When US distributor Gigantic unveiled its strategy to release films in the US simultaneously in cinemas and online, its founders boasted about this “industry-changing paradigm.”
The initiative kicked off with Must Read After My Death, Morgan Dews' documentary about his late grandmother's dysfunctional family in Connecticut in the 1960s, which opened in February at New York's Quad and Los Angeles' Laemmle Sunset cinemas, and was streamed in other US markets.
So what's the verdict? Well, the box-office takings were decent and “for movies online, we made a nice, good start,” Gigantic Releasing president Mark Lipsky told Film Journal International. That hardly sounds like an unqualified success, but Lipsky, an indie warrior who spent time with New Yorker, Lot 47 and Miramax, is convinced he's on the right track.
“We got a ton of broad acceptance from all media for our concept, which is what we were really aiming for. We now have a national exhibition system that is online where we can open any film. And the reception was so positive.”
Some services already provide films theatrically and on video-on-demand, but most entail the viewer watching ads. Gigantic claims it's the first to offer national cinema/online day-and-date releases, with users paying US$2.99 for a three-day viewing window, ad-free.
Lipsky didn't provide any figures, except to note the doc grossed $6,500 in its opening weekend at the Quad and that they gave away several hundred tickets online to help generate buzz.
Interestingly, he hasn't yet announced the next films that will be routed through this dual-platform pipeline, but says he's tweaking his plan so that other distributors and filmmakers can utilize Gigantic's services. Content-providers are guaranteed $1 per download.
“Whether a film is set to open theatrically in 5 markets, 50 or 500, Gigantic Digital can be employed in tandem with the release and provide the deepest possible reach of any film into the U.S. market without ever cannibalizing theatrical revenue, requiring a single extra hour of the distributor's time or a single extra dollar in P&A,” he says.
The Gigantic group also includes production arm Gigantic Pictures (whose current art-house hit is Goodbye Solo), Gigantic Music and Gigantic Studios, which offers post-production services.
Must Read After My Death did garner a lot print and online reviews including some raves, such as Roger Ebert, who said, “Here is a cry from the grave. A woman who died some eight years ago at the age of 89 left behind about 50 hours of audiotapes, 200 home movies and 300 pages of documents, a record that all ended, 30 years before that, on the death of her husband. The cache was labelled, in bold marker on a manila envelope, "Must Read After My Death." What an anguished story it tells, of a marriage from hell.”
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis said, “While I admire how Mr. Dews has constructed his movie on a formal level, I can't help but wonder how his grandmother would feel if she knew her family's trauma has been repackaged for our queasy consumption.”
It will be interesting to see whether any Australian distributors offer a Gigantic-type service when the National Broadband Network enables us to download movies within minutes, not hours.