IS THERE ANY HOPE WHEN AMAZON REFUSES TO CARRY YOUR FILM?

UPDATE, August 4, 2012: Courtney Sell just informed us by email that a week after this post his title has appeared in the Amazon catalog. Congrats, Courtney!

You’ve secured solid distribution for your film, you’ve obtained a mountain of press (good and bad), you’ve alerted everyone you know of its release date, have worked endlessly with your marketing team to make sure it will be carried in as many stores as possible, and produced posters and advertising materials, and now you anxiously await viewing the number of units pushed in the books. Beads of sweat drip from your forehead, your stomach in a knot as the excitement and hype builds. You believe it’s going to be the world’s best seller and then it happens. Except not the way you hoped. Uh oh…

About a month ago I received the devastating letter from my publicist letting me know that our title had been denied by Amazon. Let’s face it, if your title isn’t on Amazon, your item is about as good as dead. Though our title was accepted by every other outlet, Amazon, unexpectedly put their foot down, smashing us to smithereens, claiming the work on the DVD was “objectionable.” This came to a shocker to everyone I worked with on the films on the DVD, as well as to our distribution company, who’ve worked years and years beside Amazon and had yet to come across such an issue.

The title being questioned is a recent compilation DVD of short films I directed under the acronym (sigh) ASS Studios alongside fellow artists Reverend Jen, Faceboy, and many others. As stated earlier, as well as in my appeal letter to the headquarters of the massive online retailer, ASS is an acronym for “Art Star Scene” and in no way should be read or misunderstood as pornographic in any way, shape, or form. Sure this work is certainly for a limited, and by limited, I mean extremely microscopic audience, but features nothing which would be cut by the MPAA in a PG-13 rated film. No nudity, no graphic violence. As you can probably imagine, the decision to essentially ban our work was even more crippling to sales than that misread acronym! So what now? Has the final straw been pulled? Are we destined to failure and bankruptcy? Even after going to rather extreme lengths to promote and advertise the release, including a William Castle style-gimmick which included a surprisingly successful film festival entitled “Assdance,” we still seem to be slipping further and further into obscurity. Who could’ve guessed?!

Whether you like my work or not is beside the point. It wouldn’t offend me even if you did just come out and say “They rejected your work because it sucks, Dumbass!”, because believe me, working under the name ASS Studios really sets you up for some serious ridicule from many; some hoping it was simply porn, or others just not used to seeing work produced on no-budget, shot on Hi8, with rather silly plots and chockfull of purposeful cheesiness and bad taste. Either way, the issue that really got me heated upon receiving the “letter of doom” was that Amazon does actually carry porn! So, what do they see so “objectionable” and “offensive” about my home-video sketch comedies that puts me on a level higher than Debbie Does Dallas? (And yes, that can be purchased on Amazon, so be sure to rush and get your copy before they sell out!) Laugh now, but your title could be next to face the chopping block!

The point of this article is certainly not to call anyone out, or begin a campaign to get Amazon to stop carrying certain titles, because I actually like porn, enjoy being able to purchase it at my leisure on Amazon, and hate censorship of any kind. Instead I want to try and shed some light as to what an independent filmmaker should do when, if ever, they happen to come across a similar experience. And honestly, I have no idea – so what help am I really? This one caught me off-guard and am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that my work has been blacklisted from one of the largest online retailers in the world, even though titles such as Antichrist, I Stand Alone, The Brown Bunny, Nine Songs and many others are allowed to stay. (And yes, I enjoy all of these titles too!) By the way, who are these Amazon censors anyways? They’re some tough cookies! Does Tipper Gore know about them yet?

I did in fact write an appeal letter to headquarters, further explaining my reasonings as to why I felt this title should be reinstated into their catalogue. So far, it has not. My letter probably just got tossed or simply marked unread in their inbox, as they didn’t even seem to watch the films included on the DVD before making such a bold decision.

Perhaps the easiest answer to this question, and the only one I can figure, is that I, a no-budget independent filmmaker, do not carry the same torch that many other more “established” filmmakers do. I barely (if any) have any pull and though I have a wonderfully professional and highly acclaimed distribution team who took a huge chance on my title, I still could not pull through. Once again, another backhand to the underground artist.

I guess the only thing to do at this point is continue to promote through the other outlets, though it doesn’t look like we’ll be eating any time soon! Hell though, were we really thinking that ASS Studios royalty checks would buy us a mansion in the hill? Yes! I’m a big dreamer, which I why I continue to make films, constantly create even when it doesn’t look like fame and fortune are in the near future, and above all, love to show my films to people. These ridiculous Amazon censorship rules, which seem to be made blindly by a committee of incompetent employees who can only provide one-word responses without giving detailed reasons as to why they made their decision, need to be slapped back before they do to you what they did to me!