Releaselog gives daily reports about movies and games which have recently been copied for distribution over filesharing networks. A few days ago they covered the release of a fairly obscure indie film called Man From Earth. I watched it, and watching it was fun. It’s an ideas film and works pretty well, if you don’t expect too much.
The producer of the film emailed releaselog. But not for the reason you might think.
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Eric D. Wilkinson and I am the producer of a small independent film called “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth” (our review).
I am sending you this email after realizing that our website has had nearly 23,000 hits in the last 12 days, much of it coming from your website. In addition, our trailer, both on the www.manfromearth.com site and other sites like YouTube, MySpace and AOL has been watched nearly 20,000 times AND what’s most impressive is our ranking on IMDb went from being the 11,235th most popular movie, to the 5th most popular movie in 2 weeks (we are also the #1 independent film on IMDb & the #1 science fiction film on IMDb). How did this all happen? Two words: Torrent / File Sharing sites (well, four words and a slash).
More specifically, RLSLOG.net. Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. After that happened, people were watching it and started posting mostly all positive reviews on IMDb, Amazon and other places. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded “The Man From Earth” has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!
And so on.
In the comment storm that follows, the film’s director adds:
It seems that more than 2000 people have downloaded the film, and the vast majority (I’d say 85-90%) seem to like or love the movie.
Most of these people live outside the US, and so the DVD is not officially for sale in their country, and frankly we have no idea when it will be. Same goes for any sort of TV sale.
So we had the idea (truth be told, my wife had the idea) to pull a Radiohead… to reach out to the online community and say, “If you downloaded this movie and liked it, please buy the DVD; and if you can’t buy the DVD where you live, please send us some money.”
There is a theory of optimal piracy, or actually several theories suggesting that for one reason or another, your total sales will benefit if some people are freely copying your material. Taken to the extreme you get situations like Cory Doctorow and his fellow authors who actively release their books as free downloads, and argue that they reap the rewards in increased paper-copy sales, freelance writing contracts, speaking gigs and so on. Plenty of new bands do the same, releasing some or all of their tunes and hoping for people to talk them up and come to their gigs. As a DJ I sure wish more acts did that, so I could play them when I want to. It’s a sign that you’ve gone serious when you turn off the “download” option on the music player for your band’s myspace page.
In the case of the of The Man from Earth, what strikes me is that the success of an entire film appears to have hinged on the random decision of some random basement dweller to post it and give it a positive review. Releaselog isn’t a professional undertaking, in either the quality or, I suspect, the money sense. Their “editors” are whoever happens to respond when they occasionally post asking for volunteer editors. Thanks to the wonky dynamics of the peer-to-peer gray market, this ragtag posse of international teenagers is the best at what they do, or close enough that 10s of 1000s of people visit their site daily. And if one of them likes an indie film, it’s the “5th most popular movie” in the world, a week later.
Finally, the self-picture the of the producer in front of an internet browser with rlslog.net up, to prove that the email really was from a movie producer and not a 12 year old girl or a dog or something, is a lovely twist on a classic internet meme.