For Mike Binder, the 2001 comedy The Search For John Gissing remains something of a bittersweet experience.

The film-maker, who scored critical success with The Upside Of Anger (2005) and this year's Reign Over Me, financed the film independently 'with a lot of my own money and that of family and friends' to the tune of $2.5m.

He shot it on multiple floors of a disused building in London and played the lead character alongside a stellar cast which included Janeane Garofalo, Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and Allan Corduner.

But when the film - which tells the story of a US executive arriving in London to oversee a billion-dollar merger only to be repeatedly hijacked by a rival executive in his UK office - played a slew of film festivals in 2001 and 2002, US distributors did not bite.

'I put everything I had at the time into this one and to me it was the best one I did,' he says, 'but (distributors) said it was a tweener. It wasn't an art movie or a mainstream comedy. They all asked why I put myself in it since I'm not a movie star.'

Binder believed that with a week's reshoot, he could make the film even funnier, but before he could get round to it, HBO renewed his hit comedy series The Mind Of The Married Man and then he went straight into directing his screenplay The Upside Of Anger, also shot in the UK, although this time set in the US.

'I never did the week's reshoot,' he says, 'but kept it in my mind and rewrote it with a view to remaking it as a bigger film called The Multinationals.'

But when Binder tried to sell TV rights to Gissing, TV networks also wanted to own the future remake. He refused to sell. For a year or two, the film sat on the shelf.

'The real thing that happened was that we had so many e-mails asking about it from Rickman fans,' says Binder, explaining what happened next in the Gissing saga. 'We had a petition with 4,000 signatures asking where the film was. People flew from all over the country to a screening at the 2005 Westwood Film Festival (in Los Angeles) and we agreed to give anyone who flew in a DVD for free. I burned about 40 or 50.'

Burning those DVDs gave Binder an idea. On July 4 this year, he started selling The Search For John Gissing exclusively on his website Ninety copies were sold on the first day and 1,000 have shifted so far.

'We put the site up with no announcement or anything on MySpace,' says Binder. 'It is growing strictly through viral word of mouth.'

Binder now wants to develop as a site specialising in comedy, where consumers can download classic comedies, access a databank about comedy and, eventually, buy new films and series exclusively, like John Gissing. 'I am inspired by Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail (which explains that the internet enables niche entertainment products to flourish as opposed to a handful of megahits every year). We're nowhere near recouping the cost of the film but people like it when they see it and are putting up blogs and reviews and telling their friends. Eventually a good financial model must emerge to fund these films which go direct to'

Binder says he is struggling to get his latest film financed through more traditional methods. Called The Emperor Of Michigan and budgeted at $10m, it has a cast including Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long and Adam Brody attached.

'Neither the studios nor the independents are breaking down my door,' he says, with deadpan conviction. 'There's really nobody in the business dying to work with me. I want to do it on my own.'

Meanwhile he is doing just fine as a writer, working on scripts for The Friday Night Knitting Club at Universal and Great Moments With Mr Lincoln at Disney.