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 Cosmonautand 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.

Nicolas Alcala 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.

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in the end, this kind of thinking about movie making may also be a way of revitalizing the theater screening too. It looks like today going to cinema theaters is not as fun as it has been in the past, mostly because it's almost like a monoculture thing, like cultural corn fields. In agriculture, monoculture is a way to stress the soil and make the vegetables weaker with time. Maybe in culture/art it's the same thing too, the soil being us, the crop being the movies. :D You go to a theater and all of it is showing basically the same big movies only. Less fun, from my reality tunnel. With new projectors costing less (like the RED thing) maybe what is said in the article can become a new reality. Ok, maybe not for big epic movies, but not always the most powerful movies are the most expensive ones. And in the end, as I read somewhere, the most powerful special effect doesn't cost that much: the close-up of a human face! :D

June 20, 2013 at 6:36AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

I am surprised there aren't more "micro-theaters" around. Given the modern technology, one could set up - temporarily or permanently - a 10-15 foot wide screen for 35-80 viewers. All one needs is a projector (or two, if a larger venue), a couple of self-powered of speakers and a DVD/Blue Ray player. And this can be done outdoor/drive-in style or indoor.

June 20, 2013 at 7:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



I wonder how you are monetizing this? What are the specifics? Clearly putting it up for free on the internet is clearly not a direct money maker as you are not charging. Is there an ad revenue stream? For these projection screenings around the world, I'm assuming it is digital projection not film. Could you go into the specifics of how this is designed to profit. Or are you using word of mouth to create a reputation in the hope that you can either get hired/paid by someone or self monetize the next project?

Thank you,

June 20, 2013 at 8:23AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Reading about the release of "The Cosmonaut" is really exciting. Here's hoping more folks continue to innovate on this open-sourced form of distribution.

June 20, 2013 at 8:24AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Is there some centralized system for connecting theaters looking for films to show with films that are available, like Cosmonaut? People who wanted to do screenings just happened upon them and emailed?

June 20, 2013 at 10:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The distribution model of The Cosmonaut is quite remarkable. As Michael Markham says, it is not clear the monetizing scheme of Nicholas. Although, in my opinion, the main concern will be the movie itself. It is not very comercial, to say the least (it is boring, pretentious, and wannabe). Nicholas wanted to make an independent author's movie, and in fact it is, but an infamous one. It is my opinion though.

June 20, 2013 at 1:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Robert K. Fullen

This is not sustainable filmmaking! It is NOT the future. Or at least not a future I want to be apart of.

Why? Because I like things like...oh I don't know...food!

The project is a great effort but unless we, as creatives, can turn such projects into a sustainable living then it is all for nothing.

And so the race to the bottom continue!!!

June 20, 2013 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


You have a point, but you are making an unfortunate assumption - that is, that this film has not made (and will not make) any money. Maybe you are right, but how do you know that?
And even if it doesn't, was it really all for nothing? Personally I'm not so sure.

June 21, 2013 at 6:55AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


"Why? Because I like things like…oh I don’t know…food!"

about food... relax, you may overcome it! :) I've been a long time without eating, just practicing a physiological alchemical 5000yrs. old taoist chinese practice called Small Universe, and I'm fine, actually I have more energy and sleep less than before! It's SO cool not depending on supermarkets anymore!

But, anyway, equipment, and a place to live still cost money too! So, you are right in same sense! :)

June 21, 2013 at 1:02PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

@Michael Markham
you can successfully sell a movie using a Pay-per-view option.
Good example: the Emmy-nominated TV producer Jon Hotchkiss who offers online his Mythbusters-like series as pay-per-view videos. Every video is protected with a layer with purchase option on it & also offers a preview. Jon has an option of offering discounts or giving particular videos away for free.
His audience can purchase & watch his productions on ipad, smartphone, connected tv and so on. Simple as pie. You can read more here: http://blog.thisvsthatshow.com/?p=351

June 21, 2013 at 5:11AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


That doesn't answer the question. Michael was asking how THIS film is being monetized, not asking what the options for monetizing other films are. Nobody disputes that PPV is an option, but clearly The Cosmonaut is not using that model since it can be watched for free. So the question is, how IS 'The Cosmonaut' being monetized?

June 21, 2013 at 6:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The idea of reviving old time indie theaters with new digital tools is fun. I don't know about the demand for it, though, youngsters now are too used to iPads and whatnot.

June 21, 2013 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


A terrific story and a wonderful case study. Thanks for sharing. It is all about distribution. I was working on a semi-similar idea with Mike Figgis about 10 years ago that we never managed to pull off. You have and congratulations.

June 22, 2013 at 4:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Firstly, congrats on getting the film made and most importantly, watched. However, the model described above is certainly not new or groundbreaking. As Elliot mentioned, this type of distribution model had been mooted some years ago and The Cosmonaut is not the first indie pic to organise crowd sourced screenings across the world or to do a 'Day and Date'. More to the point though are Michael, Robert and FatRick's questions about this model's sustainability and I agree that this cannot realistically be considered the future of filmmaking... unless of course, you - and every other indie filmmaker out there - can, like Nicolas and his team, manage to raise over $500,000 via crowd funding every time you want to make a film. Now that's money for a lot of food... just a pity not everyone can be invited to dine with the hosts...

June 22, 2013 at 5:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Brillian, i just called my good friend, we love to find good movies to watch, Danny Boyles "Sunshine" was a unique, intriguing film with a very non Hollywood look to it. I just found this movie, "The Cosmonaut" i cant believe how creatively different it is, excellent job Nicholas! Very profound, smart, cutting edge from the beautiful music all the way down. 10/10

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