By Roger Tagholm
LONDON: London independent film producer Pinball London has just become the first company to premiere a film on the iPad – and in so doing, believes it may have created a new template for many other producers of content.
Pinball London’s atmospheric, black-and-white long feature romantic drama The Silver Goat was shot in London over 11 days on a small budget and “premiered” last month on the top deck of one of the city’s iconic red double-decker buses – another first, incidentally – with cast and crew watching the movie on their iPads as they rattled around the West End.
The film was released as an app on the App store on the same day and within 24 hours reached number 15 in the entertainment category of the UK store. After only four days it was the eleventh most popular app in the Czech Republic and had been downloaded in 13 countries — an extraordinary achievement, akin to a small publisher, or a self-published author, leaping to the front tables of bookshops across Europe.
“It has been fantastic,” said Producer Paula Vaccaro. “The film cost £50,000 to make and if I’d wanted to take it to 13 countries would have cost another £50,000 at least. For an independent film to achieve this is very special. Until now, the established set up of Hollywood and multiplexes has left films like ours with no screen. That has changed now – the audiences are out there and the time of the traditional gatekeepers is coming to an end.”
The film was written and directed by 30-year-old New Yorker, Aaron Brookner, who studied film at Vassar and moved to the UK in 2009. He has film in his blood: his late uncle, Howard Brookner directed Bloodhounds of Broadway, starring Madonna and Matt Dillon, and it was visiting the set of that film that set his mind on following the same path. He worked on a number of music videos and assisted in the production of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. It was via Jarmusch that he met Vaccaro – Jarmusch is a friend of the Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica whose film Maradona Vaccaro produced.
“I was looking for auteurs and Aaron was just the sort of person we had in mind,” says Vaccaro, who originally hails from Argentina. “We wanted someone who knew how to write scripts, who had a vision. Pinball specializes in auteurs. We believe in authorship – films need to be signed. Film is about the director’s vision – it’s similar to the authorship of a book.”
Brookner came to Pinball with a script that Vaccaro liked, “but we needed to raise $3 million. That’s a problem you don’t have to such an extent in the publishing industry.” It was while trying to raise that money that Brooner became frustrated, telling Vaccaro that he had another film that he really wanted to make. “This frustration is common,” says Vaccaro. “Everybody involved wants to keep practicing their skills, they want to get better, they want to work.”
The film in question was The Silver Goat and Brookner was keen to start shooting. But how to get it off the ground? That’s when Vaccaro had the idea of creating a collective among the cast and crew, so that everyone would have ownership of the film and share the profit. Which is precisely what happened. But how to get it seen? It’s a familiar problem that is mirrored in the publishing industry – you’ve self-published your novel: how do you get it read?
“In the film world, traditionally there are two models,” says Vaccaro. “Either you have someone who is famous in the film, or you take it to the festivals. We didn’t have any name actors and the cost of entering many festivals became prohibitive – and even then you might not be selected. So we sat down and thought that having already used an unusual route with the collective, why don’t we continue this?”
Vaccaro approached the strategy and innovation specialists who noted that the short range intimacy of many of the scenes in The Silver Goat – partly a function of the camera used – made the film perfect for the iPad.
“It was their idea to release it exclusively on the iPad and to have the premiere on the iPad. We decided on an app with lots of extras – stills, behind the scenes, how it was made etc etc. But the amplification of apps has to happen outside the app world. That is why we engaged a PR firm, Third City, to create the 1st ever iPad premiere on a routemaster bus in London with press, the main cast and friends. That same day we had our first article in a newspaper, then Twitter picked it, we posted on Pinterest, Facebook – it just grew. How you interact with this space is how discoverability happens – the technology for this to be possible now exists. Apple gives you geotagged and real time information on who downloads your app that a film distributor wouldn’t be able to provide, so we know where and when it is being downloaded in real time.”
Crucially, too, Pinball now has a direct link to all those people who downloaded the film and can send updates to them all – in one go, it has an easily contactable, global audience who may be interested in future Pinball London productions or the next Aaron Brookner film.
The company is now looking into other ways of financing projects — such as crowd-funding — that have already been used in the publishing world by companies like Unbound. Meanwhile, Brookner has just finished a screenplay adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial and has been working on an autobiographical project that is very close to his heart and that could well be of interest to agents. Some years ago he met the legendary Hollywood screenwriter Budd Schulberg, author of On the Waterfront, and began one of those youth to age, master to disciple friendships.
“I wanted to be a writer and he just looked like how an old writer should look. He had an austerity about him. I became fascinated about his life and I spent four years filming with him and interviewing him. I went on a book tour with him in France and I went to fights with him in Las Vegas. We had a very good relationship.”
Brookner ended up with many hours of valuable footage – among it Schulberg talking about being in Hollywood with F. Scott Fitzgerald – but after Schulberg died in 2009, he ran into problems with Schulberg’s estate. Now he is writing a book about his time with the giant figure and one senses that there is a touching memoir here
Through releasing the film to the iPad, via Apple, Pinball now has a direct link with its audience, precisely the sort of intimate engagement with the consumer that is being talked about in the book industry. The role of middlemen – the publishers, the multiplexes – is changing and the debate is shifting as to who controls the route to market. It’s a fascinating, evolving area, one that a whole new generation who aren’t hidebound by tradition is beginning to explore.