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Should I Post My Film On-Line?: A Filmmaker’s Perspective

Tiny InventionsTiny Inventions wrote a fascinating blog post about the pros and cons of immediately distributing their short Something Left, Something Taken on-line last year instead of waiting for the film to complete its festival run:

I read a comment on a popular film blog a while back that asked how filmmakers could afford to give their work away for free. Ru and I always felt the exact opposite. How could we afford not to put our work online? For us it was simple. We reasoned that the sale of our animation could not possibly generate enough money to sustain our life in New York. By putting our work in a place that people could see it, we actually ended up making far more money from opportunities created from the online presence than we had in previous years.

PS: As further proof that times have changed, Something Left, Something Taken is one of two American shorts competing in the shorts category at Annecy next month.

  • I finished my film, The Lift, at about the same time as the Porters (not nearly as good though). However, I chose to do the opposite and not post my film online. I am looking to a self produced avenue to share it soon but have not had the opportunity to finish it. As a full-time employed animator at Nick I also don’t have to have it out there as a calling card and therefore the argument of affording to have out there is not an issue. That said I think its a case by case issue. I will eventually put it online but I want to finish the marketing test that I want to run later this year, if it doesn’t work then Vimeo here I come. I am happy to have this luxury and its not always an option, if I were in a freelance situation I would post it. While I do work freelance on the side I have never had any good work come from the web, most work I get comes from contacts and past associates instead of cold calls. I’m sure I may change my opinion some day but for now this is how I want to do it.

    • I read a few more of the comments and I think I need to give this some more thought. While I had a good festival run showing at 60 festivals I still whole heartedly believe in the reason for making a film is to share it and the web has always been a great place to do this.

      • Hi Rob–a big turning point for me was when somebody put up a copy of my film without my consent and it got tons of views. I figured if people were willing to post it themselves, I might as well put up my own legit copies and be in control of directing feedback and interest, not to mention compression settings and all that tech stuff.

        still, it’s a tough call.

      • For me the call is compounded by the fact that I had my Student Film on Atom Films for about 18 months and made a few thousand dollars. So when you don’t need it as a calling card its hard to justify not trying to strike those deals again.

  • I pretty much established my freelance career putting everything online for others to see. I have not had to hunt for freelance for about 7 years now. Someone sees my work, passes it along, etc., until someone who needs some work done sees it and makes contact.

  • I just finished a film, and the to post-or-not question is a pretty big one. (i’m glad people like max and ru are out there to do all the thinking for me). I’m going to do it. There are too many people out there who want to see your short, and saying “it’s not online” means too many missed opportunities.

    People always talk about festivals not accepting your film if it’s online, but I’ve never encountered that. In fact, most of the people who’ve discovered my work at festivals want to see the films again online. the formats actually compliment each other nicely.

    but ultimately, I’ve got a day job and don’t need to depend on making my shorts for money. it’s just one of those boring hobbies.

  • When my film Death Buy Lemonade got featured here on Cartoon Brew and went online, it generated so many opportunities for me. I’ve gotten few emails from festival coordinators to submit my film to their festivals while waiving submission fee. I’ve also gotten few small freelance opportunities as well as a full time one, all because of the exposure on the web.

    To the students out there with finished films under their belt, I recommend to get your film out on the web. Perhaps not immediately, but don’t sit on it for months because you don’t think it’s worth any attention. The web is a big place and you’d be surprised how many people will love your film.

    • Iritscen

      Glad to hear you’ve been getting exposure from Brew TV, I really liked your short.

  • I agree with Max and Ru’s sentiments above. At Animate Projects, we commission work specifically for our website and have been showing 100+ films for the past 3 years -we often receive enquiries from festivals and galleries about the work on our site, and several people have been commissioned to make new work as a result of someone watching their film on our website. And with more and more festivals – Oberhausen, Rushes, Clermont-Ferrand… – having an online strand to their programmes more people seem to be keen to share work with the large online audience that’s out there. I know I’d rather view new work at my desk given the choice.

  • I’ve already told the Tiny’s how great I think their post is.

    I’m in a frustrating position where my short (A Family Portrait) has run its festival course and I’m desperate to get it online. I made the mistake of letting the distributors sell it whereby it cannot appear online in certain territories for a YEAR(!) Now I know there’s ways around this as David O’Reilly brilliantly writes, ( yet it’s a right pain and excludes it from a large audience.

    My two pence(cents) worth is…stagger it. Have some exclusive festival time(big screens are good) then whack it online, thus extending it’s little life.

