Selling your shorts on Itunes and other outlets - Discussion


I was hoping the day would come where I would see this:

So now personal shorts are being sold at the Itunes music store. The distributor is a company called Shorts International:

I am wondering if anybody here dealt with this company or similar companies. Do they buy your short for an amount and it belongs to them afterwards or do you get a share from each download from Itunes?

Another topic I would like to see discussed is what do you guys think about this kind of distribution? Personally I think this is wonderful for the short film maker and gives them a much wider audience than the festival circuit. I know we have things like channel frederator but as far as I know they do not pay for the animations they show.

Let us know your thoughts on the subject and what you would like to see as far as digital distribution goes.


I think this is an excellent opportunity not only for aspiring animators/film makers but also for those looking to either start a career in 3D or looking for inspiration for their own projects. Having access to CG animation films through localized venues such as iTunes will be very convenient. Let’s face it, it is often difficult to find quality animation movies and demo reels on the www relying solely on google or posting queries in forums such as CGTalk. I’m looking forward to see how this all pans out for us in the months to come.

I’m curious about this as well. Judging by a statement on their Submissions page,

“…our acquisitions department will send you a license agreement that requires exclusive distribution rights over the licensing period…”

seems to indicate that they will own rights for a specific time frame but I’m wondering if royalties are involved or not during that time. I guess a quick email to the company may shed some light.


Yeah, the 'Exclusive distribution Rights ’ part needs a lot more clarification. It sounds like a great idea anyway.


Hey everyone! My film The Mantis Parable is one of the handpicked animated shorts to be launched on iTunes, and I was asked to come over to this thread and chat about how that happened. I’m happy to answer any questions I can regarding the arrangement. First of all, let me tell you about the process my film went through to get on iTunes.


In the year since its premiere The Mantis Parable has won a bunch of awards, screened at over 50 festivals around the world (including Annecy and Tribeca), but perhaps the biggest success came last September at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, widely considered the top short film festival in the United States, and one of (if not THE) top short film festivals in the world. Palm Springs attracts all the top short films (live action and animated) for a lot of reasons, one of which is because winning there qualifies it for considereration for an Academy Award nomination. The Mantis Parable did just that, winning the award for BEST ANIMATION (beating out Academy nominee The Explorations of Jasper Morello - Annecy winner…and also an iTunes, among others) and I also received the FUTURE FILMMAKER AWARD of the festival. Anyway, immediately following the award ceremony I met a lot of folks who were really interested in me and my film. In particular, I received a lot of interest from distributors, some of whom wanted to publish the film online but I really wasn’t interested in streaming the film yet for a couple reasons, (a) because it disqualifies you from many festivals (they don’t want to show your film if it can be viewed in the privacy of one’s home), and (b) it can disqualify your film from receiving an Academy Award nomination.

In any case, one of the people I met the night of the awards contacted me out of the blue a couple months ago, almost a year after I had met her last September. She now worked for Shorts International and reminded me that she loved The Mantis Parable and wanted it to help launch independent animation on iTunes along with a handful of Academy nominees, and other multi award-winning shorts. Having already screened all over the place and not worried about any additional festival screening opportunities it seemed like the right time to make a deal. The contract includes every sort of distribution avenue you can imagine (airlines, hotel video, online, vhs, cell phones, etc.). Everything is EXCLUSIVE for 10 YEARS, but I was able to negotiate non-exclusivity for DVD sales, (a) because I had already made a couple of deals with DVD distributors and (b) because I was already working on The Mantis Parable Special Edition DVD (which will be available in the next week or so from btw!) and I’d received a ton of requests for it from fans of the film. This allows both SI and me to sell the film in DVD format, but SI has exclusive rights to any other form of distribution (which I didn’t really have plans for anyway). I actually don’t receive any money upfront from SI, but instead I receive a percentage of whatever my film is a part of (between 25 and 50 percent depending on the form of distribution). I can’t get into all the details, but for iTunes I expect to receive 30 cents or so per viewing. Based on the amazing response on iTunes so far from the live action shorts that SI put up a couple months ago, it seemed like it has great potential.

I should also mention that Shorts International has thousands of short films in their library. They’re the largest distributor of short films in the world, which can be a great thing, but remember that only a select few of them are on iTunes (so far). Obviously I think we would all agree that delivery of short films on the internet is definitely has exciting potential, but you also need to consider your situation and figure out what is best for you and your short.

