Airlock, the new online sci-fi series from the makers of The Tunnel may be set in a claustrophobic space station, but producer Enzo Tedeschi knows how to breathe fresh air into the sometimes stale atmosphere of film marketing. Caroline Baum reports.
A high-octane talker, Tedeschi is an enthusiastic advocate of new ways to engage with audiences.
“The one-size-fits-all model designed for a theatrical release doesn’t work for every film. It’s about blasting the public with lots of money and advertising in the hope that you might cut through to reach the people you actually need to reach. It’s risky – the film’s exposed to variables like the weather on your opening weekend, or whatever Hollywood blockbuster is opening up against you or has a bigger budget to spend on ads.
“Instead of using that approach and hoping people will come to us, we have a philosophy of going to where our audiences are.
“For Airlock we’ll release a first episode online for free, and ask viewers to pay a small fee to watch the rest of the series. To build a groundswell before launch, we recently released some of the production’s music online via a music video. We also previewed Airlock at Supanova where 48,000 sci-fi and horror fans came through the door. While the preview screening was small, those viewers are now the early evangelists who are spreading the word among their friends.”
Tedeschi has always adopted a radical approach to production – case in point, The Tunnel. He raised a substantial portion of the film’s actual production budget by asking online supporters to pledge $1 towards individual frames of the film. When it was released, those supporters were given their digital frame, creating a very real sense of connectedness to the project.
“The challenge with that model is that you can’t charge the same people who helped you make the film, to see it,” says Tedeschi. “So we needed a different kind of release strategy too. We released the film for free on BitTorrent (software using a distributed peer to peer file sharing system) and reached an audience of thirteen million viewers. We used that film and that strategy as our calling card.”
The association with BitTorrent was not without controversy: “It got us quite a lot of publicity, at a time when piracy was just becoming a big issue. We knew there was a significant overlap between Bit Torrent users and the Sci-Fi/ Horror audience. But instead of fighting the piracy behaviour, we co-opted it and turned it to our advantage. That coincided with Bit Torrent themselves striving to change the perception of what they do. They’ve collaborated with other artists like Thom Yorke, who released his last album with them and had millions of legal downloads, so the culture is changing. You have to make it as simple as possible to buy your product.”
Made with a budget of $AUD 600,000, Airlock was shot in ten days in the same Gladesville warehouse as the high concept movie Infini.
As part of the marketing strategy, the production team made a compelling EPK video going behind the scenes during the shoot, talking to cast member Mark Coles Smith and director Marc Furmie. This has been an important part of building the online audience ahead of release.
“Creating more content around the thing you are selling is all part of getting audiences invested in the project. I think viewers are prepared to watch something rough and ready, when it offers them insight into how something is created. Behind-the-scenes content doesn’t have to have slick production values, it just needs a bit of forethought and to demonstrate that the film has big meaty themes. In Airlock, we are using sci-fi as a sandbox in which to play with a very topical and contentious subject – refugees.
Airlock will screen on 10 July at Melbourne Webfest – part of a growing network of festivals of online content now running in parallel with traditional film showcases.
“It’s not Sundance or Cannes, but it’s growing rapidly and is important to have a presence there” says Tedeschi. “It’s a chance to network, win awards and then go on to other online festivals in LA, Marseille and Toronto.”
Airlock will be available online from Monday 6 July. Go to: www.deadhousefilms.com/titles/airlock