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IS PIRACY THE NEW FIRST WEEKEND?

by
in Filmmaking
on Feb 9, 2009

In a post a couple of weeks ago entitled “Taken and the Piracy Effect,” I wrote about the surprise theatrical success of the French action film Taken, which topped distributor forecasts despite the fact that it has been easily available on the filesharing sites for almost a year. Of course, the film’s killer trailer and TV campaign had something to do with it as well, but the fact that the early word from the downloaders was overwhelmingly positive (see the quotes from the various bulletin boards in my original post) I’m sure had something to do with convincing fanboys that this was not just a generic studio programmer (okay, maybe it convinced them that it was a kick-ass generic studio programmer). This weekend the film’s box-office run continued; it dropped a very modest 17%.

It’s clear that a leak of a bad studio film can cripple a film’s box-office take, but what if the film delivers? Then, the word-of-mouth may do what a solid first weekend used to do before the days of saturation releasing — stoke the buzz needed to ensure future returns.

My post prompted a reader named Jonathan in South Carolina to write the below letter, reprinted with permission. One of art film’s biggest hurdles, we often think, is its graying audience. But what if there is a new, younger audience that is simply unresponsive to the traditional releasing patterns specialty distributors are locked in to? For this reader, platform releasing and the failure of titles to play the regional market present an ethical dilemma.

Read:

First off, I want to say I love Filmmaker Magazine. I read your blog post titled “Taken and the Piracy Effect.” I want to know what effect you think this has on smaller indie films, if you haven’t already talked about the subject before? In the last year I have seen more films on the internet than in theaters (more or less on Netflix too). Just a couple of weeks ago, I viewed the outstanding Wendy and Lucy, Slumdog Millionaire, and Frozen River online and I watched Happy-Go-Lucky a few months before it was released in the US (great film also). Don’t get me wrong, if those films were playing at my local theatre, I will see them posthaste, but there are but a few art houses in South Carolina. The Nickelodeon Theatre is probably the only one. Now, you must be thinking I not your average moviegoer. I do read the online reviews, interviews, and festival coverage (SXSW, Fantastic Fest, Sundance) before I put down my $6.50 adult ticket (if those films hopefully get a distributor). I feel like I’m stealing from the writer’s/director’s artistic copyright, but I’m not the one uploading screener DVD’s on the web. I just like to watch Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Puffy Chair for free (or to purchase them) because of the positive reviews of Indiewire. Am I just as bad as the film pirates? I hope not. I’m absolutely not.

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