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Soderbergh Film Released Simultaneously in Theater, on DVD


Bubble is a new film by Steven Soderbergh, opening in theaters tomorrow. But if you don't want to see it in a theater, you can watch it at home. NPR's Kim Masters explains.

KIM MASTERS: Bubble is a peculiar little movie about a love triangle that arises among workers in a doll factory in a gloomy Ohio town. Filmed without stars, or even professional actors, the dialogue is largely improvised.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (in "Bubble") This is your date?

WOMAN: (in "Bubble") Yeah.

WOMAN: (in "Bubble") Mm hmm. And you're driving?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (in "Bubble") I am. I borrowed a friend off mine, a car off my friend.

WOMAN: (in "Bubble") Oh.

MASTERS: Soderbergh directed Traffic and Erin Brockovitch, but he likes to experiment with smaller films. When Bubble is released Friday in a few dozen theaters, it will also air on the HDNet movie cable channel. And on Tuesday, the DVD will go on sale in stores for a premium price of 29 dollars, and 99 cents.

TODD WAGNOR: It's still just an experiment.

MASTERS: Todd Wagner runs the multi-faceted media company behind Bubble's release, along with his partner, Mark Cuban. They own the production company that financed Bubble, as well as the HDNet Cable Channel, and the Landmark Theater chain. And they plan to release several more movies this year in the same way.

MARK CUBAN: We are at a point where it's like, let's wipe the chalkboard clean, and let's rethink the model. But I am saying that the old way is almost certainly not the way it needs to be for the future.

MASTERS: Naturally, the idea that a film would be available on DVD while its making its debut in theaters is not one that appeals to theater owners. Wagner says they shouldn't worry. He thinks simultaneous release of films will only expand the pie.

WAGNER: People will go to the movies because they want to go to the movies. So, this to me is positioning yourself to go after the other 90 percent of the population that are not frequent moviegoers.

MASTERS: And unlike the major studios, which don't share DVD revenues with theater owners, Wagner says his company is giving one percent of DVD proceeds back to the exhibitors. That can be very helpful in a business that ekes out tight profits. But Kendrick McDowell, of the National Association of Theater Owners, says people won't keep going to the theaters in the same numbers if a DVD is available at the time of a film's initial release.

KENDRICK MCDOWELL: Boy, do I wish all of our patrons were diehard moviegoers, that regardless of any external influence, would be showing up at the movies every week; that would make our business modeling a great deal easier. It's just not the case. At the margins, you will loose people who will not go to the movies if they can get it on DVDs the same day.

MASTERS: Some major theater chains are declining to show Bubble, and theater owners aren't the only ones who object. M. Night Shyamalon, the director of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, has also come out against the idea of simultaneous release. Preaching to the choir, he told a meeting of theater owners last October that films must and should have their initial release exclusively in theaters. Shyamalon compared the experience of watching Shrek on DVD, and in a theater. Watching it on DVD was amusing, he said, but...

NIGHT SHYAMALON: Then I go to a theater and watch it with 15 kids and their families, and suddenly, I start feeling it like a kid, and start seeing it in a different way. There's all this, just slight change in all of us, where we're all connected.

MASTERS: If films are simultaneously released on DVD as Shyamalon predicted, many theaters will go out of business, and his medium, ultimately, will be changed forever.

SHAMALON: This thing I'm talking about is the magic of movies.

MASTERS: Kendrick Mcdowell of the Theater Owners Association agrees with Shyamalon, but he thinks Bubble is too slight of a film to be decisive in this battle

MCDOWELL: Whatever happens, it's really not a relevant experiment to the larger question of simultaneously release.

MASTERS: Todd Wagner and his partner are aware that Bubble is a small film with no stars. He says Bubble shouldn't be overburdened with big expectations.

WAGNER: This is testing. This isn't definitive. So, what?

MASTERS: Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kim Masters
Kim Masters covers the business of entertainment for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She joined NPR in 2003.
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