Straight-to-video has gotten a 2013 makeover. Last week, Vimeo, the mature brother of Youtube, released that it would be starting an On Demand service and it will kick off with Neil LaBute's Some Girls. Some Girls is an indie/low budget film version of LaBute's 2006 play about a man who goes on an adventure in exes to find his true match. The movie was directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl) and boasts some big names with indie cred like Zoe Kazan and Kristen Bell. But it's how the film is being released that is getting the bigger buzz.
Some Girls premiered this year at SXSW and rather than going for the standard distribution model of waiting forever to get picked injected into mainstream theaters, the film will open online on June 28 on Vimeo's On Demand platform. For $10 to own the movie and $5 to rent, the producers of the movie are entering into some unexplored territory. Are people ready to watch new movies online without the addition of the big screen?
There's been some feet wetting already in this arena. The female comedy Bachelorette was first released on iTunes prior to its airing in theaters, which gave it a good amount of buzz and viewers. This model is rumored to be in future use for the upcoming Nicolas Refn film, Only God Forgives. We shall see.
I think there is a larger implication here that involves a paradigm shift in movies and what that means for the silver screen. Will we stop going to the movie theater because we can get our fix online? Yes and no.
Movie theaters have certainly seen a drop off in attendance. The peak of theater attendance actually occurred in the 1940s when 100 million people were going to the cinema each week. Ticket sales have waxed and waned but recently the movie theaters are struggling to get bodies in the seats. Ticket costs have gone up and so have gimmicks like 3-D and whatever else they are trying to do. These "value-adds" have helped the industry financially, but there is no doubt the Internet is stealing movie-going folk.
But there is something profoundly different about seeing Iron Man 3 on the big screen and on your dinky laptop (natch). So in terms of big budget blockbusters, we will always go to the movies. Or will we? Television sets are getting larger, new homes are now coming equipped with surround sound and it's so much cheaper and more relaxing to make your own popcorn and snacks and curl up on your couch. If you can stream a new movie to your Apple TV, why pay the additional cost?
And small indie films have even more chance of success on the third screen. You certainly don't need 3-D to see the latest Sundance pick. Such films will probably do better through streaming services than relying on art house theater attendance.
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So is the movie theater going to way of the dinosaur? I don't think so. There is one demographic that will consistently attend theaters and that is children. Parents need something to do with their kids and movies make for a good (expensive) outing. Cartoons will continue to prosper and 3-D cartoons are also doing quite well.
But there is also something special about going to the movies that cannot be attained at home -- the experience. It's the popcorn smell, the fountain soda, the pitch black coziness of a movie that gets people coming back. Scholars call it the "cocoon effect," and it's not something that can be recreated at home no matter how good your stereo system or homemade nachos may be.
There is something else about the Vimeo concept that leaves a sour taste. The connotation of a "straight-to-video" movie is really poor, like really, really bad movies don't get screen release and go right to the small screen. I think the folks over at Vimeo are going to have to do some marketing magic to turn that feeling around. It's possible, but it's something that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Right now, it's novel but soon it will be over-run with bad films that don't deserve theater release. And then it will be like everything else on the Internet.
But change is inevitable, and movie theaters are going to have to figure out ways to keep people coming back and jacking up the prices is not going to cut the butter for much longer.