Back in my day (the mid-90s) if you caught a movie in theaters, unless you wanted to shell out the extra 5-10 bucks to see it in theaters again, it was going to take about a year before you could catch it on VHS. Then from there it was another few months (years?) before you’d potentially catch it on television.
Well the times have certainly cha-cha-cha-changed.
Sunday night the indispensable Joss Whedon (responsible for giving the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and occasional thoughtful commentary on feminism) screened his new flick In Your Eyes — which he both co-wrote and executive produced — at the Tribeca Film Festival. In an unexpected twist (a plot device Whedon has previously used in fiction to great effect) at the end of the film, after the credits rolled and the Q&A had been completed, he announced that today actually marked both the film’s premiere and it’s wide release.
The folks over at MTV News compare his approach to that of Beyoncé. Artists spend years developing marketing plans and leaking tracks for an album in anticipation of the big day. Beyoncé made a hell of a lot of noise releasing her album in the middle of the night — with no warning — last December and it was amazing! Yet I think what Whedon’s doing is more akin to a strategy (albeit a less radical version) used by Louis CK.
Louis CK has been a pioneer when it comes to exploring new distributional models. He released his “Live at the Beacon Theater” special on his website in 2011 and at the time described the “experiment” this way:
People of Earth (minus the ones who don’t give a shit about this): it’s been amazing to conduct this experiment with you. The experiment was: if I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price ($5) and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?
A week after he sent out this letter it was reported the special had drawn in over $780,000 with CK pledging to give some of the unexpected profit to staff and charity. The confidence would inspire CK to keep experimenting; he’s gone on to host content on his site from Tig Nataro as well as web-publish his first film, Tomorrow Night, which couldn’t get distribution at the time of its creation.
Yet unlike Whedon’s content- for $5 you get to own what you buy at CK’s website FOR LIFE. I’ve had many a long bus ride when the wifi caves out salvaged with the help of the content I purchased there.
It’s exciting to see content makers — especially high profile content makers with tons of options — experimenting with distribution models that place an emphasis on the Internet. What’s likely to result is more innovative kinds of content.
If only such creativity existed in the mid-2000s, we may have found ourselves with more than a single season of Firefly.