Distribbing windows smashed by indies

NEW YORK — If Steven Soderbergh’s experimental pic “Bubble” strikes the right chords during its ride on the fall fest circuit and beyond, the pic could symbolize a massive sea change in the business of distribution.

When Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban’s HDNet Films in April hired Soderbergh to direct six high-def pics to be released simultaneously in theaters, on television and on homevideo, the move was the latest in 2929’s experiment in collapsing the film world’s traditional distribution windows.

And it’s that very plan that has exhibs up in arms as they view the strategy as the biggest threat to their biz since broadcast TV swept the nation.

With Soderbergh’s first project under the pact now completed — Daily Variety says the movie is likeable if unexciting — pic has found itself with choice slots in the upcoming Toronto and New York fests. Depending on the pic’s B.O. and critical response, it could be poised to push the 2929 concept a step further toward crossing over.

The studios will be watching the pic’s progress; even they say that it doesn’t make fiscal sense to shell out enormous marketing costs twice for one film, and that a closer DVD launch can tap into momentum that began with the bigscreen.

“Bubble” is slated for release through Magnolia Pictures at Landmark Theaters venues and on cable through HDNet Movies. DVD and international distribution have not yet been determined.

Though Soderbergh has delivered Hollywood hits such as “Erin Brockovich” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” his experimental pics have been hard for auds to embrace, including Miramax’s “Full Frontal.” His latest pic uses a non-pro cast to sketch the dull lives of doll factory workers in Ohio.

‘Enron’ success

This year, 2929 already sent out its docu “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” theatrically and on cable at the same time. The pic brought in more than $4 million theatrically and performed solidly on the HDNet format offered by Adelphia, Charter, DirecTV, Dish Network, Insight, Mediacom, Time Warner and various National Cable Television Cooperative affiliates.

However HDNet Movies has a relatively small subscription base, and “Enron” wasn’t available on DVD while it was screening in theaters.

Other indie companies, including Film Movement and Emerging Pictures, are also toying with the idea of window collapsing.

“That this infrastructure is coming online is a good thing for people who want to see interesting films,” said Barry Rebo, whose Emerging this year rolled out Ken Burns’ “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” in theaters at about the same time as its PBS broadcast window.

“Landmark can’t be everywhere (in the country) but with a satellite in the sky, they can be,” he added. “But we also believe that people will always go out to the movies.”

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