Eric and Richard, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Your latest movie Man From Earth has caused quite a stir, both within the industry and with the viewing public. To quickly give our readers the thumbnail sketch, a bootleg copy made it to the internet, and suddenly Man From Earth was in the top ten list with iMDB! This is no mean feat for an indie movie. And it had not even been released at that point!

I had originally planned to interview Eric (the perpetrator in many ways of the controversy, as it was he that sent the pirates a thank you note,  but at the last minute film director Richard Shenkman jumped in as well to help). I am always excited to talk to people that embrace new ideas, and these two are the epitome.

Eric, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born, raised and currently reside in South Jersey (Southern NJ). I am a veteran of the Home Entertainment industry in sales and marketing having worked at 20th Century Fox, MGM, Sony and currently at Starz / Anchor Bay. I have also worked with several filmmakers designing DVD campaigns and packaging for writer / director Kevin Smith (Drawing Flies) and animator Bill Plympton (“Plymptoons”) among others. I’m an avid movie buff (my DVD collection is up to 4,000 titles) and I certainly am a home theater enthusiast!

Is The Man From Earth your first foray into the movie world, it is so technically perfect, it seems more like a major studio effort than indie?

As a producer, Jerome Bixbys The Man From Earth is my first film. As far as being technically perfect, I have to give credit to my producing partner and the films director, Richard Schenkman. He did amazing, wonderful work.

Richard Schenkman: While Eric and I produced the movie together, inevitably in such a partnership work is divided along certain lines; in our case, Eric handled a lot of the business, funding, and sales aspects, while I concentrated on the actual making of the movie, which I also directed. Luckily Eric was also on set and was able to personally deal with many production issues as well.

I’ve been directing for many years, having started off making short films as a student, then working at MTV, then having my own company (making commercials, promos, music videos, etc) right up until I started making features in 1996 with The Pompatus of Love, Man From Earth is my sixth movie.

I certainly appreciate your positive reaction to the technical aspects of the film, but I can assure you it was indeed very, very low budget. It was shot digitally in only eight days, so its hardly comparable with the average studio film. Still, an audience generally neither knows nor cares (nor should they!) how large a budget a movie had; they expect it to look and feel like a movie and if it doesn’t, they notice. So it was my job to move things along as smoothly and professionally as I was able, despite any restraints.

It is often a tough proposition making an Indie movie. Was funding an issue?

Funding is ALWAYS an issue. We definitely had our work cut out for us pulling the money together for a talky, sci-fi movie that has only one location. Richard and I pooled our efforts and found a way to get the money and make the movie. I will venture to say that I think it wasn’t as challenging raising money in South Jersey as it would be in Hollywood where everyone is trying to get a movie made.

How long did it take to put The Man From Earth together?

We started putting it together in the summer of 2005 and completed the film in January of 2007. Post production probably took a little longer due to the fact that Richard had been hired to direct And Then Came Love starring Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) in the middle of post production.

I, like many others first heard about this movie as a result of the online piracy story. A few days before its release, a rogue copy found its way onto the internet. When and how did you realize that you had a problem?

I actually started seeing the film pop up on the net in September 2007. It was to be expected, as EVERY movie gets pirated. In the beginning, knowing The Man From Earth was a small independent movie, I doubted anyone would really find it. By the end of October, when we jumped from #11,235 on the IMDb MOVIE meter to #144, I knew something was going on because the movie hadn’t been released yet (outside of a handful of theatrical playdates). I never thought in a million years that we would ever be #144. Again, this was a little indie, sci-fi movie with a targeted audience and not your normal mainstream fare. How wrong I was.

