It’s not generally news when a studio releases a new film, especially in an age when folks plop down on their couches on Friday night to find a new treasure-trove of movies and television shows on Netflix, Hulu or, yes, even at the movie theaters. But last weekend, Indigenous Media quietly released a film somewhere you probably have never thought to look for one: on the social media app Snapchat.
To be clear, it is getting a semi-normal release. Wednesday, the studio announced — via a press release and a Facebook post, naturally — the film will be available on June 1 on the online video service Vimeo and can be pre-ordered now for $5.99. But it’s another example of a studio trying something new in a market that’s increasingly crowded with films.
Andrea Russett, an actress in the film, called the movie a “live Snapchat horror film.” As she explains in a YouTube video, it was uploaded to Snapchat in real time over a span of five days. It follows a group of friends who enter the woods and discover something … evil. It’s a fairly conventional plot, but one that revolves around social media — which is also how it was distributed.
In that way, it takes the “found footage” style of horror movie, in which a movie is presented as “found” video recordings (or in this case, Snaps), created in 1999 by “The Blair Witch Project,” to the next level.
Of course, given the nature of Snapchat, viewers likely missed much of the movie. It didn’t help that Indigenous Media, a “next generation studio focused on producing original content for emerging and traditional platforms,” barely promoted it — if at all. But that was likely the idea — let it grow on its own, much like Radiohead marketing an album that may or may not exist by deleting its Internet presence or Beyoncé dropping “Lemonade” on a quiet Saturday night.
“We all have missed some parts of the movie,” she said. “Everything that was on Snapchat and more will be able to be seen on the feature version,” which will be available through Vimeo.
As the trailer states, the movie was specifically “made for mobile.” At no point is a movie theater, or even a television set, contemplated.
Changes in the funding and distribution of films have been rocking Hollywood for some time, as filmmakers and television showrunners — both amateur and professional — increasingly find cheaper and more innovative ways to fund, film and release their projects.
In 2013, for example, CNBC published an article titled “How equity crowdfunding just might upend film financing.” Spoiler alert: it hasn’t, though films have certainly been made via crowdfunding. The most famous example is “Wish I Were Here,” the second film directed by “Scrubs” star Zach Braff (his first was “Garden State”). He funded some of the film via Kickstarter, raising more than $2.6 million (though he received backlash for being a multimillionaire asking for money to finance his project, especially after Worldview Entertainment financed most of the rest, according to The Hollywood Reporter). The domestic rights to the film were later purchased by Focus Features for $2.7 million, Variety reported.
Perhaps the most surprising form of disruption appeared at the Sundance Film Festival last year in the form of “Tangerine.”
The movie’s subject is progressive enough to have made headlines — it’s essentially a buddy film that follows two transgender prostitutes as they try to figure out if the pimp boyfriend of Sin-Dee, one of the prostitutes, cheated on her. But, aside from the subject manner, the film made headlines for a different reason: Director Sean Baker shot it entirely on an iPhone 5s. Yes, the iPhone released before the one most use now. And it debuted at Sundance, after which it was purchased by Magnolia, Indiewire reported.
While both Braff’s Kickstarter project and the filming of “Tangerine” might seem like publicity stunts, they hint at something larger: in today’s world, anyone can make a film.
Other examples abound — Spike TV crowdsourced a pilot TV script with an online competition. Amazon Studios creates “test movies” and asks users to suggest which should be made into feature films. The company previously allowed users to vote on television pilots, and it promised to make the shows that garnered the most interest, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Famed comedian Louis C.K. recently fully funded “Horace and Pete,” his new television show, in the hopes of later finding a buyer. Normally, a network orders a certain number of episodes before they’re made. Instead, Louis found himself deeply in debt after finishing the show, The Atlantic reported. (Though, in a recent podcast with Bill Simmons, Louis claims that he sees the show as an investment. He owns the episodes outright, and he feels confident he can sell them to a network in the future).
Several popular television shows have begun as Web series — which can cost nothing at all, if an auetuer uses YouTube or the like for distribution — only to be later picked up and funded by different networks. Among these is the popular Comedy Central show “Broad City,” which The Washington Post suggested could be the “future of comedy.”
Despite all this, though the movie business is still doing well. For almost every one of the past twenty years, the amount each year’s highest grossing film pulled in has steadily increased. And a 2014 report released by the MPAA shows global box office sales to be on the rise. Last year, the domestic box office hit a record $11 billion in earnings, Deadline reported.
While some claim Hollywood should adapt, the numbers suggest the old models for creating, marketing and distributing films are still working. Until they aren’t, it’s likely the large studios won’t change the status quo.
The smaller studios and independent fillmmakers, however, may just continue leaving surprises on our smartphones.