John August, director of The Nines, has just published a lengthy article about his experience with the indie movie, including its Sundance screening, BitTorrent and the competitive art-house film scene. August made his name as a screenwriter for movies like Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Nines was August’s directorial debut — and an unexpectedly significant learning experience. “The release of the movie was deeply disappointing,” he writes.
He would absolutely do the movie again, he says, except that this time he’d just upload the whole thing onto P2P networks himself.
The Nines premiered at Sundance last year. While it managed to get some buzz from the festival audience, it ended up making less than $100,000 from its theatrical release, prompting August to write that: “Sundance buzz is annoying and meaningless.” The low numbers can be at least partly attributed to the fact that the movie never got beyond a limited release in three cities. “It didn’t feel like it at the time, but the theatrical release was really a token, contractually obligated gesture,” writes August.
More importantly, theatrical releases mean release windows. So the movie opened in theaters in September 2007, but wasn’t released onto DVD until the end of January, when everybody but the most hardcore film buffs had already forgotten about it. Lesson learned, according to August: “The smart thing would have been (…) having the DVD come out immediately.”
And then there is the P2P factor. The Nines leaked onto BitTorrent two weeks before its DVD release. August, as he made clear in a comment to Torrentfreak, wasn’t too upset about the leak: “I’m not bouncy with joy over my movie getting torrented, but I think it’s a stretch to equate unlawful downloading with traditional theft,” he was quoted as saying.
In fact, the torrent version helped to get the word out. August now thinks he could have utilized that buzz better if he had embraced P2P himself and leaked the movie ahead of the theatrical release, complete with the URL of the film’s web site as a visible watermark.
He’s quick to admit that P2P probably wouldn’t have helped The Nines to become a blockbuster. But he believes that it would have at least helped to generate more attention from film fans. Writes August: “Ultimately, I think that’s how you need to measure the success of an indie film’s release: how many people saw it.”