    It’s true exclusion from festivals if it’s online seems to be a myth. And if you do sell it, bear in mind that the immediate money might not add up to the lost exposure.

  • Rob

    Just wanted to add in Andrew Allen’s in-depth guide to launching a short film online, if and when you decide to.

  • Last year’s (excellent) Acme showcase brought this to mind. The audience was urged to not “liberate” the films from the dvds on sale in the lobby — which I agree with — but of course that naturally makes you wonder about these topics (why certain films can only be seen in certain venues/dvds in this day & age, and what the advantage is to that.) It was great seeing them on the big screen, anyway.

    • Hey Tom!
      While I see and agree with the validity of posting a film online, I also feel its the responsibility of the artist to make this choice. Regardless of copyrights and the such if an artist doesn’t want their film posted then people should respect that choice. That said for me I wanted my film to be seen in a theater, now that its been out over a year I am considering making it available online. At MOCCA, Comic Con and C2E2 I sold DVDs of my film, and I have nearly sold out of all of them, I have 15 left out of 250 so I am open now to showing for free.

  • As a final year animation student currently finishing my graduation film, this is really interesting. I’m definitely going to think in more detail now about my plan of action for releasing my film into the big wide world. But I am wondering, is it really a complete myth that festivals won’t accept things that are online? Has anyone had experience of coming across a festival that states this in their terms, or been rejected because of it?
    I worry that opening doors online would mean closing doors elsewhere, and obviously when going from the safety of being a student into the real world of animation, this is a balance I could really benefit from getting right.

    • I came across a few big ones, I can’t recall them but for the most part after speaking with some of the people who programmed them, they felt that they wanted to show something that hadn’t been seen, especially if its a premiere. That said I would have your New York, East Coast, West Coast, US, World premiers first then post it online. If you want to use it as a calling card place it on Vimeo behind a password. Some Fests that looked down on it include
      Ojai, Boston, Woods Hole, and some foreign ones I believe.

    • Great discussion, folks! I’ll share a bit of our story here.

      When my wife and I made How to Make a Baby, it literally didn’t occur to me not to post it online. I’d submitted animated films to festivals before, but this project was so different, and the web just seemed like the natural venue for it. And since we both have satisfying day jobs in animation, we weren’t trying to make money from it.

      I posted the film on, and I think also on YouTube. A few months went by, and then suddenly it was getting 30K hits per day. Shortly after that, opportunities started rolling in. We sold non-exclusive broadcast rights to a few TV stations in Europe and Asia that asked for the film. As an experiment, I switched on preroll ads on the version, and at the height of its popularity it was bringing in about $20 per day in ad revenue. None of this was anywhere near enough to pay the rent, but it all goes into a college savings account for the baby, so hopefully it’ll buy her a few textbooks (or art supplies!) when the time comes.

      We also posted it on Vimeo, which led to it being invited to the Disposable Film Festival. When we saw it on the big screen with a live audience for the first time, the way people reacted audibly to every little nuance, the experience blew our minds. That was when we decided to submit it to other festivals.

      We did get disqualified from a few fests that had no-internet or premiere-only policies. (Edinburgh International Film Fest was one.) And because we’d waited so long after finishing the film, we were disqualified from Ottawa and Annecy, which was a real shame. But it got into a mess of other festivals including Anima Mundi, and had a pretty good run considering the little effort we put into promoting it.

      If I could do one thing differently, it would be to submit it to the big festivals right away, instead of waiting so long and missing all the deadlines. But I definitely feel putting it online was the right choice for this film.

  • I am thrilled for Max and Ru’s success but allow me to present a different point view.

    You’re presenting the view that the film is a calling card rather than a product. That the filmmaker’s only option for income are commissioned gigs and that exposure will make more gigs available to him or her.

    I disagree. A film is a product. While it can serve as a calling card, there are ways to generate income from it directly.

    Even when giving it away for free, it can generate income. Partnering with Deptap is one way to do that ;)

    Some months ago, you posted an article about Mark Stansberry who sold DVDs of his cartoon on the subway. In the course of 2 years, he made $40,000 by selling his cartoon face to face.

    Stansberry’s online views on YouTube are incredibly low, below 12,000 for all his films combined.

    Yet how many filmmakers whose work you have featured here on Cartoon Brew have made even a 1/10th of that on their film(s) directly by releasing them online for free? Films that have over 100,000 views individually?

    If a filmmaker wants a career like Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeld, Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky, where they are the driving creative force rather than a hired hand, charging for viewing remains the most viable option.

    And that means selling. Selling the film and selling the idea that these films are worth paying for.

