'Client 9': Many Ways to Watch One Film

A couple of nights ago, Eliot Spitzer's new TV show, Parker Spitzer debuted on CNN. In an unintended McLuhan-esque irony, my film, Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, became available on video on demand and iTunes on October 1. It will be released in theaters on November 5.

The film looks at a familiar story and finds all sorts of things that are utterly unfamiliar.  There are many hidden stories—about sex, money, power, and political bloodsport—beneath the headline version that I hope will make the film compelling for viewers. I include a clip here:

In addition to the tale of Client 9 there is also an entertainment business story in the release of my film. In the past, my theatrical documentaries were released first in theaters, then on DVD, and then on some form of television.  This time, my distributor Magnolia Pictures has elected to give viewers a sneak-preview of the film via vdeo on demand and iTunes, among other outlets. The theory is that the pre-release will stir demand for movie-goers even as it focuses promotional efforts on one moment, rather than many.

Theaters have resisted this kind of approach in the past.  I would hope that they would embrace this as an experiment.  The fact is that viewers are getting used to watching media on a variety of platforms.  Trailers look good on iPhones.  Big-screen TVs and stereo systems offer commodious environments at home—with the sensory immersion that comes from a good movie theater.  Yet going out of the house is also a draw, particularly for movies that provoke discussion.

This collapsing of windows might also steer theaters to improve the theatrical experience, offering real food and drink (nothing like sampling tapas for the latest Almodovar or drinking a martini while watching The Thin Man) instead of stale popcorn, and hooking up either in-person appearances or live beamed events with directors, actresses, etc.  In the past, actual escorts have been known to show up for screenings of Client 9. That's what Eamonn Bowles, the president of Magnolia, calls "letting the consumer decide."   At home or at the theater: you make the call.

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Alex Gibney is a documentary filmmaker who made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. He has won an Emmy, a Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and a Grammy. More

Alex Gibney is the writer, director and producer of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, the Oscar-nominated film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, narrated by Johnny Depp. In post-production on My Trip to Al Qaeda, based on the play by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Lawrence Wright, Gibney is also filming a documentary on Lance Armstrong. Gibney served as executive producer for No End in Sight, which was also nominated for an Oscar; a producer for Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, a film about the jazz legend's collaboration with musical talents such as Santana, Sting, and Christina Aguilera; and consulting producer on Who Killed the Electric Car. Gibney's producing credits also include the classic concert film Lightning in a Bottle, directed by Antoine Fuqua; The Blues, an Emmy-nominated series of seven films in association with executive producer Martin Scorsese; and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. Gibney is the recipient of many awards including the Emmy, the Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and the Grammy.

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