Good luck everyone, and I hope you enjoy The Mantis Parable! :slight_smile:


Thanks for popping into the discussion, Josh. As a huge (figuratively speaking) CYAN fan I am looking forward to viewing The Mantis Parable. However, being in Canada, this brings up one certain flaw in the iTunes film distribution market: ONLY AVAILABLE TO U.S. ACCOUNTS. So, alas, there is no way for myself, or any non-U.S. user, to take advantage of this vehicle unless these political/geographical divisions get sorted out. :sad:


Thanks Stephen!

The good news is that the plans are to go global this Fall (or at least that’s the rumor). Of course, the DVD can be shipped everywhere (shameless plug!)



This is not an itunes issue but instead a licensing issue from the distributor. They decide where it can be sold.

Thats why itunes isn’t available in all countries because there is a different licensing scheme and companies in every country that they have to make deals with. It’s a royal PITA.


First, a message to Josh - please don’t take the post below as anything against you or your choice to go with SI. I wanted to point out some critical issues that film-makers need to consider. Furthermore, it seems that you got a good deal on your distribution contract with non-exclusivity.

So…my 2 cents:

Having worked with film/animation distributors, I cringe everytime I hear about them. Do you know what EXCLUSIVE distribution means in practical terms? It means that you have a company that sits on its arse and tries to squeeze money out of it at every instance. A few years ago when running the 3D Festival, it was a pain in the arse whenever we had to deal with a distributor to show a short film at the festival. The film-maker has his/her hands tied because everything is up to the distributor, and the distributors jerk everyone around because they have an exclusive contract that means they practically own the film. Though not all the distributors we worked with were like this, it still left a sour taste in my mouth.

[li]Film festivals now have to deal with a distributor instead of the film-maker. Depending on the distributor, they can either jerk the film festival around by asking for money to show the short, or are such a pain in the arse that the film festival gives up. That means the film-maker LOSES out because their short isn’t being shown at a festival.[/li][li]Media outlets (magazines, news sites, sites like, etc) also now has to deal with a distributor just to get a story. Also, depending on the distributor, they can jerk media around and ask for money. That also means the film-maker LOSES out because publicity opportunities are getting trashed.[/li][/ol]That’s how distributors make money - every time someone asks for anything related to the film, they ask for money or jerk people around.

Excuse me, but TEN YEARS of EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION? I suppose that most short films don’t make any money, but that’s still a pretty heavy handed contract. Perhaps that’s why Shorts International only has a handful of older animated shorts which have already done the festival rounds.

Looking at the above post by Josh, here’s the breakdown for SI making Mantis Parable available on iTunes:

  • Retail cost: $1.99
  • Josh gets $0.30 (15%)
  • SI gets $1.69 (85%)

Josh managed to negotiate a non-exclusive deal (good on you!) that allowed him to make his own DVD, etc. but for the noob film maker trying to get their short distributed, this seems like typical distributor-rape. And once you’re signed in, you can’t do a thing for 10 years. If indie film-makers had any business sense (and if their short was any good), they’d be better off making special edition DVDs with lots of content, pressing them at home and selling them direct. Go do the math.

Take the Polish animation studio Platige Image, for instance, who made The Cathedral and Fallen Art. They produced Special Edition DVDs with the high resolution versions of the short plus a load of content including some actual 3ds max files. Each DVD they make sells for ~$16.99, minus a maximum of 55% retail cut (that’s what Amazon charges) which means that Platige makes $7.65 per DVD. Even if Amazon does rape its suppliers (most retailers only take 40%), that’s still a shitload better than handing it over to a distributor and potentially getting locked into a 10 year exclusive contract where you get pittens. You can buy the Fallen Art DVD on the CGSociety store btw.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is currently being shown on all Qantas flights and I’m sure has been aired on free to air TV here in Australia. The Freak (years old)
I’m SURE I’ve seen that on the Web, or at too many LightWave booths at trade shows. Unless anyone has a particularly strong desire to play the short on a tiny iPod screen, I can’t see why this would be a popular medium of distribution.

The jury’s still out about this mob. My 2 cents.


