Will this experiment in self-distribution pay off?
[Editor's note: No Film School asked Dan Schoenbrun to write about the unorthodox distribution of his TV series 'The Eyeslicer.']
I think I might be emotionally incapable of releasing a project in a “normal” way. That’s partially because I make really weird stuff; my last film collective:unconscious was an omnibus feature in which five filmmakers adapted each other’s dreams for the screen (we decided to put the entire thing online for free because hey, dreams are free). But it’s also because I love to experiment.
The internet has evolved the distribution landscape in crazy ways, but there’s still a very traditional path out into the world that almost everyone takes. For economic reasons, you just don’t see filmmakers breaking the rules and experimenting with distribution in unusual ways very often.
My producing partner Vanessa McDonnell and I are trying to break this mold with our latest project. It’s called The Eyeslicer and it’s an hourlong variety TV show inspired by our memories of watching stuff like 120 Minutes and Liquid Television back in the '90s. We loved the idea of creating a new home for work that’s genuinely weird and different—the stuff that Netflix’s algorithm wouldn’t know what to do with.
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/207840669
Over the past decade, we’ve met a thriving community of daring, radical American filmmakers—people who are making amazing, insane, personal stuff that we felt deserved to be geeked out over at least as hard as people geek out about Stranger Things. So we decided to build a home for this sort of work in the form of a bingeable TV show.
The first season of The Eyeslicer is ten hours long, and it’s directed by people like David Lowery, Shaka King, Amy Seimetz, Borscht, Ornana, Nathan Silver, Celia Rowlson Hall, Jennifer Reeder, and many, many more. Each episode plays kind of like a bizarro version of Saturday Night Live, only with way more male nudity. It’s been called “one of the craziest TV shows you’ll ever see” by Indiewire, and “the most disgusting thing I've ever seen” by Vimeo user Thomas Schweikert. He then asked us, “This is what you do with your time?”
We premiered The Eyeslicer at Tribeca earlier this year and, right after that, we got started on brainstorming the craziest ways possible to release The Eyeslicer into the wild. It felt like a huge opportunity: we had a ten-hour TV show that we had managed to produce independently (we didn’t owe anybody money thanks to a Kickstarter campaign). And that freed us up to focus on our main goal with the show to build a legit community for radical American filmmaking online.
This seemed most in line with our goal: not necessarily to get the most views possible but to build a real community.
We batted around a bunch of weird distribution ideas: make people binge-watch Bosch before watching the show (then just have it be a still image of a Hieronymus Bosch painting that they can’t click away from for five minutes). Or maybe release the whole thing online, but only between the hours of 11pm-5am (and then if people go to the website during the day it’s just an ad for an optometrist).
Eventually, we settled on the idea of releasing The Eyeslicer as a “secret TV show.” This seemed most in line with our goal: not necessarily to get the most views possible but to build a real community. We liked the idea of the show’s release feeling like a club or secret society you join—something personal and intimate and under the radar.
Last month, we started our distribution experiment by taking the show on tour. We rented a car and traveled around the country doing live ‘smell-o-vision’ screenings in 15 cities. It was fun and smelly and weird, and legitimately inspiring to meet so many people building DIY spaces and supporting art filmmaking in communities around the country.
And then, last week, we launched our secret online broadcast. We posted three of the ten episodes on a password-protected website and gave a small group of filmmakers and Kickstarter backers a secret code to get in. Our plan is to add new episodes to the broadcast each week and grow our community slowly. We’ll leave the whole show up through the end of January, and then it’ll self-destruct and disappear from the internet. Life is ephemeral, you know?
We’ll leave the whole show up through the end of January, and then it’ll self-destruct and disappear from the internet.
So how are we going to grow our audience? Well, funny you should ask. Today, we’re launching an experiment that we’ve dubbed our “Secret Agents” program. Over the next two months, we’ll be recruiting a group of secret agents—filmmakers, film industry friends, organizations, superfans of the show, random people who reach out to us on the internet—basically anyone who is excited about the idea of watching and sharing weird American filmmaking.
Each agent will get a personalized ‘secret code’ that they can spread around the Internet and send to anyone they think might be down to join the broadcast. Each secret code can be redeemed an unlimited number of times for the price of an email address (and grants access to the entire ten-episode season). Then, at the end of January, we’ll buy $300 of Criterion DVDs for whoever’s code gets redeemed the most. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement…
It’s a weird experiment and maybe it’ll be an abject failure. But we really love the idea of creating a barrier to entry that isn’t built around money, but rather around passionate people are about being a part of this experience. Our show is too weird for mainstream audiences, so why not go underground by choice?
If this all sounds cool to you I hope you’ll be a part of it. There’s one full episode of The Eyeslicer that we put up publicly on Vimeo that you can check out (Warning: it is definitely not safe for work):
And we’ve set up a secret code exclusive to No Film School readers.
To join The Eyeslicer’s secret broadcast and watch the entire first season, go to www.theeyeslicer.com/secret_code and answer the following trivia question:
Who is the founder of No Film School? (answer in all-caps, one word)
We hope you dig what we’re trying to build here, and we hope you’ll be part of this weird experiment with us.