On Sept. 23, the controversial filmmaker will release his new documentary, "Slacker Uprising," exclusively online as a free download for three weeks at slackeruprising.com. The unique release is believed to be the first time a major motion picture has made its debut online before receiving any theatrical distribution, DVD release or TV airing.
Tour of swing states
The documentary was filmed during Mr. Moore's 62-city tour of swing states in the weeks prior to the 2004 presidential election, and features appearances from Roseanne Barr, Eddie Vedder, Joan Baez, R.E.M. and Viggo Mortensen, among others. A DVD version of "Slacker Uprising" will be available to order on the film's official site starting Sep. 23 before a packaged version is available in retail stores and through Amazon and Netflix on Oct. 7.
Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Films, the documentary's distributor, said there are no plans to promote the film through any paid advertisements "unless someone comes forward and gives us money to do it." The $2 million film was co-financed by Mr. Moore and the Weinstein Co., which got involved before Mr. Greenwald and Brave New Films signed on as the distributor.
Minimal ad spending
"Because we have this unique combination of Michael and his movie and marketing and distribution and online work, we're very confident we're going to be reaching a large number of people with the film," Mr. Greenwald said. "We're targeting multiple audiences, and there's multiple ways to reach them without spending millions and millions of dollars. That's not going to make many of my friends and colleagues in that universe happy, but it is a reality."
Indeed, "Slacker" could be deemed a success even if it attracted a fraction of the audience that paid to see Mr. Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004, which shattered records as the highest-grossing documentary of all time, hauling in more than $119 million at the box office. His follow-up, the aforementioned "Sicko," banked $24.5 million despite the high-profile web leak.
Mr. Greenwald said he was already optimistic about the film's prospects based on early Google searches alone. "Given his huge following he has an ability to use new-media tools in a significant way to reach lots and lots of people in a period of time. No one's released a major film this way, free and available to everybody, and given that it touches on the election, it certainly fits in, gets people thinking, aroused and most importantly doing something."
Sure to generate controversy
The documentary's release is sure to inspire as much controversy as the events of 2004 it documents. Mr. Moore was banned from several college campuses, including George Mason University in Virginia, while others, such as the University of Nevada-Reno, withstood efforts by Republicans to derail Mr. Moore's appearances. Much was also made of Mr. Moore's offer of free clean underwear and ramen noodles as compensation for young people who voted for the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, with the Republican Party in Michigan asking prosecutors to arrest Mr. Moore for bribery.
"Slacker"'s online release will also come just two weeks before an anti-Moore movie, "Airplane!" director David Zucker's "An American Carol," which hits theaters Oct. 3. The satirical comedy stars Kevin Farley, brother of the late "Saturday Night Live" star Chris Farley, as a character based on Mr. Moore, with appearances from Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, David Alan Grier and Jon Voight. Of that film, Mr. Greenwald said, "I have only heard about 'American Carol' from one person who saw it and said it was very dull."
That said, the box office, just as much as the ballot box, will determine which film captures the public's mood (and funny bone) this fall.