Film Distribution 2.0

Film ShootSydney film producer Enzo Tedeschi and his partners took a unique approach to marketing their horror flick The Tunnel, as Drew Turney found out.

German news website Teleopolis recently broke a story that global market research company GfK buried facts in their own findings about movie piracy. In the alleged conspiracy, GfK wanted to portray internet pirates as parasites bankrupting Hollywood. Instead, it found habitual downloaders are actually film fans who download a movie and then go on to pay for it at the cinema or on DVD.

Nobody can argue piracy is rampant on peer to peer networks like Bittorrent, but the GfK episode highlights an interesting point — Hollywood has to move with the times. It’s a philosophy Enzo Tedeschi followed to the letter when he released his low budget horror film The Tunnel along with co-producer and writer Julian Harvey and director Carlo Ledesma. Instead of jealously guarding and managing distribution channels, Tedeschi released The Tunnel on DVD, video on demand, through The Tunnel iPad app and through torrent services.

“One of the reasons piracy occurs is because people want it how they want it,” Tedeschi told Auscam about the May 2010 release. “If they don’t want to go to the movies they’ll find a way to share it with each other, so if we try to eliminate the need to do that and give it to people how they want it, they’ll watch it in a way that’s convenient for them and not necessarily download it for free.”

After a short theatrical run in Sydney’s Fox Studios cinema, and with all other avenues considered, Tedeschi says The Tunnel is ‘very close’ to being in the black. But despite the 21st century approach to marketing, success is actually set to unfold the traditional way — by word of mouth generating demand. It’s the opposite methodology from a Hollywood tentpole film where the studio hopes to rake the profits in the first two weeks after a blanket marketing campaign.

“This is our first feature, we knew we weren’t going to be able to compete with marketing spends and the razzle dazzle of other movies, so we knew we had to be a little bit smarter about it,” Tedeschi says.

But with no twitchy Hollywood accountants getting ready with ‘hit’ or ‘flop’ stamps, does The Tunnel’s approach make it harder to reach a point where Tedeschi can say ‘mission accomplished’? “From my own standpoint I think we’ve achieved everything we set out to do,” he says. “We wanted to make a film that wasn’t burdened by enormous financial debt and we did that. Over the next year we’re going to start seeing returns to all the interested parties but more importantly we’ve got an audience of about 4 million people around the world and the feedback we’ve been getting is overwhelmingly positive, so that can only stand us in good stead.”

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Budget – $135,000
Writing commenced – mid 2007
Crew hired – early 2009
Shooting days – 14
Edited in – Final Cut Pro
Total crew – 18 maximum (usually 10)

It’s a frame-up

Tedeschi and his team also took an unusual approach to funding The Tunnel by tapping into the power of the crowd. Go to the website and you can still buy the rights to a single frame of the movie, which you receive as a digital file watermarked with your name.

New tools, old style

The Tunnel is in good company with US filmmaker Kevin Smith’s latest film Red State. After premiering his horror thriller at 2010’s Sundance Film Festival, the writer/director raised hackles when he awarded distribution rights to himself in a post-screening auction.

A longtime critic about the economics of Hollywood marketing, Smith looked to the old style of distribution, of a film traveling from city to city and building an audience through word of mouth. After taking Red State on the road throughout North America and performing live Q&A’s with the audience after each screening, he’s already recouped the $4m production budget.

Of course, Smith’s no up and coming hopeful — with over a million Twitter followers and a dedicated audience for his blog and podcast network he has a direct line to plenty of fans.