Excellent points! Believe me, I’m no distribution expert…this is my first film and my first distribution deal. And I completely agree that this sort of distribution is not necessarily right for every filmmaker. Here are some of my specifics for clarification:


[li]Film festivals now have to deal with a distributor instead of the film-maker. Depending on the distributor, they can either jerk the film festival around by asking for money to show the short, or are such a pain in the arse that the film festival gives up. That means the film-maker LOSES out because their short isn’t being shown at a festival.[/li][li]Media outlets (magazines, news sites, sites like, etc) also now has to deal with a distributor just to get a story. Also, depending on the distributor, they can jerk media around and ask for money. That also means the film-maker LOSES out because publicity opportunities are getting trashed. [/li][/quote]

[/ol]Not true in my case. I still work with the festivals and do my own PR directly. However, SI will do it as well, which frankly, having already busted my rear for over a year promoting my film, I’m happy to have them take the load off of me. I really don’t need any more festivals to promote my short…in fact, I actually turn down 3 or 4 festival invitations a week because it’s just too much of a hassle to manage.

Ten years is a long time, unless of course you’re pretty much exhausted promoting your film and you’re totally ready to devote your time to something bigger and better. Also, as far as the numbers go, don’t forget Apple takes a huge cut of each viewing. Don’t quote me on any of this, but I think with any music and video they take 1/2. Additionally (and this is a BIGGY), the early response with iTunes has been so overwhelming that the shorts (and remember, there are only a couple dozen so far) on iTunes have seen between 10k and 100k downloads each in the first month or so - that is potentially 30k a month (!) An utterly unfathomable amount for a short filmmaker to receive…believe me, short filmmakers like me don’t make shorts for the money…that was the least of my concerns. Getting the opportunity to be a part of something with this sort of potential is VERY difficult to pass up.

My Special Edition DVD has bonus features, director’s commentary, etc. and will be available next week from for 15 dollars. It cost me roughly $3 per copy to have the discs professionally replicated, so I will be making $12 a copy selling it directly from my site using PayPal which securely accepts credit cards, etc. for a nominal fee. I am still debating whether to supplement that by using Amazon, because - as you said - they take 55%.

My film screened on Frontier Airlines flights during the month of January (a great form of distribution!). As far as the iTunes resolution goes, thankfully the iTunes short film video looks surprisingly good on a computer screen and runs at larger than 640w standard. Believe me, the visual quality is of utmost importance to me, so I wanted to make sure that the quality was reasonably high.

In conclusion, as I mentioned before, I’m not making shorts to make money. I made this film entirely on my own (including writing and performing the music, doing the sound foley, animation, everything) in my spare time on my own equipment over a period of 18 months…the film cost me $4500 to make, and I’ve made far more than that back just on festival awards. Fans who can’t attend a festival to see my film, but with a casual interest can pay $1.99 and view it (and I make a little money to boot). Fans with a greater interest in my film will purchase the DVD with all the extra goodies and I can make a little more (for all the extra work I put into it I might add!). I’ve already have several fans communicate that they are thrilled that the film is available on iTunes but have already decided to wait for the DVD. That’s great too.

Finally, I’m ready to move on to new projects. The Mantis Parable was definitely a labor of love for me, and has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. At some point you just have to tie a ribbon on your hard work (not just making the film but promoting it) and let it go. I’m not there yet, but with DVD sales on the horizon, and after making a deal with SI and iTunes, I feel as though I’ve done what I can to be faithful to the film.



I’d have to agree with some of the sentiment in this thread. A 10-year exclusive deal is really not the best idea when the distribution covers such a broad area. If you can negotiate something less (much less, imo), then perhaps it is something to consider. I just can’t imagine giving away those rights to your film for that long.

However, all that matters is that it works for you and whatever your situation is. I would just suggest that everyone give it a lot of thought before agreeing to this or any other exclusive situation.


Very interesting. It appears though, that this is an outlet for award winning films only.


Hi Josh,

Somehow I can’t imagine that amount (4500) of money includes the hours you’ve spent working on your film. Does the extra income you’re generating now cover those hours?



Great discussion, guys!

Personally, I think it’s great that shorts are now distributed over iTunes, but like Leonard, I think that the way over a distributor, especially with those conditions, is a bit too much - But I think those conditions will change now, when there’s a bigger ‘market’ for shorts. I hope that, in the future, we’ll see a way so that filmmakers and artists can sell their stuff independently over a huge, professional platform like iTunes, without the way over distributors per se. Or - and that’d also be great, if those distributors would help producing the short, they should get their share as well. Just like music companies operate.

I personally don’t see why Shorts Independend should get the lion share of the production, since they’ve done nothing to get the film made, right? I understand why music companies take such a high percentage of the income from artists. They’re the ones that take the risks when the artist is still a nobody, when there’s no reputation yet, no ‘product’ to sell. So they finance him and take all the risks. But what has Shorts Independent done for the short film? Nothing. They’re now distributing it, but that’s it. And they take a pretty high percentage of the income for the fact that they had nothing to do with the production in the first place.

