Brides to Be, the third feature of local filmmaking duo Kris and Lindy Boustedt (First Sight Productions), is a romantic, earnest, gory thriller about a lesbian couple staying in a haunted mansion the night before their wedding.
After the film's premiere at Seattle's Twist of Pride Film Festival in 2016, the Boustedts immediately made it available to stream online. You can now see Brides to Be on iTunes ($3.99), YouTube (free with ads), and Amazon Prime (free with a Prime subscription or with ads for nonsubscribers).
The pair's second feature, This Is Ours, is also available on Amazon Prime—but it got there via an aggregator, a company that handles the details of online film distribution (on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime) for a fee. This time, Kris and Lindy Boustedt took logistics into their own hands.
Self-distribution is an empowering and cost-effective choice for indie filmmakers, as it cuts down on overhead and offers them more creative and financial direction over the entire process. But filmmakers with big budgets feel a similar pressure to take control of their own work.
Steven Soderbergh started out at Sundance, moved on to commercial blockbusters like Ocean's Eleven, retired from the business out of frustration, and has now returned with a new feature and an innovative self-distribution plan that would make the film available in fewer theaters and depend more on revenue from non-theatrical rights, including streaming on Amazon.
Amazon has a shoddy reputation among creative types for under-compensating artists and authors, so it's a bit of a surprise that of all the possible streaming platforms, the Boustedts' favorite is Amazon, whose Video Direct service (released last year) allows artists to upload their projects themselves.
YouTube is another option for filmmakers who want to make money while keeping their works available online at no cost to audiences—but seeing a free, full cut of a feature film on YouTube undermines its legitimacy. "Weirdly enough," said Kris, "I don't think I would ever watch a movie on YouTube." Lindy added, "Not a feature." Kris agreed: "Right. But I would definitely use Amazon Prime."
Amazon is also much better than YouTube at conveying Brides to Be's careful cinematography, editing, and design. The film is a professional production, and Amazon's video player makes it look like one, with a trailer, interactive cast list, and sleek background image—while also making the film free and accessible to millions of viewers.
So what about the money?
The terms of the Boustedts' deal are this: They get 55 percent of the ad revenue (same as YouTube) generated when nonsubscribers watch Brides to Be with ads. When Prime members use the streaming service, the payment structure is based on minutes watched: For every thousand subscribers in the United States who view the 82-minute movie from beginning to end, the filmmakers will earn a little more than $200. The international rate amounts to just over $80.
"We get way more money from Amazon than we do from YouTube," Kris said. "You definitely need a lot of minutes watched to generate a lot of revenue. But it's way better than YouTube." Lindy added: "And we get paid more often, which is really nice too." (While the Boustedts are bound by an NDA and can't release the details of their Amazon metrics, Brides to Be has more than 1.1 million views on YouTube.)
Looking forward, the filmmakers have high hopes for Amazon's recommendation algorithms ("It's most of the value of Amazon," Kris said). And they appreciate the metrics that can tell them how many minutes of the film were watched, where the movie is being viewed, and at what moment someone got bored and switched it off.
"Not all platforms share data with you—and to have access to that data is huge," said Kris. "Because it's not like an independent filmmaker making a movie for less than $100,000 is going to have a big marketing budget. You can't just plaster it everywhere. You have to be surgical in your approach. [Amazon Video Direct] is a step in that direction—we know what's working and what's not working, and we can figure out where to go from there."
Don't get it twisted: There are still plenty of reasons to hate Amazon. Video Direct does not seem to be one of them.