Thursday, December 27, 2007

Self Distributing Sayles

John Sayles, like many a filmmaker before him, has decided that the distribution game hasn't been rigged in his favor and is self-releasing his new film Honeydripper. The film opens this weekend in NY and LA, and then expands. He's working witha great team, including Emerging Pictures, Mark Wynns and Rainforest Films (Stomp the Yard) among others on this release, so its not completely solo, but it is smart.
Definitely go see the film on opening weekend to help them out, but I also recommend that any indie filmmaker follow the film's blog to learn some good tricks. It covers everything from how their distribution plan works, to how to deal with talent agencies as an indie. Definitely worth a read.
I hope they do well with the release.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Study supports watching film in theaters

By way of Science Daily (and ScreenDigest): A new study has shown that people's enjoyment of films correlates to other audience members. If the audience likes a film, you are more likely to like it, and you are more likely to like the same film if you watch it in a group. Seems that people really are copycats, and tend to gauge the reaction of others in the room and mimic their feelings (as expressed in their body movements and facial expressions):

"When asked how much they had liked the film, participants reported higher ratings the more their assessments lined up with the other person," explain Suresh Ramanathan and Ann L. McGill (both of the University of Chicago). "By mimicking expressions, people catch each other's moods leading to a shared emotional experience. That feels good to people and they attribute that good feeling to the quality of the movie."

They continue: "Social effects described above were bi-directional suggesting that such influences were mutual rather than the result of a leader-follower pattern."

It appears that this is also true for not liking a film - if the audience hates it, you'll be more likely to hate it as well. That said, the study confirms what many cinephiles have known for awhile, that there is something to watching a film in a theater.

Thought that I should share this given the amount of negative stories for theater owners elsewhere and in this blog these days.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Circque de Machinima

Via O'Reilly Radar: The first Machinima Festival was just held in Leicester and in Second Life, and the winner was Tom Jantol's Circque De Machinima: Cuckoo Clock. Definitely worth a watch, as it shows both where media and artistic expression are going (among other ways). It's a pretty amazing mix of cinema, gaming technology and who knows what else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Disney Discovers Creative Commons and Cool

Wow. I never thought I would type these words, but Disney has discovered Creative Commons and is doing something cool.

Awhile back I posted about Eric Faden's A Fair(y) Use Tale , mixing and sampling Disney footage to talk about copyright. Well, that same film found its way to Disney, and they started thinking, and they looked at the video comments where people said things like "Wow, now I want to re-watch that Disney movie" and they decided to try an experiment.

As announced online, they have partnered with the USC School of Cinema and Television and are having a Remix contest, encouraging students to sample and remix Disney and ABC content and make new creative visions. As they explain it on the site:

Our goal is to show off the creativity of USC students and to prove to executives at Disney-ABC that fans are able to make amazing things when allowed to remake, remix, mashup, cut-up (you get the idea) their original programming content.

Just a contest, big deal, you may be thinking, but remember - this is the company that has pretty much single-handedly forced some of the most draconian copyright extensions upon us. What's going on here?

I spoke with Eric Faden, in fact, he is the one who alerted me to this (but none of its confidential, as I've now found it on some scattered blogs), and apparently, Disney is starting to realize that maybe sampling isn't such a bad thing. Fans are using it, and its virally spreading their films, and guess what - many people who see the mash-ups are becoming consumers. So someone, apparently a new media person at Disney, decided to keep an open mind and do this experiment.

What's even crazier, and would be the most genius move of any old media company - they are apparently thinking of this as just a beginning. They may even consider opening up all of their content under Creative Commons licenses.


Joi Ito, the chairman of CC, actually met with them personally. According to Steve Anderson's blog:
Joi explained why Disney should view Creative Commons as neither communism nor anarchy, but a sound business model for engaging fan communities and the potentials of user generated content. He also offered to send lawyers and technologists from CC to meet with their counterparts at Disney to see what kind of partnership might be possible. An all-Creative Commons channel as part of the Disney-ABC network? Disney content released under CC licenses to encourage fan remixes? I'm sure stranger things have happened, but I can't think of any right now.

Agreed. And I can't think of any move that would automatically change the business more quickly than Disney embracing this. I doubt they will do it, but it would make the Radiohead news old-hat pretty quickly. This is exactly how media companies should be thinking - if it only leads to something half as cool as what could happen, that might be enough.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Internet Outdated & Not for Video

That's right - and don't take it from me, take it from Larry Roberts - one of the founders of the internet in 1969, when he helped build ARPAnet. As he says in the Wall Street Journal:
"The internet wasn't designed for people to watch television...I know because I designed it."
He also states that "We can no longer rely on last-generation technology, which has essentially remained unchanged for 40 years, to power internet performance." The article is an interesting read, but the argument is essentially that the technology powering the internet is outdated, not that what we are doing online is outdated, or that video shouldn't be online (rather, not with the technology we're using now). The network is outdated.
I would argue that most of what we are doing online is dated as well - we are sooo far behind where we should be by now. I remember back in 1992, taking a class on Cyberspace, when everyone was sure that within a couple years we'd all be wearing virtual reality goggles going through cyberspace and interacting with media, information and each other in much more advanced ways than anyone is doing now. A recent issue of MIT's Technology Review (registration required) dreams about what happens when you combine Second Life with Google Earth - but I'm still waiting for that mashed up with CC Mixter, YouTube, Kaneva, Twitter, Slingbox and some robotics. And I'm pretty sure Mr. Roberts has thought more than I have about that, and can tell me the backbone still can't handle it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Take, VOD and Better Ideas

My last post on First Take sure stirred things up – wow. Who knew it was this easy to get indies to rally in support of corporate America? Times have changed. Time was, indies knew their audiences were slim, but would fight smartly to find them. I guess now, we’ve all become so desperate for anything resembling distribution that we’ve lost sight of reality.

