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BitTorrent Sessions Presents: How to Save Indie Film Distribution

Matt Mason and Evan Husney Talk The Future of Film DistributionBitTorrent has long been a pioneer and a strong voice in the conversation about digital distribution, and now they’re bringing us a video interview series called BitTorrent Sessions. Off the heels of a successful Bundles collaboration (over 3.5 million downloads) with Drafthouse Films for The Act of Killing, BitTorrent’s Matt Mason sat down with Evan Husney (the then creative director of Drafthouse Films, now with Vice) to talk about the current state of film distribution and where we’re headed.

Here’s the ~28 minute conversation:

The Act of Killing is an interesting talking point and case study, being a film with many implications that stretch beyond the edges of the frame. Here’s some of the big takeaways, graciously provided in bite-size morsels by BitTorrent:

  1. Rebuild the arthouse. Rebuild the record store.
  2. Start with the people. Not the film.
  3. Make content marketing more efficient.
  4. Find the communities where access to the film has the most impact.
  5. Build a distribution model that amplifies the story behind the film.
  6. Reclaim offline distribution.

It seems like distribution is all about how you package a release, i.e. finding the right audience, offering incentives for watching the film, and creating different ways for people to consume the film. Projecting The Act of Killing on the face of the World Bank in D.C. is an example of some “provocative” ways to show the film by dropping it into more cultural context (the World Bank had given $30 billion to the regime that committed the 65-66 Indonesian genocide).

BitTorrent Every Film is Different

The biggest thing I’ve learned about digital distribution while releasing my own film is that it’s a constantly moving target. You must stay open and vigilant to the shifting sands, open in communication with your audience and willing to try new ways to engage people. We’re all competing for eyeballs; even really great films have trouble getting visibility in today’s market. Some say we’re cannibalizing ourselves:

Many in the industry still refuse to acknowledge that film is subject to the economic laws of supply and demand. The hard truth is that it is, and ignoring that fact won’t make it go away. All industries have to adapt to stay relevant and viable, and film is no exception. That is especially true in the U.S. where, unlike some other countries, the government doesn’t fund production as a cultural initiative. And if the challenges in the industry are not addressed, everyone in it stands to lose.

What do you think? Are there too many films and not enough eyeballs? How many filmmakers among us will be able to adapt to the way people want to consume films and new ways to distribute them? It all seems incredibly daunting for anyone starting out, but laced with vague feelings of hope for new voices to shine through. Share your thoughts below.

Link: How to Save Indie Film Distribution — BitTorrent Blog


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • If Bitcurrent was an actual feasible system to distribute film and make a profit, the Majors would of embraced it years ago.

    • I’m sorry but that’s bullshit. The Majors have always been the last to move to alternative systems. In the past they initially resisted TV, home video and streaming. I mean it’s hard to blame them with the amount capital they’re risking.

      • Ok smart guy, then tell me ONE movie that has shown a profit from being released on Bitcurrent–just one film will do.. I’ll wait a few second here…

        Times up..there isn’t any.

        • Well look at the big brain on you. I’m just kidding ;)

          The torrent tech hasn’t resulted in any direct payment at the moment but it’s fairly new as a monetized distribution channel. It requires a different mindset, just like streaming is monetizing the service rather than the product. Torrents might require the monetization of the traffic itself.

          How do we do this, honestly I don’t know, it’s uncharted waters but that’s what is exciting about it.

          • Uncharted waters you say? How long is it going to be and how much more money will be consumed by thieves until somebody figures out how to stop people from stealing? If you were even 1/10′th the filmmaker you think you are you would be deeply concerned, cause this garbage is what’s killing the industry.

    • Foreignperson on 06.28.14 @ 7:02AM

      How come mainly native english speakers think it’s “would of”? It’s “Would have” damnit

      • They’re misspelling the contraction “would’ve”. In speech it has morphed into a pronunciation that sounds more like “would of” so many young people think that’s how it is spelled. They’re sounding it out phonetically and spelling it how it sounds.

      • And “damnit” [sic] is usually spelled out “dammit” or “damn it”.

  • Perhaps I’m thinking of a different company but wasn’t bit-torrent basically founded/built upon video piracy???