    Selling in the same way Starbucks convinced nations to pay $3 for what used to cost $0.15 a cup. Selling in the same way the porn industry manages to rake in billions despite their product being even more freely accessible than animated shorts.

    While there are plenty of animators who are happy to work for others, there are plenty of animators who would rather work for themselves. Giving it away for free is not a viable option for them. And now they have that option.

    It just takes a massive shift in thinking. A massive shift that starts with each individual creator.

    • J.m

      Is DEPTAP the iTunes of animation? Cool! Yeah some animation is worth paying for!

      I think students are more likely to be promoting themselves for free, but Pros should not be.

    • amid

      Rajesh – It might be useful to disclose that you are running a site that sells downloads, and thus stand to financially benefit from people not putting their films on video sharing sites.

      • Thanks, I’ll be sure to do that every time I post regarding Deptap from now on. I just assumed I’ve said it enough here that everyone would know by now. A little humbling is good every now and then. No shadiness intended.

  • Animators should also know you benefit financially by posting their films online through the ads surrounding their films. Which I don’t begrudge you for, but you do financially benefit from their personal work more directly than they do.

  • Jeff Simonetta

    This is how Don Hertzfeldt got very popular. His short, “Rejected,” went viral and became so popular that it increased his fame and caused fans to want to buy his DVDs. If his shorts didn’t appear online he may not be as well known as he is today.

    At one of his talks in Ottawa, he said that he tries to keep his newest film offline until it hits a few festivals. But turns a blind eye to older ones. Also he gets some ad money from youtube when people view his shorts now.

    Also Nina Paley, didn’t seem to do too bad with “Sita Sings the Blues”

  • amid

    A relevant video:

    Neil Gaiman: “Places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated and then they were going out and buying the real books.”

    Time and time again, it’s been proven that sharing your creativity leads to bigger reward than being picky about your distribution. The distinction between books and short films is that, historically, audiences have never paid directly for short films, either live-action or animated.

    However, successful shorts have lead to filmmakers being hired for mainstream projects, including commercials (countless directors), TV series (South Park, Beavis and Butthead), features (9) and other projects with lucrative payoffs. In many of those cases, like South Park, the filmmakers started by giving away their short for free, forgoing small short-term profits for long-term exposure and reputation building.

    • Mr. Critic

      I’ve yet to see a “payoff” project that rivals the work of students at CalArts and Les Gobelins in terms of visual aesthetics. I’m still waiting on Dreamworks, Pixar, and Disney to create something as unique and edgy as the works of Bill Plympton for that matter.

      Landing a dream job is still very different from the creative control and visual excellence independents take for granted.

      And the independent filmmakers who achieve creative independence do so by selling their films – Paul Fierlinger, Sylvain Chomet, Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeld.

      • NC

        Sylvain Chomet’s films are sold by an international distributor though, that’s a huge difference. Bill Plympton has to distribute most of his stuff on his own, and I believe Don Hertzfeld as well.Bill also doesn’t live off the sells of his DVDs alone. He’s mostly living off of the money he gains from the funding of his next projects and whatever side work he finds.

        I think Bill would find himself in a much better position if he followed Nina’s footsteps and allowed people to download his stuff. I mean let’s be honest I don’t think nearly as many people would have even heard of Nina Paley if it weren’t for Sita and I think it’s because of two things. 1. The lawsuit and 2. the fact that she is giving her content away for free. I mean I watched Sita when it premiered online and it inspired me to buy the dvd from her.

        It’s a matter of playing it smart. Of course you don’t put all of your work out there for free but just enough so that you peak interest. But also look at Nick Cross all of his films except of Persephone are on his blog for free and I think it’s what’s helping him gain funding on IndieGoGo for his upcoming film.

  • Great topic.

    This happened a week ago: I was at work and doodled a goofy drawing while listening to a podcast on a break, went home, popped the audio track behind and “animated” some mouth shapes. Took 1 night. Figured no one would see it so assumed that was more than enough effort. Posted it on a comments page and that was that.

    Within 5 days, that drawing got posted on both the podcast’s facebook (skarlbro country) and the comedian’s (nick kroll) facebook which have considerably more exposure than me. They also emailed me directly to thank me and asked if I’d be interested in doing some more stuff and now I have these guys direct email address and have corresponded with them which is cool. No money but still cool.

    I know this different for a ton of reasons but but my point is this, it seems if you want to make a living charging people to see your content, you need to establish some sort of identity or brand which usually comes after EXPOSURE. Isn’t festivals or sites such as Deptap hiding or burying your stuff in a way?

    For instance, I’ve seen all Hertz’s stuff online for free. Still bought his dvd.

