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With "In Your Eyes" on Vimeo, Joss Whedon changes the game (again)

At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, there’s been a lot of talk about alternative forms of distribution for films. Actress Gillian Jacobs discussed wanting a simultaneous theatrical and On Demand release for her new film “Life Partners”, while screenwriter Zachary Wigon wrote that some small films might reach more audiences by just sticking to film festivals rather than trying to get any theatrical distributions.

Then this happened. Joss Whedon announced online after the screening of his movie "In Your Eyes" that he'd just put out the movie for Vimeo download, for $5 rentals, with subtitles available in 5 different languages. No cable or satellite TV subscription needed, no move to Netflix or Amazon or even the ITunes store. Just go to Total DIY.

This isn’t the first time Whedon’s shaken things up with an online release. Remember the writer’s strike in 2007? When it felt like we might never get original movie or TV content again, and Jay Leno was writing his own jokes at the Tonight Show?

In the midst of all that, Whedon released Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog direct to the Net. The product itself was as odd as its method of release, a 42-minute sci-fi musical comedy, in three acts released (for free) one by one over the course of a week.

At the time, Whedon claimed Dr. Horrible’s release was a reaction to the frustration of the writers’ strike.

What we wanted to do was make it accessible to people and fun, and make a point about the Internet, which is ‘There are no rules so let’s all get out there and plaaay.”

The advice he gave then could just as easily been applied to his rationale for

“There’s one thing I know for certain, which is a lot of the old structures are going to be come untenable, as the movie studios and TV studios entrench in a manner similar to the music industry….These little independent ventures are going to become the best way for people to express themselves and perhaps the only way.”

The “In Your Eyes” release is of the most invigorating moves for an independent film in a while, and because of Joss Whedon’s name brand, it’ll get a lot of filmmakers thinking about similar distribution.

However, it’s disappointing in once again going direct from the theatrical experience to an at-home experience. More and more, these kind of independent films are not going to be seen by strangers together in a darkened room, but rather by individuals and groups of friends gathering around screens togethers. For those of us who grew up enjoying going out to the cinema, it’s a bit of a letdown to see such big names deciding the Net is their best option.

Still, Whedon will likely get many more eyes to the screen with than he would have gotten through traditional routes. This is likely to get a lot of filmmakers talking, and distributors shaking in their boots...

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