Illegal Downloads Made 'Man From Earth' a Hit; Now What to Do for an Encore?

The Man from Earth - P 2013

The Man from Earth - P 2013

File-sharing sites frequently mean the death of a movie -- but for director Richard Schenkman, they became the dream distribution model.

Is all illegal downloading bad for business? Perhaps, on paper. But it's the major reason director Richard Schenkman and producer Eric D. Wilkinson are readying a sequel to their 2007 film The Man From Earth — one of the few “viral” feature films.

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Tuesday, Schenkman and Wilkinson launched a Kickstarter campaign for Man From Earth: Millennium, which follows the original film's lead character, John Oldman (David Lee Smith), a Cro-Magnon who managed to survive 14,000 years. Man From Earth was penned by the late science fiction writer Jerome Bixby, who passed away before the script landed with Schenkman. While it was a difficult decision for Schenkman and Wilkinson to write a sequel without the support of Bixby, fan admiration persuaded them to return to the material.

The hope is to tap the rabid Internet audience that helped Man From Earth spread like wildfire. The film wasn't the easiest sell -- it's overtly theatrical, heavy on conversation and existential pondering. Not the type of sci-fi that “fanboy” audiences go gaga for. After premiering at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con and making the festival rounds in 2007, Man From Earth quietly settled onto DVD later that year. Or, at least, that's what Anchor Bay anticipated.

Instead, Man From Earth became a BitTorrent blockbuster. According to Wilkinson, someone got their hands on a screener of the film days before the DVD release, and with a press of a button the film was being downloaded on file-sharing sites across the Internet.

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“To be clear, they weren't paying for it,” Schenkman explains in the Kickstarter video. “But they were downloading it, watching it, sharing it with their friends, and posting online about it. Even on IMDb.” In one week, Man From Earth jumped 7,700 percent on IMDb's MOVIEmeter, a statistic that tracks activity on a film's page, becoming the most searched sci-fi movie on the site. Both filmmakers cite the illegal traction as having a positive impact on legal sales of the film.

With a crowdsourcing campaign, Schenkman and Wilkinson hope to tap into that same fervor. “The simple truth is that if only a tiny fraction of the people who illegally downloaded Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth donated $5 to this campaign, we'd be funded several times over!” they state on the site.

If the duo raise the $175,000, their hope is to shoot the film in January 2014 with a release date planned for later that year. Which means you can expect it on file-sharing sites a few weeks before then.