The message was clear: What was once considered a marginal or even stigmatized part of the distribution world had clearly earned a second look.
Whereas people may once have been suspicious of a movie that showed up on their cable system’s on-demand menu the same day it opened in theaters, when the synopsis includes names such as Caine, Moore and Gosling, that stigma significantly evaporated.
“Stars definitely matter,” says Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which released “Flawless” and “All Good Things.” “Because frankly, it’s a menu . . . and you only have a certain amount of information you can get across.” (The all-important menu can be finessed in other ways: At a gathering of micro-budget indie filmmakers at the Maryland Film Festival in May, one director advised his colleagues to choose a title that begins with “A,” so it has a chance of being seen first.)
Another essential element, Bowles adds, is genre: Even the scrappiest no-name action and horror films can do very well as on-demand offerings, regardless of who’s in them. “People aren’t going to rent something unless they have some notion of what it’s about or what it’s going to deliver,” he says. “If it has a [type of] story or stars no one’s heard of, that’s a tougher sell.”
With adult dramas increasingly on the ropes in Hollywood, the simultaneous VOD-theatrical release strategy would seem to be a no-brainer; how better to reach grown-ups who want to avoid the sensory overload of modern-day multiplexes than delivering films to the safety of their living rooms? But don’t look for “Hope Springs” on your iPad just yet; big theater chains refuse to play films that are showing on other platforms. (Magnolia, which is owned by Dallas Mavericks magnate Mark Cuban, shows its films at Landmark Theatres, which Cuban also owns; IFC Films, another VOD pioneer, owns a theater in New York and its films are shown in independent theaters, including Landmark. But Landmark often declines to play other companies’ day-and-date VOD releases.)
Last year, when Universal Pictures announced plans to make the comedy “Tower Heist” available on VOD in Portland, Ore., and Atlanta the same day it arrived in theaters (for about $60), exhibitors squawked so loudly the studio quickly retreated.