We’ve recently gone through the process of self-distributing on Amazon Prime and know that there’s a lot of fellow filmmakers out there that want a simple explanation on exactly how you get your film on Amazon Prime. Well without further ado, this article is dedicated to explaining how we got our film on Amazon Prime (UK & US) and all the assets etc that you’ll need.
Really quickly before we get started, I just want to say the process is a lot simpler than most people think. The hardest part is getting all the assets together which you can technically hire someone to do if you’re unsure. Amazon Prime’s process itself is actually very simple so as long as your film is of a decent enough quality (mainly clear audio and visual) then you’ll be fine. Also please be aware before you start, you will need ‘Closed Captions’ for your film. Basically English subtitles. We were lucky enough to know how to do this ourselves within Premier Pro and I’ll explain this briefly later in the article, but if you have no idea how to do this then just pay one of the main companies out there like Rev – https://www.rev.com/caption
Also some shameless self-promotion…if you are a fellow filmmaker then please be sure to check out our first feature film ‘Times & Measures’ on Amazon Prime here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08J871694/ – and feel free to give us a review if you liked it!
Step 1: Assets
There’s a list of assets you’ll need in order to get your film distributed. The best thing to do is have these ready to go, prior to submitting the film to Amazon Prime.
A fancy way of saying ‘your film’, basically it’s a high-quality exported version of your film. There’s a list of formats Amazon accept including H.264, Pro-Res 422 and MPEG-2. This needs to be in a very specific format for Amazon to accept your video file, for a more detailed look at requirements please see Amazon’s help page here – https://videocentral.amazon.com/home/help?topicId=G202129880
Also worth noting here that currently (written October 2020) Amazon doesn’t accept 4K versions from us muggles. Only big studios films can do that currently.
As mentioned above, you HAVE to have a copy of your closed captions exported separately. In all honesty this is the part we had most trouble with and had to try a few variations until Amazon accepted ours. In the end we wrote and exported our closed captions via Premier Pro as the standard settings for ‘.srt’ format and that was accepted fine. Again check out Amazon’s help page for further info on specification requirements – https://videocentral.amazon.com/home/help?topicId=G201979140
If you have no idea what any of this means then please hire the services of a professional as you can waste so much time on this small aspect. Again, companies like Rev offer this service – https://www.rev.com/caption (also worth noting we aren’t paid for promoting Rev, they’re just the most popular company out there who do this service at quite a cheap rate)
Same format requirements as your mezzanine file but it is an optional asset, however I would strongly recommend you add one since most people want to watch a trailer before committing to a film so it can gain you additional views by having one.
Then the last assets you’ll need are the artworks for your film to look professional when listed on Amazon Prime. There’s three key types here:
1) Key Art (16:9)
2) Key Art (3:4)
3) Background Image (16:9)
This is the only thing your audience will see of your film so please be sure they all look professional and link in some way. You want to create a ‘brand’ here to help sell the film.
There are some specifications to these so be sure to check out Amazon’s help page here for further details – https://videocentral.amazon.com/home/help?topicId=G201979200
Step 2: Sign Up to Prime Video Direct
This is the step most people aren’t aware of, you don’t actually submit your film directly to Amazon Prime, instead you submit to Amazon’s content distribution service ‘Prime Video Direct’. You’ll find the signup page by going here – https://videocentral.amazon.com/
During the process of signing up you’ll be asked a lot of questions about your tax information so be sure to have your business/company HMRC (or IRS if in the US) information to-hand.
Step 3: Submit Your Assets
With all your assets collated from step 1 you should be able to breeze through this step. Once logged in, click ‘Your Videos’ in the top menu and then click the yellow(ish) ‘Add Title’ button below the search bar.
You’ll then be greeted with 4 main tabs, let’s look at each one individually and I’ll give a brief overview of each one:
Here is where you’ll input all the usual wording, make the selections and add all the artwork for your film. It’s all quite self-explanatory here, there’s only 2 aspects I’d draw your attention to:
1) Backdate the ‘Original Release Date’. If you set this to a date in the future then Amazon won’t set your film live until this date.
2) The rating section scares a lot of people since they suddenly think you need to have your film given an official certification. You don’t. If you (like us!) haven’t had an official British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) then just select ‘Title not officially rated’ but be sure to choose an honest age rating. This caught us out, as after 2 days of our film being live, Amazon removed it our choice of rating being too low. Once we changed it it went live again within the hour, but learn from our mistake!
Cast & Crew
Again really self-explanatory, just input all the cast/crew of your film.
This is the biggie. Here, you upload the actual film (mezzanine file), captions and trailer files. If your files (especially the mezzanine file) are huge like ours were, then this can take hours, even days depending on your internet speed.
It’s worth noting, their system is great if your internet happens to cut out, ours did a couple of times as it took so long. If this also happens to you then simply log back in, select the same file you were trying to upload via the ‘Browse…’ Button and the system remembers how much was already uploaded and it carries on from that point. So if your internet cuts out, don’t panic, just go to re-upload the same file again and it’ll carry on from that point.
This is where you select where you want your film to be shown. As standard, you have 3 options for both UK and US.
Prime, Buy, Rent. ‘Prime’ is simply having your film on Amazon Prime, ‘Buy’ is having your film available to buy digitally on Amazon and ‘rent’ is having your film available to rent digitally on Amazon.