I wasn’t arguing that First Take had no potential audience, or that VOD was bad. I was simply arguing that IFC’s spin on the failure of their bigger vision was flawed and that as good as I believe these models are, they are being driven more by cable companies wanting lots of content on demand than any altruistic aims. That’s all.

Quite contrary to what everyone misunderstood about my IFC First Take post, I am actually a believer in the future of VOD, digital download and similar models. I’m also a proponent of shrinking windows, even day & date, for many films (perhaps all films someday, but not quite yet). As such, I think that whatever the real reasons behind First Take, it is a good thing for indies, and hopefully just the first step on the path to better distribution options. In fact, half the reason I think their model is kind of lame is because I am so sure these models are right, that I envision even better models taking hold soon.

I thought the benefits of these models are so self-evident that it almost seemed silly to mention this when writing that post, and it still seems silly to list the benefits now. If, however, people felt they needed to rise up in support of IFC for First Take, there must be enough uncertainty, or at least controversy, remaining in the field to cause some doubt. So maybe this is worth further conversation.

First, let’s just call it all VOD – whether its actually video-on-demand, a TiVO model, Slingbox, digital download to own or rent, streaming or anything similar. Technically, these are all different but it all boils down to some key things: watching what you want when you want it; on the device you want (TV, computer, phone, IPhone, etc) either for some cost or for free.

The what you want part is crucial, and is what makes this so extraordinary, because in theory, and with more time, you should be able to access almost any content you want. This means not just indie films on IFC, but also foreign cinema that even cinephiles have never seen, underground films, old films - even those shot on nitrate perhaps, or ones that have been unavailable for years, and pretty much everything else. In theory, I’ll be able to purchase a lost Sergei Paradjanov film at my convenience as easily as finding rare footage of Bird in concert, or that indie film rejected by every festival other than NYIIFF.

There are some technical issues and lots of copyright issues, not to mention old films disappearing hourly from lack of proper preservation, but I think we all understand that just about anything could be ordered on-demand someday, in theory. As nearly everyone under the sun has already proclaimed, this is potentially a really good thing for filmmakers and consumers.

Some people think this will eliminate the gatekeepers and middle-men, and let indies and others go directly to their audiences. Perhaps in a perfect world, this would be true, but I doubt that we live in a perfect world and I’m not so sure this would be perfect, so I’d bet everything I own against this possibility coming to fruition. Why? Partly because human nature doesn’t often lead us to realizing cool visions, but mainly because the history of technology is pretty much the history of second-best options becoming dominant.

There are a lot of people quite afraid about what these possibilities mean for the future, and that fear can kill many good ideas. Some are scared of what it means for theatres and the communal experience; others about what it means for quality and standards; some about what it means for their business models; some because they have no clue what they are talking about and just want everyone to slow down while they catch up with DVDs and email.

There’s a very real chance that all of these fears could shut down all of the potential futures we read about daily. Cable operators, phone companies, distributors and other “gate-keepers” are scared by these new models. These are real threats to their dominance, and history gives the gate-keepers a very good chance of winning – every other new technology started as a potential open platform for citizens to become participants, not just consumers, and each was shut down, or turned into walled gardens at best. Sheet music, the phonograph, radio, film, broadcast tv – all were supposed to be just as liberating as we think the internet will be now – allowing for two-way participation and the spreading of niche content; yet each was turned into predominantly one-way delivery machine, and mainly a delivery machine for pop culture, not niche content. The internet almost went this way quickly (remember when most people used AOL’s crappy walled-internet?), but even now, companies are pushing against net neutrality and arguing that big companies should have preference on delivering their content over the little guys.

The biggest threats, however, will probably come from our own stupidity, our lack of imagination and inability to dream. If all we get from this paradigm shift is that every film ever made becomes available for purchase on demand, anytime, forever, at a fair cost, we will have failed. We’ll have just created a better TV. If all we get is that indies finally have access to larger audiences, we’ll feel self-satisfied, but will still have failed.

The technology already exists for us to do so much more than we are doing or dreaming. New ways to watch, to teach and learn, not to mention to think, with and through these materials (films) and technologies, have been available to us since the early 90s. New ways to create – for anyone who wants to, using these materials, are possible. New ways to juxtapose images and think differently about our world, discover new possibilities and (quite frankly) evolve are now easily at hand, but we limit ourselves to thinking under old models. I could go on, but I think anyone who has made it thus far can probably imagine even greater possibilities than I am mentioning.

Unfortunately, many people will be so shocked with all the films they can choose from on their fancy AppleTiVoSlingboxHDTVs that few will keep imagining these futures and we’ll settle for less. Powers-that-be won’t see the profit potential (it’s there, alright), or will be scared and slow and even those that can benefit most (filmmakers, for example) seem thus far intent on getting into Sundance, finding someone to “distribute” their film to theaters and maybe put them on platforms like IFC First Take, when they should be thinking much, much further about what is possible. So, we’ll probably settle for much less than we deserve, but this is not to fault IFC. One shouldn’t expect a bunch of suits (even if suits aren’t fashionable anymore, it’s the same types of people in these offices as back in the 50’s) to really be innovative. Seriously. In fact, in my earlier post, I was faulting IFC for failing at other, grand ideas and for being fast and loose with their spin, but I wasn’t faulting them for using the First Take model, or for filmmakers liking it. We’ll take what we can get, but let’s hope we can slowly learn not to settle for so little.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Access to 40 Million – Is it an audience?

I sure struck a chord on that IFC post. Several people seem to agree with me that an IFC First Take film being “available for download by some 40 million national cable TV subscribers” doesn’t mean much. Being available to 40 million is not 40 million served.

They aren’t the only ones making such claims, however, and smaller fish do it all the time. LinkTV, for example, loves to talk about how they are “available as a basic service in over 29 million U.S. homes that receive direct broadcast satellite television (DBS).” Great, I’m glad their alternative programming is available, but who watches? To this day, I haven’t met a single person who does, and I ask people regularly.

