Start Me Up

Tuesday, November 26 2013
Start Me Up

Who would be an independent label releasing classic films in the high definition era? There may be a wealth of movies out there crying out for restorations, high definition transfers and proper releases replete with supporting information and gorgeous packaging, but it’s a hugely costly enterprise.

Blu-ray is more expensive than its disc-based predecessor for starters, film stock is deteriorating making costs for restoration even greater. Marketing costs aren’t getting cheaper, and there aren’t as many retailers around to even take the titles if you can get them to market – those out there may not stock releases in any meaningful way if at all, it could take months if not years to even recoup costs.

But help could be at hand. If high quality, high definition restorations may initially appear to be financially prohibitive, Kickstarter could take away the risk factor.

Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website that gets fans to pledge money towards passion projects, has been hugely popular for films for some time now – everyone from struggling first-time directors to far bigger names, such as Zach Braff, who got the necessary budget for his sophomore directorial outing through the crowdfunding website, has been using it. But Arrow’s move to seek backing for one of its planned 2014 releases is one of the first times a video label has looked to fund a release through the site.

For a label such as Arrow, in all its guises, taking in the best of cinema from around the globe, from award-winning foreign language films to scuzzier, old horror flicks from the golden age of video, it’s a bold, but logical move. Quality is always key for the company, even when it’s looking at low budget titles, meaning newly-created artwork, extensive sleeve booklets – and that’s before you even get to the specially-created extra features on the disc and lovingly restored films. The expense is huge and, as we all know, it’s not a guaranteed success. Often it can partner with other labels overseas, but if those joint venture allies fail to materialise, then it could mean curtains for a project,

This is the fate that seemed to face Walerian Borowczyk’s Goto. Arrow’s Academy imprint is on a mission to bring his works to a wider market and to restore the director’s reputation, but this one was looking to be a bridge too far.

As Arrow’s Francesco Simeoni says: “We’ve restored two Borowczyk features and nine short films off our own backs, that’s the only reason these films will see the light of day. Goto is through another rights holder so we never banked on this one at the outset as we thought the rights holder would be doing it, but whilst Argos Films in Paris restored The Beast and Immoral Tales they did not extend that to Goto due to the projected sales to other territories.

“We had just had great success in combining resources with colleagues in France and Australia to restore Brian De Palma’s The Fury but when we approached companies who had released it in the past in the US, Germany and France and others who we thought might be interested. No one was willing. We couldn’t shoulder the cost on our own so Kickstarter was the perfect platform not only to give the film a wider audience but also raise funds for it. With the context of his other films, a spanking new restoration and the feedback we’re seeing so far, we might just be able to make this film a commercial success for the first time.”

It’s an expensive project, as Goto was not in the best condition. As the company notes on its Kickstarter page: “Time has not been kind to Goto. During the early 1970s, the original camera negative was destroyed in a fire. What is more, the startling flashes of colour photography that punctuate this black and white film have often been missing from both television screenings and video releases,” it says. “The plan is to ship all of the surviving film elements from the French National Film Archive to Deluxe laboratories in London, where they will be scanned at 2K resolution and restored in high definition under the supervision of James White.”

The total cost, and Arrow’s Kickstarter goal, is £20,000. Anyone pledging £20 will receive copies of the finished Blu-ray, and, in a sliding scale, those pledging other amounts will get the whole Borowczyk box from Arrow containing the other films, as well as, at the upper end of the scale, credits in the accompanying booklet or on the disc itself.

The crowdfunding effort was kick-started by another of his devotees, Terry Gilliam. Says Simeoni: “Being presented by Terry Gilliam has of course helped immensely but the whole reason for the Kickstarter was that Borowczyk has really become misunderstood as a filmmaker, thought of as an art-porno curio now he was actually hailed as a great artist in the 1960s, the successor to Bunuel and Bresson but due to the unavailability of much of his work the context was lost. We hope this boxset is going to correct that and people will realise what an incredible director he was. Many of the films we are releasing in our boxset have never even been on video let alone DVD and many will be making DVD premieres in addition so having nearly everything bumped direct to Blu-ray from new restorations is incredibly exciting and the films are so visually rich it’s all the sweeter.”

“Kickstarter and Gilliam have given this project a huge platform and we’ve been buoyed by having the support of influential filmmakers, critics and academics supporting the project and spreading the word through social networks.”

The strategy seems to have worked and although there’s still some way to go, more than £16,000 of the £20,000 has been pledged, and the appeal will be in place until the middle of January.

“Launching our Borowczyk collection through Kickstarter has been one of the most thrilling projects I have been involved with,” says Arrow’s Francesco Simeoni. “From the second Kickstarter greenlit it, we put the link through our social media and surprisingly it just took off, within seconds we had raised £300 and then we were checking every hour. In less than 12 hours we had raised 20 per cent of our goal and it didn’t let up, at the time of writing we’re about to hit 50 per cent, less than two days later [it has now gone past the 80 per cent mask].”

It looks like the project will become a reality and Arrrow is planning to keep the campaign running with regular updates for fans. As Simeoni concludes: “We will be sustaining excitement with a dedicated website and blog for the project which will have updates right up to the retrospective at the BFI and exhibition at the ICA, by which point we are sure that anticipation will have reached fever pitch for the DVD and Blu-ray release.”

Here’s the promotional film put together, you can see the Kickstarter page here.

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