Hot Docs ’14: “The Sheik” targets hybrid distribution

Igal Hecht's documentary on the famed TV wrestler (pictured) will roll out initially on Vimeo on Demand, before heading to Canada's Super Channel and Cineplex screens.
April 29, 2014

A fast-changing relationship between documentary producers and audiences has the Canadian makers of The Sheik (pictured) embracing a hybrid distribution strategy.

Michael Girgis, a producer of the biopic about the famed TV wrestler The Iron Sheik, which premiered this past weekend at Hot Docs in Toronto, said the film will bow on Vimeo on Demand from May 31, followed by slots on Canadian network Super Channel and Cineplex theatres in Canada.

“We have created a non-traditional and unique path to distribution that will harness the power of the digital distribution marketplace and the traditional channels to reach The Sheik’s global audience,” Girgis told realscreen‘s sister publication Playback Daily.

The Sheik, directed by Igal Hecht and distributed by Rebel Media Ventures, recounts the story of the former WWE world champion, also known as Khosrow Vaziri,  from being the Shah of Iran’s bodyguard to a Hall of Fame wrestler and then battling drug addiction and personal demons in retirement before cleaning up his act and becoming a social media sensation.

With an eye to exploiting Vaziri’s 420,000 Twitter followers and a YouTube audience, the documentary’s producers will launch on Vimeo on Demand initially, with a pre-order awareness campaign and contest, launched at Hot Docs and to run until May 8.

On that day, they will use Thunderclap and other crowd-speaking platforms to unveil plans for the film to be sold on Vimeo on Demand for $10 each, followed by sales on iTunes, Amazon and other digital platforms.

The former wrestler’s Twitter profile enabled the choice to start with a direct distribution strategy out of the gates. The pop culture doc includes talking head appearances by Dwayne Johnson, Mick Foley, Seth Green and other celebrities and former wrestlers who know Vaziri.

Girgis said well-known fan’s tweets and social media followings will be coordinated for added punch during the May 8 announcement of the film’s launch.

“His fans are influencers and we’re talking to them directly to become ambassadors of the film,” he explained.

Girgis and fellow producers of The Sheik aren’t alone in embracing a hybrid distribution strategy that sidesteps a traditional release via indie distributors that get all the rights for a customized roll-out that includes TV channels, online platforms, theatrical and home entertainment.

The Sheik earlier snagged a licence fee from Super Channel to access tax credits during production, and also has a commitment for 65 screens from Cineplex for a theatrical release in July.

Here the TV and theatrical partners only receive the rights they need to execute their own releases, leaving Girgis and The Sheik producers to retain the rest of the rights for strategic placing with added partners.

In addition, Girgis is looking to his team’s analysis of Vaziri’s social media following to jump-start an online release that aims to feed to into successive roll-outs on rival platforms.

“We believe our unique understanding of The Sheik‘s potential audience and segmentation, and how to market to them will fuel an increased demand and support for the film via traditional film channels, including future theatrical and broadcast releases,” Girgis argued.

“We are not approaching our plan based on direct distribution versus traditional distribution,” he added.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.