When RADiUS-TWC released "Snowpiercer" in eight cities two weeks ago, its theatrical prospects were dicey: The company opened the post-apocalyptic sci-fi action-drama the same weekend as the latest "Transformers" sequel. But the gamble paid off, with critical support and word of mouth for Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s international production helping it reach just over $162,000 in its opening weekend.
The movie faced an even greater challenge when it expanded to 250 theaters nationwide over the July 4th weekend. It still delivered, garnering a per-screen average of $3,993 for a cumulative gross of $1,501,844. In other words, people are seeing this thing.
However, despite this success, "Snowpiercer" distributor Radius has confirmed plans to release the movie on VOD platforms this Friday. While specialty distributors often open titles day-and-date (meaning they hit theaters and VOD platforms on the same day), if the movie opens in theaters first, it’s usually not released on VOD until several weeks or months down the road.
"Everything is either a limited or a wide theatrical release with zero room for anything innovative or nuanced," Radius co-president Tom Quinn said in a statement . "So, we at RADiUS, decided early on, to do something completely different with this release… we’re embracing both the benefits of a platform theatrical, but also the merits of going SUPER WIDE by making it available on more ‘screens’ then any movie this summer."
READ MORE: Is the ‘Transformers’ Audience Smart Enough for ‘Snowpiercer’?
Quinn has a history with the VOD marketplace. Prior to launching RADiUS at The Weinstein Company with entertainment lawyer Jason Janego, the executive worked on the pioneering day-and-date release of Steven Soderbergh’s "Bubble" in 2005. At RADiUS, Quinn has joined only a handful of distributors to publicly share VOD data. Last month, when the company hosted an outdoor screening of "Snowpiercer" in Burnet, TX — where the audience rode a train to the event with the filmmaker — Quinn sat down with Indiewire to discuss his current perspective on VOD and why the industry needs to work together to improve it. For more, check out our video discussion with Quinn from last year’s Indiewire Influencers project here.
In theory, VOD is great because it allows you to watch new indies no matter where you are in the country. But are people really taking advantage of it?
It’s such a big country. In our neck of the woods, what we do in New York is so much bigger than what people do in L.A. But those are the biggest VOD markets and theatrical markets in the country. It’s funny. There’s a little bit of fluctuation in the top five cities. You see places like Boston or San Francisco as maybe number two. Seattle is up there. I always joke that it must be bad weather. Those cold San Francisco winds, those terrible rains in Seattle.
What makes VOD distribution so different from the theatrical approach?
Every movie is different, but not only that, every platform is different. How you consume that movie on iTunes versus standard cable platforms is completely different. I’d say the experience is tailored more toward you consuming the pedigree of that movie.
Experimentation is one thing, but in what sense is VOD an important part of your actual business?
Some of my very filmmaker-driven movies like "Blue Ruin," they’re very much about us curating films we feel like that are true arthouse movies. Our grosses are a third or less than our overall VOD grosses. But cumulatively these are specialized hits.
You’ve been more proactive than a lot of distributors about releasing VOD numbers, although we usually only hear about them when they’re really big. Obviously not everything works. What needs to happen to improve the potential for VOD?
Listen, you have to just sit down and look at the compressed timeline of how things are consumed and make the most of that. In the most constructive of industries, we would all sit down and work together — exhibitors, distributors, filmmakers — and we’d figure out how we all work together to maximize each of our pies. This is not how it’s working now. But if you look at the numbers of how things are consumed, does "Captain America" really need 120 days before it’s launched on DVD? The windowing is still a problem, I think. Listen, "20 Feet From Stardom" absolutely needs 120 days or more to maximize its theatrical gross. But does "Captain America" really need that? So look at the hard data and figure out how best to launch these movies. It’s purely connected to the data, not something territorial.
As a distributor, what guides you toward the sort of movies you want to work on?
Truth be told, I’m very partial to a certain number of directors. Long ago I made the decision that I’d like to have the smallest movie and the largest movie. How do you make that happen? Where we are going with The Weinstein Company enables us to do the "Blue Ruins" of the world and stick with a director over the course of several movies. It’s hard to put the investment in being a filmmaker and be their de facto manager and then to not participate in their growth. That sucks as a distributor. It’s a business driven by relationships. Sometimes I think the comfort of working with a really exceptionally talented filmmaker, when you find people like that, it’s your duty as a distributor to hold onto them. Small or big — that isn’t my focus.