An interesting way to 'premier' a movie - bypass the distribution chain, and go to the people

For over a century the movie industry has been controlled by the distribution chain. You can make a movie, but if you can't get it distributed you'd have wasted your money. Michael Moore almost experienced this very publicly in 2004 with Fahrenheit 9/11 when the studio refused to distribute the movie. Fortunately someone with deep pockets bought out the distribution rights, and the movie got seen.

But, what if you're little known, don't have friends with deep pockets, and have a great idea for a movie that isn't going to interest the major distributors? What do you do?

I'm looking at a website for a movie you can describe this way.

http://www.walmartmovie.com/ is the web-home of Walmart: The high cost of low price. This is Robert Greenwald's latest effort, an expose on Walmart.

Robert Greenwald is no stranger to controversial movies. During the 2003-4 election season he put together two highly controversial movies. Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War, a movie about the lies that led us to Iraq, and Rupert Murdoch's war on Journalism, a movie about Fox News describing it as a kind of right-wing propoganda machine which was the major conduit for the lies that led us to invading Iraq.

Given that track record, we can expect the Walmart movie to be well researched, well presented, and highly inflammatory. And, further to the point, the traditional movie industry isn't going to want to distribute this movie because they're somewhat in bed with Walmart. Not outrageously so like the duopoly relationship between the oil and automobile industry, but Walmart and the movie industry are clearly on the same wavelength.

What is Robert Greenwald doing? He's not sitting on his duff complaining about the movie industry. No, instead he's setting up his own premier distribution system. In the traditional movie industry, premier night is the big hoopla, when the film is first officially unveiled. It's a big deal in the traditional movie industry. But if you can't use the traditional distribution system, how do you get the big hoopla? The premiere night aura that can propel a movie?

Well, before the Internet you were kinda stuck. But with the Internet there's a simple to use mass communication system that anybody with a few bucks can use to set up a web site and go to town. And that's what Robert Greenwald has done.

He describes the process here: Creating Change, Not Just Movies By Robert Greenwald, AlterNet. Posted June 17, 2005.

Basically, six months before the premiere night the web site is soliciting people to host screenings. The only commitment is $10 to buy a DVD in advance, plus you'll get a huge packet of discussion material and action plans.

But, what I'm seeing here is more than this one movie. If I remember right he did a similar strategy with his previous movies. What I'm seeing here is a potential business plan for the release and distribution of grassroots movies.

Since I don't want to build the business myself, I'll describe it here. Maybe someone else will see the idea and go through with it. Who knows.

Anyway, suppose you owned http://grassroots.com/ or some similar name that conveys the concept of "We Show The Peoples Movies".

You could arrange with small time movie producers to act as middlemen sponsoring the release of new movies. Part of the deal would be, as Greenwald is doing, arranging places that will hold premier night showings. I'm envisioning artsy style coffee shops or bookstores as the preferred venue (not Starbucks), but they could be anywhere.

The venue would have to agree to hold one night a week open to show one of the available movies.

In exchange the web site would list the venue as one of the places to see movies.

The web site would act as a promotion vehicle for new movies to be distributed this way.

I'm not sure where the money to run this would come from. Maybe the venues could charge a fee, but that would probably impede the number of people coming to see movies. If the venue offered the movies for free, that would in turn draw new customers to the venue, much as bars hire bands to draw customers. The venue could then afford to pay a fee back to the central promotion company.

Secondly, the movies could be distributed as digital files over the Internet, and then displayed using a cheap setup with a laptop computer and video projector. Another possible revenue source is that the venue could burn DVD's on the spot, charging a small fee, and sending commissions back to the promotion company.

Okay, there it is. Have fun y'all.