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FIRST PERSON | Four-Walling the Internet: Gigantic Releasing’s Mark Lipsky

FIRST PERSON | Four-Walling the Internet: Gigantic Releasing's Mark Lipsky

My friend Brian Devine has had a dream for well over a decade: build a NY-based indie film and music ‘studio.’ A place where filmmakers could, nestled within the most supportive and collaborative environment, develop their films, shoot their films, score their films, post produce their films and distribute their films. Indie film and music merged with grace and elegance. When Brian phoned me near the end of 2007 and asked me to launch Gigantic’s film releasing company, all of the other pieces of his dream were in place or nearing completion. The question for me was: did the world need another indie film distributor? The answer, of course, was an emphatic no.

Unless that company had a mandate to generate dynamic new ideas for bridging the indie distribution gap and fearlessly execute on those ideas. I’m excited to report that we took on that very mandate. The stunning results demand that we enter the exhibition arena and offer all comers the keys to the Internet.

I’d been in and out of distribution for decades – New Yorker, Miramax, Lot 47 – but had been focusing more and more on technology since the late ’90s. I had a pretty good grasp, then, of both sides of this equation and Brian was eager for Gigantic to take a lead in the elusive ‘paradigm shift’ that everyone in the industry was clearly longing for. And so Gigantic Releasing was born on January 1, 2008.

By this past summer I’d had my first and second taste of just how rotten the indie film environment had turned. Wayne Price’s “The Doorman” and David Kaplan’s “Year of the Fish” should each, I felt, have had their moment in the sun as distinctive first features by passionate young American filmmakers. In reality, the toxic indie landscape virtually swallowed them up alive. Each had earned critical acclaim from mainstream publications, each was supported with solid publicity, promotion and advertising and yet each opened and closed before anyone knew what happened.

People are never going to stop going to movie theaters but certainly by 2008 it had become crystal clear that the best hope for connecting the vast majority of independent and foreign language films with their audience would be online. We’d determined by early spring that the core of our digital strategy would be a broadband cinema. One that would mimic the movie-going experience as closely as possible and in certain respects, surpass it. We would stream our films at the highest possible quality given the user’s available bandwidth and system configuration, the cost would be $2.99 for a three-day unlimited viewing ticket and everything would be presented commercial-free.

The website, Gigantic Digital, would not be ready to launch in time for “The Doorman” or “Year of the Fish,” but we’d acquired a documentary gem that was tailor made for the new hybrid release strategy that I felt certain would come to represent the way forward. Morgan Dews’s “Must Read After My Death” would open in theaters in NY and LA while the rest of the country would open day-and-date via Gigantic Digital.

The two biggest challenges we faced were 1) how to protect the integrity (read exclusivity) of the bricks and mortar engagements and 2) how to convince local media in the top 100 markets that a new film opening exclusively online in their market was virtually the same as a new film opening at the local art house – and that they should cover it as such.

In the first case the answer was geo-targeting. With Gigantic Digital we have the ability to turn on or turn off access to our content in real time and at very fine granularity. In other words, if a film is or will be opening theatrically in, say, San Francisco, we can limit access in the greater San Francisco area – or in the entire state of California – until after the theatrical engagement(s) there has completed. Those limits can be set as finely as one mile or as broadly as U.S.-only or anything inbetween. No other digital delivery service can or is willing to provide that critical, exhibitor-friendly feature. (By default, of course, access is limited to the U.S. so that international rights remain secure, although we also have the ability to turn on individual countries. In this way distributors with rights outside of the U.S. can actually open their films themselves in those markets if they choose.)

As for convincing local media that Gigantic Digital represented the future of independent film distribution, that would be a matter of literally thousands of phone calls and emails and thousands more follow-ups. We were relentless yet patient; our outreach was personal, one-to-one and genuine; we were willing to hand-hold and cajole; and we were right. The results exceeded our best expectations. “Must Read After My Death” was, indeed, covered by publications large and small – some in print and online, others exclusively online – as if it had opened in a local cinema. Journalists with a deeper understanding of the issues really appreciated what a sea-change Gigantic Digital represented and wrote feature stories about the release strategy itself, often giving the quality of the experience a rave review. And in every case, the website and ticket price was noted.

Now that we’ve proven the concept we’re expanding our focus. We’re looking to Gigantic Digital as a way for all independent distributors to have the ability to open their films ‘nationally’ and with extraordinary flexibility that can serve any contingency and thoroughly satisfy any potential roadblock or gatekeeper along the way. Whether a film is set to open theatrically in 5 markets, 50 or 500, Gigantic Digital can be employed in tandem with the release and provide the deepest possible reach of any film into the U.S. market without ever cannibalizing theatrical revenue, requiring a single extra hour of the distributor’s time or a single extra dollar in P&A.

Another significant and exclusive feature of Gigantic Digital is that it was designed and developed by film distributors for film distributors. We understand the nature of the beast and we’re willing to put that knowledge and our newly won media relationships into service for our partners as a standard feature.

In a very real sense we’re offering distributers (and select independent producers without distribution) the ability to four-wall the Internet. To reach hundreds of millions of moviegoers instantaneously and for an unlimited duration rather than ten thousand here and fifty thousand there and for a finite number of weeks.

Whether employed in tandem with a theatrical release or as the exclusive delivery mechanism, Gigantic Digital is a powerful game-changer and we’re excited to have opened its capabilities to the industry at large.

Ever forward…

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