    • It’s a common misnomer, BitTorrent has been a legitimate company since the beginning. Read more here:

      • Its not a misnomer, its a loophole or technicality. Who hasn’t downloaded a movie or maybe software at least once with bit-torrent they shouldn’t have??? And compare that to the number of times you’ve used it to download something legal??……

        They made a butt load of money through knowingly enabling piracy and now they see another way to cash in on the digital delivery of movies.

        • Exactly, but they are also a very forward thinking company fighting for a decentralized internet. Now they’re trying to monetize peer-to-peer technology not only for themselves, but for whoever has content to publish and wants to share it this way. I for one really like what they’re doing.

          • I have to admit that until recently, I had a pretty negative opinion of the BitTorrent brand.

            After working with BitTorrent Sync and getting to know the company a little better, that’s changed a lot. I’m glad they’re working so hard to do such cool stuff.

            But they have started an uphill battle in terms of their brand. The word “torrent” is associated with piracy, whether it should be or not. And so it BitTorrent.

            I hate that for them. They are a totally legitimate company who’s products have been used for very illegitimate purposes.

          • Sharing is not the same as selling and what Bitcurrent is doing is assisting in theft.

          • A bit like a weapons manufacturer that sells half a million AK-47s but says to the public “but we don’t pull the trigger, its not our responsibility what people choose to do with it”.

  • This is the first I’ve heard of BitTorrent being legitimate. I only knew of it being used in an illegal capacity.
    I think enable an audience to watch your film is great – This is why I’ve found Distrify to be a far more feasible alternative to regular distribution.

    Agree with Roberto, the majors are always behind the times. But they have the money to market and distribute in a traditional capacity that doesn’t require as much ‘work’ and interaction to build an audience. Shove it in front of people’s faces enough and people will buy into it eventually.

    Building an audience requires far more than money – it’s all about engaging with people on a personal level – and not necessarily a film crowd either – you have to start thinking about the context of the film and who would find the information in it useful – almost like a blog. I’m from an art house form of film making – which is a little demoralising as the art house crowd want the film for free. But it seems the people interested in the ‘moral’ of the story or the solutions offered in the film (not that I really offer any) seem to be more willing to pay for it.

    Total shift in mentality I think but I guess everyone’s experience is different.

  • Giving up film negative projection in theaters did not help. It was a the first part in the path of distro. Then DVD, web, etc. A filmmaker had a locked in audience that would come and see the film before it became a torrent. Yes of course cams of films will never be stopped but what true film lover is watching cams?

    Going back to the negative and the theater would help this go away. Its too easy to buy the film on iTunes and upload for the world to see – the film just lost all its value in the market. The film in a small /medium theater release built buzz for the DVD, now it would be VOD. Reviews could surface, word of mouth. All that has been destroyed rendering a film valueless.

  • BitTorrent may help to lower the cost of distribution but, otherwise, it’s just one video site… one of many. And this still means that the cost of delivery is low but the costs of marketing are immense.

    • BitTorrent only SHIFTS the cost of distribution (to the user); it does not eliminate it or lower it. It might it increase it.

  • I subscribe to the idea that there ARE too many films made and not enough eyeballs, for now. “For now” only because we’re really just at the birth of film and television being consumed digitally on screens other than those to which you have to drive to the multiplex to view.

    As filmmakers, I believe we’re going to have to craft our movies from the standpoint of “what will this look like on an iPhone?”. As much as that may make Michael Bay or Jim Cameron shudder, a lot of people would be just as happy to watch Avatar or a Transformer movie on their iPhone while on a long road trip.

    Filmmakers will find a much broader audience (and therefore, funding) for their film projects when the target isn’t the national theater chain, but the viewer who has an ever increasing choice of venue on which to watch film. Just look on IMDB at all the movies released last year, and you can count on two hands, and some toes, those that really made their money back. Those that lost money could have potentially been profitable if, rather than going through the normal studio distribution channel, they had turned the distribution channel model upside down and looked at digital distribution as the top of the food chain, and theatrical distribution as the “ancillary” market instead of how it is now. I say “potentially” profitable because content STILL has to be KING, and if you produce a bomb, no one will watch in regardless of the method of delivery.

    • Then you “subscribe” to a fool’s idea.

      Who would decide how many films are made each year? Your buddy Obama? The Studios who want to return to the “Studio System?”

      who are you to decide how many films are “too many?” Who are you to tell me that I can’t make my movie?

  • > BitTorrent has long been a pioneer and a strong voice in the
    > conversation about digital distribution

    Absolutely no need to read past that line. It won’t get any better.