To be fair to IFC, however, these films being accessible to audience members is not a bad thing. IFC needed to spin their change in course somehow, and this was as good a way as any probably, but they could have been clearer about the difference between potential and actual audience.

My blog is potentially accessible to billions of web users. That’s great – anyone can find it, read it and argue about it - I couldn’t possibly have written something just ten years ago and had that big of a potential audience. In the words of IFC, it is “pretty much unparalleled.” Oops, it is paralleled, by every blog out there, just like First Take films are paralleled by just about every on-demand film. We both have lots of potential, but what about audience?

I’d be willing to bet that maybe 12 people read my blog regularly if I am lucky, perhaps more when someone links to it from a more popular blog. I would love to be carried in Harpers or the New Yorker (or the Huffington Post), but I’m not. I don’t claim, however, that I’m getting unparalleled traction anyway just because billions of people could, theoretically, link to my blog and IFC shouldn’t use that same claim towards its 40 million potential viewers. It’s a bit disingenuous.

That said, the potential that I could be read, and that these films could be seen is a great thing for everyone. I would even call it revolutionary, as pretty much everyone does. I am glad that a world now exists where I could, in theory, order up any IFC First Take film on-demand from my home. I also love that I can go online and find thousands of other films that never got picked up by IFC or anyone else. It’s not easy to wade through everything, but just like I loved flipping through bins of albums by crappy bands just to find that one great record, I am glad that I have more access to so many more films.

It’s also great that filmmakers, who for so long have had so much trouble finding an audience, now have this possibility. Even if only 1/10th of 1 percent of the potential IFC First Take audience watches, that would be 400,000 people (come to think about it, that’s a number worth aiming for). If you put your film on Amazon, they have 65 million customers – even better odds. I think most of us can feel inside our bones that this must be a good thing for both filmmakers and audiences.

Access does not equal an audience, however, and it’s an important distinction. Perhaps what we should say is that access is only part of the solution to finding your audience. It’s an important step, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Not being accessible to 40 million people would be much worse. But this doesn’t mean that being accessible to this large audience is an end-unto-itself, and filmmakers would be wise not to consider it a distribution plan. It should be part of such a plan, but you’ll also need a plan to make sure the 1/10th of 1 % buys the film. To figure out these odds though - you’ll need to analyze the numbers. It could well be that more people will watch your film (and you may perhaps make more money) going with a smaller distributor or even self-distributing, than by being put out in First Take. I don’t know – since no one has the full picture – but its worth asking around and finding out who is making what. For all I know, more people watch LinkTV and I’ve only heard of IFC because they have a bigger marketing budget. Who knows? No one I know.

What’s really needed are better numbers – how often are titles ordered, how often is it a purchase and how often is it part of a monthly all-access subscription, what’s the split to filmmakers, etc. No one can fault IndieWire, Variety or anyone else for not answering all of these questions – the answers are obfuscated too often by the distributors - sometimes because they can’t give the numbers out (contractually), but more often because they don’t want to do so. While I do think some heavier digging could be done by the press, it isn’t easy. I may try to do some here eventually, or at my day-job though, because I think getting at these numbers is one of the greatest needs in the field. It’s way too hard for filmmakers to get real advice and real numbers on distribution, especially beyond box-office. Since most of us can agree that theatrical has become primarily a marketing move, this doesn’t help much. We need DVD, VOD, download, streaming and other numbers, and some way to correlate the effects of each mechanism on the overall success of a film. We also need systems and distribution mechanisms that help turn potential audiences into actual viewers, and hopefully, purchasers of films.

Bottom line – access is good, potential audiences are good – real numbers, even better.

IFC Flopping and Flailing (and media buying it)

IndieWire and Variety (and others) report today that IFC is abandoning its plans to release bigger budget indie features and focus instead on IFC First Take. IFC touts this as a simple strategic shift with IFC Entertainment Pres Jonathan Sehring telling IndieWire that IFC is "sticking to its core" by "focusing on niche titles or, 'providing independent films with the strongest vehicle and the broadest reach possible.'" IndieWire essentially reports this matter of factly, and fellow blogger Sujewa even asks " are such initiatives the revenue & awareness future for real indie filmmakers?

Dear God, let's hope not. With all due respect to my friends Sujewa and IndieWire (and even those I know at IFC), I think its time to call bullshit on all of this IFC malarkey. First, IFC is essentially announcing a failure - they're either not capable of releasing these larger films or someone at the company, probably above Mr. Sehring, has pulled the plug because these films aren't profitable or don't fit the company's overall strategy, which is cable. IndieWire notes that You Kill Me has pulled in about 2.4 million at the box office - ahem, subtract marketing costs, etc and that there is a failure. A marketing campaign, sure, but not a success.

IndieWire reports further:
"There are more distributors for films in the 5, 15, 20 million budget range," noted Sehring in today's conversation with indieWIRE, adding that competition for those films has become more intense, while "truly independent films are left without a sustained distribution mechanism."

Read: We can't compete, and might as well use this as a way to spin IFC First Take as some smart strategic move. Sorry, but I'm not buying that they feel so bad for "truly independent films" that they decided to stick to their core and work only with those films. More likley, First Take allows them to convince producers to sign over their film to them, getting it on VOD, which the cable operators want. Cable operators are telling places like IFC and Sundance (and others) that they want VOD offerings. And Yesterday. This doesn't mean anyone's making much money off of VOD, but the cable operators (Time Warner, etc) need to be able to tell consumers about all the great VOD offerings they have so that consumers bother to pay their hefty cable bills each month.

Note the word-parsing IFC must use to make IFC First Take sound like a success. IndieWire reports:
Meanwhile IFC First Take is flourishing, according to those at IFC and Rainbow. According to the company, the bi-monthly releases are available for download by some 40 million national cable TV subscribers when those titles are simultaneously relased in movie theaters.

