When the producers of the indie movie Some Girl(s) had to decide on a distribution strategy, they could have gone the “normal” route, or at least what constitutes normal for independent movies these days. When it premiered at South By Southwest this past March, that seemed plausible: the film, based on a play by Neil LaBute and starring Adam Brody alongside Kristen Bell, Emily Watson and others, would probably get picked up for distribution and see theatrical release and video-on-demand availability in early 2014. But then something else premiered at SXSW too: Vimeo, the artsy web-video host, announced a video-on-demand service of their own.
“We got a couple offers at the festival, in a traditional sense,” recalls Some Girl(s) producer Patty West, but then they heard about Vimeo’s news. “It wasn’t what we were thinking of, but we were intrigued.”
So, fast forward a few months, and on June 28, Some Girl(s)—the story of a man visiting his ex-girlfriends—will become the first-ever feature film to be released globally on Vimeo On Demand “day-and-date” (read: on the same day) with a theatrical release. Though the movie will show at four big-screen cinemas (in Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City),
through screenings personally arranged by the filmmakers, most people will find the movie more accessible on Vimeo, where it will be available for streaming ($5) or to download and own ($10 ).
That news is noteworthy for the date alone—and, in fact, that’s a big part of the reason West and her producing partner Chris Schwartz opted for Vimeo, which allowed the movie to be released closer to its buzz-building SXSW appearance. The producers also cite the Vimeo revenue-share system (90 percent to the creators, minus costs), the recent success of unconventional releases (like Shane Carruth self-releasing Upstream Color), direct access to consumers and the ability to watch on multiple mobile devices as reasons to choose a new kind of release plan.
Not every movie is Some Girl(s). Vimeo boasts that the film is also the first ever to turn down traditional distribution in favor of the site’s services—but the big names that helped the movie contend for that chance also give Some Girl(s) an advantage when it comes to drumming up publicity without the help of a studio. (Adam Brody tells TIME that doing press for the Vimeo release has been no different from doing press for a traditional release.) Vimeo’s Trainor acknowledges that the team behind the movie will be able to draw audiences based on the talent attached to the project, which means trading a studio’s publicity support for economic and creative control makes sense.
But the platform will appeal to lots of other movies too, he hopes: “It’s an open platform, which means anyone who’s a Vimeo Pro subscriber can get access, and for films where they might not have the access of the Some Girl(s) team, that in and of itself is a very important distinction. Beyond that we offer an incredible amount of flexibility and control.”
Adam Brody, though he mourns the loss of hearing an audience laugh together, agrees that VOD is the way of the future. “There’s no stigma anymore. There’s just not. There are maybe [only] three indies a months that aren’t released day-and-date, the same time as in theaters,” he says. “It’s just so much more accessible.”
There’s just one thing future movies won’t be able to capture: being first, another item on Patty West’s list of reasons to do an unusual release schedule.
“Everyone’s really excited and supportive,” says producer Chris Swartz of their decision to release via Vimeo. “It’s genuine—or we’re the guinea pigs.”