3 Tips for Documentary Distribution Online

You’ve just finished your documentary.

These have been enlightening years of research and pre-production.

You and your team invested money and concentration during several weeks of shooting to capture a captivating story and spent long hours deliberating in the editing room.

You put a lot of effort in making your film and now it deserves to be shown to the world.

But what happens if Netflix is ​​not interested in paying for your documentary or it doesn’t get into Sundance?

When traditional roads do not work, it’s time to take the independent route.

We’re going to give you three basic steps before diving into the online distribution of your documentary.


Go online at the right time

So what if Sundance or the IDFA did not pick your documentary? There are more and more interesting festivals in the festival circuit where your film can get a slot.

Only 1% of the documentary films made worldwide make it to the big festivals and this has to do a lot with selection criteria, so don’t despair if you remain within the average statistics, this doesn’t mean your movie is bad.

One of the most important reasons why internet users decide to watch your movie online is because of your film’s festival run. The more festival selections your film has, the more attractive it is in the world of online distribution. Normally, a documentary film, whether short or long, may be eligible for major festivals for two years. Most of these events ask that the film has not been publicly shown on the Internet in order to be able to screen it and that’s just because they are interested in having the exclusivity to watch at the time the event is taking place.

So, do not let yourself be infected by the Netflix fever. There’s no need to hurry. Even for TV series like the second season of Twin Peaks, which had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, a pass in this type of events is tactical. So make sure you design a festival strategy according to your project, go to as many festivals as you can during the first two years, this way you will build a story of recognitions that will attract more views when the online exhibition of your film comes.


Build a community

For this next step it is critical to identify the niche of your film within a larger audience, and to do this, social networks and Facebook’s targeted advertising are great tools to track the profile of users most likely to see your film.

A well-designed social media campaign will allow you build an audience and attract it to the premiere of your documentary. They will likely accompany the film all the way to its online release.

This way, when opening the public access of your film on a VOD platform, you will already have a captive audience that not only will watch your film on their devices but they will also create a resonance by sharing their experience.

For certain projects it may also be convenient to find a sponsor, which would allow you to get financial and logistical support as well as access to captive audiences.

An example of this type is the documentary Touch the Wall, by directors Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito, a story about two American swimmers who are preparing to compete in the Olympics. Partnering with USA Swimming provided the filmmakers with a connection with the organization’s 390,000 members and 450,000 Facebook followers.


Find the right platform

Now that you have an audience that awaits the online release of your documentary, it’s time to choose the best platform.

Here there are many factors to take into account, such as how independent you want to go and to which territories you want to release the rights.

There are hundreds of VOD platforms that allow you to place your film on the internet, but they will all take a cut of your streaming or download revenue, so the ideal thing would be to research each one since this percentage and the exhibition conditions varies in each case.

An option is Guidedoc.tv, a relatively new documentary streaming platform that allows you to place your film for free in its catalog, and which is available for multiple devices.

Guidedoc uses a revenue share system, this means that the more views your documentary has, the more money you earn. In addition, this platform is very flexible in terms of issues such as territories and exclusivity, this means that you can choose the territories in which you want your documentary to be seen digitally and you won’t be tied to placing it on other similar platforms worldwide because exclusivity is not an obligation.

Another advantage of this kind of platform is that they promote your film on their social networks, newsletters and other ways they have a reach to their users and followers.

It is important to know that for each film there is a strategy to follow and it is best to study the limitations and possibilities of each platform to ensure that your film is in the best place, at the best time.


Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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