Why 'The Cosmonaut' Creators Gave Their Audience the Upper Hand in the New Era of Distribution
Independent film has grown and blossomed over the last few decades. Production costs are low and spirits are high, but the question on every indie filmmaker’s mind after wrap is, “How do I get my film out there?” Independent director Nicolás Alcalá and his team at Riot Cinema has rewritten the book on how movies are experienced and distributed with their film The Cosmonaut, and Alcalá was kind enough to share his thoughts on distribution in contemporary cinema.
This is a guest post by Director Nicolás Alcalá.
Our intention since we started this project, has been always the same: We want the viewers to watch the movie when, how, and where they decide. Actually, we would like this to be the case with every single movie, but it’s hard to sustain a profitable system when it’s based on scarcity if scarcity is no longer a possibility. The reasons for this are many — some of them can be judged as immoral, others deal with the evolution of technology and the amazing possibility of a wide access to culture everywhere in the world, but the truth is the old distribution system based on scarcity is facing a lot of problems nowadays.
A few years ago, the movie had four lives: first in movie theaters for several weeks, then a DVD release — later cable television and finally in public television. But, the internet has brought a completely new way of consuming films (or any kind of content, for that matter). There was a time when the exhibitor and the distributor were the ones that decided for you. Today, this new tool has entered our lives allowing us to have a voice in the decision. And it works just like a superpower — it can be used for good or for evil, but once its possibilities are discovered — it’s hard to go back.
That’s why we decided to embrace this new superpower instead of fighting against something inevitable — taking advantage of these new possibilities. Our movie The Cosmonaut was released worldwide on the 18th of May allowing every person in the world to watch it for free online (we just asked you to share it before watching it). It was also premiered on several TV networks around the world. You could buy the DVD (which expands the transmedia story with the addition of a book with pictures of the characters) or the USB special edition. You could also attend one of the many screenings that were happening around the world.
And you still can, because the film will continue to be online — forever. You just have to share it. If you like it, you can pay what you want (including nothing) or buy some cool merchandise. You can also attend one of the many screenings that are still happening, because that’s another crazy thing we decided to do with our film in this new era for distribution: encouraging our audience to request and organize individual screenings of our film.
Imagine this: One day you receive an email from a guy in Kiev, Ukraine, “Hey, I loved the concept of your film. I want to screen it in my movie theater for 3 weeks.” The next day, 3 dots pop up in your “demand” map in Minneapolis where 3 people have requested a screening. That afternoon, the owner of a movie theater in the same city writes you to tell you that he has received several calls asking for a film called The Cosmonaut and he wants to know if you own the rights so he can screen it. Then, like a virus, one crazy distributor is going to rent a bus and tour your film through all the small towns along Côte d’Azur. A scientist at the American Space Center in Madrid wants to take a tour around the gigantic satellite plates and then screen the film. The employees working at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Geneva want to do a Q&A around the film in their cinema club. Allowing your audience to choose how they experience your film opens up new and exciting distribution techniques — requesting an individual screening like this is just one of the many.
What if anybody, anywhere in the world, were able to organize a screening of your film — sharing the profits with you or doing it for free at their own risk — sharing the passion with you — promoting something they love?
That’s what we asked ourselves 4 years ago. Now, with all of those screenings in place and many more happening every day, it’s starting to make sense. This is the new era of distribution we’ve been talking about for so long.
Nicolás Alcalá is an independent film director. He is the cofounder of Madrid-based Riot Cinema Collective, along with Carola Rodriguez and Bruno Teixidor. Alcalá directed Riot Cinema’s first feature film The Cosmonaut, a transmediatic film “made by more than 5000 people” that broke all the world’s crowdfunding records by raising €130,000 in 3 days, making it one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history.