Who Needs Theatrical? Why Hal Hartley is Distributing ‘Ned Rifle’ Via Vimeo on Demand

Who Needs Theatrical? Why Hal Hartley is Distributing 'Ned Rifle' Via Vimeo on Demand
Who Needs Theatrical? Why Hal Hartley is Distributing 'Ned Rifle' Vimeo on Demand

Last November, Hal Hartley took to Kickstarter to raise funds for his latest project, “Ned Rifle,” the third in a trilogy that began with “Henry Fool” in 1997 and continued with “Fay Grim” in 2007. Tapping into his devout worldwide fan base, his campaign ultimately raised more than $395,000.

Though the film, which stars Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza and Parker Posey, premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival to strong reviews (including Indiewire’s Eric Kohn), Hartley said he received no traditional distribution offers.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Ned Rifle,’ Starring Aubrey Plaza, is a Gift to Hal Hartley Fans

“The more conventional indie distributors who still think about theatrical as the sole legitimate way a film goes out, they liked the film. I’m friendly with a lot of these people. They said, ‘I liked the film, but it won’t work with our business model,'” Hartley recently told Indiewire, adding, “I’m not even interested in theatrical really.” (It was a point he previously shared with us in an earlier interview during the Toronto International Film Festival.)

Instead of going the traditional distribution route, Hartley has embraced the day-and-date model with plans to premiere this spring through a limited exclusive window with Vimeo On Demand before expanding via Hartley’s own successful digital storefront Possible Films (newly re-christened HalHartley.com) and other aggregated platforms. A limited theatrical five-city art-house launch, led by a run at New York City’s IFC Center, will coincide with the VOD release. 

“It doesn’t feel like an innovation so much,” he said. “It just feels like the way things are going. I’ve always tried to stay on top of everything digital and put more control of making films and distributing films into the producer’s hands. When I was approached by Vimeo, I was pretty struck by how we were speaking the same language.”

Hartley is no newcomer to digital distribution. Five years ago, when he started PossibleFilms.com, “we had to invent a retail site from scratch because it wasn’t affordable,” he said. “As early as 2006 and 2007, we were drafting ideas for a Hal Hartley site where people would stream the films, but the technology wasn’t there at a price I could afford to pay. That was the idea with ‘The Girl from Monday,’ to make a little film and make it available online and people will pay $3 to see the film. But we totally overestimated what the technology could do at the time.”

READ MORE: Hal Hartley is Kickstarting His Latest Film. Here’s Why

Now, with Vimeo on Demand, Hartley said, “they will do all the infrastructure for me, as well as the advertising and promotion.”

For its part, Vimeo will take 10% of the sales of “Ned Rifle,” and in turn, they’ll support the film with promotions. The best part of the deal, said Hartley is that he still maintains the rights to the film. “Following an exclusive 60-day window through the HalHartley.com/Vimeo portal, an aggregator like Cinedigm can get it on to Netflix and Fandor and all these platforms,” explained Hartley. “So the whole paradigm has shifted and it makes a lot more sense for a producer right now.”

The other upside of crowdfunding and self-distributing, said Hartley, is that “the film was profitable as soon as we made $1…The film is paid for. I’m not in debt.” Compared to the old theatrical model, with this distribution plan, “more of the income will come to me,” he said.

Vimeo’s Creative Director, Jeremy Boxer, told Indiewire that he’s been a big Hal Hartley fan for years. “I really loved the idea of what he tried to do with his Kickstarter campaign and his being such a stalwart of indie film and trying to translate that into the digital age made a lot of sense,” said Boxer. “For us, it seems like it would connect the dots from what he tried to do on his fundraising to have a distribution campaign that would enable him to have the same types of freedom. The story is really about enabling Hal to reach his fans using our technology.”

Boxer said that Vimeo on Demand is actively looking for talented filmmakers who are interested in distributing their work via Vimeo on Demand. “Lots of filmmakers are enjoying the freedom that we offer,” he said. “We allow them to maintain the rights to their films and the 90-10 revenue split enables them to make the most money when they reach out to their fan base.”

READ MORE: Hal Hartley Explains Why He Doesn’t Believe in Theatrical Distribution

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