And 10 years exclusivity? Now, with broadband in peoples houses, with iTunes selling shorts and hopefully distributing independend films in the near future, that’s a bit too exclusive for my tastes. I think we’ll see great ways of distributing content that small productions and small production houses created in the very near future. So, I think it’ll be way easier to sell your content over the net than it’s been in the past. And that’d be great for every artist out there.

I think it’s still very, very hard to distribute shortfilms, getting money out of it isn’t really a given (especially when thinking about how much time and money you have to put into it in order to get the film done) and, of course, seeing a company like Apple embracing shorts within their own platform, is great - but all of this stuff is still in it’s infancy. Selling media content over the net through a platform like iTunes - it’s all very new and very much experimental. Especially for film. So it’ll probably take some time until it’ll be a reasonable option for independend filmmakers to distribute their work, but it’s definitely a start.

I think in that context, this interview here is pretty interesting:

It’s basically about how Jobs got the music companies to sell their content over iTunes. Any similarities here?


How often people overlook this “tiny” fact! There are literally thousands of independent short films created every year. Festivals like Palm Springs, Tribeca, Annecy, receive thousands of entries and accept only a few…obviously the ones that win (and win consistently) are the ones that receive opportunities. Here is a horrifying statistic (at least when I heard it I was horrified) - the average film will receive a 10 - 15% festival acceptance ratio. In other words, submit to 100 festivals in a year?..chances are you’ll get into about 10…and most festivals cost money to enter. So you’ve got to make the best film you can possibly make…and even then you’ve definitely got to prepare yourself for a lot of disappointment. :slight_smile:

So true! The $4500 only covered equipment and software. The film took me 18 months of one or two late nights a week of work. Of course, I never charged “myself” for all those hours. :slight_smile: Again, I never considered the film would make any money at all…I just wanted to keep expenses down as low as possible considering everything was coming out of my own pocket.

One thing to remember - avenues for short filmmakers to make money by delivering their films on the internet is not new…Atomfilms and iFilm have been doing it successfully for several years now. Those services pay filmmakers a tiny royalty per viewing through advertising…and in fact, short filmmakers who were among the first to be on Atomfilms or iFilm made a considerable amount of money.

However, given the opportunity to deliver on iTunes, I decided not to go with either of those other two because (a) the video/audio quality is superior on iTunes, and (b) because of the huge upside to getting in on the ground floor with iTunes’ enormous and expanding consumer base. The timing was a huge factor - I much prefer to be one of the first couple of dozen on iTunes than 1 out of a bezillion on Atomfilms…having said that, I may have gone with Atomfilms had I not received the offer from iTunes.

Oh, and I believe iTunes always requires a 10 year commitment from the day you put up your video or song. Crazy…but you know why they can do that (and not just to me, but to everyone)? Because they’re iTunes - they’ve got a gigantic and growing number of consumers, and if you want to deliver content (music or video) to the most number of people for the most money, they’re the top dog.


First off, apparently Shorts International is the only game in town.
Secondly, it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to get funding for a feature film that you have written, and directed if you are an unproven director.
If you manage to put together something as successful as Mantis Parable, I would hope that you would look at said success as an opportunity, not to make money, but to put yourself on the map as a legitimate film maker.
It appears that you must not only meet the criteria of being an award winning film maker to be selected for Itunes, but that you must also be CHOSEN.
While you may be GIVING UP the ability to distribute on the internet for 10 years, is it such a bad trade off for the exposure that shorts international will be giving you?
For example, let’s say someone offered you a chance to have a CG image you designed featured in a magazine like say Rolling Stone, or something with a high circulation rate. In exchange for getting exposure you could not afford to get otherwise, they ask that you agree not to publish the image elsewhere, and agree to pay you a small amount of royalties if they happen to reuse the image in an upcoming issue.
I happen to unfortunately not be an award winning film maker, however, after looking into this, this is what I think of Shorts International personally.


I agree Marc. It’s all a balance…you have to weigh the opportunities when they arise.


gotta say, this thread has been an amazing inner view to an area most people really have no clue about, myself included. Been quite interesting to hear the whole deal about the distribution/business side of cg shorts. I’ve never downloaded anything off of iTunes, but your short will be my first!


Wonderful Justin - thanks! I hope you enjoy it! :slight_smile:


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