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Snowpiercer and the VOD conundrum

October 15, 2014 Written by | No Comments


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This past summer, Bong Joon-Ho’s dystopian sci-fi, action film Snowpiercer captured the imaginations of both mainstream audiences and art-house enthusiasts. The film’s combination of lush visuals and frantic action scenes alongside its very timely message about the socioeconomic battle between the haves and the haves not, made for a striking outing from the Korean director.

And yet, despite its financial and critical success (94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the majority of the chatter surrounding Snowpiercer centered on the film’s very unorthodox release strategy.

Radius-TWC, a sub-division of the Weinstein Co. that specializes in Video on Demand platforms for independent films, distributed the film by releasing it on VOD just two weeks after its theatrical outing. This is obviously not unheard of. VOD has been a go-to release platform in order for independent films to reach a wider audience for quite some time.

Snowpiercer marked a change because the film has the look of your typical and formulaic Hollywood blockbuster. Of course the difference being that its budget was a fraction of the price of say one of the Marvel films.

The result was a success for Radius-TWC. Snowpiercer’s VOD gross was actually higher than its theatrical one. Dozens of think-pieces were written hailing this triumph. Some were calling VOD the smartest way of distribution in order for indie films to not get crowed by bigger films in the marketplace. Others were hinting that VOD is where the future of film viewing was heading anyways.

Tom Quinn, co-president of Radius-TWC, told Entertainment Weekly this past July that Snowpiercer is a “game-changer.”

Some have their doubts though. Derek Carter, general manager at the Angelika Film Center in New York, feels that the studio could have had a bigger financial success if it had released the film in a wider and traditional theatrical form.

“At its peak, Snowpiercer’s widest release was 356 theaters. In 101 days in release it made $4.5 million,” he says. “If they would had released it in at least a thousand screens that movie could had made $20 million”. Carter believes that the studio did not market the film in a proper way in terms of commercials and trailers. And in that point I have to concur. Most casual film-goers that I know had not even heard of the film until I showed them the trailer on YouTube. All of them had interest in seeing it afterwards.

Carter also argues that the studio did not have much faith in the film’s financial prospects, hence the VOD release. “I could hear the proverbial jaws drop when I reported to the studio representative the first-week sales returns. They were actually surprised that it was doing well,” he says. “Trust me, VOD killed this movie!”

Carter argues that the Weinstein Co. similarly “dumped” other films in its indie slate, including: The Immigrant, Tracks and The disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.

It’s hard to say if a wider theatrical release would have helped Snowpiercer’s box office numbers. Despite its thrilling action and heart-pounding fight scenes, the film is at its core a very cerebral and dark political allegory that likely would have not appealed to a mainstream summer crowd looking for escapism.

What is clear though, is that this debate on the merit of VOD is not going away.

Categories: Films · VOD