Indie director Ed Burns is betting on video-on-demand
While the big Hollywood studios and theater owners continue to debate what role video-on-demand will play in the future of the movie business, actor-director Ed Burns has embraced the platform and thinks it could very well be key for the long-term survival of independent films.
“The audience that loves independent films have stopped going to the theaters," said Burns. "There are a couple of reasons for that. It is tougher for smaller movies to get a spot at the multiplex next to all the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters and the specialty theaters that feature independent movies are becoming fewer and fewer during these tough economic times."
Burns, who made his mark with the independent features ”The Brothers McMullen” and “She’s the One.” has been something of a pioneer when it comes to experimenting with new means of distribution. In 2007, he released his romantic comedy “Purple Violets” exclusively through iTunes.
Now he's focused on video-on-demand. Last year, he self-financed and released “Nice Guy Johnny” on VOD as well as his new low-budget movie “Newlyweds," about a recently married couple whose lives are disrupted by the appearance of a volatile relative, which will debut Dec. 26.
"Newlyweds" will then have a small theatrical run in January in Chicago and San Francisco. But the director doesn't anticipate that his film will have much of a life in cinemas.
For Burns, VOD is the safer bet.
“The economics of a theatrical release for these films just doesn’t make any sense. All of the indie distribution companies will tell you theatrical is a loss leader,” Burns explained, adding, “The amount of money you have to spend marketing these films is insane.”
Burns said "Nice Guy Johnny" was profitable for him. "This is not a business model where you are making millions of dollars, but you are making really healthy robust six-figure numbers."
The budget for "Newlyweds" was only about $100,000, according to Burns. "Everybody works for free on the film, but everybody owns a piece of the pie, it's like an indie rock band approach." Better technology helps too.
"Digital cameras have gotten to the place where you can shoot with a three-man crew and available light and get a great-looking film," he said."You don't have to have films that look like little art house indies."
"Newlyweds" is being sold for $6.99 via On Demand, the video-on-demand service available through most major cable and satellite operators. Burns said if "Newlyweds" can bring in between $500,000 and $900,000,it will be a "very healthy profit."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: A scene from "Newlyweds." Credit: Marlboro Road Gang