Once Upon A Summer is a film released to DVD in 2009, and directed by Rob Diamond. It’s gotten decent reviews, and stars two actors I respect: Heather Beers (Charly, Baptists At Our Barbecue) and Matthew Reese (Beauty & The Beast, Rescued).
In other words, it’s a film I’d be interested in seeing…unfortunately, I can’t. It’s not available anywhere.
Netflix doesn’t carry any copies. Online streaming locations like Amazon, Hulu, and iTunes don’t carry it either. The local movie rental places like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video *might* have had it…if they hadn’t all gone out of business in our area over the last two years.
Basically, those who want to see Once Upon A Summer have one and only one option: purchasing the DVD for somewhere between $15 and $25 dollars from Deseret Book or other retail locations that sell LDS DVDs.
I submit that this is a problem:
Like many LDS households, we aren’t hovering on the edge of poverty but we’re not exactly rich, either: $15 is still a lot of money for disposable entertainment — more expensive than regular movie tickets and a significant cost for something that, all things considered, my wife and I will likely view just once.
We don’t generally buy DVDs at all — even of our all-time favorite movies — simply because we don’t rewatch those, either. (There’s plenty of good movies we haven’t seen, so why not spend that movie time watching something new?)
Since I’d like to think of myself as a supporter of LDS films, perhaps I should bite the bullet and view the $15 DVD charge as a “charitable contribution” to the industry? I’m doubtful that any large portion of that cost will actually be going to support the filmmakers, rather than into Deseret Book’s already substantial coffers. And even if I did spend that money as a one-time thing specifically for this movie, the costs are going to add up quickly if I did that for *every* LDS film that’s released, year to year. Going forward, depending on $15-25 “charitable contributions” for each new LDS film is not going to be a sustainable, reliable business model.
I don’t want to pay $15 to see Once Upon a Summer, but I might pay four or five. And I’m sure I’m not alone — is there a way that both LDS filmmakers and LDS film viewers can get what they want and be satisfied?
Does LDS film need a new distribution model? The current system puts LDS films at a severe disadvantage: the dependence on the movie theater network means tickets to lower-budget LDS films have to be sold at the same price as Hollywood blockbusters — a distinct competitive disadvantage. Likewise, DVD costs are fairly consistent regardless of the film.
This does not give LDS filmmakers control over the price of their product — offering a lower price to offset the perceived value due to differences in production values and budget — as independent studios can with video games or other art forms.
There are direct parallels to the music industry: many consumers did not want to pay $17-20 for a CD just for the one or two songs they liked. They were willing to pay on a per-song basis, but there was no distribution model for it. Without an “official” alternative, many turned to piracy.
However, when record companies finally provided legal song downloads, they quickly became a multi-billion dollar industry — the existence of pirated alternatives didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of people who were perfectly willing to pay for MP3 files when the opportunity was there. They were ready from the beginning to give the record companies their money…but only at the price they were comfortable with.
I have no idea if there’s a pirated copy of Once Upon A Summer out there, and have no interest in downloading it even if there was. However, $15 is still outside my comfort zone. I’d love to pay $3-4 for a one time rental — isn’t there some happy medium where filmmakers can make money and I can see the films I want at the same time?
Online streaming seems to be the wave of the future, and perhaps (given the inherent disadvantages of LDS films in the current system) LDS filmmakers need to take the lead in developing a new distribution model, rather than waiting for one to arise. Many Saints outside the Mormon corridor in the western US may also be interested in LDS films, but currently have no local theater options nor access through movie rental services, either. I may hope (selfishly) for the makers of Once Upon A Summer (and other unavailable films) to donate a handful of DVDs to Netflix to allow me and others the chance to see their work, but I’m perfectly willing to give them a few bucks directly if there was a way to do so.
What can we do to create and support a new distribution model that better fits the needs of the LDS demographic? How can LDS filmmakers take advantage of modern broadband streaming and Internet commerce to avoid having their work lost in the void (and/or exploited by Deseret Book and other large retailers that take away much of their profit margin)?