Sunday, December 28, 2014

Indie Film Distribution Strategy to the Rescue for The Interview

It's always interesting to me when the indie world and the studio worlds collide. They usually hum along on very different planes. The indie world is scrappy, using guerrilla, grassroots, and word-of-mouth tactics to distribute, market and sell their films. Whereas, the studios have their marketing and sales machines with budgets in the millions of dollars for pumping out ads across multiple platforms.

However, everything changed when Sony's computer system was hacked, confidential documents and emails were leaked to the world, and theaters were threatened if they screened the film. Suddenly Sony had to call on the very arthouse theaters that we indie filmmakers count on for theatrical releases of our small films and essentially push their big, studio comedy through a traditional independent film release. Intriguing, right? Oh yeah.

Arthouse theaters are the saving grace for indie filmmakers. They're typically more open to taking on risky films that may or may not do well. And we indie filmmakers often do not know how successful we will be on filling a theater or multiple theaters. We do our best to book across the country and try to push our indie films in each town that the film plays but it's really hard to know how the film will perform, especially if you're screening in a town with which the film has no personal connection. Studio films seem to be able to play wherever and still draw an audience, often due to the cast or director or tentpole story, but indie films can easily struggle to find their audience.

Therefore, the relationship between an indie filmmaker and an arthouse booking agent (often the theater owner) can be rather personal and be built on a mutual love for film and begging on the filmmakers' part. Lots of begging! So when I heard the arthouse theaters would be playing The Interview I was thinking of all my connections at these theaters and wondering how they might be feeling to be the theaters in the limelight for this release. My hope was that these indie theaters would draw new filmgoers to their venues. I think that happened.

And to top off showing the film in these smaller venues, the studio did a day-and-date release strategy whereby they released the film simultaneously in theaters and on Video-on-Demand (VOD). Huge theater chains hate this strategy. They don't want to be competing for their patrons' attention with VOD. They want an exclusive window for a certain period that helps ensure viewers will get off their couches and actually go to the theater to see a movie. And since they are huge theaters and essential to a studio's bottomline during a theatrical release, studios will often forego the day-and-date strategy.

But in the case of The Interview, Sony decided to implement the relatively new and more and more popular day-and-date strategy of simultaneously showing the film on VOD and in the theater. And it's looking like the strategy is paying off. According to recent news, The Interview made a couple of million at the theaters and about $15 million through video-on-demand during its first weekend. If that doesn't show that viewers are getting used to watching films at home then I don't know what does. This excites me because indie films see most of their revenue through VOD.

I know it's hard to compare The Interview to any other film - indie or studio - due to the patriotic push to see the film. Nevertheless, I've been intrigued to watch a studio film get pushed through the typical indie film release. I'm hoping it actually helps audiences get even more used to VOD and it opens indie films and theaters up to a wider audience. I'll be continuing to track this release to see how it affects distribution strategies going forward. I have a feeling it will be very influential on all future film distribution strategies. We'll see!


Unknown said...

I wonder was it all apart of the marketing though.

janekk said...

Was what all the part of the marketing?