How to put your DSLR movie on iTunes

For Lovers Only is a French New Wave inspired no-budget film shot on the 5D Mark II by The Polish Brothers and it sells for $14.99 on iTunes. A beautiful black & white portrayal of a couple as they fall deeper in love. It has zero marketing budget, zero distribution budget and a crew of three, two of whom are the stars.

For Lovers Only represents the end of Hollywood and the film industry as we know it.

These are filmmakers working on their own with a DSLR, a laptop and an internet connection. So far they’ve made over $200,000 and counting from iTunes sales and their film is getting better known by the second.

The marketing plan for the film was to first seed word of it via social networking, and it was on Twitter that word began to spread. The directors, brothers Mark & Michael Polish think they key is in personal discovery – people first stumbling on the film helped spread the word. Back before the days of massive marketing campaigns and media being spoon fed to us, there still was a thrill to discovering a great unkown film or a band nobody had ever seen or heard before, and telling your friends about it. That’s how word got around about For Lovers Only and it seems to have worked.

The film was shot in just 12 days on a 5D Mark II handheld.

“The idea was to get back to the real energy of filmmaking,” said Mark Polish in an interview with TheWrap.com

“And we made it completely under the radar: nobody in the industry knew about it.”

“It was me, Mike and Stana, and that was it”

“We shot for 12 days, and the whole point was to capture this really intense intimacy between the two characters.”

“[With the 5D Mark II] It looked like I was just shooting a married couple, or a couple getting married”

“So we were able to go into a church, and people would stay out of our way, because they’d think I was shooting stills.”

The film was shot with natural light, the only staged lighting was from an iPhone torch during a nightclub scene. The resulting film is so natural, beautifully shot and a compelling story. It’s really inspiringly simple but effective, just what I am interested in. This is why EOSHD has always shunned expensive gear, complex rigging and the elaborate tendancies of the professional film industry. What really matters is not that.

So how do you get a head start on the future of filmmaking and do a project like this yourself – now?

Make sure you have a good idea that you can run with but that is doable within the constraints of the real world, with a minimal budget and the acting talent you have available. This is the most difficult thing to get right. Think about locations as well, what you can use in public and what it gives to the film in terms of atmosphere.

Master the technical side of DSLR video. Get advice on the right kit to buy, and spend time experimenting and playing around with it. Some people respond better to training workshops and books, the e-books being by far the cheapest option. All are very important if you want to do your film justice.

It helps to have built a Twitter following or online voice so your work can be ‘seeded’ to the crowds, and so word of mouth can begin being generated and passed around. But first of course you shall have to be approved for iTunes.

There are two ways of putting your movie on iTunes. You can submit it to Apple iTunes Connect (as you can music and books) but there is a strict approval process. You may have a better chance in going through an aggregator. Apple themselves say that most of the independent content on iTunes comes via this route, rather than direct submittals via iTunes Connect.

What is an aggregator?

An aggregator is as close to a middle-man as we have in this brave new world. It’s a company that handles the application process and maximises your chances of being approved by Apple.

They’re also part of Apple’s strategy of out-sourcing the approval work and the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff to somebody else.

They also work to help prepare your digital artwork for iTunes, any other marketing material and they are experts on digital distrubution. Apple currently have a list of approved aggregators here and the 5 in the US accept content from individuals, not just registered companies and indie production studios.

The world of digital distribution is still in it’s earliest days and the picture is changing day by day. I’m sure there will be as many middle-men and expensive options before long as there are now in the traditional film industry, so now is probably a very good time to try and cut through the BS and make some money from your film whilst it’s still relatively simple.

If you have a feature length film by the way, you have more chances of being approved for iTunes distribution than if you have short content.

3 ‘simple’ things

Right now, I see digital distribution of movies, music and books as having just three main components. These elements are above all the most important.

  1. A blog and social networking presence. These are now essential for publicity and marketing purposes. Always get your work out there, and if it isn’t finished put the journey and the process out there – it can be just as interesting.
  2. An idea. Feed off life, turn experience into art, have a voice, say something interesting, say something new, make a comment on the people and the world around you. The world is changing all the time and today it’s changing faster than ever before. Ideas are hard and I am hearing more and more that originality is dead because everything has been done before. This is nonsense. Maybe our experiences are getting safer and more insular more like – if you’re struggling for ideas try first striving for interesting life experiences and the ideas will follow.
  3. A talent. Today it has never been more important to present ideas in compelling and powerful ways. A talent for the technical stuff like DSLR video now goes hand in hand with artistic talent so it helps to be versitile. Usually having this talent gives one the passion to really push it and to make sacrifices along the way. Without talent and passion you may as well give up. Just hard graft is not enough any more! Imagination is more important.

Good luck and viva the DSLR revolution folks!

Further reading available at Apple iTunes Partner Programs FAQ – Movies