Excuse me, but "available" to 40 million subscribers is a worthless figure. IFC keeps spinning, as if their life depended on it (hint hint):

"The growth of this service [known as IFC In Theaters on national cable systems] from zero to forty million in about a year is pretty much unparalleled," Rainbow spokesperson Matthew Frankel told indieWIRE this afternoon, citing the widespread availability of IFC First Take's films to subscribers of DirecTV, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable, beyond just Rainbow parent Cablevision. While not releasing specific download numbers for the First Take films, he noted, "And in regard to the films, we are very pleased with the kind of demand for this small independent film -- not only are these films available in Des Moines, Iowa but people are actually buying them in Des Moines, Iowa."

All this means is that four cable systems wanted to offer VOD, and IFC needed to suck up to them all in order to remain being carried on these services. IFC needs the cable operators more than they need IFC, and while a kid renting a film in Des Moines via VOD is great for Des Moines, its not ground breaking news. If Frankel was so happy with the numbers, perhaps he would have shared a few of them with us!

If you look at The Numbers (the website), you find First Take having a total gross from 1995-2007 of just $1.14 million, from 17 films for an average gross of $67,000. For comparison, much-less well known First Run Features has had a collected gross in the same time of $3.32 million (but with an average $46K per film) and Koch Lorber has averaged over $100K on their films in this same time. Parsing the numbers is never easy, and I can't vouch that The Numbers has these right, but IFC First Take has definitely gotten more press than it deserves for "helping" indie filmmakers. While none of these numbers include DVD or VOD sales, no one is reporting them to us in any easily decipherable manner. Bottom line - no one is making much money, but IFC can't call First Take a success without backing it up better than they have thus far.

Indies shouldn't look at First Take as a model for anything other than what it is - a strategy for a small cable channel to keep getting carriage on big cable systems. While VOD will impact the business, and indies should keep it in mind, my money says this isn't the player to watch. I'd love to see a better analysis of these numbers and the entire marketplace for smaller film distribution than I can offer here. I'm not picking on IndieWire or Sujewa - both are also small players trying to make sense of this - but someone needs to look further into this than they, or I, have been able to do. It's about time indies start getting some real numbers, solid advice and possible solutions instead of pr spin, party photos and bad distribution contracts.

[UPDATE: I stand by this info overall, but a friend pointed out that The Numbers doesn't list everything. See IMDB, for example. There's probably some overlap with the IFC Films numbers, but I can't be sure. Overall point stays the same]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Open Video Content and Education

Back in May, Columbia University and Intelligent Television held a two-day conference on "Video, Education and Open Content." The conference was designed to think about best practices for making video more openly accessible for educational use, as well as to think about what that will mean - for producers, for scholars and teachers, for funders, as well as its ramifications on legal issues, archival issues, etc. I've thought a lot about this, and at Renew Media, we are thinking about what this means for Reframe.
The conference organizers just made the full set of panels available online - you can download the slide presentations, listen and/or watch the presentations and forward them to others. Not all of these will be of interest to many people (sometimes, maybe no one), but its worth checking out if for no other reason than wondering why every film festival and conference doesn't do this as well?
I spoke about some things we are doing at Renew Media, and the slide presentation and speech is linked here. My slideshow below just has certain features, if you are really interested, click the full link and you get the audio, video, etc.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Film Rules Reconsidered

This just in - the NYTimes reports that the Mayor's Office of Film is reconsidering the rules they proposed, and will reopen the comment period. Kudos to Picture NY, Jem Cohen, NYCLU, IFP and all the others that worked on this - and special kudos to the Mayor's Office who did listen. Let's work with them to come up with something better.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Picture NY and Grassroots Advocacy

Plenty has been written (as well as broadcasted) about the new group Picture NY, which formed somewhat spontaneously in response to the misguided NY Mayor's Office restrictions (links to PDF) on free speech by proposing new rules covering filming and photographing in the city. You can read all about it elsewhere.

What I find most interesting, and inspiring, about all of this has been the way that NY filmmakers came together, without any established group taking the lead, to protest this nonsense. I've written a lot about the death of AIVF and what it means for advocacy, and this is a perfect example of something AIVF would have taken the lead on in the past. It's great to see that when it really matters, some good old grass-roots organizing can make a difference. In about three days, Picture NY has been able to raise over 7,000 signatures on their petition (this is as of Sunday at 2pm). That's astounding. More than 400 people showed up in Union Square for their protest (and this during the Simpsons movie premiere!), and they may actually make real changes to the rules.

I attended the beginning of the rally on Friday (...there was that Simpsons movie), and I was really enthused by the energy. I saw many familiar faces, and was quite proud of Jem Cohen, whose email really helped kick this campaign into action. While I am aware that some organizations are working behind the scenes on this issue (IFP being the leader in this regard, kudos to them), their efforts pale in comparison to this grass roots advocacy, and this shows that filmmakers do care about policy concerns after all, especially when it affects such fundamental issues. I look forward to seeing whether this group leads to something more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another Look at the Long Tail and Video

