The film distribution business is changing so rapidly that it’s not exactly fair to say that “Frank,” which stars Michael Fassbender as a musician who wears a giant fake head at all times, is being released on VOD early. In the not-so-distant past, it was unusual for a theatrical release to hit VOD so soon, unless it was a day-and-date release. But clearly, there are no longer any set rules.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, “Frank,” which also stars Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy, hit theaters three weeks ago and continues to expand. But beginning today, it is also available on iTunes and On Demand. Below, Bowles explains the company’s distribution strategy for the film.
How did you make the decision to release “Frank” on VOD so soon after it hit theaters?
There’s no science to it at this stage. It’s analogous to whether a film goes out wide first or has a platform release in the traditional mode. Some films, you need to build up some awareness before you go out to a wider audience. With “Frank,” we were a little bit on the fence, to be honest. Our initial thoughts were to initially go out day-and-date on VOD, but it obviously it was a very odd concept… You have one of the actors with some of the biggest diehard fan bases, but he’s under a paper-mache mask for most of the movie. We didn’t want to do a bait and switch. We thought the film is a terrific film that would resonate with a segment of the audience.
So why release it theatrically first?
We wanted to get some exposure in the theatrical market and to get the reviews to get it out to a broader audience. As much as you can do with marketing, reviews can help to explain the film more and hopefully — which turned out to be the case — you get terrific reviews, which helps. It was a little bit of fudging and waiting and getting more information about the film before we turned it loose to a wider audience. It played three weeks first. We wanted to get through Labor Day weekend theatrically.
Do you think it helps or hurts theatrical grosses when a film is available on VOD?
It would be disingenuous of me to think it enhances the theatrical gross. There are some films that perform on almost a two-track basis — a film that appeals to an older crowd might do well at theaters and it might hit a different crowd on VOD. But that’s not really the point. The point is the overall revenue you get and the amount of people you get to see your film.
There’s also the financial component of theatrical vs. VOD.
Yes, to get a million in a theatrical gross you need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that. On digital and VOD side, a dollar gross you make 50 percent more money back on the VOD side than you do on the theatrical side.
On the theatrical side, the efficiencies can’t compare. On VOD and digital, you’re covering the entire country, everyone with a digital cable has access to your film with no cost. Even a 3,000-print release doesn’t get that coverage – and 3,000-print releases will cost you roughly $3 million just to get theaters hooked up with the film. Do the math.
Then the incumbent marketing on every single market you play the film… You need at least minimally a small ad in a local newspaper, which you really have to do for every market in the theatrical. The same amount of revenue is a fraction of the amount of money you need on cable (On Demand).
But theatrical isn’t going away, right? It’s still part of the overall plan?
Theatrical, for a lot of people, legitimizes it. And just getting major film publication reviews is huge. It’s all refining the ways to skin a cat. The straight theatrical business for anything less than 3,000 print releases is a horrible business.
So do VOD grosses basically make up for theatrical?
VOD makes it a reasonable economy where I can run a business. All this stuff is evolving as people’s habits change. Our company is completely agnostic. People who want to pay for films. We want to give it to them the way they want to see it.