Newspaper offer readers ‘Riddle’

Film to offer free DVDs in the Mail

A British indie feature is rewriting distribution rules by becoming the first to preem as a “covermount” DVD given away free with a newspaper.

Writer/director Brendan Foley’s mystery thriller “The Riddle,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, Vinnie Jones and Derek Jacobi, will appear with the Sept. 16 issue of the Mail on Sunday.

Stephen Miron, Mail on Sunday managing director, expects to sell 2.5 million copies. Analysts predict 30% of covermounts reach the DVD player, meaning more than 800,000 could settle down to watch “Riddle” — far more people than the pic would reach via traditional distribution. Not surprisingly, exhibitors are none too happy about the move.

As one exhib observed: “Although I am not too hung up about this release, first-run product being given away can’t be positive news for exhibition.”

The newspaper will foot the bill to manufacture and distribute 2.8 million DVDs hoping to sell extra copies of the paper and generate extra advertising.

It relinquishes rights to “Riddle” after a week and Foley hopes to line up a traditional distributor to give the pic a theatrical, TV, DVD sales and rental life. The U.K.’s bestselling DVD is 2001’s “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,” which has sold almost five million units. But Foley is not concerned about denting his potential auds.

“As a writer-director, this is as good as it gets,” said Foley from his home town of Belfast. “(Releasing) 2.5 million DVDs instead of maybe 50,000, plus primetime TV advertising is something a normal U.K. indie could only dream of.

“But as a producer, I think it is, if anything, an even more interesting deal. Apart from the obvious allure of a six-figure upfront deal, it makes great long-term sense with further DVD rights reverting to us almost immediately.”

Foley contacted Miron following the newspaper’s giveaway launch of Prince’s 10-track album “Planet Earth” in August, when the number of newspapers sold jumped to 2.8 million from its usual 2.3 million — the best result since a multi-edition issue produced after Princes Diana’s death in August 1997.

That freebie generated huge controversy in the U.K. with retailers initially refusing to handle the album, alleging it would destroy sales.

Foley said that, “in fact, sales of the Prince disk were boosted approximately four-fold thanks to newspaper advertising and word of mouth generated.”

Miron added: “Following the success of the Prince CD launch, we see no reason why we can’t do the same with a movie. It is a great thriller with a twist and the cast of Redgrave, Jacobi and Jones has fantastic appeal to the Mail on Sunday’s heartland.”

“Riddle,” about a reporter probing murders that follow the discovery of an unpublished Charles Dickens novel, is budgeted at $5 million — 70% of which came from private equity and 30% from the Grosvenor Park tax fund.

Pic is Foley’s directorial debut. He previously wrote and produced Jones starrer “Johnny Was,” which did not get a U.K. theatrical release.

And despite “Riddle’s” high-profile Brit cast it would have struggled against the 15 movies being released theatrically on Sept. 14 in Blighty, which include “3.10 to Yuma,” “Superbad,” “Disturbia” and “Shoot ‘Em Up.”

But “Riddle’s” afterlife once it has flooded British living rooms is debatable.

“That probably will be it for the film in terms of distribution,” said one London-based indie distrib. “Once a film has been covermounted it has a perceived value of nothing,” he said, adding that “the biggest opponents to covermounted product are retailers who are loathe to sell it as they feel it legitimizes a practice that is damaging their business.”

Elliot Grove, founder of Blighty’s Raindance Film Festival devoted to indie cinema, sees “an upside and a downside. On the one hand, lots of people get to see your work. On the other, you can destroy your market. The trick is to give away something free that drives traffic to a whole package of work.”

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