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'Bachelorette' and the video-on-demand revolution: How digital distribution is changing indie cinema

When Bachelorette arrived at the Sundance Film Festival last January, the film’s producers were quite clear-eyed about its prospects. The dark comedy — about three hard-partying high school friends (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan) and their evening of escalating debauchery before the wedding of another friend (Rebel Wilson) — was based on a years-old play by writer-director Leslye Headland. But just as the feature film adaptation was set to go before cameras last summer, Bridesmaids, which shares some pointed similarities, became a massive, zeitgeist-seizing sensation.

“When Bridesmaids hit, I knew, ‘Oh, now [Bachelorette] is going to look like a knock off,'” says producer Adam McKay, who with fellow producers Will Ferrell and Jessica Elbaum helped champion the film through their production company, Gary Sanchez Productions. So McKay turned his sights beyond U.S. theaters, to the European release (“I thought they’d enjoy the darkness of the movie”), home video, and cable. One thought that did not cross his mind? Video on demand. “No, no,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking VOD at all.”

Even after Bachelorette was snapped up by RADiUS, The Weinstein Company’s brand new label focused on alternative distribution, McKay remained skeptical at the plan to release the film on VOD a full month before its theatrical debut Sept. 7. “It just didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me,” he says with a chuckle. So you can imagine McKay’s surprise when, within 48 hours of its digital premiere, Bachelorette hit number one on the iTunes video-on-demand chart — the first time, it seems, that a film has hit that milestone before hitting movie theaters.

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