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Here's Why 'The Congress' Hit VOD a Month Before Its Theatrical Release

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire July 25, 2014 at 9:54AM

We talk to Drafthouse Films about why they decided to release "The Congress" on VOD a full month before it hits theaters.
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"The Congress"
Drafthouse Films "The Congress"

VOD continues to shake up indie film distribution. Until very recently, if a film opened in theaters first, audiences would usually have to wait months before it was released VOD.  Radius-TWC's recent unconventional release of "Snowpiercer" on VOD, only two weeks after it was released theatrically, tinkered with the traditional distribution model. But that's not only the notable example of innovation. VOD itself is still relatively new and indie distributors continue to experiment with release strategies.

Drafthouse Films, for instance, recently released Ari Folman's "The Congress," a partially animated sci-fi film starring Robin Wright as herself, a full month before its theatrical release. The film hit VOD on July 14th, but won't open in theaters in L.A. and the top 10 markets until August 29th and in New York on September 5.

"Intelligent, star-driven science fiction does well in the VOD space."

It's not unheard of for a distributor to release a film on VOD before theaters (known as "ultraVOD"), but usually, it's a week or two in advance of the theatrical release, not a full month or more. In 2012, however, Radius-TWC wisely released "The Bachelorette" on ultraVOD a month before it rolled out theaters, creating a bonafide hit (based largely on word-of-mouth buzz).

READ MORE: As 'Snowpiercer' Hits VOD, The Industry's Divided on Distribution's Future

We reached out to the distributor to find out what they had in mind with the early VOD release of "The Congress" and why it was the right strategy for this particular film. Read Drafthouse Films' Tim League's responses below.

What was the thinking behind making "The Congress" available on VOD a full month before its theatrical release? Was the idea to create word-of-mouth? Or were there other considerations?

With every movie, we try to make the best financial decision for the film based on all possible revenue streams: theatrical, transactional digital/VOD, subscription digital/VOD, and hard goods (DVD/BluRay).

"Cheap Thrills"
Drafthouse Films Drafthouse Films' "Cheap Thrills"

Cable VOD outlets really responded to "The Congress" and wanted to support the title on their platforms.  Intelligent, star-driven science fiction does well in the VOD space. Their support helped us to decide to roll out with an ultra-VOD model.

Is this a strategy that's worked for you with other films?

We've certainly done this model before.  Most recently with "Cheap Thrills," which had good success both theatrically and on VOD. 

Do you see this as a larger trend in the indie film industry?

IFC and Magnolia paved the way for this type of release and many of the other indie distributors are now selectively employing the strategy.  It doesn't work for every title, but I think it is a good way to go for indie films that have a strong cast and an audience that consumes on VOD platforms. When you simply don't have the budget to mount a national campaign twice, once for theatrical and once again for digital/VOD, it helps to compress the windows so that your one press hit is effective in both spaces. An ultraVOD release undoubtedly hurts your theatrical revenue, but if we have confidence that the overall revenue will be greater, we will release it that way.  Right now about a third of our titles are day and date or ultraVOD.


This article is related to: The Congress, Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, VOD, Drafthouse Films, Drafthouse Films, Tim League, Features