How one start-up is turning movies into mobile apps

MoPix unveils a platform that allows filmmakers to upload movies into packaged apps, complete with DVD-style extras.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
The film "Silver Goat" running as an iPad app. MoPix

MoPix CEO Ryan Stoner has a novel way for independent filmmakers to get their work directly into the hands of their audience: turn the movies into apps.

MoPix today unveiled a platform that will allow directors to create apps out of their movies. In addition to the film, the app can include DVD-style extras like behind-the-scenes footage, a photo gallery, filmography, and other features. Think of it as buying a DVD or Blu-ray disc, only stored to your iPad.

Admittedly, I was a bit confused by the notion. Can't filmmakers just sell them through iTunes?

But Stoner said he envisions MoPix as more than just a technology platform, but as a new way for filmmakers to distribute their work, bypassing the traditional system of studios, distributors, and sales agents. Under MoPix, a filmmaker would keep 70 percent of the revenue from the sale, minus an annual charge to use the service and an additional processing fee for each film.

Still, that's far larger than the 10 percent to 12 percent cut that a filmmaker would get under the traditional system, where four or five different middlemen come in for their piece, Stoner said.

"We're trying to cut out the middleman and allows directors to sell directly to you," Stoner told me.

MoPix is working with the independent film community, since studio movies have their own system that is difficult for the company to break into. While there are always darling independent films that break out, thousands more have no way of getting distribution. The company said that of the 5,300 films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival, 232 are shown and fewer than 100 get picked up by a distributor.

Initially, the platform can only convert films into iOS apps, which brings its own complications. For one, the approval process is notoriously difficult, so MoPix has taken to handling the submission process for most filmmakers. In addition, Apple's standards when it comes to mature content are stricter than others, meaning certain films will potentially get barred altogether.

"As we go through various third parties, each one will have its own issues," Stoner said. "Not every film is right for every platform. The goal is to help them find the places for their audience."

MoPix is working on allowing its platform to turn films in Android apps and has told some filmmakers to hold off on using the platform until that's done. The platform will eventually be able to create Web apps, and the company is working to get MoPix as a channel on the Roku box.

The first movie to use the platform is "The Silver Goat," a black-and-white indie film shot in London. It's touted as the first film to be exclusively made to be an iPad app. The filmmakers actually used the app to its advantage during its premiere, in which it rented a London Routemaster bus and took people to the various locations where the film was shot, all while allowing the riders to watch the movie on iPads.

Stoner said it's this kind of promotional stunt that will get the app noticed in a crowded app marketplace. "The Silver Goat" retails for $5.99 in the app store.

This could end up as a boon to filmmakers struggling to get their voice heard. Ultimately, it could also help build a stronger relationship between directors and their audience.

"It's one step closer to directly communicating with the filmmaker," Stoner said. "Building up that relationship is our true long-term goal."