Indie movies and the Illegal Download Thing

Here’s another topic I’ve avoided talking about.

I’ve avoided talking about it largely because both sides of this discussion seem so entrenched in their thinking that nice, civilised discourse often gives way to people chucking insults, hyperbole, misleading figures and great big chunks of horse shit at the other side.

‘The other side’. Even that turn of phrase suggests a divide that can’t be conquered. An issue where you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. No grey area or defections allowed.

Well, sod it. I want to wallow in that grey area a bit. I’ve been trying to find ways to give stuff away for free for years. We’ve put Werewolves, Cheerleaders and Chainsaws up as a freebie, of course, on the basis that if we can get it to meet as many sets of eyes as possible then it might be able to spread the word about our company. At best, it might make a few folks go and buy our movies or attend next year’s live show, and we’ll ultimately get some money that way. So, in order to get it in front of as many sets of eyes as possible, here’s the embedded version again. If you haven’t watched it yet, hope you enjoy it. It’s a live thing about filmmaking. It’s vaguely NSFW in places.

Right, that’s the great big plug out of the way. It actually serves to illustrate a point, though. If your business model relies on the good effects of giving something away, you’re gonna need to keep plugging it. There’s a reason those annoying fuckers trying to give you a free paper as you walk through London are so persistent. It’s a numbers game, and if you’re giving it away for nothing then you need great big numbers of people to watch your product or you won’t see any benefit whatsoever.

We also tried to give The Devil’s Music away for free on initial release, via a third party who placed a couple of high-yield ads at the beginning of the stream. It was a great big risk despite the fact that the company in question threw a load of weight behind the release in terms of conventional advertising. I think it’s fair to say that the experiment wasn’t fully successful, and that the business model still had some kinks. The next release will be going back to conventional DVD, which is a bit more predictable even as the air seems to be leaking out of the balloon.

On the DVD purchase model, I need a lot less people to buy a copy of a feature than I need to watch a freebie in order to make that business model make sense, (provided I’ve struck a decent deal with the distributors). The advantage with this as well, (that nobody seems to talk about much) is that the DVD purchase model is targeted. By its very nature, the people who end up watching the movie have likely done their homework because they have made the decision to drop a tenner on the disc. Odds are they’ve at least Googled the title (even if whilst standing in the shop) and read a bit of background, therefore deciding whether the movie experience they’re about to pay for is one that they are likely to enjoy.

One of the things I found most difficult about having flicks end up on the torrents was that the nature of the distribution model required no investment, research or engagement from the people who ended up watching the flick. The end result was that as soon as any of my tiny little indies hit the torrents all of the average scores on sites like IMDB absolutely plummet, regular as goddamn clockwork. Whereas the guys who’d gone and bought the movie had looked it up and thought “Okay, this is a tiny micro-budget flick with a lot of talking. It’s a slow-burn with a creepy pay-off. That’s my kind of movie, I think I’ll buy it”, the guys pulling it off the torrents were just seeing ‘horror’ and hitting download with no further engagement with the process. Sometimes there might be a lucky match-up, and someone might enjoy it, but far more often the end-user would be expecting a mainstream Hollywood product (or at least a gorefest) and end up clicking the ‘1’ out of 10 on IMDB or wherever. Often accompanied by a comment about how they only watched the first two minutes because it was ‘so fucking cheap’. Something that they’d have inevitably found out before ever deciding to watch it if they’d had to cough up some money, travel some distance or even put in some time and effort. It’s one of the things I find toughest about the flicks getting distributed illegally; well, there’s that, and the fact that other territories get much, much harder to sell once a flick has hit saturation point online, and there’s no way that an indie can organise an international day and date release (as they’re likely to be dealing with different distributors in each territory).

I’ll keep looking for ways to give stuff away online. As I watch the distributors I’ve dealt with over the years go out of business one by one, it becomes apparent that, yes, the old business model is busted and the new ones have yet to settle down. I’m trying to find a pithy way to wrap this up, one that doesn’t come across as a further shot across that divide. I want to build bridges not create bad feeling. There must be a nice, neat one-liner to sum it up.

Can’t think of one, so I’ll just let the article dribble out incoherently.

Fuck it, it’s not like you’re paying for this stuff.

2 Replies to “Indie movies and the Illegal Download Thing”

  1. Ironically it almost seems like digital sharing gives you too much of an audience. That seems weird but for real niche stuff over exposure can be really damaging because the wrong people seeing your film can create a negative buzz that stops the right people from paying attention. I guess the biggest challenge is finding the right people to target your product to. I guess microbudget needs to become more of a recognized genre within horror. More microbudget festivals, more blogs dealing mainly with microbudget cinema.

    A lot of underground bands find a selection of hardcore fans and then flog them limited edition vinyl, t-shirts and other ephemera linked to their music. They don’t worry about randoms ripping off their music because their core fanbase want physical objects that let them feel more of a connection with the band. It’s hard to see at the moment how this approach might translate to underground movies but as manufacturing costs continue to reduce I could see merchandise becoming more of an important revenue stream for independent film studios.

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