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Illegal downloading is a good thing -- at least when it comes to pushing INK

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This weekend, INK, a movie shot locally for $250,000 and self-distributed by Double Edge Films, was uploaded to various torrent servers such as the Pirate Bay. In just a few days, the movie has been downloaded nearly half a million times. By Hollywood's calculations, this is a massive loss of revenue and a tragedy. But for the producers of INK, it's been a blessing. In the course of three days, the movie has experienced an 83,000 percent increase in popularity on the Internet Movie Database and driven hundreds of visitors to their site, where they've wisely set up a means for illegal downloaders who enjoyed the film to donate. We talked to producer Kiowa Winans to get her take on the experience and how it will affect the film -- and possibly her future films.

Westword: Am I correct that you see this as a positive thing? Basically, a massive, free marketing push via torrents?

Kiowa Winans: Hollywood studios shudder at the mention of piracy, and they should, because it is stealing, after all. We are in a different position than films with millions of dollars sunk into a marketing plan in the hopes that everyone will crowd into the theater on opening weekend. All we have is word-of-mouth to grow our fanbase and number of people who know about the film. So yes, this is about the best possible free marketing campaign a small indie filmmaker could ask for.

WW: Do you expect this to translate into higher sales/rentals? Have you already seen an uptick in sales via the website and/or orders from retailers?

KW: We have already seen an increase in direct sales off our website. We have also added a donate link that says "If you watched INK online for free and would like to contribute what you can, please click here." Not only are people donating, they are writing us saying thank you for making the film and for encouraging them to pay what they can because they can't afford a full DVD. Many of the people downloading the film seem to be out of the US and apparently INK has already been subtitled in Croatian. It's astounding.

WW: Would you consider then releasing a future film as a torrent yourself, as a way to spread the word?

KW: I'm not sure we would release the film ourselves over torrent, though the one advantage to that would be making sure the proper links are attached to the film. I don't think many of the downloaders realize that INK is a fiercely independent film made entirely in Colorado without any studio funds or influence. If more people knew about our website and donate button, I think we would see even more sales traffic.

WW: Have there been negative aspects to this as well, or has it been viewed as a positive from the beginning (from when you first heard anyway)?

KW: It's been a lot to digest... we don't download anything illegally and believe artists should be paid for their hard work. That said, piracy is a very real thing these days and probably won't go away anytime soon. We're turning into a "make me happy first" society where we expect to be delighted and entertained before we make a purchase. I don't entirely disagree with this idea... it means that content will just have to get better. This is why Hollywood is freaking out -- their whole marketing strategy over the past ten years is to trick people into seats on opening weekend. The movie doesn't have to be good, it just has to be well-advertised. In a very strange way, I think that piracy is going to force studios to make better films.

WW: Is it safe to say you don't consider each of these downloads a lost sale, as the big studios seem to take each download when calculating "lost revenue"?

KW: For us it's not a lost sale, it's a new audience member that we might not otherwise get. We don't have the marketing clout to reach around the world and tell everyone about our film. So instead of viewing it as money lost we view it as fans won.

WW: Any thing else you'd like to say on the subject of torrents or this experience?

KW: We're still navigating this current, so we'll see how we feel about it in another week! The massive amounts of downloads have manifested in a very interesting way -- our IMDb MovieMeter rating has jumped to 16 from 12,991 last week. It is astounding that our film made locally with $250,000 is currently more popular that Where the Wild Things are and Saw VI, both of which have huge studio backing and well-known titles. Sure, I'd love to at least have $1 for each of those downloads, but I feel confident that it will all come back to us at some point. We are just thrilled to have the exposure.

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