Bear Stearns recently released their second report on the long tail and its effects on video distribution. Entertainment Industry: A longer Look at the Long Tail (links to PDF) is great - a very succinct analysis of trends in the field, and while Bear Stearns is focused on big players that want to make a lot of money, it applies to the indie world as well.
Some important findings, with my comments:
  • With the increase in video online, from gazillions of sources, value will shift from content creators and typical outlets (broadcast or distributors) to aggregators. The last Bear Stearns report mentioned this as well, and I think it is true which is why we've launched Reframe.
  • UGC is not likely a fad. It's growing, and represents the most popular content category. This seems obvious to many, but also unlikely to just as many others. They estimate that UGC accounts for 13% of all internet traffic, up from less than 1 percent just three years ago.
  • Perhaps most interestingly, one-third of their survey didn't mind pre-roll advertising before videos to get them for free, and only 10% said that a pre-roll ad of 15 seconds was too long. While these ads drive me crazy, its apparent that for most people, it's not a concern.
  • What the analysts call the Paradox of Choice is a big concern - as more video goes online, more people have trouble finding good content, or the content they want. So, again, aggregation by trusted sources will be key (something we've incorporated into Reframe as well). I think trusted source also applies to specialty distributors (like Women Make Movies) as well - their brand becomes more important in this new paradigm. The same probably holds true for certain festivals with a strong brand, like Silverdocs, that can make the transition to being an online trusted curator of content.
  • Digital revenues are becoming bigger, but probably won't be enough to offset the loss of traditional revenues - this one is bad for everyone, but probably an inevitable truth. We're seeing this to be the case in music, and it will likely be true in film/video. Unfortunately, only some key entities will want analog formats anymore - collectors, galleries, museums and some universities. I imagine educational pricing can make the digital transition pretty well for awhile, but overall digital sales (especially to consumers) will be lessened.
Anyway, the full report is linked above and is worth a read to those who think about these issues. I mentioned this at Silverdocs as well, but it bears repeating - Spencer Wang's reports at Bear Stearns are always right on target.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Most read blogger is film actress

CNN reports that the most read blogger in the world is Chinese actress Xu Jinglei, who film fans know from Letter from An Unknown Woman, a festival hit last year (San Sebastian Fest) She has had over 100 millionpage views in 600 days according to Tehnorati, and according to CNN, she did it without sexual language or gossip about her life as a star.
I realize this isn't the average post for this blog, but I'm fascinated at how popular her blog has been, and think it show the possibilities for other blogs. Yes, she is a huge star (much better known outside of the US, especially in China), but one would have still expected someone like Tom Cruise to get this honor first, or perhaps Jenna Jameson. It also shows that celebrity will still rule the internet, and that the US doesn't dominate culture (yet) online.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Baghdad ER in top 10....for Piracy!

This is pretty cool, in a weird way. Several people have posted this new study from the National Legal and Policy Center about Google and online piracy. It's a typical hack piece on piracy with absolutely no nuance, but it has an interesting nugget buried in it -
Baghdad ER, the excellent indie HBO doc by Jon Alpert (of DCTV) is on the list of most pirated videos recently on Google, and it even makes the top ten. This is great news!
"what??" you might ask. Yes, I think it's a good thing. I'm not encouraging piracy, but most studies show a direct correlation between the popularity of illegal downloads and popular sales. For example, Britney Spears is illegally downloaded quite often, and she sells a lot of records (bad example, I know). So, in theory, this piracy statistic should mean that sales could be strong for this video. In addition, it should mean more people have seen this important film, so I think its a good thing overall.
Grid below from TechCrunch:

Production Company Program/Movie Status Type Days Posted Year Views
Warner Brothers Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire (Part I)* Up Movie 434 2005 165,367
HBO Baghdad ER Up Special 409 2006 121,295
Columbia Spiderman Up Movie 290 2004 12,739
Hollwood Pictures Stay Alive Up Movie 284 2006 443,577
MGM The Woods Up Movie 284 2006 84,761
Universal Miami Vice (French dub) Up Movie 276 2006 663
Miramax Jet Li – Twin Warriors Up Movie 275 1993 425,107
HBO Ali G, Season 1 Up Episode 2 256 2003 126,922
HBO Ali G, Season 1 Up Episode 3 256 2003 34,527
HBO Ali G, Season 2 Up Episode 11 256 2004 19,911

Friday, July 13, 2007

Free the IPhone

Following up on my earlier post about the Ipod and its negative implications for creativity, here's a great new site on the IPhone. I'm pretty tech geek, but hate the iphone for two reasons - price and its being locked to AT&T, so I opted out on the long lines for those reasons. Looks like Free Press is even more serious than me in their boycott! From the site:

Apple touts the iPhone as the “Internet in your pocket” — but it’s not. You can’t use it without signing on with AT&T, and once you do they cripple services, limit what you can do and restrict where you can go on the wireless Web.

We need Wireless Freedom — and our elected officials are the only ones who can give it to us: the freedom to use all Internet devices on any wireless network in a market that offers true high-speed Internet and real consumer choice.

Take action today. Demand that the FCC and Congress free the iPhone and put the Internet in the hands of everyone.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

New Resources Podcast

Agnes Varnum has launched a new podcast on Resources, the blog of Renew Media (where I work). Her first podcast is an interview with Philip Mallory Jones, one of our media arts fellows, and a great filmmaker, now digital artist, who has made a pretty successful move into Second Life. As Agnes describes:

His new work, IN THE SWEET BYE & BYE, is a three-pronged collaborative project with his mother Dorothy Mallory Jones, which includes a book, gallery installation and an installation in Second Life. From his text, “It is an evocation of African-American personal/familial/communal narratives and allegories, in words and distinctive interpretive visual compositions. It is a hymn of nuanced harmonies and discords; a blending of voices sweet and rough. It is a trans-generational memoir, illuminating paths we walk, stories we’ve been told, and the dream-places we haunt. It is a continuation of my four decades of art-making and research, and my creative collaborations with poet/novelist Dorothy Mallory Jones.”

Definitely something to check out. I like his mix of orality and new media literacy (electracy, per Ulmer). I haven't visited this yet, but plan to asap.

Agnes did an amazing job with this podcast- it's her first podcast for us (and I think her first podcast at all), and she did it quite professionally. Nice music intros and interludes, great interview questions, good editing. It's the first of several that she'll be launching with us, and I can't wait for the next one. We should have a subscription button up soon, and perhaps I'll learn how to embed the podcast directly into this blog soon! For now, it's here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Online Video Usage Increasing

The NY Times ran a tiny piece in the Sunday paper and online about a new comScore report showing that 71% of all internet users watch online video. As Scott Kirsner has pointed out, many of these are watching news, or short clips, but its interesting that so many people are watching anything at all - this wasn't the case not too long ago, and is sure to keep growing.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Film Essay and Visual Scholarship

Awhile back, I posted on a short film called the Fair(y) Use Tale by a professor named Eric Faden. A couple days ago, we met online when he emailed to tell me about some of his other projects. I took a look, expecting more of the same - something about copyright or policy. Surprise. Eric makes other great films that while definitely using fair use, aren't about it as a concept.

