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Neon Unveils Innovative Strategy to Bring ‘Spaceship Earth’ to Audiences During Coronavirus

Spaceship Earth
PHILIPPE PLAILLY/SCIENCE PHOTO L

With most theaters closed, Neon will launch the documentary “Spaceship Earth” on an innovative patchwork of drive-in theaters, pop-up projections and on demand.

The indie studio will roll out the film on May 8, at a time when the bulk of cinemas are expected to remain shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The film will be immediately available on digital platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon and Hulu. But Neon isn’t giving up entirely on the big-screen experience. It plans to create at least two city-scape projections of the film, which is says will adhere to quarantine and social-distance guidelines.

“I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like, but we want to make this accessible to people by placing the film in the real world during a time when it can’t play in most theaters,” said Neon founder and CEO Tom Quinn. “We feel like this is a way to salute our exhibition partners. This film was always intended to be released in theaters.”

“Spaceship Earth” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and follows eight people who spent two years inside of a replica of Earth’s ecosystem called Biosphere 2. The experiment was divisive at the time, with some decrying it as cultish and others hailing it as a bold look at how humanity might survive ecological catastrophe. Matt Wolf (“Wild Combination”) produced and directed the movie. The film is an Impact Partners, RadicalMedia and Stacey Reiss production. Neon has released Oscar winners such as “Parasite” and “I, Tonya.”

The film has certainly taken on some topical heft since it debuted in Sundance. It’s hard to not read about the premise without thinking about the global pandemic that has upended life.

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“We wanted to buy this film long before any of this was a possibility,” Quinn said. “But it does seem incredibly prescient now.”

Neon said it will allow independent movie theaters, museums, book stores, arts and cultural organizations, non-profits, restaurants and other severely impacted small businesses to participate in the release, by hosting their film on their websites and collecting rental revenues. These partners will have the option to host private screenings and/or host live online Q&As and panels with filmmakers, film subjects and special guests.

“Who knows if this is going to work, but it could give them another source of income,” Quinn said.

Neon said its list of partners includes Atlas Obscura, Earth Day Network, Books Are Magic, The Explorers Club, Posteritati, Fernbank Museum, NYC Trivia League, Talcott Mountain Science Center, Ground Support Cafe, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, SITE Santa Fe, Synergetic Press, City Growers, Bud Werner Memorial Library, Santa Monica French bistro Pasjoli, and Brooklyn’s famous eatery Locanda Vini & Olii. The company said businesses interested in participating can sign up through its website.

The cost of the film is $4, not the nearly $20 that most movies are priced at during their premium on-demand release. Neon said it is making the movie more affordable because of the economic hardship that Americans are facing during the pandemic. The indie studio said it may explore similar release strategies if coronavirus continues to shutter theaters.

“We’ve marshaled a plan that allows to continue bringing new films to audiences and to continue buying new films,” Quinn said. “I cannot predict how long this global shutdown will last, but until I personally feel safe in going back out and relaxing social distancing rules, unfortunately this is how we’re going to be releasing films going forward. If we didn’t do this, we’d simply be sitting on the sidelines.”