FilmBuff CEO Janet Brown on Adam Carolla’s ‘Road Hard’ and the Future of Streaming

“I think we’re at the beginning of what’s possible,” digital distribution exec tells TheWrap in new edition of “Office With a View”

Adam Carolla may hate Hollywood, but luckily, movies like his directorial debut “Road Hard” are finding more and more avenues of being made and distributed outside the system.

Carolla crowdfunded the project — breaking records in the process — and teamed with digital distribution and marketing company FilmBuff on his new movie about a comedian who hits the road.

“What Louis CK did a few years ago [selling DVDs of his comedy show for $5 on his website], going directly to fans, this to me almost feels like the next evolution of that,” FilmBuff CEO Janet Brown told TheWrap. “Adam has been a record-breaking successful podcaster since 2009 so he’s been going direct to fans this whole time. He’s taken the release of his feature film one step further.”

FilmBuff was founded in 2007 and the digital space has changed a lot since then. In a wide-ranging interview, Brown discussed working with Carolla on his directorial debut, how crowdfunding lends itself to the digital space, and whether theatrical and streaming can co-exist in the future.

How did FilmBuff get involved with “Road Hard”?
We heard about the film and simultaneously Adam’s team had heard about us and some prior projects we had done in the Autumn, so we connected and — not to speak for Adam’s team — but we really understood what they were looking for. What we offered was a very artist-driven, collaborative approach where we definitely were working with Adam on all of the direct messaging he has with his fans, that awareness and all of those things that he brings to the table already. So we worked with him not just to optimize that so we’re able to reach his current fanbase, but also cross over and garner new fans and really grow his fanbase.

What Louis CK did a few years ago, going directly to fans, this to me almost feels like the next evolution of that. Adam has been a record-breaking successful podcaster since 2009 so he’s been going direct to fans this whole time. He’s taken the release of his feature flm one step further and is enabling not only his fans to buy directly from his site, which they’ll be able to do, but also working with us to really expand access and awareness and go out to all the other platforms as well — cable, satelite, broadband and we’re doing a full theatrical release. It’s kind of a best of both worlds approach, which really maximizes access and awareness to the film.

Is it an unusual situation or will this kind of partnership happen on more films?
The Louis CK thing is indicative of this, I think. Sound City’s release last year is indicative. These things are starting to go. We’ve worked with other artists in a similar way, where it’s really about collaboration and partnership and helping them get the best out of their base, at the same time increasing access and awareness. I think as filmmakers are coming to the table with their own fan base — or as nontraditional people with a fanbase are becoming filmmakers — we see ourselves in this unique position of being a true collaborator and partner. It’s a very different role from what I would say a traditional distributor does. We’re definitely strategically engaged in figuring out what are you bringing, what are we bringing, and how can we really have one plus one equals three here.

Do  you think crowdfunding is going to become more synonymous with the digital space?
I think it certainly lends itself to it. It’s a really easy way to start getting the fans you do have activated as well as to grow the number of fans by having people jump on the wagon and participating in a project. It starts an early groundswell of awareness and support for the project. That means that it lowers the amount of money you need to spend to market it later, because you’ve already been having this crescendo of awareness happening through the crowdfunding. It’s so different from the studio model, where primarily the awareness comes from a big marketing spend pretty quickly before release, say, starting a couple months out. In “Road Hard’s” case, the awareness is starting a couple of years out, from when he was trying to raise the money to make the movie in the first place. Plus, having all the email addresses of everybody who’s contributed really helps, being able to go back to them and keep them abreast of everything that’s happening and when they can get the film. It really does seem like a fantastic match of technologies that help these kinds of artists access and grow their fanbase.

Does it need to evolve or change in any way in order to be sustainable?
I think we’re at the beginning of what’s possible. This is just kind of the beginning of innovative ways you can use that direct connection to fans in combination with broader distribution platforms and marketing to really make some incredible campaigns come to life with really efficient spends. I think that kind of promise is very clearly there and we’re really excited about this film as a very good example of that promise. Each new film coming out along these lines is going to start to grow the potential of what’s really happening here.

Adding crowdfunding in as an earlier step in distribution is going to see even greater returns come in the distribution window. That potential is probably something we’re just seeing the beginning of.

Is there any stigma left attached to releasing movies digitally as opposed to theatrically?
There have been so many successes and so many fantastic companies doing innovative things, whether it’s what we’re doing or our friends at RadiUS, IFC or Magnolia, everyone is being very experimental and trying to find these great matches of stories that work for these distribution models. I may be biased, but there isn’t a stigma attached to it at all. Everyone sees that it’s a fantastic way to get your film in front of more people than you would ever be able to do theatrically, at a much lower cost, with higher splits. The split on dollars spent by the consumer is much higher in this world. So you’re spending less, to make more and reaching more people, all on day one. That is an incredible opportunity as a storyteller.

What do you think the future of streaming is in relation to traditional theatrical releases? Will they compliment to each other or is everything moving towards streaming?
The way we view it in general, looking forward, is that theatrical can absolutely make sense. A traditional theatrical window can still make sense for some films, and a day-and-date theatrical model has certainly proved interesting over the past few years for other films. There’s a third model which I think is using theatrical as a way to galvanize grassroots efforts. There are a number of companies in this space, where you put on a screening, and it may not be a traditional run in a traditional theater but it really serves the purpose of galvinizing an interest group. And then there’s a fourth model where there’s no theatrical and that might be appropriate for other movies.

So it’s really hard to say that there’s a one size fits all, at least at this point. We’re seeing so many different models and we’re seeing them work on different films.