Interview: Pandorica director Tom Paton talks turning music record label tactics into digital movie distribution
Ivan Radford | On 10, Apr 2016Reading time: 9 mins
This month sees the release of Pandorica in UK cinemas and on VOD. The indie sci-fi is notable for its impressive visuals on a micro-budget, but is even more so for its release model, which sees the film hit Vimeo On Demand at the same time as its theatrical release. It’s a model devised by The Film Label, a new independent company that aims to apply music record label tactics to movies.
We catch up with director Tom Paton, who co-founded the company with Producer George Burt and Record Label Founder Nick Sadler, to talk trying something new in a digital age.
How did it come about? There’s a big step between talking about something and actually doing it!
The Film Label was born out of frustration with the traditional model for independent filmmaking. I was working on a different movie and we’d been to Cannes with it, signed to a big sales agent and the future looked good for the film. But then time kept marching on and I felt as though progress was really incremental. I’m completely self-taught when it comes to film, so for the past 10 years I’ve had to treat it like a business because I didn’t want to get a normal job. For me, it’s always been about looking at the changing environment around you and saying “How do we get out ahead of that?” The film industry at the lower, independent end is going through real turmoil at the moment and I felt as though I’d seen this all before in the music industry six years ago. We saw the emergence of the digital record labels run by passionate music fans with a strong acumen for business. Tiny overheads and a knack for social media gave rise to a host of some of the biggest musical acts we have today. I felt that the indie film world could learn a thing or two. There was no need to reinvent the wheel when our sister industry had already done all the hard work years ago – we just needed to co-opt the model and swap music for film. So The Film Label was born.
Can you elaborate on how you’ve co-opted the model slightly?
The idea is to take a product that didn’t actually cost a lot and sell it as it if did. We used brand new tech to look as on a par with the bigger films. And from a distribution perspective we needed to do the same thing. That meant building up an audience and engaging with them in such a way that they feel close to the movie. This is very similar to the way digital record labels build up a fan base for underground artists and then release the music direct to fans. We co-opted that approach and so far it’s working swimmingly.
The lack of physical overheads and costs can help a lot when it comes to distributing a film digitally, but you’re also releasing Pandorica on DVD later in April. What was behind that decision?
We felt that there is still a demand for physical product, but not in traditional sense. We decided to go ahead with a DVD/Blu-ray release but not to place inside stores and supermarkets. The idea is to handle distribution of them in the same way as the VOD by going direct to fans. I’m a big believer in being able to consume media any way you please. And for a lot of people, they still like to have that thing on their shelf – even if they still end up streaming it online. That’s why we offer the Stream of the film along with the DVD/Blu-ray. We feel that for a lot of the fans it’s about owning a piece of the film, whilst still being able to stream the film wherever they are.
You’ve chosen Vimeo On Demand as your primary platform. Did you consider any other transactional VOD sites, such as YouTube, Google Play or Amazon Instant Video? Or would you consider them in the future?
We chose Vimeo as our first point of release because we believe in the model that the guys over there are using. They are really supportive of the indie community and we felt that a film like Pandorica – which has a pretty big fan base – could help bring attention to that and perhaps the work of other indie filmmakers too. However, we won’t be staying on Vimeo exclusively for the film’s lifespan. In the coming months, the movie will be rolled out across most consumer platforms as its audience continues to grow. And we are even heading to broadcast too. For me as Director, it’s important that the film is seen – however you choose to see it is up to you. That’s the beauty of the technology we have at our disposal today.
“There was no need to reinvent the wheel when our sister industry did the hard work years ago “
The music industry is also increasingly embracing subscription services as a form of distribution – is that something you’ve considered?
Absolutely. I think a lot of industry professionals spend a lot time trying to hold back the wave of change. But the music industry shows us that you simply can’t do that. As a company, I see The Film Label as progressively minded. No one wants to be trying to catch up with the bandwagon once it’s left the station – and our intention is to the be the one driving the wagon. As our catalogue grows, so does our ability to take our films directly to the fans we have built up. I think we will see most media consumption services switch over to subscription-based systems and that’s where a model like ours can shine. Our products don’t cost a lot but they still pack a commercial punch, and that makes them more viable for SVOD services than more expensive independent films.
Do you think there’s still place for bonus extras in the streaming age? And would you look to offer those too?
For me, personally, I feel that a lot of the reason indie films fail is that they hold back their special USP’s from the audience, trying to create fans by having them commit to watching the film first and then discover more afterwards. I think that’s the wrong way round. Kickstarter has shown us that creating fans is about engaging with them from the beginning, letting them be a part of the process with you as the film is being made and released. We use that same approach except we only ask that they rent the movie when it’s done – not pay for it at the beginning. I think holding back the behind the scenes, video diaries and all the little things that make your hard work special and stand out from the pack is a mistake. Those are valuable marketing assets that can be used to convince indie fans to support your movie on release, and for me that’s the most important thing… getting people to watch the movie.
With so many players in the digital world, and so much content, how much of a challenge is it to stand out?
It’s immensely challenging. And I don’t think that is a bad thing. As a market becomes more and more crowded, the price of the products being made is driven down. And when this happens it forces viewers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Filmmakers with a strong voice and an eye for storytelling will emerge ahead of those movies whose budget allowed them to paper over the cracks with CGI. I think we are at the beginning of a real revolution in the types of stories viewers want to see and I think it will be the YouTube generation of creators that ushers that in. These kids are used to doing awesome things with no money. So giving them $100K is like giving them $1,000,000 in traditional terms. I’m excited to see what they come up with.
We understand that your films are also partnered with a song that uses the movie footage to make a music video. That’s a neat idea, especially with the exposure music videos can get on YouTube, for example. Was that an idea that came out of the music side of the business or the film side of the business?
Absolutely. If you look at how Hollywood movies are marketed, it’s all done using cross-pollination with other brands. Disney films partnered with McDonalds and a Demi Lovato song. Our model aims to do the digital equivalent – finding ways to cross-pollinate our little films marketing with other brands, who will be able to reach out to their fans. There has to be something in it for both parties and one of the biggest challenges for most Internet-based brands or YouTube channels is content. But we are filmmakers and so creating content is what we do. So the crossover potential is a match made in heaven.
Pandorica is your first film – have you got others signed yet? What’s the response been from other filmmakers so far?
Pandorica is my first feature film and the response has been overwhelming so far. It’s a strange thing finishing a movie and then putting on the distributor hat because you are essentially forgetting that you made this thing. There was a moment at the Premiere where the film was shown to a 1.000 hardcore sci-fi fans and they went wild. At first I was smiling from a distribution perspective and then suddenly I remembered I’d written, directed and edited this thing and a happy little tear replaced the smile. I’ve found other filmmakers have been impressed with what we did for so little money and some of them have started their own versions now. I really hope Pandorica can become a footnote in a long line of modern films made this way.