I've noticed it always takes the entertainment business a little bit longer to jump on the technology train as the rest of the world. I imagine it's because a bunch of ornery old white dudes are running everything and, as we all know, ornery old white dudes are the worst. Regardless of the why's and when's, it's nice to see the industry realizing there needs to be a way to co-exist with the digital age.
Technology means great things for someone who has lived in the middle of nowhere their entire life. Living in Countryville, Maryland meant that we didn't get indie movies. We didn't get foreign flicks. We only got big blockbusters, horror movies (mainstream ones), comedies and romantic chick flicks. And if a movie had some form of controversy? Forget about it. I remember my mother having to go to another town to see Dogma because there was too much protesting in our town because of the religious themes. We had to travel two counties over to go see Shaun of the Dead because it was a British film. It's gotten a little bit better around here since I was in high school (Edgar Wright's last three films came to our town), but only just barely.
So now that VOD (video on demand) is becoming more popular it means great things for us living outside of major metropolis zones. It allows us a chance to see smaller movies legally with the rest of the world instead of resorting to watching shaky cam versions of it that we found in the depths of the internet. It means great things for smaller movies in general. The most recent example would be what happened with Snowpiercer. This movie had a nontraditional release strategy that actually seemed to pay off.
Snowpiercer is a sci-film film made by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. It has enough star power and budget to not be a true indie film but is weird enough that it wouldn't be some record-breaking blockbuster. Anybody with a brain could see that. So the Weinstein Company figured "why spend millions on advertising for a movie we know is going to be too odd for the mass US audience?" and went with advertising by word of mouth and VOD instead. They first released the movie overseas, where it not only made millions but had people leaving positive reviews over the internet that got other people interested in the film. The internet tends to have a nice chain reaction when it comes to films. One person gushes about it, then two more people get curious and check it out then four more, etc, etc until finally it reaches the normal folk who still have AOL accounts for some weird reason. Bless their hearts.
So Snowpiercer had the internet excited. Now what? Well, they released the movie in the US, of course. In eight theaters. Eight in the whole country. Transformers (whichever sequel we're on now) opened that same weekend in something like five thousand theaters. Eight theaters is nothing. Oh but wait! The team also decided to release the movie on demand to sites like Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay two weeks after its initial theatrical release. That is brilliant. They've released their movie to eight theaters and to literally every laptop and smartphone in the country. Most people probably don't want to spend 20 bucks a pop plus gas money to see a rough looking Chris Evans and a freaky looking Tilda Swinton spend an entire movie on a train, but I bet a bunch would pay 6.99 to watch that same premise from the comfort of their home. And I don't have to drive to 45 minutes to find a theater that plays it because even with a typical limited release of a few hundred theaters that's the minimum of a drive I have to put up with to find a theater that plays smaller films.
Now the VOD system probably won't work on bigger films, I'll admit that. Distributors probably won't want to keep a movie in their theaters for long knowing that people can just get it from their homes and those highly priced theater tickets bring in a lot of revenue for a movie, especially when you add in prices for 3D and IMAX. There's also a lot to be said for the whole theater experience, especially when it comes to big budget action films. You're not paying for plot in those movies, you're paying for cool looking explosions on a huge screen. Plus the theater is just a fun way to get out of the house and hang out with people. But as far as small budget or low-distributed films go, VOD is the way of the future. I fully believe that VOD and the theater system can work together in order to keep the film industry afloat in this day and age.
By the way, Snowpiercer was a pretty good movie. You should see it. Big screen or small, whichever way you prefer.