Commentary

Direct-to-Torrent: Paramount Releasing 'The Tunnel' over BitTorrent

If you can't beat 'em, feed 'em. After years of complaining, lobbying and lawyering about online piracy of film properties, Hollywood is starting to experiment with alternative tactics. In a novel move, Paramount Pictures will distribute the faux-documentary horror flick "The Tunnel" over BitTorrent as they also release it straight to DVD.

The torrent version will include the basic film and be available free. The DVD version will include two hours of extra footage, including an alternative ending and a "making of" documentary. "From day one we've maintained that "The Tunnel" is not supporting or condoning piracy, but instead trying to incorporate a legitimate use of peer-to-peer in our distribution strategy internationally," says producer and editor of the Australian project Enzo Tedeschi to TorrentFreak.

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"The Tunnel" is a Blair-Witch style thriller in mock-documentary style involving the abandoned underground rail project in Sydney. The film has been employing crowd-source mechanics throughout its production process. In order to finance the picture, the producers sold 135,000 individual frames that the user-backers could buy for $1 each via PayPal. The owners would get a share of any money made on the film, the site promises (although I don't understand the math behind the site's claim that "the owner of that frame will get a 1% share of any money we make from the movie).  The company shows that 29,495 of the 135,000 frames were sold to help finance the film.

Obviously, the direct-to-torrent distribution strategy is a good faith investment in the likely audience for "The Tunnel." After all, if you are appealing to an audience of peer-to-peer torrent downloaders, aren't you playing into an ecosystem that barely bats an eye over ripping full DVDs? Respect for the artists would seem to be the only thing that would keep these fans from tossing the DVD extras into torrents as well. So far, the call for user funding has fallen well short of the "135K Project" goal the filmmakers had intended. Is this distribution strategy's faith in its own audience misplaced or still a work in progress? Of course you have to wonder if they might have had a bit more luck with "Snakes on a Plane" sort of daft originality. After all, haven't we seen this Blair Witch/Paranormal thing a few times before?
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