Kevin Spacey continues to do things his own way. After all, this is an actor who shortly after winning his second Oscar ran off to England to become Artistic Director of the Old Vic rather than cashing in the way many other actors have. This is also the actor who launched an acclaimed TV series, House Of Cards on Netflix as a binge-watching experiment and wound up at the Emmys in only his first season. And today Spacey is taking his career into his own hands again with the unusual distribution plan for his latest film, Now: In The Wings On A World Stage . a documentary which recounts the ten-month world tour in which he played Richard III. Although this terrific docu is going to play theatrically (where it can also presumably qualify for Oscar consideration), it will also be available for a download purchase at KevinSpacey.com (and Nowthemovie.com which is essentially the same thing). This is a brave new world for film distribution, but so far very few big names have done it. Louis CK sells his comedy specials this way at his own website, and even Tomorrow Night, an early film he directed and starred in that had never gotten a formal release. Spacey told me he actually called Louis CK for advice on this platform and learned it can be a very profitable deal (Louis CK has reportedly grossed up to $50,000 a day with some), and a better way to get more specialized projects seen in greater numbers than might otherwise be the case.
The docu debuted last week at the Tribeca Film Festival and played one night earlier this week at L.A.’s Landmark Theatre at premium prices. I moderated a Q&A at the latter with Spacey afterwards in front of the SRO house. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an actor whose company produced The Social Network would be a forward thinker when it comes to the digital revolution and all its possibilities. “I guess I’m just continuing to do disruptive behavior. If you look at what’s happening in entertainment, particularly in terms of the way lots of emerging talents are finding ways to get their material out, and audiences who are finding all kinds of new platforms to discover content, it makes sense. It seems to me movies like this are quite often undervalued by the industry. They sort of slot them and say ‘it’s really just for a small audience’. I could have gone the traditional route and taken the film to a film festival, with a little hat in my hand, and sit in some restaurant and try to make a deal with Harvey Weinstein at midnight,” Spacey said to a big laugh. But he added that the traditional route of distribution just frustrates him when the film doesn’t get out there the way he hopes, and thinks, it can. “I have never self-distributed before. It’s a massive amount to learn in a very quick period of time. It’s very exciting. It is kind of nice to be in control.”
The film is available in the U.S. starting today and will roll out to the UK in June and around the world over the next eight to ten months. The docu works not only as a fascinating look at what it is to be in a company of actors, but also as a pretty impressive travelogue as it chronicles the troupe’s travels to Greece, China, Australia, Italy and many other stops over the course of ten months and 200 performances in the acclaimed stage production which re-united Spacey with his American Beauty director Sam Mendes. They both won Oscars for that 1999 Best Picture winner. This was a very unique experience because the company was 50% British and 50% American, just another part of the Spacey philosophy of trying something different and not being afraid to fall on your face. He decided not to “film” the play as many productions are doing now for event-style theatrical distribution. Rather,he wanted to show the process and this docu is definitely awards-worthy in that regard. “It was a unique experiment to have these British and American actors do classic work and see if it wasn’t going to be shit. The director of the film, Jeremy Whelehan , had never made a movie before but I felt if he could just sort of integrate himself into this company and disappear, then maybe the cameras will be able to capture it. Later we could figure out what it is (in editing).” he said. “In some ways I wanted to make the film for people who don’t get theatre, who don’t understand it. I also wanted to make it for people who do love theatre. And do understand it. No matter how good an actor may be in a film they will never be any better. It’s frozen. In the theatre you might be better tomorrow night than you were tonight.”
Soon Spacey goes back to work on the third season of another one of his grand experiments, House Of Cards which picked up nine Emmy nominations last season including one for Spacey as Best Actor in a Drama Series. It won two Emmys including Best Director in a Drama Series for David Fincher. It’s practically guaranteed another boatload of nominations when the 2014 list is revealed July 10, a real breakthrough show in many ways. “We made a unique step. It is the first time in TV history that a show has been given an order of two seasons without shooting a pilot,” he said explaining that every network except Netflix turned down the idea without first seeing a pilot despite their eagerness to work with Spacey and Fincher. “And the way in which they distribute the series is really just falling in line with the way audiences have been showing they want to have their entertainment. With box sets that’s really just binge watching too. I think there’s something very interesting about what the Netflix model demonstrates, that perhaps we are learning what the music industry didn’t learn. Give people what they want in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and the chances are they will buy it and not steal it. Audiences have proved one thing: that they also want to be in control,” he said.