You can release a feature film...

but you might have to do it one TikTok at a time

... and this is okay. And it's incredible.

One of my favorite creators on the internet is umami.

They recently released their full, feature-length film Interface - on VHS. It’s actually 6 years in the making - it started with the first episode’s release in 2017:

Interface is a beautiful, disturbing trip through time and technology. It’s been really incredible to follow the project's journey.

Tbh I don’t know how they personally feel about it - but this feels like raw, courageous creative vision. I wonder how it would have been different if they had to pitch it to a huge studio to get it to play in theaters. I can’t imagine it would have survived in its present state. It’s too weird.

Why? As Seth Godin frequently writes, 30 years ago video content used to be gatekept by studios because of shelf space. People only watched video content in movie theaters and on TV - mass media. There were only a few thousand theaters showing a few dozen movies at a time, and only a few dozen to a few hundred channels showing maybe a few thousand movies a year. So, if umami wanted to get Interface made 30 years ago, they would have to pitch it to network or studio executives that would have to pick their movie out of thousands and thousands of other candidates for that limited screening time. Those execs have to decide if Interface appeals to 100 million people, because that’s how they’ll get a return on their investment.

And if they didn’t get picked, that’s it. Interface wouldn’t get made. No one would see it.

Today, because the internet isn’t a mass medium, there’s near-infinite shelf space. I have billions of videos to choose from on YouTube, picked just for me, that I can watch at any time. So Interface doesn’t need to appeal 100 million people - it just needs to appeal to maybe 1000 True Fans, or umami’s 750 Patreon supporters. (Again, I don't know exactly how umami feels about this, or how stable/secure they feel - maybe it's been a hateful struggle. I'd be curious to know how they feel about their creative path. But they seem to have found creative output and freedom online.)

And though maybe they can’t release Interface as a feature film all at once, maybe they can release it as a web series, slowly, over the course of 3 years - interspersing it with delightful music and other video projects - and start to build a fanbase.

Shifting out of present tense - they did. After the last episode dropped in 2021, they released T-shirts, plushies, a board game, and finally the full feature-length film on VHS.

The product is inseparable from the means of distribution.

But there’s a hell of a lot more products you can distribute today, and wider.

I could go on here and speak to Visa’s musings of how finding product-market fit first makes everything easier - I think umami found product-market fit and it enabled bigger bets. Blogpost for another day.