By lance weiler, March 3rd, 2008

by Alex Afterman – Since 2003 I have run a video label called Heretic Films. I used to refer to our company as a DVD label, and sure enough DVD is what we specialized in (with occasional forays in to theatrical and television, but I always was clear with potential acquisitions that first and foremost we were a DVD company).

Back in the old days it was easy to see how a company such as Heretic was necessary for filmmakers. For one thing, we had the resources to produce Hollywood level DVDs, launch a full marketing campaign, and replicate thousands of DVDs.

But even more importantly, we had access to retail accounts that the individual filmmaker simply did not. Wanted to be in Best Buy? We could get you there – good luck on your own. How about Hollywood Video or Blockbuster? Same story. Borders, Virgin or Tower? You guessed it – there was no interest on the retail end in working with individual filmmakers. They wanted to work with companies that they knew would consistently provide them with a pipeline of content. It wasn’t worth their time doing small deals with tons of different content providers.

That’s still the case, only unfortunately for us most of the big retailers and rentailers are either out of business (Tower, Hollywood shortly), struggling (Borders) or just plain uninterested in indie content (Best Buy, Blockbuster). For an explanation of why that is check out my last piece for the Workbook Project.

OK, so where is that audience going? They are going to VOD (such as cable OnDemand systems or set top devices like Vudu), digital download services (iTunes, Amazon Unbox), and streaming services (Netflix SVOD). And the next natural question I had was, is there a place for the video label in this brave new world?

Guess what – there is. There may not be the financial barriers to entry in digital that there were with DVD, nor the marketing costs (with the advent of viral marketing and social networking a lot of hustle can overcome a lack of a professional publicist or money for expensive ads), but one major obstacle remains. The services don’t have the time or inclination to deal with individual films and filmmakers. They still want to make one deal and have one set of paperwork that guarantees them a steady supply of films, not a ton of small deals each providing one or two films for their service.

There are exceptions to this rule of course – certain films with huge buzz are attractive to a service like iTunes simply for the marketing attention. But that is the exception, not the rule. If you have such a film and you can get iTunes to return your call and offer you a deal more power to you – you, my friend, do not need a video label. But most filmmakers out there probably will.

So here’s what going with a video label for your VOD and digital sales can do for you:

1. Access – Access to the services that simply aren’t interested in dealing with individuals or small groups of content. This is the biggest advantage but not the only one.

2. Delivery Requirements – Take care of the various delivery requirements for the different services. Most of the services, at least in this nascent stage, have wildly differing delivery requirements for both the video itself and the associated metadata. Presumably at some point some standardization will occur, but for now each service seems to have different requirements. Some are as easy as submitting a DVD, but in most cases they require different encodes, different media (tape, disk, drive) and unique sets of associated metadata. Can you do all this on your own? Sure – if you made a film you almost certainly can handle this. But it’s a lot of work, can get fairly expensive, and if you plan on immediately launching in to another film probably something you’d prefer to offload.

3. Marketing Support – yes, it’s easier than ever to do it for yourself. But, just as with the delivery requirements, wouldn’t it be a lot nicer if someone else was doing it for you? Someone who has been there/done that, has contacts with the major publications and can do group ads that provide lots of exposure at lower cost per film?

4. Accounting – It’s a lot easier for a label to get timely and accurate reporting when the service is depending on the label to continue to provide more content.

Again, in some cases, with that particular film that has really hit, you won’t need a label to navigate the digital waters for you. If you’re dogged about finding your own way, and willing to put in the time and money yourself, you may also not need a label in the digital age. But if you made a good film, want it to get exposure and create revenue for you, but also want to continue your career as a filmmaker rather than a film marketer/cold caller/hustler/self distributor, even in this new democratizing digital age there remains a place for the good old fashioned video label.

Just don’t call us DVD labels anymore!


Alex Afterman is the co-founder and Vice President of Heretic Films, a San Francisco based independent DVD/VOD/Digital label founded in 2003. As label head Alex is responsible for managing everything from acquisition of new titles for distribution, co-ordinating the creation of key art, authoring, production and replication of the DVDs, logistics, and marketing and publicity, including determining advertising budget, co-op purchases and handling all media relations.

Prior to founding Heretic Films Alex spent several years working as a Product Manager and Account Manager for various new media companies including internet content syndication company iSyndicate and web based real estate portal LoopNet. In addition to his responsibilities for Heretic Films Alex also co-produced the documentary ‘24 Hours on Craigslist’, which had a successful theatrical run before being released on DVD through Heretic Films.

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Posted in biz content deals digital downloads discovery distro diy dvd pov resource vid

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects


  • mikehedge

    sounds pretty neat!

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