When Apple first contacted the producers of Sunday, an independent film set in post-earthquake Christchurch, and made by a group of New Zealanders and Australians, they weren’t surprised.
“There wasn’t a lot of surprise that a company like Apple would understand what we wanted to do,” Sunday director, producer and distributor Michelle Joy Lloyd says.
What they’re doing is a world first in film distribution, and an experiment in tackling Internet piracy.
As of 7 December, Sunday will be the first independent film to be launched over five different distribution platforms at the same time. The multi-platform distribution plan will see it released simultaneously across more than 20 cinemas in New Zealand, television (Rialto), the Internet (iTunes/Vimeo), DVD, airlines (Jetstar and Air New Zealand) and via Tugg – a bespoke cinema service available throughout North America.
Film access is normally restricted solely to cinema before being drip-fed to other platforms, Lloyd says.
“[The film industry] likes to complain about piracy, but instead of joining in, we wanted to contribute to the conversation, not necessarily with the answer but with a response. Maybe if we let people watch what they want, when they want, on whatever platform they want, at a fair and reasonable price, then maybe they’ll actually pay for it,” she explains.
This experimental model of distribution caught the eye of Apple Australasia execs, and they contacted Sunday producers about their release strategy, offering to help with marketing and selling the film on iTunes.
Lloyd says she can’t disclose exactly how Apple will be helping with marketing as they are still ironing out the details, but says they were excited to be working with the brand and vice versa.
“Apple doesn’t normally get in touch with an indie film, so that in itself we were pretty excited about.
"I cant really say too much around that [relationship] but I think the fact that they were interested and wanted to work with us on helping to promote the film, and get it out to there to New Zealand and Australia and potentially other territories as well, speaks quite loudly to the fact we might be on the right track here with our plan."
The story begins a while back when Sunday’s co-producers Lloyd and Dustin Clare decided they were going to self-distribute and distribute in a way that had never been done before.
“We’ve been researching this for quite a while and assessing the current state of the industry when it comes to distribution and self- distribution and one of the biggest problems facing the film industry was around piracy.
She says there were a lot of conversations going on around piracy that they thought were very negative, control-driven, and were missing out on a big chunk of the issue.
"So half the problem is people want free content, and I think there are always going to be people who want free content and they're gonna pirate regardless, but the other half of the problem lies with the distribution in the film industry, we think."
She says by releasing the film on five different platforms at once, with the price being reasonable on each platform, people might be more inclined to do the right thing. And whether they do or not, Sunday is happy to be the guinea pig.
“We wanted to contribute - not in a way that is coming up with all the answers – but giving the consumer the benefit of the doubt and saying, 'If we do it this way then maybe, just maybe, you’ll pay us for it.”
One of the most important aspects for the producers in this process is to be transparent. Lloyd hopes that by using themselves as a bit of an experiment, and being open about it, other independent filmmakers might benefit.
“A lack of transparency has made it a little bit harder for us distributing – we want to help other filmmakers find their space in this new world, so if us releasing figures helps them then that’s what we want to be able to do.”
She’s a believer that there are people out there who are willing to pay for content, they just haven’t been given the opportunity to do so conveniently, at a fair price and on multiple platforms.
This is where film consumers have moved, it’s just that the industry hasn’t caught up yet, Lloyd says.
She says her research has led to her to believe that it isn’t necessarily “dinosaurs” keeping the old model running in the film industry, rather “accountants with very sharp pencils”.
“They've realised that by rinsing out the old model they’re going to potentially make more revenue than this new model, and the reason for that is because their overheads are so much higher than an independent film. Potentially they're scared of taking that risk and moving just to online because of what they've seen with piracy - that’s just a personal opinion,” she says.
Lloyd’s advice to other independent filmmakers thinking of tackling a five-tiered distribution launch: be prepared for a lot of hard work.
While they did encounter a bit of friction against their new model, Lloyd says in New Zealand there are a lot of really forward thinking cinemas.
“While we did come up against a lot of people who are very traditional in their approach and didn’t necessarily engage with our idea – which I understand, it could be a little fear driven – we also came across a lot of cinemas that were quite forward thinking and did embrace our idea, so it was a mixed bag,” she says.
Lloyd also says that the television channel Rialto was the first to partner with the film, and were “the most excited from the beginning”.
Plus Jetstar also featured the film, and its focus on giving back (10 percent of the final proceeds of the film will go to Christchurch rebuild charity Gap Filler and a portion of ticket sales is also going to White Ribbon), in its inflight magazine.
Sunday launches this Sunday 7 December. Watch the trailer below and visit the website for ticketing details.
SUNDAY is a truly independent self-financed feature film set in Christchurch, New Zealand one year after the devastating earthquakes. While it is not an earthquake film, it is a story like the city of Christchurch: one of past devastation, beauty and a chance at rebuilding bigger and better than before.
Starring Dustin Clare and Camille Keenan, two award winning Australasian actors on the international rise, SUNDAY is essentially a relationship drama in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset; a classic tale of two people whose lives intertwine with the city they inhabit.