One of his new films, Tracking Theory, is pretty unique. To find it click here, and then follow through the prompts to the index where you'll find his film (there is no direct link). Tracking Theory is about the connections between trains, cinema and perception. It's also an attempt to make a film essay and to practice visual scholarship. What he calls a "media stylo." As Eric puts it:

I also liked the video essay's refiguring of artist and audience relationship. While the idea of "interactive" media has been much hyped in recent years, it seems to me the "essay" film has long existed as an interactive form. Unlike traditional Hollywood narrative and its more homogenous, disposable, and formulaic approach, the essay film intentionally invites the audience to probe, re-view, and question the film's content and style. For me, much of today's interactive media design requires interactivity of hands and mouse but not necessarily the brain. I wanted to use a familiar, perhaps even dated, media form (the movies) but in a different way (the essay). emphasis added (because its a great quote)

This is in-line with what Greg Ulmer calls electracy, which I have posted about here. Oddly enough, we talked, and we both studied with Ulmer - him more than I, which is probably why he made this film and I made this blog. Anyway, watch the film, its more interesting than it sounds here. It's also just interesting as a film - cool visuals and a somewhat hidden conceit that you can learn about if you click on the "background notes" section attached to the film.

What Eric is proposing with the film is that film studies, and actually any scholarship, can be integrated into a visual essay and be just as effective as the written word. It can be entertaining and theoretical, and it can push visual boundaries - all at the same time. He also succeeds at making an interactive essay film, one found online but not dependent on web 2.0 to get your brain working. He's doing more than just this, but that's a start.

By the way, the journal this film is in is called Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology. Its pretty theory heavy, but a good read for anyone interested in this stuff.

Kirsner on Online Distribution

Scott Kirsner is a smart guy, and he's doing a great job of letting people know about online distribution. I look at his blog pretty often, and he just featured a slideshow presentation he gave in San Francisco. The slideshow is great, but I was just as impressed with the tool he used to post it, as I could have used this for years. Anyway, here's his presentation:

Reframe and digital delivery

Just yesterday, we launched a new website for a project we're launching at Renew Media. The project, Reframe, is going to be pretty cool - but I'm biased because I created it with the help of a lot of our staff. While the "real" Reframe website won't launch until this Fall, I think people who read this blog will find the interim site pretty interesting.

Reframe is bringing together content from multiple sources - filmmakers, distributors, archives and others - and digitizing these works for free, on a nonexclusive basis to help make them available to the public. Through a partnership with Amazon, we'll be digitizing and offering these films as DVD on Demand, Digital Download to Own and Digital Download to Rent. Full details are on the new website, and the site will soon have all terms, the technical requirements, and everything else people will need to get their content in the system.

Around September, the website will launch, and it will feature all of the films we've aggregated, easy tools to buy them and lots of social networking features to build communities around these films. The current site will feature lots of great things before September - guest bloggers writing about digital distribution trends and concerns, curators talking about things like transitioning avant-garde films to the web and more. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

IPod and the death of creativity

Ok, this title is purposefully over-the-top, but bear with me. I held out on buying an IPod for years. I was ridiculed by friends, perhaps more because of the fact that I still don’t have cable even though I write about Second Life. Part of the reason for my IPod less-ness was philosophical; part that I don’t like to listen to music while walking, still have vinyl records and was too cheap. I finally gave in and bought the IPod, but my conscience kept bothering me, and I continue to have major issues with the IPod, and also with TiVo and some other gadgets that most people think are the second coming.

Why? Because they defy the possibilities inherent in new technologies, and actually make computers more like toasters – something good at a certain function, but not good at experimental, user-generated upgrade. I think this also has serious implications for the net, for our society and most of all for creativity. I think filmmakers should care about it, but to most people it is counterintuitive to give these products any negativity, so I’m sure this view won’t be popular.

While in Sonoma for a conference, I read a great article called “Saving the Internet,” by Jonathan Zittrain in the Harvard Business Review on the subject, and it got me thinking about this some more. (Note - HBR isn't very generative, so you may have to sign in, but the article is free). Zittrain argues that what makes the internet interesting, innovative and creative is its generativity. As he describes it:

The expediently selected, almost accidentally generative properties of the Internet—its technical openness, ease of access and mastery, and adaptability—have combined, especially when coupled with those of the PC, to produce an unsurpassed environment for innovative experiment.

In other words, the ability for anyone to make new applications, to build new systems, to adapt old models into new models – to create, to innovate – is precisely what has been important about the PC and the web. These technologies are created to “generate” new ideas and new platforms. Yes, it may be easier for someone to develop a computer that only lets you do certain things – like find music, buy it and play it – but this is much less interesting than a computer that one could adapt to also do other things, or do these same things better.

Zittrain goes on to show that the same things that make generative computing work so well are precisely the same things that allow for mischief, such as hacking and piracy. As he describes it:

Those same properties, however, also make the Internet hospitable to various forms of wickedness: hacking, porn, spam, fraud, theft, predation, and attacks on the network itself. As these undesirable phenomena proliferate, business, government, and many users find common cause for locking down Internet and PC architecture in the interests of security and order.

