Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stealing Films to save filmmakers

Just back from Power to the Pixel where I was lucky enough to meet Jamie King of Steal this Film (I and II). This was one of those moments where you feel like the last man on earth to learn about a global phenomenon, as I had only heard of Steal this Movie, and had no idea about this particular film or experiment. Check it out online, but the short of it is that Jamie and friends have put their film about intellectual property online for free, encouraging people to steal it, get it for free on Bittorrent sites, etc. There's nothing new to giving your film away these days, with many people pushing to give away at least part of your film to push sales of DVDs, but Jamie has been steadfastly NOT trying to use this as a PR scheme to also sell his DVD. They are just giving it away.

And guess what - it's made them money. They barely have a website, where they encourage donations, but they've gotten lots of responses thus far. According to Jamie, the film has been seen somewhere between 5 and 10 million times (estimates vary, but there seems to be agreement on this), and they've received at least $30,ooo pounds, which is roughly $50,000 US. This may not seem like a lot with so many people having seen the film, but think about it more. Most documentary filmmakers I know get an average of $10-15,000 US as an advance on their film if they are "lucky" enough to sell it to one of the better known doc distributors. This is a high number, by the way, with many distributors paying less and few more. They also seldom see more money than this. So Jamie and friends have built a better business model for their film by just giving it away and encouraging piracy!

You may think I'm joking, but I'm not - this is a model to explore. Of course, not every film fits this model, but with things increasingly trending towards free, and with the film world continuing to duplicate the mistakes of the music world, it's something worth exploring. Jamie is exploring it further. The first step is VoDo - for voluntary donation - a system to make it easy for people watching films on peer-to-peer sites to donate to the filmmakers. Not a requirement, just a voluntary, and anonymous, donation. From their site:

VODO’s aim is to provide a revenue stream for creators of media content, in a world in which the systems for distributing, copying and viewing that content are cross-territorial, rapidly changing and difficult to predict or control.

If the architecture we are working on proves workable, we will be able to let consumers of media shared through P2P networks make voluntary donations to creators. Our aim is to combine a series of technologies to smoothly connect would-be donors to creators wherever their works are shared.

Good goal, I think and worth further exploration. Jamie is working with several people to develop further business models around free, P2P and piracy, and I think it's worth following his movements. The technology isn't going away, piracy isn't going away (unless we wake up and make it legal and not piracy), P2P isn't going away, the film business isn't getting any better and at least one person is figuring out a new model Kudos to Jamie.

I have to close with a last thought from Jamie. In a conversation we had, he commented that he, and friends of his, often will hear about a film and wonder if it's any good. The first thing they do is search PirateBay - if the film isn't there, they figure it must suck - if no one is pirating it, it can't be worth watching. I don't think Jamie is alone in this, and filmmakers should acknowledge it and build upon it.

Steal This Film II


junkbox fiction said...

Why not? Sounds like a model worth considering for many docs and films that don't benefit from traditional distribution methods. Can also be a way to stand out from the rest and give the filmmaker complete control.

Brian said...

This sounds like a great idea...very creative model to get support for your film!

Another site that has a similar idea as VoDo is called The site allows filmmakers to connect with their fans to raise money for their films.

You are right, things are trending towards free and donations are mostly voluntary these days. This way and IndieGoGO are two ways to go about that.

Brad said...

I'm producing WHAT WE GOT:DJ SPOOKY'S QUEST FOR THE COMMONS, and we are going to do a similar thing; invite people to repurpose our footage and/or collaborate with us. It's a way to build community/audience as you go rather than hope they show up at the moment of truth when the film has it's run. I think the future is connected to cultural commons, multiple and digital platforms, and new attitudes toward distribution. Thanks for sharing your blog entry. Peace.