What would you do if, after investing four years of your time and a couple of hundred thousand dollars of your own money, you saw the product of your hard work shared freely around the internet?
The guys behind the Aussie indie zombie flick Wyrmwood, one of the last week's most illegitimately downloaded movies after its release, have something to say to the people who have seen the film, but haven't paid for that privilege.
Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead is a great movie by all accounts, garnering a 74 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes — beating out top box office hits Kingsman: The Secret Service (73 per cent, US$105M) and American Sniper (73 per cent, US$395M) and coming close to Oscars favourite The Theory Of Everything (79 per cent, US$99M). But it's not making nearly as much money as these blockbusters.
After its theatrical release in Australian cinemas late last week, and theatrical and simultaneous VOD digital release in the US through iTunes, Wyrmwood became incredibly popular online. It became popular through The Pirate Bay and TorrentDay though, appearing in the 10 most downloaded and shared torrents on TPB's top movies list with a peak of around 5000 sharers and 5000 downloaders simultaneously over the weekend.
At the time of writing, nearly 3500 people are sharing a complete copy and there are over 1500 downloaders. Following this trend over the last seven days, it's not unreasonable to expect tens of thousands of individual downloads of Wyrmwood occurring. At the price of a movie ticket or Blu-ray purchase these days, or even a budget digital download or rental, that's hundreds of thousands of dollars at least that are not making their way into the coffers of film distributors and eventually to the pockets of the filmmakers, cast and crew.
Wyrmwood was not a lavishly funded production. Taking four years from conception to creation, the two brothers who wrote and directed the film spent $160,000 making it happen — an absolute shoestring budget for a movie that wowed critics at film festivals worldwide. That money was out of their own pockets, and the cast and crew behind the zombie flick worked on a payment deferred basis — they haven't actually been paid for the work they did yet, and won't until Wyrmwood starts making money.
Here's the reason why you can't download Wyrmwood legally in Australia right now. To have been eligible to receive funding for post-production from Screen Australia — which in Wyrmwood's case was worth nearly $850,000 of the $1,000,000 total budget — Wyrmwood had to have a limited theatrical release. It had to appear in cinemas in Australia. And when movies appear on Australian theatre screens, they almost never enjoy a simultaneous digital release — there's usually a delay of around three months.
The filmmakers negotiated with their distribution partners to get this delay lessened, understanding the fact that modern movie fans want to see it in a variety of formats. As such, the film's DVD/Blu-ray/VOD release in Australia is set for April 2, two months rather than three from the theatrical launch. But in this always-connected 21st century, it seems that if you don't release your movie literally instantly online worldwide as it hits cinemas, you lose the momentum to widespread piracy.
Beyond that, filmmaker and director Kiah Roache-Turner shared a statement on Screen-Space, discussing the movie's varying worldwide release dates and the difficulty of negotiating the release process. A portion of the statement discusses digital downloads, and the studios' attitude to them and long-running history of and expertise with releasing films both big and small.
In conjunction with Studio Canal, we tried very hard to get 'same day' for Wyrmwood for iTunes but unfortunately our hands were tied due to the window required by cinemas. In this instance we were able to get a two month window instead of three, which is fantastic.
But Aussies were still pissed off when (US distributor) IFC Midnight released theatrical and VOD same day. As soon as the iTunes copy launched, 'BOOM'; somebody ripped that film off the platform, uploaded it to Pirate Bay and the film became one of the most torrented films in the world overnight.
The filmmakers campaigned to get Wyrmwood released simultaneously on iTunes in Australia, but the distributors are the experts and the ones that have the say at the end of the day. If there's anyone that you, the Aussie pirate, should be angry at — as minimal and ethereal a reason as you might have for that — it's the film's Australian distributors. It's entirely their decision as to how and when a film is released, what formats it's released in, and maybe they don't have the faith in a movie released at the same time in the cinemas and online. (After this ordeal, you can understand why.)
If there was one distributor that dealt with the movie's release and rights worldwide, it might have been a different situation. There might have not been any US iTunes release at all, and there may have been a more committed theatrical release beforehand. That would probably have worked out better for Wyrmwood, but it was the first feature film for the filmmakers and a big commitment for their partners. It's one of those beautiful difficulties of the internet that it really is global, and for all intents and purposes a movie released legally in the US can quickly become illegitimately available to the entire planet.
If you want to see Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead in Australia now, you can. From today onwards it's screening nightly at Dendy Newtown, Reading Townsville has it tonight and over the weekend, and other states have listings too. Fan-Force has nine separate screenings of the movie listed, and if you want one near you that site makes it possible to request a cinema, time and date and if you find enough willing participants it'll go ahead. It's like crowd-funding, but with zero obligation — all you have to do is get a bunch of friends interested and trust in the magic of social media.
If Roache-Turner has one thing to say to the probably tens of thousands of people who have pirated Wyrmwood in the last week, though, it's this:
Right now it's in YOUR hands. Yes, YOU the person with the hand paused over the 'download' button getting ready to download my bad-ass Ozploitation zombie film RIGHT now. I can't stop you pushing that button nor do I judge you for pushing that button. Mate, that's your decision, it's none of my business.
But if you download Wyrmwood and really bloody like it, please do the right thing and purchase a copy. Support independent filmmakers who sweated blood for four long years to bring you that film.
This is a pretty goddamn magnanimous attitude to have, and I think Kiah is well worth applauding for it. It must be really hard to sit there and see people taking your hard work for granted and for free. The best possible outcome is that these pirates, after downloading Wyrmwood, end up either legitimately purchasing the film or donating a couple of dollars to the cast and crew for their hard work.
I haven't seen Wyrmwood yet — because I haven't had the chance to see it in the cinema. I'm not going to pirate it, and you shouldn't either. This shouldn't be a controversial statement, because piracy isn't just something that you can justify because you don't want to wait a few weeks, but I feel like I have to repeat it until some of you understand. [Wyrmwood]