So, because someone could create a malicious hack that would cripple the IPod, or because of piracy concerns, Apple says “we’re taking away these properties which could confuse you or be harmful.” I’m not exaggerating. Like everyone else, I can’t wait for the IPhone, but Steve Jobs has already been quoted saying that the IPhone will not be an open platform, similar to the IPod because people don’t need or want this. Who is he to day, and why does this matter? Think about how cellphones are today - As Zittrain puts it, “Most mobile phones are similarly constrained: They are smart, and many can access the Internet, but the access is channeled through browsers provided and controlled by the phone-service vendor.” Cellphones are usually locked so that you can’t use them on networks other than your provider (a big problem for travelers), not open to reprogramming – not generative. Imagine what great things could be made for the IPod or the IPhone if they were more open – like Firefox, for example, or like other open platforms.

The IPhone will not be a generative device. Why? One, so that they can control the experience – they don’t want you to download music from outside their system where someone else makes money, but they also don’t want you to download a program that could harm your phone. Most consumers don’t want this either, and we want a cool phone, so we accept this trade off pretty readily. In doing so, however, we perpetuate the move towards making our generative computers more like appliances - less innovative and less room for actual creativity.

Zittrain isn’t saying anything new – lots of tech people talk about this, and Larry Lessig has covered similar ground quite well in discussions about the difference between the Read/Write and Read Only paradigms. He too aligns the IPod with this problem. To Lessig, the Read/Write paradigm is quite similar to generative computing – technology that you can use to both read and write – to be a passive consumer or an active creator – whatever floats your boat. Read Only technology – the IPod – just lets you consume, not create. Read-Write encourages creativity, innovation and, he argues – actually encourages more economic growth, due to this constant innovation. In essence, by embracing read-only, less generative models, we are killing the goose that laid the golden egg – and early in this technology’s development.

Both authors are getting at this for different reasons, but both note the possible effects on creativity. This is what I’d like to explore further in my next post, as I think it merits more thought. Other technologies started as more “Read/Write” and became more “Read Only” over time – cinema, radio, television all moved from systems for which people could easily create content to ones in which most people just received content. The creative possibilities for filmmakers –and the distribution possibilities – will become less as we move away from generative computing to the internet and the computer as an appliance. I’m not saying to throw away your IPod, but I do think that as creative types, filmmakers should pay attention to this change and push for more open models.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Learning from business mags

While in Sonoma, I was working, but my trip did give me the opportunity to sit down and catch up on some reading. Again, this being Sonoma, the reading was on a patio overlooking a stream while drinking some Jade Mountain Mourvedre (excellent, buy some). I didn’t relax with a book, but rather the latest issue of Harvard Business Review.

Ok, if you didn’t just puke from the sad thought of me taking time to read work related stuff in the middle of one of the anti-work capitols of America, bear with me. I’ve always liked trade journals – give me “Beverage Industry Daily,” “Plastic Form Applicators Today” or “Ship-Hull Repairers Weekly” and I am happy as a dental patient with a rack o’ People or a pedophile with TeenBeat. I just love learning minutiae about obscure industries. My first intro to HBR was through my dad – a management type who reads magazines like “Janes” the industry bible for the defense industry (real headline – “Northrop Grumman makes laser that can melt closet liberals”) as well as management mags like HBR, and I read it like just another trade journal but for those in white collar. Swear to god, I picked this up thinking it was just more industry porn, but it actually had some articles relevant to my life. It was uncanny the way that I could read about something boring like supply chain management (I still don’t know what that is actually, but it’s a real thing that people apparently get paid for) and find something that applied to video distribution, film production or funding creativity. I stole my dad’s copies often enough that he made me get my own subscription. Note that the last sentence has never, ever been written when not referring to Playboy or Sports Illustrated. I may have just developed a new genre of bad nonfiction writing or at least sparked an infringement case.

Anyway, there are at least ten things I can say on a regular basis to crowds of people and get the Socrates look – you know, as if you just said something brilliant – when all I’ve done was change some nouns while quoting some business professor in the HBR talking about marketing soap to Indonesia. I could turn this into a bad consulting business if I had no morals, but I really do learn some things from it, and I want to share them with you. Why? Because I actually think that these concepts have relevance to what we care about – making films and getting them seen and appreciated – and doubt anyone else will take the time to translate these business professors into the English language they so abhor. So here we go, with my next post on (long anticipatory pause….) generative computing. Nope, I didn’t make that term up either.

More soon, but I guess my bottom line point is that filmmakers and other in this industry who want to truly be creative and innovate would do well to read a lot of things outside our particular industry and apply this knowledge to what we do day to day. You probably won’t learn much new from Filmmaker or Variety, but you might learn a lot about working with egos, read actors, from Warren E. Buffett or the writers in the HBR. Believe it or not.

New Day Films Convening

Just back from Sonoma, where I joined the New Day Films conference after a brief day at Silverdocs. This was a strange trip for me – I had to cut short my time at a great film festival, to visit a resort town, but only for two days, so just enough time to meet some people, have some good conversations and dinner – and this being Sonoma, try some great wine – but not enough time to really turn either trip into one of those almost-vacations that can be so great.

My colleagues laughed at me when I checked in and gave them my type-A Sonoma update – driving like a madman to the Russian River Valley to taste and buy a bottle of wine from Rochioli Vineyards (go there – it rocks) on my way to the conference I was in town for, like some obsessed madman instead of the leisurely wine-taster you typically find in this part of the country. I nearly killed myself trying to email from my phone while driving the winding roads (there’s a reason I live near subways instead of owning a car), and the winery must have loved my ability to select, taste and buy two types of wine whilst texting and emailing my office. They would’ve killed me if they had time between the bridal showers. Whatever – I did my work, my speech and tasted some superb wine all within a matter of hours. It was a great mix of my favorite things – technology, wine, food, discovering new places and talking.

