The other day, I read an article about how difficult it is for independent or "specialty" films to gain traction in the marketplace. The overall number of movies released in any given year has increased significantly in recent times, meaning that more films are competing for a finite number of screens on which to play. To get ahead, even independent films need stars, high concepts, and/or large marketing budgets. You know what's considered an independent film these days? Juno. A wonderful movie, yes. (In fact, it's my favorite movie of the last five years.) But look at the pedigree: recognizable stars like Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner; a major studio (Fox) releasing it through their specialty division; extensive television ads and other visible publicity weeks in advance of its release last year. No wonder it crossed the $100 million mark at the box office. Juno may have been financed outside the mainstream Hollywood system - which qualifies it as an indie - but it also had a lot of advantages that gave it a leg up.
The situation wasn't always this way. Slightly more than a decade ago, audiences were walking into theaters to see movies like Clerks and The Brothers McMullen. Those films were made on shoestring budgets, had complete unknowns in the lead roles, and survived by word-of-mouth. Indies of this "homegrown" style now have a hard time getting theatrical release, although they are still being made.
Thankfully technology is creating new opportunities for these pictures to be seen. Call it one more example of the miracle that is the internet. Gigantic Digital (http://www.giganticdigital.com) is a website that provides a home for worthy independent films that might otherwise unfairly fall by the wayside. An offshoot of New York distributor Gigantic Releasing, the website is the brainchild of Gigantic CEO Brian Devine and president Mark Lipsky, a former executive at Miramax. Culling their own library as well as forging partnerships with independent filmmakers, Gigantic Digital offers movies online, with a ticket price of just $2.99 for unlimited 3-day access. The company will also offer free content from their library of narrative and documentary short films. Perhaps most intriguingly, they are encouraging filmmakers to submit their own works for consideration.
The advantage of such a site is clear. Smaller indie films rarely get play outside of major cities. Gigantic Digital allows these movies to be seen in markets that would otherwise never book them. So if, like me, you live in a small or mid-sized market, you will now have the opportunity to see some indies that wouldn't normally hit your local multiplexes. The films offered on the site will be available day-and-date with their theatrical openings in major markets. In essence, your living room is now your local arthouse theater.
If you cherish independent cinema, this is a website you must bookmark. Film distribution is a tricky business; although there are thousands and thousands of screens in the United States, it's still a competition to get a movie shown on them. Gigantic is doing what indie distributors should be doing: finding new ways to distribute. What I love most about the idea is its innovation. Going online exposes these films to audiences who would never have access otherwise, and it's extremely easy to use.
I checked out two films on Gigantic Digital. The first was The Doorman, a "mockumentary" so authentic that I didn't initially realize it wasn't real. Directed by Wayne Price, the movie follows a stylish and well-known nightclub doorman who suffers a personal crisis when he's fired for failing to recognize a high-profile guest. The film is perhaps a bit insider-y for those of us who don't encounter doormen on a regular basis, but it's also really ambitious and inventive.
The other one I looked at was David Kaplan's Year of the Fish, a coming-of-age tale about a young girl working for a distant relative in an NYC massage parlor. The movie was made using rotoscope animation, along the lines of Richard Linklater's Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. The imagery is like seeing a painting come to life and tell you its story.
If Gigantic Digital continues to program films like these, it will be an immeasurably valuable website. These are pictures that attempt to be bold, new, and pioneering. They push the envelope and break boundaries.
The site's streaming was impeccable. Sound and visuals were crystal clear, and I experienced a smooth run of both films. Their site works with PCs and Macs, and automatically adjusts to your available bandwidth. In comparison, I recently streamed a movie from a popular online rental service and the picture was inexplicably out of focus the entire time. But hey, that's just one more excuse for me to head back to Gigantic Digital instead.
I hope you will head on over too. I've been a hardcore fan of independent film for a long time, and I have worried about its future health, thanks to the "mainstreaming" of indie filmmaking as well as the financial hardships that have recently closed the doors of several prominent distributors. Gigantic Digital offers the promise of a healthy tomorrow for movies that proudly go against the grain. With an exciting list of titles debuting soon - including the acclaimed documentary Must Read After My Death - this website is a mecca for indie cinema buffs everywhere.
Return to The Aisle Seat