Internet Piracy and a Second Chance for The Man From Earth
Producer of Low-Budget SF Movie Reaches Out to File-Sharing Site
Wilkinson's email spread like wildfire across neighborhoods of the Internet that are populated by technology enthusiasts and, especially, the information-wants-to-be-free crowd. It's been cited as proof that online piracy can be an important marketing tool instead of just a siphon on Hollywood revenues. Reached earlier this week by telephone, Wilkinson told Film & Video that, while his enthusiasm may have been a little overstated as the story spread across the Web, he's come to a new appreciation of what's possible if a filmmaker can connect to a passionate online audience. "I was thrilled that they were liking it, but part of me was a little taken aback," Wilkinson said. "My email was half-sarcastic and half-thankful. But it was right from the heart."
Wilkinson figured out what was happening when he saw a sudden spike in traffic to the official Web site for the film, which is based on a short story by the well-known science-fiction author. Much of the new traffic was referred by a favorable review at www.rlslog.net, which reviews movies based not on theatrical or DVD releases, but on their availability as illicit downloads. User comments from viewers there and at other sites were enthusiastic. (Some have even offered to translate the film into other languages and generate subtitles – a practice well-known among anime devotees as "fan-subbing.")
In the space of a couple of weeks, Wilkinson says, the film's trailer was viewed close to 20,000 times and its MovieMeter ranking at the Internet Movie Database – which gauges awareness of a title by measuring traffic to its IMDb entry – jumped from 11,235 to number 5.
The Man From Earth had a modest theatrical release earlier this year, and it was solicited unsuccessfully for distribution in other territories. Based on the DVD release (only in the U.S. and Canada) and the spike in awareness online, Wilkinson is hoping a redoubled effort to make some of those sales may finally bear fruit. Whether that works or not, Wilkinson says the experience has encouraged him to re-evaluate the power of the Internet beyond taking stock of industry losses. "You can take the number of times your movie was downloaded and say you lost X dollars to piracy – but would those people have bought it anyway?" he asked. "They call them pirates, but I think that's the wrong word. Someone with a bunch of DVDs spread out on a blanket in Manhattan, selling them for $5 each? That guy's a pirate."
To take advantage of the apparent goodwill among users who downloaded the film without paying for it, he's added a "Donate" button to