January 12, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Soderbergh does a DVD-theater release combo

A red carpet will roll out Thursday night in front of Parkersburg, W.Va.'s historic Smoot Theater for the official premiere of a movie that, according to backers, represents the future of the film industry.

The movie is Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble." But the persistent buzz around its release has less to do with the film's artistic merits than with the fact that it will be broadcast on the high-definition network HDNet the night of its full theatrical release, Jan. 27, and also made available on DVD just four days later.

For many in the movie business, this is heresy. Most of the big movie chains have refused to carry the film. Financed and distributed by former Broadcast.com executives Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner and their Wagner/Cuban Companies, the film is a direct shot at Hollywood's traditional way of doing business.

News.context

What's new:
Steven Soderberg's small-budget film "Bubble" will be the first major movie whose release on DVD follows its release in theaters by only four days.

Bottom line:
The movie's backers, former Broadcast.com executives Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, are betting that their release strategy will cut marketing expenses for the films they back and ultimately make more money for theater owners.

More stories on this topic

"Mark and I sat down and said, 'Can we find a way to survive in an industry that has not been good for equity investors?'" Wagner said. "This is the only way that real entrepreneurs have a chance to have a shot in an industry run by huge studios."

"Bubble" is part of an early wave of experimentation with different release strategies that's disturbing business as usual in Hollywood and has put theater owners, already smarting from a decline in box office revenues, on the defensive.

Movies have long been released in "windows"--first to theaters, then to home video, and from there to TV, pay-per-view, video-on-demand, hotels, airlines and so on. By staggering the availability to each market, studios have hoped to tap the full potential of each, without simultaneous competition from other distribution platforms.

That model has been challenged in recent years, undermined both by new distribution technologies and growing levels of online piracy and counterfeit-DVD sales. Movies are now routinely available online even before their premiere, and can be found for sale on street corners for just a few dollars as the curtain goes up in theaters.

In recent months a few powerful Hollywood insiders, led by Disney chief Robert Iger, have been talking about the need for dramatic changes in the windowing system in order to respond to those challenges.

Last week, Twentieth Century Fox said it will begin releasing movies to video-on-demand services simultaneously with DVD releases, a goal long sought by online companies like MovieLink, which have complained that they get films too late to compete with ordinary video rentals.

But the "Bubble" experiment with unveiling DVDs at the same time as the theatrical release is an anomaly, and the big theater chains are trying to keep it that way. The biggest chains, including AMC Entertainment, Cinemark Entertainment and National Amusements, have said they have no interest in carrying a film with a model that could undercut their own business.

"We feel that day and date (for a DVD release) dilutes the theatrical release," said Terrell Falk, a Cinemark spokeswoman. "This wouldn't be something we would show."

The art-house director and the billionaires
Wagner first met Soderbergh, who won the 2001 Best Director Oscar for his film "Traffic," not long after he and Cuban had sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for more than $5 billion in 1999. The pair of newly wealthy entrepreneurs were interested in filmmaking, and Wagner was talking to everyone he could in Hollywood, trying to understand the business.

That first meeting, at a restaurant in Los Angeles, resulted in an agreement to help fund two of the director's films. Wagner came back to Soderbergh again 18 months ago, and explained the idea of "day-and-date" DVD releases over a lunch in New York City. An enthusiastic Soderbergh agreed to direct six films for the Wagner/Cuban Companies, and "Bubble" is the first of those to hit the screen.

For the director, this new way of releasing movies was part of a broader experimentation with new technologies, in hopes of shaking up Hollywood's typically risk-averse habits. He could not be reached for this article, but has discussed his thoughts in other recent interviews.

"Bubble" itself is an experiment in filmmaking as well as in distribution, shot on high-definition digital cameras, using nonprofessional actors drawn from the residents of Parkersburg and

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22 comments

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Non-professional actors
It's tough enough for union actors living and working outside of LA and New York to be considered for anything more than background work. Casting an entire production with non-professionals takes food off the tables of union actors who already do more than their share of struggling because of geography. As much as I admire Mr. Soderbergh for his work, this is one production I won't pay to see.
Posted by DavidLFox (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you won't have to pay for it...
cause it'll be shown for free on HDnet...all you have to have is a cable/satellite provider that offers HD programming.
Posted by mayno (8 comments )
Link Flag
Looking in all the wrong places
It would seem to me the theater owners have shot themsevles in
their collective feet.