You just ‘check’ which boxes you want applied to your film. If you check the ‘buy’ and/or ‘rent’ options you can also then select how much you want to sell/rent your film for. As standard you can just select ‘Preset pricing’ which lists everything at the standard price of films on Amazon. If you want to set your own pricing just change this to ‘Custom pricing’ and make up your own numbers.
Step 4: Monitor Your Film
Once you’ve gotten everything written and uploaded, now you play the waiting game. My advice here is constantly check your ‘Your Videos’ section from the top menu. Here you sill see your film listed and the status will initially be something like ‘Pre-publish Review’ or ‘In Review’ with a half-green circle under ‘U.K’ and/or ‘United States’.
This can change at any moment as Amazon’s systems check your files. If everything happens to be perfect, then your film should go live within a week. However, if there are any errors with your files (this is very common so don’t panic if it happens to you, not many people get it right first time, we sure didn’t!) the half green circle will turn red and you’ll need to address the errors listed. For example our Closed Caption file was incorrect the first time, so we had to try a different filetype, re-upload, and play the waiting game again.
As long as everything is ok, eventually you’ll log in, go to ‘Your Videos’ and see the magical word ‘Published’ beside your film title and half FULL green circles. If this happens, well done, you’re now on Amazon Prime! However, please don’t get too excited at this point and start spreading the word. Just hold tight for about 24 hours before you do anything else, because this isn’t the end of it. Once you have been first ‘published’, Amazon then does something called a ‘Post-publish Content Review’ where they do an even more extensive check of your film. This is where we got caught out with the age rating issue. As soon as they flag an issue, your film is immediately removed from Amazon. This is why I say not to jump the gun as soon as you get the ‘published’ status, because there’s nothing worse than spreading the word on social media, then suddenly people can’t find your film…and you have a big egg on your face. So just hold tight, our initial error came within 24 hours of the initial ‘published’ status, so give it a day, as long as nothing comes up, you’ll be fine. If any errors are noticed, just correct them as quickly as you can and the film should go live within an hour or so, as long as they’re happy with the correction.
Once that’s all over, you can finally you can sit back and know your film is officially listed on Amazon Prime.
Step 5: Post-Publication Stats and Royalties
Once your film is live you can then monitor the minutes viewed via the main ‘Dashboard’ section within your Prime Video Direct account. There’s not much data here, you can filter by a few variants but mainly you can see how many minutes have been watched on specific days, weeks, months and also how many times the video has been played, or ‘Unique Stream’s as they call it in the options bar. I use the term ‘played’ because this metric doesn’t mean that’s how many people actually ‘watched’ your film, it just means how many people actually pressed ‘play’ on your film. As with most films, some people will watch it all the way through, some people will turn off after so long, so it’s not verbatim that this metric is how many people actually watched your film from start-to-finish. But they are the two metrics you can view within the dashboard of your account.
Also wort quickly noting there’s generally a 3-day delay on stats appearing, and you get told around the 10th of each month as to how much money you’ve made and can withdraw.
Earnings-wise, if you opted for the buy/rent options then it’s simple. You retain 50% of every purchase or rental your film had. If you have chosen the Amazon Prime option then it’s a little more complicated, but as a rule of thumb, you are paid 4p for every 1 hour watched of your film. Now, I cannot confirm if that is 1 hour per viewer or as a whole, but from looking at our stats it does seem that it’s 4p per hour viewed as an accumulative of all minutes watched. However how much you are paid per hour does differ depending on what Amazon call ‘The Customer Engagement Ranking (CER)’. This is a metric in which Amazon determine how engaging your content is to a viewer. There’s a few explanations on what can effect this but from what I gather it just means how many people watched your film and for how long…in my humble opinion anyway. Don’t quote me on that, but that’s my understanding of it. If you want to check yourself then please feel free to see the wording here – https://videocentral.amazon.com/home/help?topicId=GM3QD6LE2PMRUL4M. This CER can effect how much you earn, in the UK for example you can earn as little as 1p per hour viewed or as much as 12p per hour viewed, depending on your CER. So as an average, just divide your total hours viewed by 4p and you’ll be in a ballpark figure as to how much you’re likely to make.
From here it goes without saying that you of course need to market your film as best you can. When it comes to marketing, be sure to space it out. Amazon’s algorithms like to see good viewing numbers over long periods of time. So don’t just blitz your marketing, get all your views in the first couple of days then let it sit. Be sure to have a long-term marketing plan to keep a continual flow of viewers watching the film.
We followed this advice from another filmmaker who self-distributed on Amazon Prime and found after about 2 weeks our film started to actually be listed in the ‘recommended’ section and also in the top 10 charts for ‘Thriller’ and ‘Drama’, so we can say with first-hand experience that it’s better to have a steady stream of viewers continually, as opposed to mass views in small time-frames.
And that is everything really, I hope that all helped. I am by no means an Amazon Prime Distribution specialist, simply a fellow filmmaker that managed to self-distribute their film on Amazon Prime and wanted to help others by explaining how I did it. If you run into any issues be sure to go directly to Amazon’s Help guides and contact them directly if you have questions. All their information can be found here – https://videocentral.amazon.com/home/help?