How To

Securing Distribution with Netflix

By Michelle L. Martin and Katie O’Connell

If you want tons of exposure for your film, Netflix—the world’s leading internet subscription service for movies and television—is the place to be. Netflix reaches over 16 million members in the United States and Canada. About a year ago they added 300 on-demand streaming indie films to their service. Getting your film distributed by Netflix, however, can be difficult. Even with a well-thought-out marketing plan and as much dedication and passion as you put into the making of your film, Netflix might not pick it up, and the company has yet to announce more specific requirements for independent film submissions.

Steve Swasey, vice president of Netflix corporate communications, says that for independents to get picked up by his company for distribution, they need a mixture of some or all of the following: queue demand, critical appeal, sizeable audience appeal, buzz, and film festival premieres. He says these are in no specific order and declines to give a specific number of requests needed for the Netflix queue. “If your film was profitable and gained plenty of exposure, the film’s audience should be there to help support your film on Netflix,” Swasey says. “If your film got folks in their seats at film festivals and you spent time on marketing and building and audience then your chances are slightly higher.”

Swasey agrees that presenting a film to Netflix is akin to presenting a business plan to investors—you need to do your homework and deliver a great package in order to get considered for a Netflix run. You can always consult the company’s guidelines for more information on submissions.

According to the guidelines, they prefer to purchase films from a third-party distributor. If you find a distributor that already has a good relationship with Netflix, that will likely improve your chances. If you aren’t able to find a distributor, or prefer to DIY, they do accept submissions directly from filmmakers, but you must meet their criteria, and take Swasey’s suggestions into mind, before you send it in.

Whether you’re considering submitting to Netflix through a distributor or submitting yourself, marketing and buzz are as important as a script and camera equipment. Anthony Mora, of Anthony Mora Communications Inc., says if you’re hoping to eventually get distribution for a film, producers must develop a public relations strategy before the first day of shooting. “Too many [people] produce a film with no plan in place to market it. If they can afford a publicist, it is money well spent,” says Mora.

Mora recommends creating a basic press kit, both online and in paper form, and launching an online and traditional public relations campaign. Make sure to factor these costs into your overall budget. In other words, you can have the Picasso of films in the can ready to go, but according to Mora, if you can’t spread the word and create buzz, no one will know about it.

As Netflix offers no precise numbers in terms of audience size or queue requests needed for a green light, there is still uncertainty as to what will definitely get you noticed by Netflix. In some situations, they may pursue your film themselves. Randy Mack, producer of Burning Annie, says that his film, released in 2003, got noticed by Netflix while they were still in their festival run. Netflix went so far as to create a web page for the film. “I still have no idea how we got on their radar or why they were so sure we were going to get distribution,” Mack says. Burning Annie is currently available for distribution on Netflix, but isn’t available for streaming. “Our distributor says Netflix didn’t request that and they don’t know why,” says Mack. “This seems a little weird to me, since Netflix is making streaming the forefront of their service.”

Netflix gives filmmakers an opportunity to connect with a huge audience, but the relationship between Netflix and independent filmmakers is still evolving. Regardless if you’re trying to get on the Netflix service or not, marketing your film, creating buzz, and finding an audience will prove useful with or without Netflix, and might even help to secure distribution for your film through another company.

Have you tried to submit your film to Netflix? Share your story with other readers of The Independent.


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7 Responses to “Securing Distribution with Netflix”

  1. sufried

    A few years ago, through one of my distributors, a number of my films were purchased by Netflix.
    Not for very much money (I don’t know the figure, but I know it wasn’t much at all.)
    I was glad at the time, seemed like a good thing.
    It still is, if what I care about is that a gazillion people can see my films, and we all care about that.
    But as time goes on, I have become increasingly concerned, pissed off, you name it. Because after that first purchase, neither I nor my distributor will ever see another penny. Never, ever.
    So what that means for all of us (outside the studio system, the theatrical venues, etc) is that instead of having individuals and institutions buy our work on DVD, or rent film prints, and thereby earn us some small or large amounts of royalties each year, we will all be selling them, if we’re lucky, for a flat fee to Netflix and then no one in their right mind will ever bother to go out and buy a DVD, or even think they should pay to stream the work on another site if it’s on Netflix for free (or for your small monthly membership fee).
    Imagine how much it might add up if Netflix even agreed to pay a penny or a nickel for each time it streamed. Or a dollar.
    Imagine how much we stand to lose if they never even pay a penny.
    So I don’t know what the solution is–I’m not about to mount a national campaign to bring Netflix to their knees, I’m too busy earning a living because I can’t live on the proceeds of my films, as I think is the case for all of us–and I also understand why anyone would want their work on Netflix, we all want our work to be seen–but I never hear anyone talk about this really f***ed up financial situation with their company, so I thought I’d share my experience.
    Of course as I write this, there’s an ad just alongside the comment box for….Netflix! And so it goes.
    Su Friedrich

  2. Filmster

    I don’t agree that I as a filmmaker should invest a ton of time and money in promotion. I agree that this is how it works but it really shouldn’t be that way. A filmmaker’s talent is making films like a singer’s talent is singing. If we can’t afford promoters and publicists we can’t get our material noticed? This is not only hurting the artist but the distributers and potential audience. It’s ridiculous that Netflix states that we should create a buzz. I did what I’m good at by making the film; you create the buzz if you like my film and accept it. But that would take talent in order to recognize what is acceptable and what isn’t. Netflix could really be a groundbreaker here and open the submission doors to the independents and actually screen the material and decide if it’s marketable. But instead of being groundbreakers and visionaries they simply use old, outdated, political methods of distribution which only help the chosen few.

  3. whitecurtain


    I totally agree with you! Studios and filmmakers depend on 80% of their revenue model for “home-based services,” ie streaming, DVD, merchandise, according to Epstein’s book ‘The Hollywood Economist’ (2010).

    Netflix is currently the first thing that comes to my mind if I wanna rent/watch a movie at home.

    But this is not a sustainable model for independent filmmakers, because the indie filmmaker essentially gets nothing on the deal.

    Screw that. If I want to be ripped off, I may as well sell my work to Hollywood or post my movie in clips on YouTube.

    But I don’t. So I have no interest in ever letting Netflix take and exploit my movie.

    I’d rather put part of my movie on YouTube for the exposure and sell DVDs/stream on my website.

  4. Labelnr1

    Somehow, reading this article makes me think that even making indie films has become a corporate business rather than a subculture. It used to be that we would seek out the indie films regardless of how difficult it is to get hold of a copy, and that added to the appeal, but now indie has become just another adjective to make a film more “sellable” to a different audience.

  5. samraine100

    So one of the best ways to get picked up by Netflix is to have good press kits. It shows that the press are interested in your indie movie, and that might mean there will be a higher chance of it being profitable. I think only a few indie film fans would get Netflix for the sole purpose of watching indie movies, so I think those indie film makers have a tough fight on their hands.

  6. aceofspades

    Not only do we have to literally work our asses into the ground making the movie, but creating a ton of buzz too? No marketing budget = no marketing.

    Film festival buzz???Yeah right, I’m supposed to pay someone to sit around and drink beer while they yack on their phone and never even pay attention to my film? Yeah, right.

    I sent Netflix an email with plenty of info. Here was there response:

    “Thank you for your interest in submitting a film for consideration to Netflix. However, at this time we are not accepting film submissions.”

    16 million customers at 8 bucks per month = 128 million a month?

    Bullshit. They need material.