What’s Freeman doing rethinking Hollywood’s business models?
“I’m just a firm believer that things continue to grow, get better,” the 69-year-old actor says in his deep, distinctive voice.
Freeman seems more full of life both on-screen and off than ever.
At his home in Clarksdale, Miss., where he lives with his wife of 12 years, he’s an avid pilot, sailor and owns a blues club and a restaurant.
He has more than a half-dozen films either finished or in preproduction. Freeman’s esteemed career which has spanned “Driving Miss Daisy, “Glory,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Se7en” and last year’s “March of the Penguins” shows no signs of slowing down.
Moviegoers are accustomed to seeing Freeman’s weary eyes exude gravitas and dignity in films a kind of pigeonholing Freeman has long yearned to break free of. In “10 Items or Less,” he’s a clearly lighter presence.
The film, directed by Brad Silberling, is a short, independent movie about independent movies. Freeman’s character is an actor who has been out of the movie biz for four years who’s considering signing onto “a little independent thing.”
He researches the prospective part by observing a grocery store checkout girl (Paz Vega). The two quickly forge a friendship and spend a pivotal day together.
While “10 Items or Less” a modest film of 82 minutes, shot in 15 days is best viewed on the big screen (like all movies), its smallness makes a computer screen a reasonable viewing station. Perhaps more importantly, it’s not a film that will play at most multiplexes or in rural areas.
It’s a familiar problem to Freeman.
“Where I live, in my town, there’s no movie house,” he says. “There are many, many, many, many people who don’t have access.”
Freeman and his production partner, Lori McCreary, founded Revelations Entertainment in 1996 three years after Freeman’s lone directing effort, “Bopha!”
“I want to have control over making films. I really do,” says Freeman.
After Napster and online downloading changed the music industry, Freeman and McCreary began considering how Hollywood could head off similar problems discussions that Intel eventually joined.
“And we came up with the idea of distributing movies via the Internet on a stable platform, on something that you can control,” Freeman says.
The idea isn’t new; Movielink.com, for one, offers movies digitally for purchase and rental (with a viewing period of 24 hours). What makes Clickstar unique is that it’s offering first-run movies.
“10 Items or Less” will have a two-week window of a purely theatrical release, then will be available from ClickstarInc.com on Dec. 15. Freeman says its next first-run digital release will be “Lonely Hearts” (starring John Travolta and James Gandolfini) in the spring.
Other filmmakers have begun to re-examine how they release their films. Last year, Steven Soderbergh released the indie “Bubble” across three platforms over just five days: in theaters, on the high-definition cable channel HDNet and on DVD.
Freeman, however, thinks the risk of piracy with DVDs is too great (especially in foreign countries) and that coded downloads present a safer avenue for distribution. It also helps level the playing field between independent productions and the studios.
“You can come up with money sometimes to make a film, but you can’t distribute it because it costs a lot to get prints and advertising,” Freeman says.
The obvious fear is that digital downloads made available so close to the theatrical release could cannibalize the box office.
Silberling, whose credits include wide-release films such as “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Moonlight Mile,” thinks the Internet simply presents another audience to penetrate.
“I don’t think broadband is going to shift viewing patterns,” the director says. “I think hopefully people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it might now. People who like to go to that theater and get popcorn will go.”
Both Freeman and Silberling think Hollywood doomsayers will be proven wrong on Internet distribution in the same way that fears of TV, the VHS and DVDs all (to a certain extent) turned out to be exaggerated. They believe digital downloads present the future of home entertainment and expect it to spread prominently within a few years.
But concerns about the unknown don’t bother Freeman much. He recently took up golf, and to hear him speak about it, he might just as well be discussing Clickstar.
“I’m enjoying the attempt,” he says with a laugh. “I’m trying to master a new discipline, which I guess is something we should all do, anyway.”