Don’t forget do-it-yourself distribution as a legitimate way to get your productions seen by others.

Uncle Al’s Ab Workout, Mike Jones’ Kickin’ Karate and The Beach Babe Experiment. Three of the hundreds of successfully marketed low-budget videos available on the market today. Never heard of them? Well, neither have many people. But the tapes have sold enough copies to keep the producers busy making more. What’s their secret? Personal distribution.

Not to be confused with the high-cost world of commercial video distribution, which is full of contracts, release dates, recoupment levels, ad commitments, royalties, etc., personal video distribution is a way of reaching select audiences to view your work–at low to no cost. It allows the communication of your ideas, thoughts and feelings to specific individuals or groups that express interest in topics your productions address. I must forewarn you: personal video distribution will not bring you worldwide notoriety or fame. Just examine the list at the beginning of this article for proof. And your bank account won’t overflow either.

What personal video distribution will do, however, is fulfill the main reason for committing an image to tape–getting that image viewed by others. The following is a list of methods for placing your productions in the public eye, arousing interest and opinions, good or bad, sparking discussions and, most importantly, getting seen.

It’s Showtime

This one’s a no-brainer, but it deserves mentioning. Show your productions to friends and family. I know the look of dread that crosses a relative’s face whenever you grab a tape and move towards the VCR. But this time, when you present your video, create a little atmosphere and you may start drawing a crowd instead of dispersing one. Popping in a tape during the middle of a family get-together won’t elicit much of a reaction.

Instead, try introducing the show with a little background about its beginnings and why the subject intrigued you enough to warrant a production. Even pass out evaluation cards for viewers to complete, questioning them on such items as image quality, camera technique, understandability, and interest level. Make this first method of personal distribution do more than get your tape watched by a group of relatives. Valuable feedback from the audience will help you improve future productions and will involve the audience. Successful small-scale viewings often lead to bigger and better things. You never knew that friend-of-a-friend was head of marketing for the local factory. He may be so impressed with your efforts that you’ll find yourself shooting a training video for the plant.

Getting Grouped

Private and public groups and organizations are an indefatigable source of potential audiences. Public events such as parades, horse shows and fairs all offer a multitude of participating groups that may want to view your footage.

Say, while on vacation, you shot video of a rare collection of baseball memorabilia on display in a sports museum. Some of the cards, pennants and photos on display have never been seen before. The footage is something special–why not show it to someone else, like a local collector’s society or memorabilia organization. They will only be too glad to include a video presentation of your findings in what would otherwise be another slow, media-less meeting. And who knows–one of the members may hire you to document his own card collection as well.

And instead of merely a showy display of the old cards and pictures, you may opt to inject graphics and narration about each specific item highlighted, giving stats on the teams, players and other historical facts.

Your “History of Baseball” video could prove to be a big hit with students and teachers of a local high school. It’s not boring to kids because it avoids the usual antiseptic treatment of most school texts, and the video also appeals to faculty because of it’s a good way to get students excited about history.

Educational programs are almost always well received in a school setting; videos that deal with community issues also attract interest. A production on the evolution of new industry, changing political forces or even a short on sporting achievements within your city all make for good school audience fodder.


Video Lending

Having your work screened by groups and students is a good start in the personal video distribution system. But it’s only successful if people are members, attending meetings or classes. Why not place your video in an area where all members of the community may have access to it–at their own discretion? Your local library loves donations and if your video has any redeeming characteristics (educational, documentary, historical, community interest), they’ll be glad to take it off your hands. With this method, your video is available to the masses, and there’s no telling how large the audience may be.

Take this arrangement one step further by initiating the creation of a “locally-produced” corner in your library’s video area. It’s easy to believe you’re the only really talented videomaker in the area, but chances are good that other producers are lurking right around the corner. These folks are probably hunting for audiences as well. Hook up with these people by contacting user groups (this magazine lists groups every issue) and spreading word-of-mouth about your library’s new attraction. Work with the librarian and others involved in finding and securing copies of locally produced videos. Alert local newspapers, schools and civic organizations to the library’s new “product.”

Cannes Do

You may not get Pamela Anderson to show up, but the First Annual “Yourtown” Video Festival is a great way to attract an audience. If it’s good enough for Cannes, why not start your own? It’s not that tough if you plan well and allow enough lead time to get things in motion. Get the word out to fellow videomakers, otherwise you’ll have no entries. No entries, no festival. Send press releases to video interest magazines, detailing deadline dates, addresses, fees and formats. You may also want to purchase a couple of inexpensive ads in trade publications announcing the event.

