This article originated as part of a Native campaign with Vimeo On Demand.
Weed sells. Just ask the state of Colorado. But how indie filmmaker Adam Scorgie used Kickstarter and Vimeo On Demand to franchise low-grossing drug war documentary “The Union,” into a multi-picture slate is not as obvious.
The truth, according to Adam Scorgie: the traditional Hollywood route for projects related to pot and a drug war is easily received. But the point those distributors missed was the fanatical community that lives, breathes and puff puff passes cannabis on the daily. There’s even a 40 year old magazine dedicated to these “enthusiasts” — High Times.
And so Adam Scorgie trotted down a more untraditional pathway turning to digital distribution and funding — a route that has recently spiked in popularity as a more lucrative means for making and selling long form content. According to Scorgie, having a baked in following in the millions across various social media channels set them up for success as they set out to produce Scorgie’s second film, sequel to “The Union,” called “The Culture High.”
“The film had become a cult classic, and had been considered the number one film if you wanted to learn about cannabis history and how it works. From that, the cannabis community, like Cannabis Culture, Skunk Magazine and High Times, knew of our first film so when we started to release news of the sequel [they] jumped in and pushed it on their social media sites, for free, which really helped us.”
Using Kickstarter, Scorgie was able to raise $240,000 before distributing “The Culture High” on E1, a Canadian-based distributor that had retained rights for distribution in North America, and on Vimeo worldwide, a digital distribution decision that came somewhat after the fact.
“For me, it clicked right away because I knew Vimeo had the marketing power to do what a big distributor would do for a film but also we already had the built in audience and could drive people there to buy. We already had a pre-sale [deal] with E1 so I didn’t own the rights to North America but with Vimeo, we were able to push it worldwide.”
Being able to distribute worldwide is a significant game changer for indie filmmakers, who can often see many months or year-long gaps between domestic and international release. Even then, most small countries only have a handful of distributors who wage their distribution budgets on tentpole projects over indie films.
“Vimeo’s method is really trying to take care of the filmmaker with 90% [of revenue] going to the filmmaker and only 10% to Vimeo. The indie filmmakers nowadays are getting shit-kicked with nobody buying DVD’s and when you look at other routes like iTunes, they will take 50% then the distributor takes another 25–30%. And people don’t want to pay $19.99 for something they can’t physically own,” added Scorgie.
It was the early days of digital distribution when “The Culture High” was released in 2014 though and Scorgie, while still proud of the performance on Vimeo, notes that his audience still wasn’t in a state of mind to buy content digitally.
“’The Culture High’ did less than I thought but there is a new trend where people just don’t want to pay for content, necessarily. It’s not the DVD days of the 90’s where you can get into Blockbuster and sell 30,000 units. And I knew we wouldn’t stop illegal downloads so with Vimeo we were able to make it available to everyone worldwide so more people could buy. Our audience ultimately under-delivered even though “The Culture High” still did really really well,” added Scorgie.
So well in fact that Scorgie’s next film, “Ice Guardians” will see an exclusive window on Vimeo come 2016 when it is released. The film, currently in production, was funded by Canadian broadcaster Super Channel and focuses on NHL Hockey culture especially the cult fandom surrounding hockey fights.
According to Scorgie, the perks of using a platform like Vimeo On Demand for him were:
- He had control of his audience and price points
- Distributing content internationally can take months, but with Vimeo “The Culture High” was available for download in hundreds of countries instantly. This presented an advantage when combating piracy and illegal downloads.
- Vimeo On Demand allowed him to handle Kickstarter download codes without having to find a separate plug in or app, a huge benefit for Scorgie in managing his Kickstarters.
- Revenue hit his bank account almost instantly. “Distributors can hold onto your money for months” he said, but with Vimeo he saw the updates almost instantly.
- Data! “I was able to track the sales and see which countries [“The Culture High”] were high in downloads, which was really important for us.”
- “Vimeo isn’t exclusive so you can put it on other platforms after you release it on Vimeo or theatrically,” said Scorgie, which he says poses a particular benefit when trying to window or strategize day and date releases.
So while the pathway seemed untraditional, Scorgie has mapped a road that is becoming the norm, and certainly a staple in his own distribution and production strategy.