Did you see the latest Jude Law movie? The film, a murder mystery from art house director Sally Potter takes place in Manhattan's fashion world and features other famous actors including Dame Judi Dench, Steve Buscemi, John Leguizamo, and Dianne Wiest. "Rage," as the film is called, isn't all that remarkable in and of itself, but the way it's being distributed is: via mobile phones. Choosing to forgo the typical theatrical release, Potter went an entirely different route for her new indie flick: Rage premiered exclusively on the iPhone.
Released last week through the iPhone/iPod Touch mobile application Babelgum (iTunes link), the film represents the first ever attempt to distribute a feature film for free by way of mobile phones. In fact, the mobile platform didn't just serve as the place for the film to make its debut - it was the primary distribution channel as well. The only theatrical showings of the movie were two red-carpet events - one at New York's The Box theater and another in London, both of which took place last week.
Not only does the film embrace the mobile as the core piece of its release pattern - a pattern which also includes simultaneous launches on DVD and the web - it embraces the mobile platform as a way to tell the story, too. Instead of offering up a large video download, Rage was released in seven parts throughout the week through the streaming media application, Babelgum, which has now climbed to #16 on the list of top free Entertainment-based iPhone apps.
The film's style is also well suited to the mobile with a minimalist look and feel where the story is told through exclusively through close-up interviews of fourteen people who witnessed an event at a New York fashion show. There are no nuanced details or special effects here - it's a perfect fit for a mobile audience who often half-watches videos while killing time or driving to work.
According to filmmaker Potter, this experimental distribution for her new movie is actually an attempt to fight the digital piracy problem faced by the movie industry today. And yes, she's doing it by by offering up her film for free...albeit in a way that ensures the film can only be viewed, not recorded. However, after watching the iPhone release, those interested in owning the movie can immediately purchase a DVD which includes 21 unused scenes by way of the film's online site for $24.95. That, too, represents, a major change to the usual release pattern for films. Typically, the movie-DVD release window involves several months of waiting where the only way to watch the movie is through illegal means such as using the peer-to-peer technology known as BitTorrent.
Will this rethinking of movie distribution pay off? It's too soon to tell, but industry insiders are watching with deep curiosity. Jim Shomos, an Australian writer-producer known for mobile video series, for example, thinks using the mobile platform is a more direct way of getting the film to the target market - that is, people under 35.
Others are more skeptical. After all, does anyone really want to watch a full-length film on their mobile phone? Oh that's right, they do. Apple's iTunes store is proof of that. Now if we could only get studios to release really good films this way...