Today, the first studio film to be released via torrent just received a launch date. The blog for the Australian horror film "The Tunnel" sets the date for both torrent and hard copy as May 19th . It will be an exclusive home release, as it is not scheduled for any sort of theater premiere.
The film takes place in abandoned tunnels under Sydney, and from the trailer it looks to be a little "Ghost Hunters" crossed with "The Descent," with a splash of "Blair Witch Project" hand held night-vision camera work.
The film has a big name Hollywood distributor attached in Paramount Pictures; more specifically, Paramount Home Entertainment Australia. They are taking charge of the hard copy DVD release set to take place alongside the free torrent release. The film has been partially financed by what the filmmakers call the "135K Project." This refers to the number of frames in their 90 minutes movie. In a format suiting the fragmented way in which a file is downloaded through torrents, they asked the public to pay one dollar per frame in order to "be a part of movie history." The film website has a running tally of all frames sold, and as of right now they have a ways to go. Around 28,690 frames of the total 135K have been purchased.
The analog/digital release is not new to entertainment. Just last month Radiohead released their newest album The King of Limbs both as a fairly cheap digital download ($9) and a much more expensive vinyl and CD package ($48). What is entirely new is the torrent factor. BitTorrent and other torrent clients are shrouded in a cloud of piracy. Recently Google, amidst pressure, eliminated BitTorrent, uTorrent and others from its search suggestions.
This is what the filmmakers have to say about the torrent system, pulled from the official film website:
"The Internet was meant to be a tool to connect us. It was meant to break down borders and liberate. Now we have an entire generation who are being labeled criminals for using that tool. But perhaps rather than wasting millions of dollars fighting a losing battle against internet piracy, we should try and find a way to embrace the possibilities that this new world brings."
The big question that jumps out is "why bother with the DVD?" Will consumers who already have a free copy of the film via download have any interest in paying for a hard copy? Around 75% of home video is still watched through hard copy. It is possible that some movie collectors would prefer to have the DVD in their library. But one would think the film has to be quite good for that to be a possibility. Maybe the studio is trying to account for the batch of viewers who aren't usual torrent users and have no desire to learn about them, simply for one free film.
Could these possibly be the humble beginnings of torrent legitimacy?