For an interesting read on the distribution journey of TRANSCENDENT MAN and how a combination of disruptive technologies and traditional marketing techniques can result in successful distribution, check out this case study at Sundance.org. Having a fascination for Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, I watched the documentary film on Netflix streaming last summer. In reading the case study, I learned a few lessons, logged a few distribution techniques in my toolkit, and came to appreciate how the film managed to find it’s way to my MacBook Pro.
After completing the film in 2009, the filmmakers had no luck securing distribution. So they began to distribute themselves, starting with a special event tour where they arranged screenings and live Q and A’s with Ray and Barry, using Eventbrite for ticketing and Square for credit card purchases.
The tour generated press headed by publicist Celia Black. Anyone remember seeing the Singularity inspired cover of Time Magazine on February, 21 2011? Yep, that was because of the film. Press was all over the place by then, and this wouldn’t have happened for just any documentary… Ray Kurzweil’s views are larger-than-life, and his genius knows no bounds. It’s Ray that makes this documentary interesting, press worthy, and current.
In tandem with the tour, the film was distributed on March 1, 2011 on Movies-on-demand (VOD), iTunes, direct-to-consumer on the film’s website using Dynamo Player, and through DVD sales on the film’s web-site. The film jumped to the top 20 of all films on iTunes in its first week and remained the number 2 documentary for 13 weeks.
Not too shabby.
In the next phase (starting on May 24, 2011), Barry and team partnered with New Video to create a retail DVD and distribute it to Wal-Mart.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Target, and Best Buy. Press was churning by then, and with Ray’s appearances on late night TV talk shows, DVD sales increased. At the same time, the film was available for viewing online on Amazon, Netflix, Wal-Mart, YouTube, and Hulu, which also helped increase DVD sales. 100,000 people rated the film on Netflix in the first 90 days that it was available.
Other avenues of distribution included an app for the iPhone and iPad created by MoPix. The app includes the full-length movie and special features. The filmmakers also sought the help of Fathom Events to produce and broadcast a live event from Lincoln Center New York to over 500 theaters in 49 states. The event included appearances by Ray and Barry, Steve Wozniak, Deepak Chopra, Quincy Jones, and more. Other techniques noted in the article are four-walling, using Google Analytics, partnering with an agency (WME, in this case), bundling the DVD with t-shirts and books, and maintaining a Facebook page.
Lots to chew on here and lots of questions – like who negotiated all of these distribution channels and how much did they cost? I think you can point to the star of the film as a main driver for its popularity. Not just any film will be able to follow these exact methods of distribution, and see this kind of popularity, but the case study certainly provides several methods distribution; and even a few tools for those with a micro-budget.
I realize that many of us are not going to have a publicist that went to Harvard (Cellia Black did) and representation from WME, but the methods used to self-distribute TRANSCENDENT MAN are, for me, inspiring. Read the full article over at Sundance.org to learn more. And feel free to share your thoughts on self-distribution below.