Greatest Hits

New movie with Houston (and BitTorrent) ties has unusual admissions policy: Pay what you want

Pay what you want to see new movie with Houston and BitTorrent ties

Hits_movie_David Cross_poster CROPPED_2015
To see Hits, the first feature film by comedian David Cross, you can pay whatever you want. Courtesy of Hits Film, LLC
Hits movie by David Cross
Comedian and filmmaker David Cross (right), shown here with actor Michael Cera, is trying a nontraditional route to distribute his film. Photo courtesy of Hits Film, LLC
Jessica Latham and Ryan Brooks, producer of Hits
Producer Ryan Brooks, right, is a Houston native. He poses with producer Jessica Latham, who hails from Amarillo, at the Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Hits_movie_David Cross_poster CROPPED_2015
Hits movie by David Cross
Jessica Latham and Ryan Brooks, producer of Hits

Houston is part of an experimental film tour by comedian David Cross, whose first feature, Hits, will screen at the Sundance Cinemas. The unusual part is the payment structure: You pay whatever you want to see it on Thursday night.

It's the first feature film to be released on BitTorrent, with pay-what-you-want theatrical screenings in 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada — including Houston, Dallas and Austin. The film has Texas ties in producers Ryan Brooks, who's from Houston, and Jessica Latham, who's from Amarillo. Brooks was a producer of the 2013 Academy Award winning best documentary short subject, Inocente

It's the first feature film to be released on BitTorrent, with pay-what-you-want theatrical screenings in 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada — including Houston, Dallas and Austin.

Also, actress Meredith Hagner, who has a key role in the movie, grew up in the Houston area, and associate producers Elliott Watson, Tom Agosto and Michael Zievers are from the Bayou City.

Hits, a dark comedy exploring the nature of fame, debuted at Sundance in 2014. It stars an ensemble cast, including Hagner, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter and Amy Sedaris.

Cross, who wrote and directed the film, says that its atypical release is an experiment to see if filmmaking can become more "sustainable." He's also simultaneously releasing Hits as a BitTorrent bundle, a publishing project that connects artists directly with fans. It has already had 600,000 downloads.

After the Thursday pay-what-you-want showing, the film will have a week's run at the Sundance Cinemas at regular price.

Cross says he was inspired by similar ventures executed by musician Thom Yorke, Radiohead and comedian Louis CK. Radiohead was first to try pay-what-you-want with their 2007 release In Rainbows, and Thom Yorke sold his 2014 album Tomorrow's Modern Boxes on BitTorrent. Louis CK has sold comedy specials directly to customers, including his successful January 2015 release Live at the Comedy Store.

The pay-what-you-want model is popular in the theater world, says Dallas Theater Center's patron services manager DR Hanson. "It's a great opportunity to reach different aspects of community who may not come to the theater because of ticket pricing," he says. "When we do pay-what-you-can shows, we get everything from $1 to $30 a ticket."

For Cross' film, it serves more as an advertising campaign, says Barak Epstein, a spokesman for the Texas Theatre in Dallas, where the film is playing.

"I think it's one of the ways they're getting the word out about the film," he says. "It's a little easier to get publicity when you're allowing patrons to pay whatever they want to pay, and the one-day theatrical release is a way to promote the film's download sales."