ZENITH & How to Give Away Your Film to a Paying Audience

Editor’s note: this article was initially based on an interview and promotion sent by Cinema Purgatorio. Please read the comment below: it looks like I had this all wrong. The idea of putting up a segment of a film for free is still available and untried- let me know if you give it a shot!

Zenith still
All filmmakers face the challenge of finding innovative ways to sell digital downloads. Cinema Purgatorio, aka Ray Privett, has come up with a novel way to sell Science Fiction film ZENITH online as it is reaching the end of its theatrical/semi-theatrical run.

CP is putting the first third of the film up for free through Vodo and Bittorrent. The basic idea here is familiar- the “drug dealer model” in which the unwitting viewer will become so enraptured by the free taste of the film that she will be forced to go looking in dark alleys (or on iTunes) for satisfaction. It’s a great idea because it gives viewers a chance to see if the film is worth their $11.99 and offers a sense of “getting something for free” which may attract more casual viewers.

In this case, the release is a part of a crowdfunding effort to complete the series of films. The film has been downloaded 455545 times through Vodo and has gotten $4808 in donations. I’m not sure how pleasing that math seems- does a penny a view cover the bandwidth? (Sorry, I forgot, it’s P2P!)

I’m often asked, ‘how can filmmakers get people to buy their film when it’s available to download for free?’ I think helping people to see the value of the work and to feel invested, even in some small way, is a good way to start.


One Comment to “ZENITH & How to Give Away Your Film to a Paying Audience”

  1. VODO BOT says:

    Hey! Thanks for the coverage. Some points though:

    “CP is putting the first third of the film up for free through Vodo and Bittorrent.”

    All of Zenith will be released by VODO over a three month period. The idea of creating a miniseries from the film has evolved from the experience we had with our series Pioneer One (vo.do/pioneerone), which has earned over $60,000 through the site so far. Distributing as a miniseries has the advantage of sustaining attention on the film over a longer period of time.

    >The basic idea here is familiar- the “drug dealer model” in >which the unwitting viewer will become so enraptured by the >free taste of the film that she will be forced to go looking in >dark alleys (or on iTunes) for satisfaction.

    That is not in any way the model we are deploying here, as vo.do/zenith clearly states. The first part is indeed free-to-share, as are all the remaining parts. Members of the audience who really like the film and want to get involved can sponsor the release of the next episode in return for various levels of credits in that episode. ($25 gets you a “thank you to” credit; $300 gets you an “Executive Producer” credit, for example. Credits run before the VODO distribution alone, in this case.)

    The aim is to raise $10,000 per episode before releasing the next one, but this is not a hard limit. As the film has so far raised about $4900 in its first ten days or so, it looks highly possible that it will meet its target. If that performance is continued across the release of all three episodes and the extra feature, it seems possible the film can make $30,000-$40,000 through the VODO distribution alone.

    >The film has been downloaded 455545 times through Vodo and has >gotten $4808 in donations. I’m not sure how pleasing that math >seems- does a penny a view cover the bandwidth? (Sorry, I >forgot, it’s P2P!)

    Yes, P2P means the bandwidth is entirely underwritten by the distributing community. It is interesting to reflect that the value of the bandwidth audiences have donated to distribute the film almost certainly exceeds its production budget. This begs the question of who is “producing” and who is “consuming” value in this case. The answer, I think, is not so simple: in the P2P paradigm, we are all distributors, and creators should recognize the importance of the audience/peers in adding value to their work.

    This brings up the related and implied adherence to the one view/one pay model you, by implication, adhere to. It is an anachronism. As domestic bandwidth speeds increase and digital storage becomes cheaper and more capacious, media of all kinds begins to surround and pervade our lifeworlds. The idea that someone is going to pay a toll for every file stored on every disk they own, or with which they come in contact in the course of their day, will soon seem atavistic. If you can store the entire output of the Hollywood studio system on a disk the size of a thumbnail, and transfer it to someone else in the blink of an eye, who is going to regulate those transfers and check the the correct toll has been applied to every tiny file, even if each of those represents a movie, an artist, a career?

    No, the future is in garnering large audiences via free-to-share and then engaging those audiences in value propositions around supporting the artist, the distribution, the creations. It bears consideration that the people who are sponsoring productions on VODO often pay far more than the price of a DVD or the $12.99 to watch the film on iTunes. Precisely _because_ the hard divide between Producer and Consumer is breaking down, they feel their involvement in the success of the show can merit a greater contribution. As for the “lost” downloads, I’m not sure they were really lost — but perhaps that’s a topic for another rant.

    VODO artists remain free to distribute however they like within our non-exclusive arrangement. But If you circle back around later and check VODO’s against the iTunes revenue once the film has spent some time on there, I think you’ll be interested in the result.

    If you would correct the erroneous elements of your piece, it would be much appreciated. Thanks again.

    VODO ROBOT #1