Amazon Video Direct Slams Gates on Indie Documentaries and Shorts

Amazon Video Direct has been changing. It used to be a wide open platform, where anyone who could meet their tech requirements was guaranteed to find a spot on Amazon Video. You content could be seen by their millions of customers. It likely wouldn’t, but the algorithm did a decent job of showing your content to people, and you can directly market your films on the site, yourself.

Over the last couple of years AVD has been tightening the creative reins. They’ve been rejecting poor-er quality films. But, if you had a well produced movie, you could still get on board. Recently they’ve added using their S3 storage for titles. And begun kicking tiles off of Prime (SVOD) based on their murky CER ratings.

And this week, the bell tolled for niche market documentaries and short films. The submission page reads (On Feb. 17, 2021):

All content submitted through Prime Video Direct is made available at the sole discretion of Amazon. At this time, we’re no longer accepting unsolicited licensing submissions via Prime Video Direct for non-fiction and short form content. We’ll notify you if these categories become available for consideration.”

So, if your documentary isn’t solicited by them, you cannot get it on the service. In other words, to get your documentary on Amazon you have to use an aggregator and hope it’s selected or a distributor who will work to get it selected. Just like Netflix and other streaming outlets.

Self distributing a movie just got harder for doc filmmakers. There used to be a few places without gatekeepers to get your film out, and recoup some of the cost of making it. AVD just slammed the gates shut on indie docs and short films.


To Prime or not to Prime: TVOD vs SVOD in Indie Filmmaking

Trying to make back the money it costs to produce an independent film is hard.

People expect entertainment for free. Really, I should say “free” instead. Nothing is free, but it’s not normally something people pay for at the time of consuming the entertainment. They pay a monthly (Netflix, Hulu) or annual (Amazon) fee, but when they sit down to watch a movie or show, there’s no transaction. Youtube is free, social media is free, even TV is free, if you don’t count paying for cable or satellite, or dealing with advertising.

Studios spend millions on overcoming this expectation. It takes a big amount of interest to trigger someone buying a movie instead of just “netflixing” it. And, I have found, it takes a lot of interest to trigger the purchase or rental of an indie documentary.

My film has been in the TVOD window, or Transactional Video On Demand window- meaning people who want to watch it must buy or rent it. I’m considering when to move to the next widow, which is SVOD and AVOD, or Subscription VOD or Advertising Supported VOD. It’s a big decision because the difference in margins is pretty large. In TVOD the split between platform and filmmaker ranges from 50-90%, depending on platform. Amazon Video is 50%. So if you rent a movie for $2, the filmmaker gets $1. Amazon Prime royalties are paid by the amount of time watched. And that royalty varies based on a number of factors Amazon calls an engagement score.

Given its current engagement score on Amazon, my documentary would generate $0.05 per hour of streamed video. (Max possible is $0.10) So, I would be making right at $0.08 per viewing of my entire film. (If someone watches part of it, then the royalty will be adjusted.) That means to make more money from SVOD/Prime than rentals ($1) I would need to have my film viewed 12 times on Prime vs rented one time.

Sounds crazy right? How can anyone expect a movie to be viewed 12 times as much as it is rented just by making it available to Prime subscribers?

Part of my issue is that most of the initial rush of purchases have already happened. People who already know about the movie have already decided to buy or rent it. To generate more rentals or purchases I have to introduce someone to the movie and then get them interested enough to spend money on the transaction. I have to trigger someone to overcome their expectation of free entertainment. Opening the SVOD/AVOD window could bypass that, but will it generate revenue?

So, I did a little survey among my friends. These are people I can easily reach through organic means (not paid) on social media and email. I asked 5 simple questions. There was a definite trend.

I should mention this is far from a perfect or scientific survey. It’s a snapshot of what people I know think about watching independent films. It’s also a bit skewed by the number of filmmakers who are included in the survey, so keep that in mind when reading the results. I will break that down a bit more as the article goes on.

29 total responses.

Survey results with filmmakers included:

29 responses. 3 people had give money toward a crowdfunding campaign for film. 12 had been in or helped make a film. 14 had never been involved with film before.

96.5% use an SVOD service like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.
75% did not use an AVOD platform, like Crackle or Tubi.

65% said they either had or were willing to spend money an indie film (TVOD)
27% said the either had or were willing to watch an indie film on a “free” streaming platform. (SVOD/AVOD)
92% are open to watching your movie, if they are interested.

75% said they would rather watch an indie film on SVOD/AVOD.

Then I took out all of the filmmakers in the survey, leaving 17 responses.

53% said they either had or were willing to spend money an indie film (TVOD)
41% said the either had or were willing to watch an indie film on a “free” streaming platform. (SVOD/AVOD)
94% of these non-filmmakers are open to watching your movie, if they are interested enough. (That’s up 2% from when looking at the responses with filmmakers included… Weird)

76% said they would rather watch an indie film on SVOD/AVOD.

OK, so what does that mean?

Not a lot of people watch AVOD. Almost everyone has an SVOD service.

A lot of people say they will buy or rent an indie film, if they are interested enough. But in both versions of the survey, basically 3/4 say they would prefer to watch it through SVOD/AVOD. That makes sense, right? I’m already paying for the subscription, it’s easy to just add it and watch.