You’ll need to secure equipment and a room to screen the videos. Your local library is a good place to inquire about a community room. Pick some objective judges to select winners. The local college’s art and film professors, local photographers, writers or educators are all good choices. Don’t forget prizes. Approach retailers, travel agents, gyms and video stores in your town about providing goods and services in exchange for the free advertising and publicity they’ll get by being associated with your festival. Give away cash from a pool of the entrance fees or use it to purchase video related prizes. (After a couple of years, with your festival a smashing success, you’ll be able to solicit national video equipment companies for prize donations.) Invite entrants and their friends and families to attend screenings along with the judges. Announce the winners with a photographer present. If planned, promoted and carried out with style, yours and others videos will be seen by a large number of people and the festival will be on its way to becoming an annual event.

Video On The Side

Baby-boomers out there probably remember “open mike” night at their town’s corner coffee house. The premise was simple–the owner of the cafe would set up a microphone and amp, and invite patrons to perform sing or speak on whatever topic they felt compelled to address. It was an excellent way to draw a crowd, and for a minimal investment. With the idea finding a resurgence of popularity among youngsters today, it’s time for a technological update. Instead of open mike night, host an “open monitor” night. The methodology is the same, people are given the opportunity to express themselves in a public setting, only this time they use videotape images to do the communicating.

You don’t own a bar or cafe? Ramble on down to the nearest watering hole and present this proposition of “high-tech soapboxing” to the manager. Explain the benefits of hosting such an affair (i.e. free press, word-of-mouth, a potential increase in patrons). With the popularity of consumer video gear, the night is sure to be a big success. Most clubs and restaurants have VCRs and monitors on the premises. If your newest video venue doesn’t, bring your own.


Going (sort of) Mainstream

Maybe you feel all of the above-mentioned methods of personal distribution aren’t really legitimate ways to distribute your productions to the public. There are ways of dealing with consumer-consumption media in a low-budget manner that will keep you in the realm of personal video distribution. The first of these is LPTV.

LPTV or low-power television is a form of UHF broadcast available in the U.S. These stations put out a very low-power signal that reaches a small broadcast area–usually a single metropolitan area. These stations are famous for cost-cutting measures for obtaining programming. This is where you step in. If the station’s looking for cheap videos to fill their schedule and you’re looking for an outlet to broadcast your work, you’ve got a perfect match. Approach the programming director of these stations and screen some of your best work. Many LPTV stations are locally oriented, so any programming produced and concerning the immediate community will be favorably received.

Local access cable TV is a second broad-based personal distribution option. It was created by cable systems as a way of giving the public availability to the cable network. Give a call to yours and neighboring cable systems and inquire about the program. Most provide equipment and airtime free of charge to anyone wishing to use it. Some systems charge small fees for equipment upkeep purposes. If you already possess a program, dub it to the appropriate format and you may soon see it broadcast wherever the channel is available. One caution–be prepared to wait. The waiting list for airtime on the channels can be frightening, but your patience will pay off eventually.

Aisle 3, Bottom Row

There’s yet another method of “personal” distribution worth pursuing–the rental video store. Picking videos to view is the only reason a person frequents these establishments, and if your product is on the shelf, it might be someone’s next rental. Approach your friendly store owner as you would a library; they both love free stuff. Offer your (and possibly other producers’) videos free of charge if he’ll make them available to customers at a reduced rental rate. Also mention all the free publicity associated with setting up such a one-of-a-kind service. Beyond risking some shelf space, the owner will benefit with free product, free press and some cash from the rentals. You’ll gain another opportunity to have your work viewed by a large audience, all for the cost of a dub.

Three-line Wonders

Classified advertising is another low-cost approach to personal distribution. Not the kind of classified ad found in the final pages of your local newspaper, but the small three-line ads found in most every specialty magazine. Back to your baseball memorabilia video. Whenever you screened the videotaped artifacts, the question of the hour was, “How much is that stuff worth?” Well, this tape can be quickly turned into a collector’s price guide, or sales source for other far-off collector’s who want to look before they buy. A quick re-work of the footage, and you’ll be sporting a new production that warrants an ad in Sporting Memories magazine. Most topics interesting enough to warrant a production have an audience that can be found through the hundreds of specialty magazines on the market today.

The above-mentioned methods of personal video distribution are definitely not all-inclusive. They should be viewed as merely a jumping-off point from which you can refine, create and develop your own low-cost formulas for getting your videos watched. Whether you start a video chain letter, initiate homemade video viewing night at the local theater or deliver your videos door-to-door to homebound persons, it’s not the approach for this grass roots distribution that matters–it’s the fact that other people are viewing your videotape.

One final hint: always sell yourself every step of the way by handing out business cards to every adult you encounter. Also, include your name, address and phone number on the tape label and in the production itself. This “shameless” self-promotion can only lead to more work in the field. If the audience likes what you do, you may find yourself being paid to shoot your next production.

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