Guerrilla Marketing: Indie Film Producer Asks BitTorrent Downloaders to Donate And Gets a Surprise

As an indie film producer, Matt Compton understood that his stylish vampire movie, Midnight Son, would probably be "pirated." The unpermissioned sharing of music and films on the internet (a practice that doesn't directly pay the creators) has been a problem ever since cheap digital memory and the fast connections between millions of users on a distributed network made peer-to-peer file sharing possible.

Note: Recent data suggests that illegal file-sharing is declining, as access to the cloud, mobile devices with limited memory and legal subscription services are changing the way users receive digital entertainment.

Still, because many hugely-anticipated studio films have shown up on on torrent sites before they were legally available for home use, the big media companies have tried all sorts of tactics to thwart this kind of file-sharing. Their latest effort was SOPA - a new law that would have shut down access to offshore "rogue" sites and heavily penalized any domestic sites that linked to them.

While the well-financed big studios have been very aggressive, online "piracy" is something that indie film producers, like Matt Compton, can barely afford to fight. In fact, most indie filmmakers don't have enough money to get any attention before the release of a DVD.

The story of Midnight Son has been different.

Midnight Son is receiving a great deal of attention, the kind of attention that money alone can't buy, just prior to its DVD release (the film premiered theatrically at Cinequest in San Jose, CA in March 2011). All of this buzz - which might translate into more money in Matt Compton's pocket - is apparently because of the way Matt Compton responded when the film was "pirated" just before the DVD came out.

As reported in a July 11th, 2012 post to the ifc website, "three weeks before Midnight Son was due to be released [on DVD], a torrent of it popped up around the Internet from a screener copy that had been distributed to press."

How should an indie filmmaker (without a budget for lawyers - or the appetite for legal confrontation) respond to "piracy?"

Instead of hiring a lawyer, ifc reports that Matt Compton used a more conciliatory approach: "He posted a comment on popular Bit Torrent website The Pirate Bay introducing himself and asking that those who downloaded the film and enjoyed it consider purchasing the DVD when it is released on July 17 or donating directly to “Midnight Son’s” PayPal account. And surprisingly enough, some did."

"mcompton at 2012-07-11 00:20 CET:
I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the nice comments and support. To those of you who either purchased a DVD or donated to us via PayPal, a HUGE thank you goes out to you. It’s great to see so many in this community showing their support in whatever ways they can. It means a lot to me and the other filmmakers involved. :)

The ifc website story doesn't specify how many users actually contributed cash or went on to pre-order a DVD. The omission of that very relevant information leads me to believe there is a probably a huge element of hype to the Midnight Son story. I'm not sure whether the kind-hearted-filmmaker-making-a-human-connection-with-his-audience story is a real thing or something a press agent cooked up.

In other words, this story - of the positive response by BitTorrenters when an indie filmmaker reached out to them - smacks of a fabricated publicity stunt to me. And, if it was a publicity stunt to hype the DVD, it worked.

Here's an example of the coverage Midnight Son has been receiving (thanks to Terri Schwartz on the ifc website): "There’s no guarantee that those who are downloading the movie on Pirate Bay and other BitTorrent websites would ever see it otherwise. But thanks to the thousands of downloads that “Midnight Son” has gotten on Pirate Bay alone, Compton is almost guaranteed to have interest in the movie spread through word of mouth farther than it would have otherwise. And that’s the best marketing he could have wished for, especially with a movie that doesn’t have the money for a traditional campaign to begin with."

Please understand, I applaud Matt Compton whether the ifc story is an entirely fictional account or he really did reach out to "pirates" only to find good souls and eager customers.

I'm happy to help in spreading either version of the Midnight Son story, because (in either case) it's clear that Matt Compton understands how fan culture and the internet work to publicize films in the 21st century. And that's a lesson all indie filmmakers need to learn.

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