So while more than half are willing to consider spending money on your movie, it’s always going to be easier to get people to watch in SVOD. And, especially among friends and family, you can capture those TVOD transactions early.

Bottom line: After the initial rush of purchases by your committed fans, open the film up to SVOD. This should trigger the next level of fans, who might watch but are hesitant to pay money to watch.

“BRKN” by the Numbers

BRKN logoPost is progressing swiftly on the short film BRKN. I thought I share some of the numbers associated with it.

13 Dollars. The actual amount of money spent. For snacks. I either owned or borrowed everything else. No-budget production.

300 Dollars. How much would have been spent for camera/lighting rental if I didn’t own or borrow the gear.

3 Hours. Length of time actually shooting on set.

2 Weeks. Length of time in Preproduction.

3 People. The number of bodies on the set. 2 actors and me. That’s it. Think that’s not enough? Me too. Want to help out next time? Shoot me an email: scott(at)

5 minutes. Approximate length of BRKN.

1 camera. A Sony a6000.

2 Lenses. A Sigma 19mm f2.8 Art and a Pentax A f4 35-70mm Adapted to E Mount. The AF on the a6000 with the 19mm allowed me to do a couple of camera moves I wouldn’t have tried.

1 DIY Slider. My RigWheels/Cam-On-Wheels style home-made slider. Performed very well.

It was great to be on set again, and I am hoping to do another project soon.

DIY Camera Slider ($25-$50)

If you are like me, a $500+ camera slider would be awesome, but it’s just out of your price range. I was able to borrow one for some of the shoots on my show, Peculiar. But that may no always be possible, And I wanted one for other shoots I might do. So I started looking at low cost alternatives. That turned out to be pretty hard to find.

There are a ton of DIY slider projects out there, some under $10. But I wanted something a little more functional than those. I ran across a company called RigWheels. This seemed like a better alternative, and you could build several set ups with your wheels. Still, $115 for a set of 4, and if you add a base the cost goes to $250. Then I found a competitor’s product, the CamOnWheels CW2. These were $60 for a set of 4. That was better, but still more than I wanted to spend. Surely there had to be a cheaper alternative.

I took a trip to my local parts surplus store. I found these:
IMG_2170 I didn’t know exactly what they were, but they looked a lot like the RigWheels/CamOnWheels products.

It couldn’t be used just like it was, but it was a start. I figured I could make some modifications and end up with a useable set of wheels. These were priced at $2.50 each. I snagged several. They looked pretty heavy duty.

Turns out they were made by Stanley and part of a Pocket Door hardware kit: STA-BP150N-41

New, they run about $10 for the kit. That will give you 2 sets of wheels. I found them for sale online at Hardware Hut.


A little bit of experimentation with bolts and nuts, and I came up with this design:


The extra parts cost another $7. You could, of course find a different style of wheel assembly that would also work. I made a 2 part video about how to build the slider with these pieces and some PVC pipe and a little hardware.

Part 1:

Part 2:

According to the Hardware Hut website, a pair can hold doors up to 150 pounds. So they are very heavy duty. I’m considering using 8 sets to build a dolly that can hold a person and camera set up. In addition, Stanley has track that these wheels can run in as well: STA-BP250-01-96 (Also available in 72″ lengths) I have not used any, but that could be a nice addition to a slider set up.

Here are the tools needed:

Drill and bits
Adjustable wrench

And the parts list for the Tabletop Slider;

4 sets of Pocket Door Wheels (either the Stanley STA-BP150N-41 variety, or similar)
4 1 1/2″ bolts with thread that matches your wheels (5/16 18 thread for the Stanley wheels)
8 Washers (fit 5/16 for the Stanley wheels)
4 Wingnuts that fit the bolts (5/16 18 for the Stanley wheels)
1 1/2″ bolt with 1/4 20 thread (To attach the camera mount)
1 6″by 6″ or larger Base (Use wood, metal or similar material)
1 Ball mount or Tripod head with 1/4″ 20 thread mount.

In the video I show a base made of plexiglass. For lightweight cameras (Flip style, iPhones, etc…) this will work, but for DSLRs and larger use another material. I have upgraded my base to a metal plate ($1.75 from parts surplus store) Wood or metal should serve well.


Caution: When drilling the 4 holes for your wheels is very important to get your holes parallel so you can use the slider on a track. Measure twice, drill once.

Optional upgrades for this project would include a better ball mount or tripod head for your camera.

Parts list for the PVC rail system:

1 10′ piece of PVC pipe (If using Stanley wheels, minimum 3/4″ diameter)
4 PVC Elbows with 1/2″ threaded outlet/spigot
4 PVC 1/2″ Threaded plugs
4 sets of bolts and nuts
2 1/4″ 20 thread wing nuts
2 pieces of Angle Iron
2 stands with 1/4″ 20 thread screws (Or cheap tripods)

Optional upgrades for this part of the project would include the rails made by Stanley for these wheels: STA-BP250-01-72 (Also available in 92″ sizes) You would need to flip the wheels so they were on top of the base, which would travel under the rails.

The shake you can see in the slider footage on this video can be attributed to a DSLR on that base and ball mount. A solid base and stronger mount will eliminate that shake when using heavier cameras. See more footage shot with a Flip camera here: