For director Justin Eugene Evans, making the movie was the easy part. Finding somewhere to show his low-budget tale of Vietnam-era espionage was far more complicated. Even with Oscar-nominated star James Cromwell, (Babe, L.A. Confidential) and the buzz-generating blitz of 39 film festivals, the filmmakers for A Lonely Place for Dying struggled to lock in a distribution deal. “We were approached by independent distributors and just about every top sales agent and rep in Los Angeles,” says Evans, but the deals, he claims, were so lopsided in favor of the distributor, he and his investors wouldn’t make a dime.
So he turned to an unlikely ally in mainstream Hollywood: the legally murky world of peer-to-peer file sharing, partnering with VODO, a free video-sharing site with distribution ties to other prominent P2P networks BitTorrent and Vuze. VODO is currently developing a new film distribution model that has the fundraising ambitions of Kickstarter: a film’s supporters give money to the creators and their participation makes them part of the action. A donation of five dollars earns a digital copy of the screenplay and a podcast interview with Evans. A healthy three grand will get you a private screening. And a whopping $50,000 gets an executive producer credit along with the other bevy of perks.
To make this gambit work on a P2P site, Evans had to flip the script of standard feature length, chopping his film into five serialized parts. The first teaser “episode” is up, with three more episodes to be released over the coming months, with the final episode pegged to run several weeks after the film’s theatrical release.
Jamie King, founder and COO of VODO, explains that beyond Evans’ film, the company’s aim is to be a P2P Netflix, pairing up online audiences with the directors and writers searching for them. Says King: “If we can put the two together, we solve two core problems: giving audiences who are increasingly criminalized by their sharing activities a legitimate engagement with creators, and giving creators who are not served by the incumbent media system a quick, effective route to [the] audience.”
With roughly a million uniques a month, King and his VODO team are also planning to get involved with more mainstream distribution services to institute a pay-per-view system for the media available on VODO’s site. So far so good: Since its premiere early this month, the film has been downloaded 700,000 times and landed a sponsorship with another online distributor, .TV which paid $15,000 for the first three episodes. Viewer donations will go to promoting the film’s theatrical and Blu-ray release with ads in traditional media outlets. Any Oscars, though, Evans gets to keep.