IndieFlix: Streaming Out of the Mainstream

Scilla Andreen photographed by Coco Knudson
Scilla Andreen photographed by Coco Knudson

IndieFlix brings independent films to the masses

written by Isaac Peterson

What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Joe Cocker’s broken, downbeat version of the Beatles’ song resounded through American living rooms in the late ’80s, a signal to gather around the TV and watch The Wonder Years, an offbeat show that championed the outsider.

Scilla (pronounced Sheila) Andreen understood feeling like an outsider. Growing up, her Chinese heritage set her apart from other kids. She was a college dropout who left New York University to work in television. When she first started working on The Wonder Years, she did minor tasks in wardrobe, but after a few episodes found herself leading the costume department.

“I pretty much dressed Winnie Cooper as I had dressed as a kid,” Andreen recalled. “Of course, I always checked the dates in my research that consisted of yearbooks and Sears catalogs that were piled high on my desk.”

She was nominated for an Emmy, and the show gave her the financial freedom to start participating in the indie film circuit. Such is the backstory for IndieFlix, Andreen’s streaming service for independent films which challenges traditional distribution models by directly connecting artists with their audience and paying the filmmakers according to a unique revenue-per-minute model. It’s an artist-centered forum which can potentially change the game for indie filmmakers, allowing them to use their work to directly generate revenue for their next project.

Though IndieFlix has been around since 2005 (originally as a DVD-by-mail subscription service similar to Netflix) the Madison Park office in Seattle runs like a startup, with a culture that’s energetic and experimental. It’s not unusual for a strategy meeting to take place on the dock overlooking Lake Washington. The space is the IndieFlix corporate headquarters, but it’s also an artistic production studio. Andreen is usually there editing her films or working with employees and interns to perfect her new virtual reality project.

Andreen is a CEO and an artist, and she pushes the boundaries of both roles. Her current project is called Angst: Breaking the Stigma Around Anxiety. It tells stories of anxiety and how it impacts individuals as well as society at large. The project will be released as a multimedia experience: a movie, a documentary series, app and virtual reality experience designed to simulate a panic attack. She wants to use art to break through the isolation of anxiety disorder and tell the larger story.

Andreen’s love of independent films goes back to her days on The Wonder Years.
“During my hiatus, I would produce or direct a movie and travel with that film through the film festival circuit,” Andreen said. ”It was during that time I learned about how many thousands upon thousands of incredible films are made every year and yet less than 1 percent find any kind of meaningful distribution.”

It was a critical insight. The prospect of distribution was a slim all-or-nothing experience. Filmmakers dreamed of getting noticed and having their projects picked up by the artistic branch of a big studio. Artists were at the mercy of the Hollywood studios and only potentially profitable projects really had a shot. There were breakout hits where indie movies crossed into the mainstream, but for the most part the big distribution model left an endless number of unwatched independent films in limbo. Why not help people see them?

Andreen’s idea was the true beginning of IndieFlix, although the state of technology at the time couldn’t support the concept.

“I decided right there and then to start a company/marketplace that would serve incredible movies that had no home,” Andreen said. “The industry was extremely fragmented. My goal was to curate some of the best content in one place and to help filmmakers learn to be their own gatekeepers and to make meaningful revenue.”

Andreen co-founded IndieFlix with Gian Carlo Scandiuzzi. Today IndieFlix gives cinephiles access to more than 8,000 high-quality independent shorts, features, documentaries and web-series from eighty-five countries, 2,500 film festivals and the top film schools for a low monthly membership fee ($4.99/month and $39.99/year). IndieFlix’s royalty payment system (RPM—Revenue Per Minute) pays filmmakers for every minute watched. The RPM system directly connects filmmaker and viewer, allowing viewers to finance their favorite filmmakers just by watching.

“I believe that we have proven we can make quality content that has universal appeal on a modest budget,” Andreen said. “For me right now, it’s all about returns. I want to make quality content at a reasonable price for many to enjoy for years to come. IndieFlix was one of the first, if not the very first, company to truly address the needs of the filmmaker-content creator.”

For Andreen, creating a place for art and creative freedom is more important than ever.

“I think we’re going to have an explosion of art because of this current political climate,” Andreen said. “People more than ever need to express themselves. I think it’s one of the most exciting times for all forms of art.”

Ultimately, the outsider’s perspective is something she can’t shake, despite her success as an artist and the success of her company. Perhaps it’s a feeling to be cultivated, a way to stay artistically sharp.

“It seems that no matter how successful or popular the movies and TV shows I work on … I still feel like an outsider,” Andreen said. “I think it must keep me humble and in a state of learning.”

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