Before Sony decided to release The Interview on demand on Christmas Eve (after initially canceling release plans altogether), BitTorrent made a case for distributing the controversial Seth Rogen, James Franco comedy through its Bundle service. Now, the file sharing network will in fact release its first feature film as a pay-what-you-want (PWYW) Bundle on February 13: comedian David Cross’s directorial debut, HITS.
It will be the first wide release for the film, which debuted at Sundance last year. Written and directed by Cross, HITS is a dark comedy about the pitfalls of Internet stardom (billed as “a true story that hasn’t happened yet”). A young woman (Meredith Hagner) who’s obsessed with landing a role on The Voice instead has to deal with the instant celebrity of her activist father (Matt Walsh, glorious as bumbling communications director Mike McLintock on Veep) after his outburst at a town hall meeting goes viral. The film also features comedian Wyatt Cenac and Cross’s Arrested Development costar Michael Cera.
BitTorrent’s Bundle product has been used by a number of recording artists to sell albums and multimedia content, as well as by film studios to distribute extended trailers and ancillary material, but this will be the company’s first feature-length release. BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer technology allows for sharing and downloading of large media files, and Bundle protects the content behind a gate that can be unlocked for a price set by the publisher, or in this case whatever the viewer wants to pay. The gate travels with the content as it is shared. The artist or publisher keeps all revenue except for transaction costs and BitTorrent’s 10% cut.
As BitTorrent’s chief content officer Matt Mason told Fast Company in December, BitTorrent is “the most resilient network on the Internet” with 170 million users. While the company’s technology is frequently used by pirates to steal and share copyrighted material, BitTorrent itself markets legal services like Bundle, and has been lobbying Hollywood to be used as a legitimate distribution platform.
David Cross’s decision to take BitTorrent up on its offer isn’t the first time a comedian has led experimentation in digital distribution. In 2011, Louis C.K. offered his then-new standup special directly to fans for a flat $5 DRM-free download, choosing to bypass any network or on-demand middleman. The effort was so successful, earning $1 million against $250,000 production costs, that a number of comedians including Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari, and Tig Notaro followed suit.
Cross is also experimenting with the theatrical release of the film, launching a Kickstarter to bring the movie to theaters and let fans pay want they want there, as well. “What we would do with the money we raise here is go out to a number of different cities, rent and pay for a theater, the staffing, marketing, and then fans can pay what they want to see the film,” said Cross in a statement. “The more money we raise, the more cities we can go to.”