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‘You’re in a sea’: how film-makers survive in a straight-to-streaming age

Fringe movies such as horror and documentary are increasingly turning to digital releases. It allows for creative freedom but doesn’t easily pay the rent

In the pre-internet dark ages, the most ignominious fate that could befall a film was going straight to video. This infernal tier – available to buy from a newsagent bargain bin or service-station rack near you – was reserved for cinema’s bottom-feeders: second-rate Disney spin-offs, dodgy softcore thrillers, Troma offcuts, over-caffeinated ninja rampages starring Michael Dudikoff.

But this cinematic silt had a certain ****** sustenance value and the random delight of the tombola. Now straight-to-video is no more, and instead we have straight-to-streaming: hundreds of feature-length films are dumped online every year (to be precise, 107 to streaming in the US alone in 2022, and then there is the TVoD pay-per-view market on top). A few of us at the Guardian sift these releases every week, and I am often stunned by the creativity and levels of invention on show down there. Especially since the pandemic, when the number of releases ballooned, streaming has been the place for a go-for-broke freedom rarely glimpsed in the ossified corporate mainstream. Chillwave dream odysseys, hipster sasquatch hunters, subwoofers grafted into human flesh … the sights I have seen.

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