Internet distribution is the way of the future, says Animal Kingdom producer Liz Watts in a report prepared for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust
In the report, Watts says that although the theatrical model should not be totally disbanded, the linear window – in which a film is first shown at the cinema before moving to subscription television and DVD – should be replaced by a model which involves content being accessible simultaneously via streaming platforms or Video on Demand.
"We are simply confounding our own efforts with a myopic view of our domestic market box office being the most important thing in a film's life," she writes. "Some films do not require theatrical exposure to be successful, to think that you have to release every film this way is naive. Some films are simply better off online or VoD."
Watts spent six weeks in the United Stares and Canada researching distribution practices after receiving a Churchill fellowship in 2010. During this period, the producer attended the American Film Market and took meetings with companies including Sony Classics, Universal and Optimum Releasing.
In her findings, she proposes that the idea of gatekeeper is now obsolete, with the notion of content can be withheld or limited for exclusivity, no longer applicable. Instead, the possibility of earning revenue across multiple platforms at the same time should be explored – particularly for independent films that might struggle to show on enough screens to make an impact at the box office.
In the U.S., distributor Magnolia Pictures has been trialing a model which involves releasing certain films on VoD four weeks prior to cinematic release. The model has been proven to increase theatrical results and does not negatively affect DVD sales.
"Distributors should be selling access, creating networks of devoted fans around their brand and developing customized experiences," she writes in the report.
While the internet is the ideal medium for this, it can still be "too random", with users preferring curatorial influence that helps to direct their viewing.
Social media, particularly Facebook, is seen as the primary way for content producers and audiences to interact, while websites on their own are seen as ineffective.
"Audiences want to participate and want to be able to reflect back to the filmmaker – or feel like they are. And so content has to be ever changing and participatory," says Watts.
The report also looks at the idea of producers acting as distributors and exhibitors for their films, with a focus on selling films internationally as well as in Australia. It cites 21 Grams producer Ted Hope's belief that films must hope to make a majority return from outside of the domestic release.
"I truly doubt any feature film producer in Australia expects an 80 per cent return on their film from outside the domestic release…But maybe we need to widen our notion of what a "National Cinema" is," writes Watts. "I no longer believe in this phraseology. It's narrow and limiting. And quite simply, we don't have the population to support it."
IF contacted Watts, but she was unavailable for comment.