‘Ink’ – The Movie That Blew Up On BitTorrent

In November 2009, an indie movie received unprecedented worldwide attention after becoming a massive hit on BitTorrent networks. 'Ink', which was downloaded well in excess of 400,000 times, shot into the top 20 movies on iMDb. In a new interview, the creators talk about their experience and the future of movie distribution.

Written and directed by Jamin Winans, Ink is an indie movie about a mercenary who appears in the dreams of a comatose 8 year old girl. As with most movies, one part of the story was particularly predictable. It was quickly ripped and ended up on BitTorrent.

Just over a week after becoming available online in early November 2009, Ink pushed into TorrentFreak’s chart of top 10 most pirated movies with an incredible 400,000 downloads.

Unlike the majority of Hollywood movie bosses, the creators of Ink – Jamin and Kiowa Winans – decided to embrace their new-found pirate fans after the extra publicity pushed the movie to 16th place on IMDb’s movie meter and boosted DVD and Blu-ray sales. Kiowa wrote to TorrentFreak and said that the movie ending up on BitTorrent was “absolutely” the best thing that could’ve happened to it.

Now, Lars Sobiraj from German news outlet Gulli has interviewed Kiowa to see how things have progressed a couple of months on from the initial excitement.

As previously reported, Ink has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, so just how many of those translated into real-world sales? Kiowa says that is really hard to put an exact figure on that – they haven’t sold a DVD or Blu-ray for every download but sales have unquestionably gone up.

Money also came in from other routes too. As the movie gained popularity on BitTorrent, many Ink downloaders suggested that there should be a ‘donate’ button on the movie’s website so that fans could give money freely.

“We put that [donation link] up at the urging of some of the downloaders with the message ‘if you have watched Ink online for free and would like to contribute what you can, click here’,” Kiowa explains.

“Guess what country has been the most generous? Germany! Germans have been twice as generous as Americans so… thank you Germany. We have also shipped a lot of Deluxe Bundle fan packs to Germany so Ink seems to be a big hit there.”

Gulli asked Kiowa if she felt the movie had fallen victim to piracy, a notion she strongly denies.

“I think to say victim is to characterize piracy as an all-together awful thing. The piracy of Ink is unquestionably responsible for its popularity around the world. Sure our trailers have been out for over a year and have had plenty of views outside the US, but we think that 70% of the illegal downloads are coming from outside of the US and we do get a good number of international buyers at our online store every day,” she explained.

Before Ink was pirated, the movie’s IMDb rating was a lowly 12,991. As reported in our earlier article, it reached 16 and even moved up to the 14th position at one stage. Incredibly it has stayed as one of the top 200 movies in the world for the last two months, a feat that would have been impossible without the extra exposure.

Looking forward to future distribution models, Kiowa feels that everything will change during the next 10 years as people demand instant and simple access to media and their TVs and computers merge together into one device.

“That said, I’m not sure what the revenue model will be for films,” she notes. “Hollywood producers are quickly finding out that the instant films start circulating on DVD they will wind up on torrent sites.”

Kiowa broadly puts BitTorrent users into two camps – those who want media in an instant and those who want it for free. Noting that there are those who fall into both categories, she acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead in figuring out a way to make this situation bring revenue to the filmmakers.

“I think a reasonably-priced instant download the moment the movie becomes available would largely cure the piracy issue so we will see how it all shakes out over the next several years,” she adds.

As most observers are aware, many music and movie companies consider torrent sites as entities to be crushed and in recent years have set about a strategy to achieve that. Gulli asked Kiowa if she believes that is the correct strategy to deal with the problem.

While one could argue that non-physical digital formats such as MP3 are part of the reason that piracy has flourished in recent years, Kiowa feels that the invention of the iPod has helped to reduce piracy, largely through the existence of competition from one service – iTunes. The movie industry needs to catch up.

“Until the equivalent of the iPod is invented for film or long-format video files I think that piracy is going to be a huge battle ground, one in which I doubt Hollywood will win,” Kiowa predicts.

“There is always a smarter programmer out there that can move faster than bureaucracy. The film industry really needs to set its sights on overhauling its distribution system. Right now there are horrible things like region-coded DVDs that tie up a film’s rights in various countries and this is what has made the film business plenty of money over the years.”

The industry needs to move its thinking to encompass global distribution, says Kiowa, not concentrate on pushing movies out to dozens of separate territories.

“We are going to keep all the rights to Ink and not give them away country-by-country so that when that iPod-for-movies emerges Ink can be the first film that debuts to the whole world,” she says, adding: “That is the hope anyway.”

Looking to the future, partner Jamin is currently working on scripts for two new films, one a sci-fi psychological thriller called ‘The Frame’ and another a sci-fi fantasy called ‘Myth of Man’.

“For the time being we’re just really happy that Ink is rolling along and gaining fans around the world. How ever people come to the film, we’re just happy that they are watching it, Kiowa concludes.

“As Jamin likes to say, the battle of independent films is not piracy, it’s obscurity. Hey – at least we’re winning that one!”

The full interview conducted by Lars Sobiraj, is available here.

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