Indie Films’ Attempt to Contend Against the Giants

In an industry where major studios offer moviegoers “super ticket” packages at prices upwards of $30-$50, that include prescreening theater tickets, posters and digital downloads, how are independent films that lack the financing to dream of such marketing and product exploits able to compete? Major-motion pictures and independent films may be in the same universe, but they are certainly not in the same world. Despite their differences, the summer blockbuster and the oscar-contender must still battle on the same box-office field wrought with critics and fans, all armed with their weekly entertainment allowance and popcorn money. But a new trend in the film community is saving film fans from the commute to theaters and also from the theater experience itself. Video on demand (VOD) is becoming the new way to watch and view content in this growing digital age. New popularity and proliferation of distributing via online platforms brings a healthy competition for the traditional distribution model.

Video on demand releases of independent films have been ranging from pre-theatrical releases  to becoming available online shortly thereafter showing up in theaters, or simply showing up only online. Some people criticize this mode of distribution, arguing that movie theater owners deserve better treatment when they put so much effort into the upkeep of their cinemas and that movies are meant to be seen “on the big screen.” Others declare companies that take a film immediately to VOD must lack confidence in the film’s potential (Film Journal International). But the sad truth is, sometimes good movies don’t have the money to be as widely theatrically distributed as they deserve. Take this summer’s distopian indie film, Snowpiercer, starring Hollywood hunk, Chris Evans.

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Although people scoff at Evans appearing in a film that’s VOD release came only two weeks after its theatrical, the movie was actually a critical hit and did fairly well financially, hold your breath, because of VOD. Snowpiercer quickly took the number one spot on iTunes. Remembering these are figures for an independent film, Snowpiercer made $3.8 million its first two weeks of VOD compared to $3.9 from five weeks in theaters (Variety). Tom Quinn, the co-president of RADiUS, The Weinstein Company label responsible for deciding Snowpiercer’s VOD release, says that “from an industry perspective, [this model is] a game changer” (Entertainment Weekly).

Bloomberg Businessweek posits that the VOD release strategy might be an ingenious solution to inadequate finances. It would have cost Snowpiercer $25 million to market itself for a wide theatrical release. Compare this to the $5 million it actually spent, not to mention VOD can be made readily available to 85 million homes in the United States in comparison to the 40,000 screens for a limited theatrical release alone (Wired).

Snowpiercer has paved the way for independent films to be seen by people who may be 500 miles away from a film’s closest showing, confined to a hospital bed, or simply curious about a film they wouldn’t otherwise go out and see. The VOD revolution calls for indie films to embrace their financial prudence, peculiar narratives, and innovative distribution tactics. Independent films may be considered small financially, but with video on demand indie flicks have the potential to grapple with the film industry titans, making strides for greater successes.

Written by Megan Saturley & Andy Leo

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