Ben Wheatley is a very interesting British filmmaker. In a few short years, he has managed to make the gangster film interesting again (Down Terrace), the crazy British horror film cool again (Kill List) and cross Natural Born Killers with the National Trust (Sightseers). Suffice to say, people took notice when they heard that his new film A Field in England was to be about a group of soldiers who find themselves in a remote field during the English civil war. Nobody was expecting campfires and sing-alongs. This is a Ben Wheatley film.
It is pretty difficult to describe what the film is. Shot for £300,000 in beautiful black and white, it is a bad trip of sorts, but it’s also one of the most interesting films to have been released for a long while. And while most low budget British films fall under the radar on the world stage, A Field in England has been making headlines because of the way the film has been released.
The majority of British Twitter users who used the social media platform on Friday 5th July would likely have seen their News Feed bombarded with comments and Retweets related to A Field in England. The film truly captured something, and part of that was down to the genius idea of multi-platform releasing, something that is now being hailed as a masterstroke and the future of film releasing.
The film was released at cinemas, on DVD and home media, TV on Film4 (who distributed the film) iTunes and video on demand, and the response has been overwhelming, not least to Wheatley, who was probably expecting a few nice media reviews and a few Tweets, not the see of publicity it has seen and is still seeing now.
He told the BBC this week that “the message is diluted” if an audience has to wait months for a film to be released on DVD after they have seen it at the cinema. The multi-formatting release meant that people could watch the film at the cinema, record it from the TV for a second viewing – which the film definitely requires as its absolutely crazy – and then purchase the DVD the next day. All that within 24 hours of seeing the film for the first time. What a great idea. But will it catch on?
Hugely respected UK film critic Mark Kermode certainly seems to think so, judging by this Tweet, where he also included a link to the Film4 blog that revealed the results of the risky but clever experiment in film distribution:
The facts of the experiments are this: It has certainly worked for Wheatley’s weird and wonderful film, and could definitely work again. It would be interesting to see if it would work on a larger budget film. There will almost certainly be a film distribution company somewhere planning to do it right this very second. It’s a big risk though, especially from the TV side. Once a film has been recorded on Sky+ it eliminates the need to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray for any other reason bar the Special Features, and not everybody wants them anyway. It will be very interesting to see if a big studio will risk a big release in this way.
For low budget, independent and experimental films, however, multi-platform distribution seems to be win-win. A Field in England was never going to break box office records, but this successful experiment proves that there is a wider audience for these kinds of films than people sometimes realise. It seems that by releasing the film this way, A Field in England has found theirs.