Tonight, the supernatural romance In Your Eyes, written by Joss Whedon and directed by Brin Hill (Won’t Back Down), made its official world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. But immediately after the screening came a surprise announcement from Whedon — the film was now available digitally, and globally. In Your Eyes may now be rented for $5 for 72 hours, exclusively through Vimeo On Demand.
It’s a huge coup for the self-distribution platform, which launched last year. “This is the most high profile title we’ve had on the platform, definitely,” Vimeo general manager of audience networks Greg Clayman said via phone. “The fact that people like Joss are starting to think about direct distribution and connecting directly with their fans is exciting for us, and a trend we think will continue.”
When a film premieres at a festival like Tribeca, it’s typically months away from being available to general audiences — a sentiment Hill noticed when people reacted to the three-minute opening scene, which was released last Friday.
“The first three minutes got people excited — but then they said ‘now we have to wait a year,'” Hill said via phone. “And in a traditional model we would be waiting a year or six months or nine months for a studio to put together a campaign. But this is it. This is our plan.”
Whedon, of course, is a cult favorite among TV fans and the blockbuster director behind Marvel’s The Avengers, though he’s also a digital pioneer — his first major independent production, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, was a major milestone for digital content.
Hill got involved with Whedon and Kai Cole’s Bellwether Pictures (which released Whedon’s micro-budget adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing last year) after meeting Whedon and Cole socially. “Always accept invitations to cocktail parties,” Hill advised.
“I love the spirit of what they’re after, which is let’s go make fun movies, without the normal protocol of studios and whatever,” he added.
The initial connection between Bellwether and Vimeo came through Eyes producer Michael Roiff: “Once they discovered that we were in the business of providing tools for self-distribution, we went right from that conversation to great, how do we work together?” Clayman said.
Beyond a mysterious countdown and email sign-up at inyoureyesmovie.com (seen below), there has been no hint of the plan to release In Your Eyes — a move reminiscent of a pop diva who sprung a brand-new album on her fans last December.
“I like the surprise element,” Clayman said. “It’s a non-traditional way, for sure, but hey, it works for Beyonce. I don’t think it’s dissimilar at all.”
It helps, of course, to be one of the most popular performers on the planet, or a writer/director with a rabid fanbase. “You have to have the kind of pulpit to make this kind of announcement,” Clayman said.
“Joss has built up the ability to do whatever he wants, however he wants to do it — that is cultivated by years of work, and he’s been really smart about it. This is someone who knows how to talk to his audience in a very direct and meaningful way,” Hill said.
Serving that fanbase has been a problem in the past: When Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog premiered in 2008, it was so popular on its first day of release that the website struggled to stay online.
But Clayman said that he wasn’t concerned about a similar situation occurring. “We serve 160 million unique viewers a month globally and viral hits come up every day. The infrastructure we have set up to make this happen and the quality of the player — all of those features weigh into the fact that we’ve kind of been at this for a while.”
Which is a good thing, because Vimeo is the only platform the film will be available on — according to Hill, there are no plans to seek theatrical distribution.
“This is how people are consuming [media] now — people will always go to the theater, but this is the perfect movie to consume at home,” he said. “It’s super-thrilling to me, to be on the cusp of that.”