London-based Lesflicks is a dedicated streaming platform for lesbian films. Its founder Naomi Bennett is a long-time passionate LGBQ activist and community builder. In 2019, she founded Lesflicks, a subscription streamer targeting the lesbian and bisexual women. Lesflicks offers an impressive fare of 80 titles, which include feature films, and series. More than being just a streamer for lesbian films, Naomi wants to build and nurture a community. Though the primarily target is the UK, she wants to expand to more countries in the days to come.
“We’re creating a community and a movement. We don’t just put films on the platform and forget about them – we also run events and we’re creating a network of women who love film and who are committed to helping increase the knowledge of, and access to lesbian films,” she tells in an interview with ottwatcher.com Founder and Editor-in-Chief Firos BF. Excerpts from the interview:
You have been associated with LBQ activities in various forms for so long. What was the inspiration, the one defining moment, for launching Lesflicks, a platform by the women for the women?
I love my community. I’m a sociable person and I am very empathetic so I like to see people succeed and be happy. I’ve always found myself trying to make things a little better. My form of volunteering I guess (only on a much bigger scale, I don’t seem to be able to think small!). There were two trigger points for Lesflicks. Firstly, meeting filmmakers when reviewing films and hearing how little money flowed back through from distribution (or due to lack of) and the challenge in getting distribution because the industry didn’t see an audience. The second was hearing big distributors telling new filmmakers to do it alone and find their audience from scratch. No-one buys one film so why would it make sense to go it alone? Why create a whole new website and put your film in an empty field, when you could place it in a field of other films with a similar audience – no-one watches just one film a year! I realised I knew the audience and I understood the filmmakers and it was just a supply and demand marketing issue.
Will you have an app or intend to stream only through the website?
We absolutely will have apps. We’re hoping to have the apps go live, along with additional functionality such as tiered membership and community space in January 2021. The faster we grow, the faster new functionality and more films will be added.
What Lesflicks has to offer to viewers? How has been the response from the lesbian/bi communities?
Every person who we come across on social responds with positivity, and excitement at the ease of finding content. This is no surprise as the lesbian/bi/queer women within the LGBTQ+ community are often an afterthought or overlooked. Broad marketing to LGBTQ+ rarely reaches or talks to queer women. The majority of LGBTQ+ platforms that exist have less than 10% content aimed at women. This was why it is important to have a platform dedicated to this content. We’re still new so we’re still reaching out to our community; but so far the reaction has been great!
Were there any hurdles in your initial days and how did you overcome them during the setting up of this platform?
We launched earlier than planned after being offered some key content. We didn’t plan to fully push the platform until we had funding or investment in place and were initially focusing on our events and website strands of Lesflicks; however Covid meant we had to change focus – and thankfully we were already live with a platform and a handful of titles – however, we didn’t have enough for how much free time a lockdown gave people! We’ve had a long nine months building out our team, the content, the marketing and adapting to the new landscape. The biggest challenge still exists: our audience expects the bigger well-known films, but these are hard to get without a strong subscriber base, so you end up in a chicken-and-egg scenario. We just keep making baby steps.
Which are the countries you target at the moment and do you have any plans to reach out to more markets?
Our primary marketing is to the UK since that is where we are based; however, we are promoting the platform online, attracting a global audience. We are keen to initially target English-speaking countries and then as we expand our subtitles to promote in countries where we have content available in the local language. We’re keen to make distribution global to match the internet and audience access.
How do you view a potential market like India where lesbian/gay themes are still viewed with certain degree of stigma?
We are already seeing a fair amount of traffic from India and other countries that have less acceptance. This is very reassuring. We do see a fair number of visitors via Duckduckgo, an internet search engine that is anonymous.
What are the promotional/marketing activities you have undertaken?
So far just organic social media to our network because we’ve been building out our content. We needed to have a certain amount of content available before pushing out to make sure subscribers stay with us.
You source content for Lesflicks mostly from independent filmmakers. Can we expect Lesflicks to have its own originals in future?
That is partly because distributors tend to only have one or two local territories, and we’re all too aware that the internet is global and so that just doesn’t work. To get a title that has been distributed to six or seven distributors around the work is a lot of effort and tough to administrate. Saying that we do have a few UK-only titles because we’re definitely preferring to have the title than not!!! Whether we create our own content, or create a grants fund for filmmakers to apply for – we absolutely see ourselves supporting and investing in the creation of film in the future. The potential with this platform is if we even get 5% of the estimated at least 11 million LBTQ women worldwide would allow us to significantly invest in and propel forward the lesbian film industry production and distribution.
What is your vision for Lesflicks? Where do you see the platform two-three years from now?
Much more than just a platform for sure. We’re creating a community and a movement. We don’t just put films on the platform and forget about them – we also run events and we’re creating a network of women who love film and who are committed to helping increase the knowledge of, and access to lesbian films. The Lesflicks Chart Amplification Network is like The L Word chart, but instead of Shane connecting us all, lesbian film does!
You have adopted the SVOD revenue model. Do you plan to find other revenue streams like content syndication or any other types of associations?
We’re still evolving our offering. Right now, SVOD is our primary offering, although we do have TVOD (rentals) so that we can bring brand new titles to the platform that aren’t ready to go to subscriptions, or to access films where SVOD licenses aren’t available. We are monitoring AVOD and other industry options and are very much going with the flow right now. We’re a young, agile organisation which is definitely a benefit in terms of flexibility. We’re already running things quite differently – we pay out a variable royalty rate because we see our clients, the filmmakers, as partners and so everyone benefits from dormant subscriber income; this is definitely against the traditional model. We’re a social enterprise rather than a profit-making business – we won’t be making billions like Amazon – but we’ll be making a big impact on the industry and our community, and that is a key driver for us.
What is the kind of role you envisage for Lesflicks in promoting the lesbian film industry, which we can say is at a nascent stage?
I’m not sure that lesbian film is at a nascent stage. It has been under-invested in, under-marketed and under-whelmingly invisible. We’ve been collating every film we have found into a film database and we’re already at well over 400 and we haven’t scratched the surface. I estimate less than 10% of the films being made are getting distribution and reaching their audience. The number of lesbian films getting into cinemas is shrinking as space is taken up by super hero and animation films. Unless you’re a period drama or have an a-list celebrity cinema, and even distribution is pretty unlikely. We’re working at all levels of distribution and so also run film clubs to bring these films to the big screen as the creator intended. We’re currently doing these in London but I’d love to help Lesflicks Film Clubs pop up all over the world because nothing beats the big screen and watching a film with an audience.
What are the future plans lined up for Lesflicks?
So much is planned! Increased VOD platform functionality, increased cinema screenings (after Covid disappears), collaborations and partnerships with cinemas, the creation of our community network. We’re looking at various campaigns to help #amplifylesbianfilm and we have some great ideas. We’re about to start seeking sponsorship for a big February event and are looking to connect with organisations that want to show they’re interested in LGBTQ+ people, but also understand the importance of separating out these parts and supporting individually – whilst also partnering up with a new, innovative and forward-thinking organisation that is revolutionising the distribution and knowledge of lesbian film. We can’t say much more right now, but we’re definitely thinking big!