Catch and release – doing it the free way (It’s all ’bout the money Pt1)
Bring back the cast, we’ll have a blast
Discussing the days of yore
Moments like these…
The words above are taken from the commentary of Dr Horrible: Sing-Along Blog. Dr Horrible is a special case, and not just because the commentary happens to be a commentary on the movie industry rather than on the making of the film. Dr Horrible is a hit movie that was never shown in a cinema or on a television. It was released, became a hit, developed a cult following all on the Internet. The actors and crew all worked for free and the movie was released for free online in three ‘acts’, two days apart.
Five days after the original act went online, they were all pulled down. The soundtrack was then realeased on itunes and the episodes made available for download (at a nominal fee). A little while later the DVD (including a commentary) went on sale on Amazon. Eventually everyone was paid, and looking at the show’s popularity one would believe paid well.
It is an example of an alternative way for the movie industry to function, and was intended to be just that. Joss Whedon (better known as the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the show’s creator, came up with the idea during the writer’s strike of 2008.
“The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way.”
Catch and release
I call this method the ‘catch and release’ method because it involves two steps:
- catching the clientèle (or “audience) by giving them something for free
- releasing something they have to pay for to an already-established fan base
In the digital age the cost of distribution is so low that, provided you have the equipment and can get talented people to work for you for free, the initial investment is minimal and the eventual pay-off can be huge because your production is automatically shipped world-wide. Welcome to the global movie cinima.
The global cinema
Dr Horrible may be the most famous example (especially because it includes big names such as Whedon and Neil-Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother fame), but it is far from the only example of this method of making money out of media.
Rooster Teeth, creator of an animated action series called Red vs Blue was possibly the first to use this method. He put together a few episodes in 2003 as a parody of a computer game genre. The show surprisingly developed a following of millions, found sponsorship and is still selling DVDs.
Now the “webisodes” number in their hundreds varying from award-winners such as The Guild to the tributes of adoring fans such as Star Trek: Phase II. Some are great, some are terrible, some only appeal to very specific markets. But it doesn’t matter because they release their productions to the entire world, and in the whole wide world it is likely they will be able to find a few fans.
If webisodes and movies like Dr Horrible gain in popularity, the future looks bleak for the big media conglomerates. How can they charge so much for movies and series if people are getting them for free online?
The catch and release method can hold appeal for them too, however. Instead of charging for the initial release of media, they can charge for the DVDs, merchendise or make the cinimatic experience one to remember. Already we are seeing the beginnings of this kind of thinking with special feature DVDs, movies like Highschool Musical (I’m sure I saw HSM Shampoo the other day) and 3D movies like Monsters vs Aliens.
Perhaps in the future we will see blockbusters released for free download? In the digital age almost anything is possible.