KIDS IN THE CORNFIELD: A CAUTIONARY TALE OF ART, LIFE and LIFE IMITATING ART
How Our Movie Got More Than a Million Views on a Bootleg Site & the social-reality fails that followed
My name is Stu Stone. I am an independent film director and along with my business partner (and brother-in-law), producer Adam Rodness, we started our own company: 5’7 Films! Yes, we are both five feet seven inches tall. Now 3 years into our journey, we’ve been fortunate enough to keep incredibly busy with projects, including three feature films and a kids television series under the 5’7 banner. We have a ton of great stuff in the pipeline and the future looks to be exciting.
As an independent film company, the primary goal for our movies is for them is to get in front of eyeballs. Whenever possible, a big screen in a theatre is a huge bonus. Generally speaking though, finding an audience is the ultimate task for any content creator. We want as many eyes and ears as possible to experience our finished product - the ultimate reward for all of the hard work and dedication our team puts in to get these films to their completed form.
The harsh reality for most filmmakers is, outside of a few festivals, getting your movie to be seen by a wide audience is a challenge. A very difficult path that can break hearts and spirits along the way.
Our stoner-horror film Scarecrows, has been a blessing for us. The film landed world wide distribution and has set us up for future success. The movie was shot with a dedicated and passionate crew featuring a cast that delivered awesome performances. However, the real victory was that we were lucky enough to find a generous local farmer. A complete stranger that we met by accidentally turning left onto his property, ended up giving us access to his farmland in exchange for some light labor around his broken down barn. That’s indie filmmaking at its very best - barter barn labor for your main location!
The Scarecrows story revolves around a group of stoner-teens, who unknowingly trespass on a farmers field. Unbeknownst to them, this farmer tortures people who trespass on his land. Stay with me here… The killer farmer hunts them down, nails them to crosses and hangs them in the field as human scarecrows, leaving them to to die. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.
Once our movie started to hit festivals and film markets, it garnered some attention. This period of time is the most nerve racking for indie filmmakers. Fortunately for us, buyers liked what they saw and Scarecrows would earn some great deals, including its release in the United States today!
Then came that fateful October morning. Adam and I entered the 5’7 Films office, like any other day, and unknown email alerts started pouring in. The dinging and pinging kept coming. Something was happening, and whatever it was, it was big.
One of the emails was from a frustrated farmer who wanted to talk to us about the influence we may have had on a group of people - get this - going into his cornfield, smoking weed and challenging themselves to try and find a way out in the dark. Sounds like fun in hindsight, but for the farmer, whose property was being trespassed on, several times now, wasn’t having so much fun. The farmer caught one of the trespassing teenagers, who claimed to have watched our movie Scarecrows. The kid swore that’s where the idea spawned from. The problem was, this was the 3rd incident in a two week period that this farmer had uninvited guests on his property. Every few nights, like clockwork, a new crop of stoners in search of fun would show up.
I suppose in a - “Tide should get emailed cause teens are eating tide pods”, kind of way, it makes perfect sense for the farmer to reach out to us and complain. But he didn’t just complain to us, he complained to a group of his farmer friends. The weird thing was, it wasn’t just happening to him, it happened to several other farmers in the same area. We tried to chalk it up to “bored teens coming up with ways to entertain themselves”, but this guy wasn’t buying our chalk.
On a follow-up phone call, his wife got on the phone and told us (yelled at us) that we were “irresponsible” and filmmakers should consider the influence they have on their audience. I’m paraphrasing heavily, but either way, she had a valid point. Needless to say our counter of, “people don’t watch Friday The 13th and then go kill campers”, didn’t go over so well. Our insistence that we never meant to cause any harm with our movie did. She ended up being a lot friendlier towards the end of the call.
In the end, the farmer and his lovely wife were very nice and asked us to issue a statement, or to make a video urging the public to stop trespassing on farms. They wanted us to warn them of the dangers and consequences of doing so; “They are lucky they didn’t get shot” was her exact wording. That’s all we needed to hear. We agreed and said we would comply.
Having a farmer reach out to us was nothing short of shocking. Life imitating art was real, and while these farmers certainly weren’t going to turn these trespassers into living Scarecrows, like in our film, we are all fortunate that none of this has resulted in injury or anything worse.
We feel as though it’s the least we could do, we would make a statement. But still, something didn’t make sense about any of this…
Our movie release date is today, so HOW is it possible for people to have even seen our movie in order for us to be blamed? That’s when we realized what was going on.
That’s when we discovered that a pirated link had been uploaded to YouTube and to our surprise, it had been viewed over ONE MILLION TIMES.
1 Million Views on a Bootleg Link - Bittersweet victory?
Holy shit! Over 1 million views?!? That was a crazy realization for us to have, seeing as our movie had yet to be released, and still, more than a million people had seen it. We were at first very happy about this. That excitement however was tempered as we realized the million people who had already watched on YouTube were unlikely to support the film financially. A hard reality set in: The issue of pirated links doesn’t just affect the big budget Hollywood blockbusters. It can be a business killer for independent films and their team of filmmakers. It was such a bitter pill to swallow.
It’s a fantastic feeling to know that over 1 million people showed interest in your project that you put blood sweat and tears into. The fact that the movie was made and then had such an impression on these teens who saw it (and actually copied what they saw in the movie) was a humbling notion to grasp.
That all said, please everyone, we do not condone going into cornfields to get stoned and trying to find your way out in the dark. While it may sound like fun, it’s illegal, and furthermore, you or your friends could get SHOT AND KILLED doing it. And that’s not fun at all.
Thank you for letting me share this story with you and on behalf of 5’7 Films and the entire team behind Scarecrows, thank you for supporting independent films!
I have included the “video statement” that we’ve created encouraging viewers of the film to NOT copy what they see in the movie, do NOT trespass on farms. And finally, Do NOT put your lives in danger and risk being turned into a Scarecrow!