Indie Films’ iTunes End-Around: Sell Them as Apps

For filmmakers who want to be on iTunes, apps can be an easier sale than movies

For independent filmmakers who want to sell through the iTunes store but find Apple’s approval process difficult without studio backing, there’s an end-around option: turn the film into an app.

For the next 30 days, that option also will be cheaper – in fact, it’ll be free, courtesy of Stonehenge Productions, which on Tuesday announced the launch of “Indie Appalooza,” a monthlong offer to create free iPhone apps for the first 30 independent filmmakers who apply.

“This is another channel for the independent film community,” says Mark Smillie, founder of the company, which creates iPhone and iPad applications that contain not only the entire film, but interactive content and extras.

“There’s no reason they shouldn’t also try for theatrical release, Amazon, Netflix …” Smillie told TheWrap. “But this is another channel for distribution, and it’s a channel that has a two-way connection with your audience.”

Smillie started making the apps when he realized the approval process for selling films on iTunes was daunting, and sometimes impossible, for independent filmmakers. Going through the App Store, he said, simplified the process and allowed for extra content.

Stonehenge created iPhone and iPad apps for two films, the comedy “Geek Mythology” and the faux documentary “A New Tomorrow,” currently available on iTunes for $4.99. Smillie says four or five others, including "Total Hell" (right), are going through the approval process. (They also have created apps for film festivals.)

Normally, the company charges $300 to create an application that contains an entire film, more if the app incorporates interactive content. Stonehenge then receives 5 percent of the sales royalties of each app.

During the Indie Appalooza promotion, Stonehenge will create the apps free of charge, but will continue to collect the 5 percent royalty. (“We have to eat,” Smillie says.)

To prevent connection problems and pauses for buffering, the downloaded apps contain the entire film. If the filmmaker desires, Stonehenge can add commentary, trailers, behind-the-scenes clips, deleted scenes, text and graphics, links to Twitter and Facebook, the ability to have a real-time news feed …

“The idea is build an experience around the film, to make it as much of a participatory experience as possible,” says Smillie.

The introduction of the iPad, he adds, dramatically increased interest in apps that contain entire films. “Having that 10-inch screen is a completely different experience than watching it on your iPhone,” he says. “There’s a lot more real estate, a lot more you can do.”

Stonehenge is not the only company to turn indie films into apps. Finnish director Kimmo Kuusniemi, for instance, created an iPad app for his rock documentary “Promised Land of Heavy Metal.”

“It’s like Apple had been designing the iPad expressly for my purposes,” Kuusniemi told the Wall Street Journal.

For now, iPad and iPhone apps are unlikely to make a substantial amount of money for filmmakers – but at a time when buyers are wary and distribution is hard to secure, it is simply one more way to give people a chance to see a movie that might otherwise remain under wraps.

“It’s a way to put your film out there on iTunes, get some exposure and provide the community access to the work you’ve done,” says Smillie. “And with the iPad, I think the idea is starting to take on a life of its own.”