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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

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The first Australian crowd-source funded feature, The Tunnel, has broken through the fear barrier of online distribution, reports Andrew L. Urban.

In its first four days after release online via www.bittorrent.com, Aussie horror flick The Tunnel was downloaded by over 40,000 users, the equivalent of a $600,000 weekend opening at the cinemas, assuming an average ticket price of $15 – and the equivalent number willing ticket buyers.

By comparison, another recent Aussie horror flick, The Reef, took $58,000 on its first weekend, the equivalent of 3,800 paying customers at $15 each. By early Monday evening (almost 6 days), download numbers for The Tunnel exceeded 80,000; by the end of its first week (Tuesday evening), it was over 95,800, with almost 21,000 sharing. However, the comparison with Australian releases is not really valid in that The Tunnel is available online globally. And that’s precisely the reason proponents of online distribution (such as Urban Cinefile) have been urging state agencies to pursue this as a strategy for Australian film distribution. 

Downloaders of The Tunnel are asked to donate and the average donation appears to be quite high - in the $12-15 range; one donor gave $150. Not all donate, of course. 

"you do have to have a good story"

The Tunnel producer Julian Harvey says the results vindicate the team for spending a year building an online community around the film, which is also Australia’s first crowd-source funded feature. “That was one of the main drivers of the film’s online popularity, but also the fact that it’s a horror thriller, which as a genre has a strong community. But ultimately,” he adds, “you do have to have a good story.”  

Harvey says their method of financing and distribution is not necessarily the right template for everyone, “but for niche docos and genres like horror, it works.” 

Writing in his industry website, mediawave after downloading a copy and checking the quality (fine), Simon Britton says, “The Tunnel has given proponents of online distribution the first objective measure of success that we've been looking for. If the funding agencies are seriously looking at eyeballs as a better metric for the performance of Australian films (remember the Screen Australia Total Audience Viewings figure of 100 million for 2007-2009?) surely this will get their attention. 

“If Screen Australia is successful in getting the "Total Audience Viewings" metric accepted by the people in "the Government" who (according to Fiona Cameron at the Screen Australia Budget forum last week) are the ones foisting the theatrical distribution requirement on producers after the 40% offset, then we may be on the way towards getting these illogical demands changed. 

"greater potential to reach more eyeballs"

“Surely even your least-informed back-bencher won't be able to refute the logic that a campaign that includes online distribution has greater potential to reach more eyeballs than a two week, twenty-screen release with half-hearted support from distributors and exhibitors and maybe a DVD release?” 

And speaking of the DVD release, Paramount/Transmission is rumoured to have shipped some 2,000 units for the release on May 18, simultaneous with the online launch and the 10.30pm Showtime subscription TV screening – which attracted an above average audience for the timeslot of over 10,000. 

Speaking of their involvement, Transmission Joint Managing Director Andrew Mackie says “We acquired the DVD rights when they were in pre-production. We were impressed by their radical finance model, and just enjoyed meeting them - they felt like the real deal. It is important for companies like ours to remain open-minded and this presented as a great experiment.”

Published May 26, 2011

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