PARIS– While French industryites are still caught up in a seemingly stalled debate about shaking up the country’s digital-phobic release schedule for movies and implementing a new anti-piracy law, Wild Bunch ruffled feathers with its masterfully orchestrated VOD release of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York.”
Premiering on May 17, the movie – described by Variety‘s Scott Foundas as Ferrara’s “inimitably lurid yet contemplative take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair” and “a fraught study of addiction, narcissism and the lava flow of capitalist privilege” — scored over 100,000 views in eight days.
Using the Cannes Film Festival as a launchpad and leading many journos to believe the film would be a late addition to the official selection, Wild Bunch built up a major buzz around the movie and splurged €1 million ($1.36 million) to promote its release on nearly every major platforms in France (Orange 24/24 / FilmoTV / la box de SFR / iTunes / Canalplay / MyTF1VOD / Google Play / Videofutur / Virgin Mega) for a flat rate of €7 ($9.5), bypassing completely the sacrosanct theatrical bow.
“The only platform which didn’t play the game was France Television (the country’s public broadcaster), and it’s not a coincidence,” said Wild Bunch boss Vincent Maraval, a provocateur and film buff with a notorious anarchist streak.
Per Maraval, the movie has already reached a break-even point in two weeks, with four more weeks to go.
No other French players had dared to do it, even though, technically, Wild Bunch didn’t violate any rules. Only movies that have been bought by French TV are subject to the window release schedule, which means that they must open in theaters before playing on pay TV, video and on pay-VOD four to six months later. “Welcome to New York,” however, was neither acquired by pay TV group Canal Plus nor free-to-air TV networks. As a result it had every right to be released directly on digital platforms, points out Maraval.
“Welcome to New York” isn’t the only movie that was released first on VOD in France. But until now, the straight-to-VOD treatment was reserved for lowbrow American movies — not anticipated firstrun pics from renowned helmers.
The Wild Bunch experiment will likely be a game-changer in France: “It has jump-started discussions over day and dating,” explained Florence Gastaud, general delegate of the ARP (authors, directors and producers guild). Pierre Lescure, who is now president of Cannes Film Festival, was appointed by the government to lead a vast industry consultation in 2012 and delivered a year ago a set of proposals – including some aiming to allow smaller films to be released day and date or straight on VOD, and shorten the subscription VOD window down to 20 or 22 months from the current 36 months.
Gastaud explained, “The performance of ‘Welcome to New York’ on VOD has brought the issue back on the table. We’re now hearing that a reform will be proposed later this month and shall get passed by September.”
Maraval says Wild Bunch is now considering the creation of a label like TWC/Radius in France.
“We see platforms like Radius as an alternative,” explains Maraval. “More and more French producers are dependent on Canal Plus to finance their movies, which gives Canal Plus a power on the life or death of movies, which is a burden they should be spared of. Today if this new digital model works, producers can seek private investors to raise the financing for their movies and allow them to recoup on VOD sales.”
With Netflix prepping a launch in France this fall, the issue of digital release windows is dividing many French institutions, TV channels and exhibitors.
Maraval argues arthouse exhibitors are open to day and date. “The ones who really oppose it are Canal Plus and the big circuits, including UGC and the Pathe-Gaumont Europalaces. They are strong lobbying groups and, naturally, they don’t want anything to change in order to preserve the status quo,” says the exec.
“Welcome to New York,” which pre-sold worldwide, will be released day and date in most other territories, including in the U.S. via IFC, by August.