Updated: See the IMDB screenshot at the end of the article.
It’s been a longstanding debate online. Does internet piracy help or hurt a movie? On one side, you have filmmakers and studios talking about how internet movie piracy is killing box office and dvd sales/profits. On the other side, you have the pirates trying to justify the practice by saying that the advance word can help a movie and actually increase sales. The problem is that there is very little data to support the pirates’ stance…until now.
Until now, the only instance that shows piracy may have helped a film is with the Liam Neeson film, Taken. The film was on various Bit Torrent and file sharing sites for about six months before it had a theatrical release in the US. There wasn’t much in the way of a marketing campaign, but it did gangbusters at the box office. Those who were willing to talk about it said that internet piracy is probably the main reason why it had so much good word of mouth before it even released.
Now, we have fairly hard evidence of how piracy can help a movie. About 72 hours ago, ScreenGeeks favorite Ink was uplaoded onto file sharing sites. On Pirate Bay, the film ranked the number one downloaded file on the site for Saturday and was as high as number six on Sunday. This would generally freak out a studio, but to quote director Jamin Winans, “We’re just fighting a battle against obscurity right now.” As an independant film with no studio backing, it’s very difficult to keep your name in the public arena when you have to contend with the studio marketing machine. When Ink’s IMDB page updates in a few hours, the film will have gone from being ranked #12,991 on their MovieMeter before the torrenting started, to a staggering #16. The only thing that has changed in the last three days is that the film has been “stolen”. This doesn’t mean that people love or hate the movie, it’s a ranking of how popular a film is in their searches. Essentially, internet piracy has helped raise awareness of Ink online.
Just how much this will end up helping Ink in the longrun is uncertain. It does show, however, that the file sharing community is quite vocal about films they see, be it through legal or illegal means. Ink has maintained a 7.2 rating on IMDB and is still sitting around 89% on the RottenTomatoes community ratings.
While this is an instance of a film gaining exposure through file sharing, I think it’s safe to say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine had the worst kind of exposure when its workprint leaked online a month or so before its theatrical release. It’s probably fair to say that the awful word of mouth definitely contributed negatively to the films box office results. Essentially, that film earned that bad word of mouth, but the studio would have recouped more of their budget had the word spread from people coming out of the theater as opposed to leaving their computer monitor.
It’s worth noting Jamin and Kiowa have been very positive about this. Instead of browbeating people who found the film via illegal means, they’ve simply added at Donate button to the top of their website so people who saw the film for free can still donate a little something to the filmmakers. This is similar to a strategy that musician Jonathan Coulton has put into place (look under “Already Stole It?”). It will be interesting to see how much comes in as a result of that button. I would highly recommend contributing as it isn’t like you’re stealing from some faceless corporation, you’re stealing from two incredibly cool people who have put three years of their lives into this film.
The ethical issues of piracy are still there, regardless of whether it hurts or helps a film, but this is definitely shaping up to be a very interesting case study in what role it can play in the marketing of a small film like Ink. We’ll just have to see what happens.
You can find most of the rest of our Ink coverage here. You’ll find prior interviews with the Winans’, trailers, our review and other reviews there. You can also read Producer Kiowa Winans’ reaction to these developments on the Double Edge Films blog.
Edited to add:
The IMDB page has updated. Below is a screenshot. Yes, that is an improvement of 81,093% in popularity according to IMDB. Dang…