    Also, curious to see what the biggest moneymaker been on Deptap also. For my money, I’m working on a short right now and posting her soon as she’s done. What do I got to lose right?

    SERIOUSLY, what’s the main negatives behind posting online? I’d really like to know cause’ it ain’t sounding too bad right now…

    • I don’t believe in a cookie cutter approach to making films. It’s why I don’t care for sites like GoAnimate.

      Likewise, I don’t believe in a cookie cutter approach to distributing films online – be it for free or for money.

      My company Deptap, to answer your question, doesn’t hide films. We utilize a variety of approaches and services to ensure cartoons get the exposure and income they deserve.

      We’re a full service distribution company and work with the filmmaker to achieve his or her goals, not to line our pockets.

      We’ve been around for a little less than 3 months now, and our best sellers have been merchandise for the films.

      In today’s environment it is essential creators think about how they choose to release their films considering others are making money off their work directly.

      We help them get exposure and income, using a variety of strategies – including sharing it for free.

      So no, we don’t believe in hiding films or limiting exposure. But we do believe in doing more than uploading to either YouTube or Vimeo and kicking back.

      Feel free to ask me any question through the site itself.

  • Robert Schaad

    This is a really welcome topic, as I just decided the other day, to share an animated piece I made, by putting it on youtube, vimeo, my FB page, etc.

  • This is a question I answer for students about a hundred times a week.
    It’s like the urban myth that sneezing and farting at the same time will make your head explode.
    Every one of my shorts goes online almost the moment it’s finished.
    The potential audience for it to be seen online is about 50 times more than any festival screening.
    It’s true that if you are desperately scrabbling for an Oscar it’s best to not put it up, but I also believe that leaving a film offline for its festival duration means that it’s past it used by date once it does appear on Youtube (or wherever).
    Put it online.
    Let people see it.
    Move onto the next film.
    Then put that online.

  • This is a very timely post for me. Last week I put my latest short “Sumo Lake” online at Vimeo after holding it back briefly to accommodate a few festivals. (I wasn’t holding my breath for an Oscar nomination.)

    Thanks largely to Cartoon Brew’s kick-start (thanks guys!!), the film has had over 70K views in a week, eclipsing any of the audience of my previous films in their festival runs. I’m completely gob-smacked by the response, while completely aware that I’m “giving it away for free”.

    Frankly, that’s no different than not getting a cut of the takings at a festival screening. It’s a simple fact that you are highly unlikely to make money directly from a short. You might earn a bit, but you won’t get into the black. What the filmmaker hopes to get out of it varies between the individuals: a job offer? fame? festival prizes? a chance to make the next one bigger and better?

    As this is my first film in a number of years and the first to seen primarily online, it is still very much an experiment for me. I’m enjoying the fact that it’s being so widely seen and hoping that will generate sales of original art from the film and wider interest in my work in general.

    We’ll see how it goes, but so far at this early stage, posting the film online has been a positive experience.

  • NC

    How about this… Anyone here seen “Exit Through the Gift Shop”? It’s about banksy, shpeherd faery, and the other street artists out there. What I noticed, esp Shepherd Faery, is that all of these guys are advertising geniuses I mean you had to be living under a rock for the past what 15 20 years? To not have seen the OBEY image even if you don’t know who Sherpherd Faery is you know his logo.

    All of these guys are doing it at their own expense, risking their own lives and their freedom to get people to see their art.

    Now Banksy and Faery are doing pretty well for themselves. Yeah it took years but hey it does for everybody. So I guess what I’m saying is yes I think free content works. As long as it’s good enough to get someone to say “Yeah I’d actually buy that.”

  • Mark Sonntag

    I am about to my animatic online to aid my crowd funding attempt. I am nervous about it but how can I expect to have anybody donate if I don’t show anything? At least the animatic won’t be final.

    • I think when you put it up for crowd sourcing you have to be really organized and also show that you are putting your own money on the line and how much you are putting on the line. Its hard to ask people to donate to a project that you yourself aren’t contributing to.

  • If you’re lucky enough to have representation, it’s best to hold off on posting online until after the film has had a chance to be shown around town, like it’s a best kept secret.

    But if nothing happens from that, then posting online is step two. I don’t know the details, but isn’t that how ADVENTURE TIME got on the air?

    I am openly opposed to festivals, save for the Academy and Annecy (which should be courted prior to posting online). Maybe one or two others. Having your film shown in someone’s garage in Kansas City, in 2011, is a waste of time and multiple entrance fees.

    Even posting online you have to work hard to get people to start noticing.