Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go: The Rise of Cinema-on-Demand

As you have no doubt noticed in recent years, there are more ways than ever to experience films.  Want to watch in the comfort of your own home? You can stream on Netflix, rent from iTunes, or order Video-on-Demand from your cable provider or video game system. Prefer the old fashioned method of going to the theater? You can choose the optical trickery of 3D, the pulse rattling grandeur of IMAX, or the pure insanity of motion seats. There truly is a wealth of options for movie lovers today, with more to come in the near future. 

This also means there are more options for studios and distributors to determine how they can maximize profits on a film’s potential, leading to a debate about whether or not indie filmmakers are being given golden opportunities or the short end of the stick.  On the one hand, you can now see films in Austin, TX, through VOD or iTunes that would, in past years, have only been exhibited in a handful of theaters in New York or Los Angeles, opening more eyes to new filmmakers and fresh ideas than ever before.  

On the other hand, this means that fewer indie filmmakers will experience the exquisite feeling of screening their film in a movie theater.  As far as we have come with on-demand movies, and as comfortable as most people have become with viewing films at home, the allure of the movie theater is still not lost on a majority of filmmakers.  Playing in an actual cinema remains the ultimate dream, but the low costs and accessibility of VOD are so appealing to studios and distributors that this dream is even less likely to come true. 

Not that most filmmakers are likely to complain if a VOD deal comes knocking on their film’s door.  In this economy, an indie filmmaker with a walletful of maxed-out credit cards will be more than happy to take any opportunity to get their movie watched and their debts erased. Luckily, these opportunities abound, with Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others offering a multitude of channels through which a film could find an audience. 

Unfortunately, these opportunities also eliminate the risk-taking that sparked the independent film scene into vibrant life.  Would “Reservoir Dogs” have been given a chance on the big screen? Would “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” have been labeled a “small screen movie” and gone straight to iTunes?  It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain right now: if you don’t have James Cameron’s cameras or Peter Jackson’s special FX units or the Fox Searchlight/Weinstein Company/Sony Pictures Classics logos on your poster, you’re going to have a difficult time getting your film on the big screen. 

What does this mean for those of us who can appreciate the potential of VOD but ultimately still enjoy the rush of discovering indie films at the local arthouse? It means we should go, and go as often as we can.

-Stephen Jannise, AFF Film Program Director

1 comment:

Freddie Fillers said...

Hi Stephen and thank you for the insightful blog about Cinema-on-Demand. There may still be hope for a filmmaker whose first opportunity at distribution is a digital one through VOD. I found a service in beta mode called tugg. It has an interesting proposition that would allow for a relationship between a film's promoter, the local theaters and the potential audience. This could turn out to be just the right reverse engineering vehicle to get those previously seen small screen works projected onto the big screen. This is an especially ripe opportunity considering that more theaters are now being and have already been converted to digital projection. Here is a link to the tugg website:


Freddie Fillers