David Cross brought his first feature film to Sundance last year, but rather than selling it to a distributor and having them release it, he's decided to bring it straight to fans in two different ways. First, he's going to sell the movie, a comedy called Hits, as a BitTorrent Bundle. This is the first feature film distributed over a Bundle (certainly not over BitTorrent itself...), and it's going to be the first Bundle to use a pay-what-you-want model as well.
Cross wasn't satisfied with what movie distributors were offering
Bundles are BitTorrent's way of legitimizing the network it created, allowing artists to take advantage of the way it limits costs for distribution by spreading files out across a large group, while also making people pay for the content that they're downloading. It doesn't always make sense — if a seller can afford to distribute their file through a direct download, that's going to be a much easier experience for most viewers — but it's not totally illogical. In an instance like this, where Cross wants to do pay-what-you-want, he isn't going to be losing money on bandwidth costs for every viewer who doesn't pay. The Bundle for Hits is going to go on sale February 13th.
Even though he's distributing the film online first, Cross still wants to see his film enter theaters. To that end, he's launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund yet another distribution experiment: he wants to do pay-what-you-want sales for movie tickets. He's looking to raise $100,000 so that Hits can make it into at least 50 markets. The money will go toward theater rentals and marketing.
Cross says that both distribution efforts are "inspired in great part by what Thom Yorke and Radiohead did with BitTorrent, and what Louis C.K. did to redefine how an artist can get their material directly to fans." Yorke distributed his most recent album over a Bundle, while Louis C.K. has released several recordings online for a low price and with no DRM. Radiohead, famously, popularized the experimental pay-what-you-want model back in 2007 with their album In Rainbows.
There's some difference here in that Cross' movie, which received several bad reviews out of its Sundance premiere, certainly wouldn't have received the type of huge publicity and distribution that a release like In Rainbows would have otherwise been treated to. Nonetheless, he's still going against the grain. It still may take someone of Cross' prominence to successful run an experiment like this, but it will ultimately make it easier for other artists to find success by taking the same route.