I love this post by Sherri Candler, a Los Angeles-based low-budget film marketing advisor, where she suggests that we change the term "straight to video" (or straight to DVD) to "straight to audience." Amen!
Filmmakers have been doing this for decades, now, probably as far back as John Cassavetes. But the difference now is the presence of The Great Disintermediator- the Internet. Search engines, YouTube and it's ilk, and social networks have made it possible to find an audience simply by posting your content online. Doing that and only that will not necessarily gain you much traffic, or any money, but it can help you find what Kevin Kelly calls 1,000 true fans.
With such a core audience, you become your own distribution company, for whatever content you produce- movies, music, books, blogs, podcasts, speeches, etc. It's an approach I've been advocating for sometime here on this blog, and on the Texas Film Scene, and is also the thrust of a book I'm writing on entrepreneurship in the digital age (if you're interested in knowing when this book is shipping, email me).
Straight to audience is not as sexy as a box office release, but considering that most indie filmmakers now only score a box office release if they (a) get chosen by the Festival Gods, or (b) pay for their own 4-walling, it certainly is a lot cheaper. Straight to audience has also helped Texas filmmakers like Blake Calhoun and Mike Maden score pretty sweet Hollywood production deals on the strength of their straight-to-audience work. Besides- and I know this is heresy- on most nights, I would rather enjoy a movie on my dirt-cheap home theater system than pay $20+food+gas+babysitter for a movie ticket. At $35 per outing, it takes only 25 movies to recoup the cost of my 47-inch LCD. Avatar or Star Trek is a different story, of course.
Straight-to-audience also scares people because it sounds like sales, which it is. It's time for artists to stop fearing sales, and start embracing it. If you love what you're selling, then selling is no chore. If you don't, why are you making that movie, again?