They charge too much for admission, and too much for
concessions. The more people stay away because of high prices
and advertising on the big screens, the more money they
charge. It's a vicious circle. Why do I want to pay more than $5
for a movie? I shouldn't have to! More and more I'm staying
home and saying to myself I'll just watch it on my big-screen
HDTV when it comes out on Netflix.
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
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Not to mention rude patrons, and cell phones ringing
No thanks, watching movies at home is 10x better.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Link Flag
Hmmm!
Actually, given the current volume sales of all DVD's worldwide, which contribute to some 68% of the current profits earned by all MPAA members, theatre releases, are rapidly becoming, merely a publicity and advertising venues only!

Oh well, looks like the end of an era is coming!, as more and more people, create their own personal theatres at home!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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Not to mention other nasty things at theaters
Like for instance, the floor. Sometimes if feels as if mud and popcorn was put there on purpose by the staff, and my biggest gripe whould have to be everything seems to be coated in that "popcorn butter" as they call it, and people think I'm the odd one cos I wear rubber gloves when I go out to see a movie. Then there's the people to talk constantly during the movie, the people who shout at the screen, as if their voices will be heard by what is on the screen, the people with no physical or even psychological problems who sit in the handicapped seats, and most of all the crying babies. I don't blame the babies, but the parents of such infants should have never have come to the film if they can't get a sitter.

In my area we have a 17 screen Cinema Bunker, but many movies we never get because for some reason PJ's King Kong needs to be run on four screens. I really don't have a problem with that, but why not make one of the theaters a smoking friendly environment and rotate films every few days. Now I don't smoke near my consumer electronics, cos I don't have a fan that cleans the air quickly and quietly, instead I just hit pause and go outside for a smoke, but these big theaters, I'm sure could afford to outfit one of their smaller cinemas with tech like that.
Posted by TreyTable (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Whiney ass smokers!!!
Why don't they make one of the theaters "smoker friendly"?!?

Why don't they make one of them "crying baby friendly"...
"People that talk to the screen friendly"... or "people that want to
sit in the handicapped seats friendly"? Because it costs them
money, that's why!
Nobody wants to try and watch a movie while you're trying to
light your cig either.

You don't think parents should bring their baby's to the movies
(neither do I), well I think that if you can't sit for a few hours
without having to light up, maybe YOU should stay at home!
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
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Whiney smoker!!!
Why don't they make one of the theaters "smoker friendly"?!?

Why don't they make one "crying baby friendly", "people who
want to talk to the screen friendly" or "people who want to sit in
the handicapped seats friendly"...? Because they don't want to
spend the money to please every special interest group out to
see a movie, that's why!
You want the theater owner to remove all of the seats in one
theater, install seats with ash trays AND add an exaust system.
You know why you don't have an exaust that runs quickly and
quietly enough to run while a movie's playing?... because they
ain't cheep.

OK... so they've converted one theater, at great expense... how
do they decide which movie to run in that one theater? Smokers
like more than one movie at a time, don't they?
They should charge smokers more for the use of their special
"smoking theater" also... to offset the cost of repairing all the
burn marks in it's new seats.

You think parents should keep their crying babies at home? So
do I, but I also think that if you can't sit through a 3 hour movie
without having to have a smoke, maybe YOU should stay at
home, pop in a DVD, and munch down on a big bowl of nicotine
gum.
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
Link Flag
Soderbergh has already made HIS money
Don;t overlook the fact that It's easy to take risks when you have
less too lose. He's a millionaire.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
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Theaters are still fun...
Now I don't know were the rest of you live, but were I live going to the movies is still as enjoyable as it ever has been. Nothing can compare to the energy of the first few days of showing; especially not sitting at home watching a DVD in your bunny slippers. The theaters are clean, the patrons are courteous, and you can always find a theater that is showing what you want to see (we have theaters dedicated to foreign and independent films). I think you are all focusing on the wrong thing here.

If you think about it you, or the other patrons, are causing the problems you gripe about.

Most of these things can be eradicated by using common courtesy. Don't act like a pig when you eat and dont throw you popcorn everywhere. Turn off you cell phones when you enter a theater. Don't talk or cheer unless it is appropriate (say during key plot twists on opening night). Don't smoke in public areas.

