A Field in England: The future of film distribution?
Ivan Radford | On 05, Jul 2013
53% of people plan to see A Field in England on TV, according to a survey conducted by VODzilla.co.
The future is here. This morning, we downloaded a copy of A Field in England hours before cinemas even opened. Ben Wheatley’s trippy Civil War horror flick has generated a huge wave of attention thanks to its bold decision to release on all platforms on the same day: as of now, the movie can be seen in 19 cinemas, on DVD or Blu-ray, on video on-demand and even on Film4 on the telly at 10.45 tonight.
The move has been hailed as both silly and smart by pundits, but it’s certainly eye-catching – and that’s partly the point. As the director has explained in interviews, the multi-platform approach isn’t just a way to get the movie seen, it’s a way to advertise it too.
“Ben (Wheatley) and I come from the post-production end of things, so we take more of an interest in how films end up.” Andy Starke, producer at Rook Films, told the Guardian. “We’ve entered into a partnership with the DVD company and with the distributors. These things are not supposed to be beneficial to each other, DVD is thought to pinch money from theatrical and so on, but, at this level, we don’t think this is the case. They are not all mutually exclusive, this is a real partnership in that we all share.”
The theory is that the simultaneous release will turn the film into an event – the kind of event that normally only comes with oodles of marketing money and gigantic CGI robots punching aliens in the face.
Screening it for free on the telly may stop people paying for it at the cinema, but given that not everyone will be by their TV sets at a quarter to 11, VOD and DVD/Blu-ray give audiences a chance to catch it if it’s not at a cinema near them. And those people in their living rooms? If they like it, they become a marketing campaign themselves; a walking, talking billboard. That’s even better than an actual billboard.
But will it pay off?
According to our incredibly unscientific poll of a stupidly tiny, unstratified sample of the online populace, over half (52.9%) of the people planning to watch Wheatley’s new film will do so in their living rooms for free. All of them said they would record it to watch at a later date.
Cinema was the second most popular choice, with 23.5% saying they would go down the usual theatrical route.
Perhaps there is no surprise there; for a film widely praised for its visual style, the big screen may well be a natural choice for those near the 19 screening venues – a full list of sites is here. Even less surprising, it could be argued, is that people will choose the option that costs the least amount of money: the future is one thing, but free is another.
Interestingly, video on-demand and DVD/Blu-ray were equally popular, both chosen by 11.8 per cent of respondents – a sign that digital platforms are becoming increasingly popular for people looking to purchase films.
It’s a promising indicator of the shifting market; while cinemas will always have their place as a communal space to enjoy a film, video on-demand is the future for an industry struggling against piracy. Day-and-date releases, making a film accessible to everyone regardless of location, is the only logical way to remove an audience’s excuse for downloading a film illegally – the Game of Thrones Syndrome, if you will. A wider audience and less piracy? In five or 10 years’ time, the market is going to look very different. Is A Field in England the start of that transformation?
With TV far out in front in our (again – unreliable) poll, the question is whether the ripple effect of the broadcast will stand the test of time: will this English field be an event or a flash in the pan? In an age where we’re becoming used to being able to stream something whenever we want, will people simply forget to turn on their recorders? Will people still be talking about it in a months’ time?
Some respondents indicated that TV would be the first step en route to purchasing it in another medium.
Dave, reviewer/owner of BEARDY FREAK REVIEWS, said on Twitter: “Trying it for free before getting Blu seems sensible. Not sure free TV option was wise idea in truth.”
Screenwriter Camilla commented: “Why would anyone go to the cinema when it’s on the telly? Or VOD?”
Londoner Mark Trend commented: “I’ll say at the cinema, but will then fail to organise myself and end up getting the dvd. Like most films then…”
Selina Pearson, a scientist based in Cambridge, said: “If I can figure out a way to record it, TV. If not VOD.”
Alice, reviewer for FlickFeast, added she would be “recording from TV. It’s a great idea for smaller releases.”
Sam Turner, owner of film blog Film Intel, said he would “possibly catch it on TV on Friday. If not rental.”
Whether it’s a financial success or not will take weeks, if not months, to compare overall sales to the traditional theatrical/home entertainment model. What then? Will other films use the strategy too?
Sue Bruce Smith, head of commercial and brand strategy at Film4, told the Guardian that this had been on the cards for some time: “Ben and his producers are the type we’re always on the look out for, prepared to innovate and disrupt. We’ve wanted to do something like this for quite some time, to give the audience what they say they want: to be able to watch a new film when and where they want to. Each platform offers something different, a different experience. It’s not for every release, but we’ll see a lot more of this sort of thing in the future.”
Indeed, a multi-platform release is arguably better suited for smaller releases that need an extra push to audiences. Larger films that are released on VOD currently tend to go for an early digital launch, trying to drive up buzz by offering films for download days, or even weeks, before the usual DVD/Blu-ray markets.
But no matter how many films go down a similar route, even with the telly tactic, they can never replicate this level of publicity. As Sam Turner points out, there will never be another first to do it.
One anonymous voter said: “It will possibly work for small independent films of ‘cult’ value. I see it as possibly functioning like 3D releasing – it’s an option offered to audiences that’s heavily tied into the nature and character of the individual motion picture.”
Another offered a more blunt perspective: “Yes, it will work for this title. No, it isn’t the future.”
As Starke puts it: “It could be our best idea, or our worst.”
One thing’s for sure – the industry will be watching this field very closely. Hopefully, audiences will be too.
How will be you be seeing A Field in England? Vote in our poll here – the more responses we get, the more accurate it will be. (We’ll update this article as the answers come in.)
For more trippy weirdness, read our A Field in England review.