The following week when we jumped to #6 (still before the DVD was released), I was shocked because again, the DVD was not out yet, but somehow awareness was through the roof. Why would this film be getting more traffic to its IMDb page than Bee Movie, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, and just about every BIG Hollywood movie on the planet? I decided to have Penza Media (the company hosting our website), run a report and see what kind of traffic we were getting at the www.manfromearth.com. When I got the report, I noticed that about the same time we were shooting up the charts on IMDb, our own website had gotten over a million hits and tens of thousands of page views. In addition, the trailer had been viewed over forty thousand times. When I drilled down into the data, I saw that a majority of the traffic was coming through a website called RLSlog.net (www.rlslog.net) where a copy of the movie had been posted and there were hundreds of posts on the message board talking about the film and how much they loved it.  After that, I Googled the name of the movie along with the word torrent and page after page came up with the movie posted followed by glowing reviews from those who had seen it. I was conflicted by what was going on. Part of me was upset that the film had been uploaded to the net and so many people were watching it for free, but another part of me was quite happy to see that they LOVED the film and it was taking on a life of its own.

Your response to the problem was unique, rather than run for a DCMA ‘take down’ notice, you embraced the situation. Can you tell us a little about this decision?

Well, it was a knee-jerk reaction. Without consulting my producing partner (sorry, Richard), I fired off a sarcastic email to one of the hosts of RLSlog.net which ‘Thanked’ them for pirating the film and for saying such nice things and making it one of the most talked about movies on the net. Early on, like any producer would, I had been forwarding the pirated links over to Starz legal team so they could have them taken down. Problem is, every time one link came down, it seemed like ten more had popped up, so after a week or two, I just gave up and sent RLSlog expressing my feelings. I knew there was no stopping the piracy, so I figured, if you can’t beat em, join em.

Reading the email back now I realized that you can’t quite tell the difference between sarcasm and sincerity in an email. Don’t get me wrong, I meant what I said (I was really grateful that they loved the film), its just that I wished they had at least paid something for having watched our film. That’s when Richard had a brilliant idea set up a PayPal account for donations and see if all of these people (a majority I guessed were outside North America) who had loved the movie so much would be willing to give a little something back. After all, we still hadn’t broken even, and anything would be better than nothing.  And this is where things REALLY blew up.

RLSlog.net posted my email for all to read. At the same time, we posted a response letting people know they could make a donation if they wanted to. At first people thought it was a scam as they really had no proof we were who we said we were. When I took my own picture in from of my computer and emailed it as proof, they added the photo to the email they had posted and the rest is history. The P2P users embraced us and I became the producer who thanked pirates for stealing his movie. It became news around the world (it was in newspapers in languages to this day I still don’t know what they say) and The Man From Earth became the most buzzed about movie on the net.

The piracy rocketed you to the #6 spot overall on IMDb during your week of release, and achieved a #14 in the Top Sci-fi movies of all time list. Obviously this is great for publicity, but has it translated into sales?

For the most part, yes. For what is basically a direct-to-video, DVD premiere, I am happy with how the movie has sold. We had amazing support from Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City, Virgin Megastore, FYE, J & R, Amazon and more (the DVD actually sold more in the second week than it did in the first). Rental accounts had been mildly supportive in the beginning (Hollywood / Movie Gallery, Netflix brought it in, but Blockbuster had passed), however when they couldn’t keep copies on the shelf they ordered more copies, and reordered, and ordered some more. From what I have heard, The Man From Earth is shaping up to be the highest turning rental title of 2007 for Anchor Bay (hear that, Blockbuster?!) and in February, the title goes back into Wal-Mart for a second round at a sale price.

Many pundits refer to the Internet as the ‘New Media’, some even claim it is making all others redundant. Is it the ‘New Media’?

Yes. Like print or television, the internet is latest way to give and get information. I still read newspapers and magazine, though. It certainly has given the term word of mouth a whole new meaning, that’s for sure.

Authors, Film Makers, and Musicians share one common trait; there is always a next project! So what is yours?

Without question I will be working with my producing partner Richard Schenkman. He’s an amazing director, writer and producer. We have two projects we are developing right now, Jessies Girl, a teen comedy thats set in the mid-1980s (sort of a Wedding Singer meets Superbad) and an action/horror film called Miscreation. Hopefully the writer strike will end soon and we can get back to business.

I really want to thank you for taking time to talk with me. I know that all the readers of Blogger News will find this interview interesting, and I am sure that many will be rushing out to get a copy of Man From Earth.

Thank you. Its been a pleasure.

Check out Man From Earth, if your local Video Store doesn’t have it, get it from Amazon.

Simon Barrett

Be Sociable, Share!