In the online world of streaming content and digital access, IndieFlix is leading the charge. Dubbed by Variety as “the Netflix of independent film,” the Seattle-based company features thousands of films from all over the world available to subscribers for only $5 a month.
Washington Filmworks recently sat down with IndieFlix CEO and Co-Founder Scilla Andreen to discuss the history of the company, how it has shaped the digital environment (and vice versa), and the filmmaker’s role in creating an online library.
Washington Filmworks: How did IndieFlix get its start?
Scilla Andreen: I’m a filmmaker, and was very familiar with the industry on a production side, but distribution was new to me. I made one of the first digital features and distribution seemed like a whole new environment – I just left it to professionals. We made our first feature film and went to festivals around the world and got a lot of offers; in those days, that was a lot of attention and meant a lot (and our budget was small). I started to turn it over to the attorneys regarding a distribution agreement and saw red flags – for example, no caps on expensive; $3500 to get accurate reporting; they didn’t have to release it and could change the title – all these questionable things.
We ended up using our first film to launch IndieFlix and sat down to make all the things we wished existed in a film distribution company. We launched it in Seattle – it was challenging to make money, but people were on board. We had 36 titles and DVD only in 2005; in 2010, we dropped DVD’s and played with memberships and pay-per-view. In 2013, it was a subscription-based streaming site with 8,000 titles for $5 a month. Now, we stream globally because we have worldwide rights for 90% of our library. We’re on Roku and Xbox, and are looking to be pre-installed on all major TV’s.
Variety calls us the “Netflix of independent film” – but we are different in how we pay filmmakers: we don’t do licensing fees or minimum guarantees, but we pay for every minute watched as a revenue share and content is protected behind a pay wall. We have worldwide rights, can stream globally, and people can watch the content from anywhere in the world. We represent 85 countries and 3,000 film festivals. We have shorts, features, documentaries, web-series, and independently-produced TV. We now have channels and much bigger distributors, because they were concerned that filmmakers could bypass them (which they certainly can) but a perk of going to distributors is that we have another entity to market the film.
We are growing so fast and so meaningfully – we’re global, affordable, and only charge $5 a month. It’s a model that cuts out the middleman and puts power and money into filmmakers. Filmmakers are their own gatekeepers and when technology came about they were inundated and had a lot of things to do, like make the movie and distribute and market it themselves. They learned to start marketing to make money (marketing is telling a story, much like filmmaking).
WF: Thanks to the digital revolution, content is available on so many sites and devices. How has this shaped IndieFlix, and vice versa?
SA: When we first launched, IndieFlix was one of the only places doing [online streaming]. As more competitors came and left, the industry went from DVD and DVD-on-demand to download, and then streaming came, and then the iPhone came into play (including the conversation on watching a movie on a tiny screen – is that doing justice to the filmmaker and its story?). Through all this conversation and technology, it was noise and craziness – like anything new, it was overwhelming.
But it started to find a rhythm – we as people rally and start to get more accustomed to new terminology and a way of doing things (just like when email came about and Skype, for example). People adjust. Now the world has synced up a little bit and tools got easier and easier to use. At the core, it’s really about how good of a storyteller you are, how authentic you are, and are you able to express yourself through videos and online? It’s fascinating and [different filmmakers] take turns being popular.
What makes us stand out is that we give films many chances, because stories evolve and grow – a film’s life is a journey. It’s not one-and-done with opening box office. It’s really a journey, and the world is a big place and we can all now access it.
WF: How have filmmakers reacted to your model, and how are they involved?
SA: As filmmakers, we have one dream: studios pick up our movie. We dream big. Filmmakers are also conditioned during all these decades to fear pirating. So it was hard to get content, and IndieFlix was viewed as a last resort (after distributors pass on it) – it was a huge hurdle to get over the piracy aspect and have filmmakers agree to it.
Because filmmakers were so afraid of piracy, we had to condition them. We empower thriving artists and filmmakers who want to get their work out there. Once they agreed to have their film online, we and the filmmakers had to market it to attract an audience. They know how to tell a story, and that’s essentially what marketing is. We’re modeling the new breed of filmmaker – to see storytellers and filmmakers rally and raise the bar for everyone and constantly exceed it is so exciting. They create a story, are collaborative, raise money, shoot it, market it – by the time it’s been released they’ve already built an audience. So our relationship with them is about managing expectations and giving them a can-do attitude rather than keeping them concerned.
WF: What does the future look like for IndieFlix and, in your opinion, the industry in general?
SA: I think we are going to be a leader in the space – we have such meaningful engagement with filmmakers and intimate relationship with users. We also sell the IndieFlix annual license to libraries around the world – 6 countries in 365 libraries! Filmmakers are going to start making meaningful money (and monetize their content) – it’s game-changing that they can make a living off of it. In the future, we will only attract bigger films and filmmakers given the success of our model and the direction it’s heading. We are a viable model, now we are making money to grow it.
Other exciting projects we have on our docket are the Indieflix Distribution Lab that’s producing original content exclusive to IndieFlix; our Faces of IndieFlix profile project where everyday people who love movies discuss the genre and films that best describe their life, and it’s a great way to get to know our subscribers; and QuickPick, an app that allows subscribers to quickly sample video content given the time they have to watch it and the genre they want – it’s a mix of movies, Pandora, and Tinder.
Most of all, we are a community – we love great stories and people, and want to create conversations to do good in the world.
Scilla Andreen, CEO and Co-Founder of IndieFlix, is an award-winning filmmaker, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and tireless champion of independent film. Scilla is a popular speaker on the festival circuit and is known as a disruptor and pioneer in the film industry. She is relentless in her mission to help filmmakers translate their artistic vision into commercial success.
Frustrated by complicated and one-sided distribution deals, Scilla co-founded IndieFlix in 2005 and over the years it has become one of the most meaningful, global, online streaming platforms in the industry. Her latest innovation, the RPM model (Royalty Pool Minutes), jettisons antiquated and complicated payment systems in favor of refreshing and transparent simplicity: for every minute watched, a filmmaker gets paid. Scilla sits on the board of The Film School and The Seattle Interactive Conference. Her favorite past-times are photography, sailing, dinner parties and games. She collects big necklaces and loves ball gown skirts but lives in shorts. Her friends call her fortune cookie. She resides with her two children and dogs in Seattle, WA.