The theaters usually have signs posted outside a theater instructing the patrons on these common acts of civility and yet you are all blaming them? Give me a break.
Posted by Willeisen (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Agree!
Get out of the house and away from the same 4 walls with your partner to go to the flics and enjoy a good Balty afterwards. Where I live it is taboo to let your phone ring or talk in the cinema. If you do, you get told to "keep it down" or "turn off your phone". Nothing beats the cinema experience. It's a social thing.
Posted by jsargent (98 comments )
Link Flag
Are theaters that fragile?
Are theaters really in that fragile of a space right now that they can offer no compelling reason why anyone should watch the movie in the theater instead of the comfort of their own home?

Waaaahhh. Too bad. You should've saw it coming and adapted ahead of the curve. Buh-bye.
Posted by cagerattler (72 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's Disgusting . . .
I think that it is absolutely ridiculous. The more lazy we get, the less we want to leave our own homes. We shop online, we get our pizzas delivered, and now we cannot even get off of our couches and go and see a movie?

Going to the theaters is what makes the film experience so amazing. You will never get the same effect seeing a movie at home, where the phone is ringing all the time, or you could get distracted and stop watching halfway through. Theaters give you a chance to relax, to focus solely on the film that you are watching. When I have children, I don't want them growing up never having seen a movie in theaters before. I cannot express how heartbroken I would be if theaters were done away with altogether. Film is an artform, not just an industry. If theaters go down the drain, than it is like doing away with the only Film Museums we have. It would be like taking all of Da Vinci's paintings, scanning them onto an online museum, then never showing them in public again. IT'S NOT THE SAME EXPERIENCE.
Posted by Cassandra C (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Rock the foundation
Hey, look at what musicians do at their shows. They have a table selling their cd's, dvd's, and any other merchandise impulsive buyers are willing to spend their money on. Sure you may be able to find the item cheaper at your local stores, but, you're so into the music at the time, that you tend to go by impulse and make the purchase.

I support this idea. The theater chains are afraid of breaking their old model, just like the studios were when vhs and betamax came out. Make the dvd's available only at the theaters after the movie shows for a couple of months. Then do a mass release to retail. That's one way. There are so many ways to make this work.

Marc Cuban, and company, are on the right track.
Posted by Dead Soulman (245 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: chains afraid of breaking their old model.
Too late. The old Hollywood / theater model is already broken but no one has noticed.

IMO, broadband and BIG screen tvs will result in a slow but steady decline in movie going. In fact, movies on disk (dvd, blue ray, hd whatever) are doomed to extinction as well.

And as long as I'm out on this limb, let me add my opinion/hope that direct to consumer marketing for music and movies will knock the last slats from under the MPAA and RIAA.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Link Flag
Let's take it a bit further
There's a warehouse full of promotional 'swag' associated with most big films. What if the film co's & theaters franchised lobby 'souvenir stands' as part of their exhibition deal? Like the concert model, they could have all sorts of gear along with the sort of Promo DVDs that show up @ big box stores, with lots of DVD-extra type features, basically everything but the movie itself - but enough that people who liked the movie can get more for just a few extra $... and maybe get friends who see the 'souvenir' DVD excited enough to go to the theater & see it.
Essentially people would be paying to virally market the movie they just saw. As long as prices were reasonable, it could pad the take of a hit film AND provide additional marketing for the filmco/theater. ...Not to mention a future ebay market :)
Is this too outside the traditional revenue model? Has anyone already tried this?
Posted by punterjoe (163 comments )
Link Flag
Problems
I think it is a good idea but I think the major problem is the distribution of the swag.

In theatre and concerts it's a traveling show playing (in most cases) at one venue at one time. Movies are playing on 1500 screens and blockbuster movies over 3000 screens at a time. Contrast that with a large chain like Best Buy only having 700 stores. Also with intellectual property the owners want some control over it's distribution. Would you leave the responsibility up to to the theater to set-up and display this content? Would the theater buy the products and have to develop their own retail model?

I would love it if movie theaters had this type of promotional/retail model but I think it would take a theater being built from the ground up with this in mind. Some of the larger movies in my area do have tables set up with free posters, etc. but not as in depth as has been discussed here.
Posted by supadave (3 comments )
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