phone with a large touchscreen. I use mine to listen to podcasts or watch episodes of Family Guy while taking the train to Oslo, or flying home to Tromsø, or even on the bus in the morning. These devices are perfect for watching short films, but there is no way you can do that. Unless you want to call each and every director personally to persuade them to give you a digital copy. Why? Because there is no marketplace.

Amor won the Best European Short award at Ghent Film Festival 2009, and was thereby nominated to the European Academy Awards 2010. It is not yet available to the public.

"Amor" won Thomas Wangsmo the Best European Short award at Ghent Film Festival 2009, and was thereby nominated to the European Academy Awards 2010. It is not yet available to the public.

I am pretty certain that if someone would build an online store (no distribution costs, low expenses) where you could buy short films for a low price (10 kroner?), and get a digital copy that you could easily watch on your laptop and your mobile device, you would instantly gain a strong following of potential buyers and content providers. And there would be money in it. Just look at the number of totally ridiculous applications sold in the iPhone App Store in large quantities. Skip the distributors, let independent filmmakers sell films directly and give them a piece of the cake. In a best case scenario, this would also create an eco-system where independent filmmakers could gain some initial funding for new projects through the success of their old ones. Not to mention that the best of the best could even reach an audience abroad.

Apple could easily jump onto this market, by opening their Norwegian iTunes Store to film sales and independent filmmakers. Filmarkivet.no could have been such a marketplace, instead they are one of the saddest reminders of how far the computer industry and digital media has got since the 90s (don’t get me started on this one). In fact, just about anybody with the resources to make the website, maybe an iPhone app to go with it, and the contacts to get the first few good independent directors on board, could hijack this opportunity.

It seems to me that talented directors will have a huge market at their feet in the near future, and that all the quality film being made each year will finally see the audience it deserves. But who will be the first? And when?