Summary:

File sharers can download a spy thriller with a cast including Six Feet Under actor James Cromwell this Friday, thanks to a collaboration between the film makers and P2P distribution platform VODO. The site is asking for donations to bring the movie to theaters.

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The BitTorrent-powered video platform VODO will release a movie this Friday that could be the site’s biggest bet on file sharers’ willingness to pay for content yet: The spy thriller A Lonely Place for Dying cost $200,000 to make, and first-time filmmaker Justin Eugene Evans wants to use the funds raised via VODO to finance an ambitious self-organized theatrical release on up to 200 screens next January.

Crowd-financed film making has sometimes been decried as a way for amateurs to produce scripts written fresh out of film school for budgets that Hollywood usually spends on catering, but A Lonely Place for Dying is in a bit of a different league. The movie has been shown at numerous film festivals and was nominated for 45 awards of which it has received 19, including 14 for best motion picture. Its cast includes Six Feet Under actor James Cromwell, who is also credited as the film’s executive producer. Evans told me during a phone conversation on Wednesday that his team initially wanted to go down the traditional indie release route.

But then about a dozen offers from Hollywood came in, including $50,000 commission fees and rights that had to be signed away forever — and everyone started to look for other options. Evans said that VODO had been on his radar for about a year and the success of the VODO-exclusive TV show Pioneer One had been especially encouraging. Still, convincing everyone that it would be a good idea to give the movie away through technology better known for piracy wasn’t exactly easy. “There was a lot of fear,” Evans told me.

Those feelings only echo the reservations that studios have about anything that questions their established ways of doing business. “Hollywood is absolutely paranoid about flipping the window model,” said Evans. However, after contemplating the different options, Evans and his team decided that BitTorrent would be their first window. Asked if this could hurt the chances of people going to see his movie in the theater, he argued that even the most popular VODO release hasn’t seen much more than three million downloads, many of which came from outside the U.S. That still leaves plenty of people to watch the movie on the big screen, he explained.

But will file sharers pay for the movie? Evan hopes so, admitting that the stakes are much higher than for some other films that have relied on VODO and similar crowd-sourced financing. That’s why A Lonely Place for Dying isn’t relying on donations alone; the VODO release is sponsored by Verisign and .TV. The movie is also released in five parts for maximum impact.

But in the end, Evans sees BitTorrent and crowdsourced donations just as a way to get into theaters. He has already booked a few theaters and eventually wants to take the film to as many as 200 screens, all without any outside help. “The system wants to believe that we have to do it their way,” Evans told me. He’s out to prove them wrong, and now counts on file sharers to make that happen.

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