I was speaking at the annual meeting of New Day Films. They are a great collaborative/collective model for the educational distribution of independent films. One which I think is even more relevant today. Being smart folks, they all meet in this great little camp resort with great food, a pool, hot-tub and beautiful surroundings. I presented a long presentation on the future of online video delivery and how it relates to a project we are launching to help digitize and deliver important content. I’ll post more about that soon. The conference was great – I think I can un-facetiously say that people liked the presentation, and I know I learned a lot from their questions. It was clear that everyone is thinking about what’s next, and many people – even those who don’t use new technologies daily, are ready to address change. It was a refreshing meeting with a great group of folks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Galapagos to DUMBO

Awhile back I reported on efforts at Galapagos to keep NY a creative capital. Now, they've announced that they will be leaving Williamsburg for DUMBO because their rent was increasing by 30%, and this was after it had increased by $10,000 a month back in 2005. Galapagos was one of the pioneers of Williamsburg, so its sad to see them go. It's also odd that they are hitting Dumbo, because if I lived there (which I did a year ago), then its definitely not pioneering anything. That said, they could make Dumbo a bit more hip, and I'm glad to see them working with a developer that cares about keeping good art in NYC.

Robert Elmes, the director of Galapagos, is doing his best to keep artists and some edge in NYC. The city needs more people like him.

More on the Galapagos site.

FCC B.tch Slapped

The FCC got its a.. kicked yesterday by the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The Court said that the FCC's indecency stance - what it calls the "fleeting expletives" rules - were arbitrary and capricious. That's court speak for saying the rules were just plain dumb. The Court even went so far as to say that they doubt the FCC can come up with any regulation that wouldn't violate the Constitution.

Marjorie Heins, formerly of the Free Expression Policy Project, sums up the importance of the case:

The most important part of today's decision in Fox Television Stations v. FCC, however, was lengthy "dicta" (that is, statements not necessary to the result in the case). Warning the FCC not to simply invent additional rationales for its rules against "indecency" and "profanity" in broadcasting, Judges Rosemary Pooler and Peter Hall opined that the agency's entire censorship scheme is likely unconstitutional: its standards are too discretionary; and, given the pervasiveness of the words "fuck" and "shit," and their many variants, in contemporary society, it would not likely be able to show a "compelling state interest" in censoring them.

This is great news for creative types, as the FCC's rules and the recent increase of FCC fines to over $300,000 had serious self-censorship reprecussions. While it affected Fox, NBC and the majors the most, it was also stifling Ken Burns, PBS and others.

Heins' closing paragraphs in her summation are pretty funny:

In a perhaps unintentionally comic footnote, Judge Leval took issue with the FCC's determination that uses of the word "shit" are necessarily indecent. Since, "for children, excrement is a main preoccupation of their early years," he said, "there is surely no thought that children are harmed by hearing references to excrement." While Judge Leval evidently assumed that children would be harmed by hearing references to sex, with regard to excrement, he thought, "the Commission's prohibitions are not justified at all by the risk of harm to children but only by concern for good manners."

Despite these apparently trivial quibbles over whether children are harmed by hearing a word such as "shit," the decision in Fox v. FCC is monumentally important. It fully exposes the irrationality, and the excesses, of the FCC's censorship regime. But it will be a long while yet before we are fully rid of this constitutional anomaly.

The FCC is run by a right-wing zealot from North Carolina named Kenneth Martin, and he said he plans to appeal, but its doubtful he'll get far. Hot damn.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Copyright, Fair Use, Disney and the NYTimes

Boy, what a weekend for copyright often do you get to say that with a straight face? On vacation, I read this editorial in the NYTimes on extending copyright forever, and I couldn't believe they would publish something so ridiculous. The argument, essentially that creators should get a perpetual copyright (that's right, forever) was so beyond ridiculous that I didn't know where to begin. Luckily, before my flight landed Sunday night, Larry Lessig had already started a wiki-based response to the article, so I can let the experts hash this out.

Bottom line - it's worth reading the original article, because he makes some points that to the uninitiated in these areas (um, most of us), could seem reasonable. I mean, at first glance, it could seem reasonable to consider intellectual property to be the same as physical property - but there's a reason this isn't the case, and it's worth checking out the wiki-response for the reasons - if you have the slightest interest in copyright issues.

But, the real reason for this post is to push you to watch this great new video from Stanford on copyright, fair use and Disney...using clips from Disney films to illustrate the point. Beautiful work, since Disney has essentially been the main push behind our copyright laws being so erroneous. Great video.

Friday, May 04, 2007

DJ Spooky Remix this Weekend

The Tribeca Film Festival has a great program tonight and this weekend. From their site:
Rebirth of a Nation galvanizes the audience with a challenging interactive experience. Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid) re-works, re-makes, and re-interprets one of America's most controversial films, Birth of a Nation, and calls it Rebirth of a Nation.

Mixed live and projected on a triptych, this is the first time Miller will be using new visual material that he has produced with Starz and a re-worked score as performed by the Kronos Quartet, to create uniquely visceral production. The point, in fact, is to create a new narrative in response to fallacies that were propagated by the original film. In Miller's own words: "Birth of a Nation focuses on how America needed to create a fiction of African-American culture in tune with the fabrication of 'whiteness' that under-girded American thought throughout most of the last several centuries: it floats out in the world of cinema as an enduring, albeit totally racist, epic tale of an America that, in essence, never existed. The Ku Klux Klan still uses this film as a recruiting device and it's considered to be an American 'cinema classic' despite the racist content."

The result is a new experience in the evolution of art, cinema and activism.
Also, don’t miss the opening act, "Latitude", a performance piece by D-Fuse inspired by the notion of drifting through the urban land and soundscapes of China. In their New York premier, this London-based video art collective challenges the way you see and hear by following the emotive qualities of spaces that surround us. Fragments of conversations, crowds, journeys, lights, deserted space, and architectural forms are mixed in a unique live performance tracing a multitude of paths, identities, and influences, representing the everyday life of cosmopolitan China.

» Get Tickets for Rebirth of a Nation

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Renew Remix Films

Over at Renew Media, where I work, we've just posted some cool films that you can remix and share. From our site:

Five Media Arts Fellows have made short films to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Media Arts Fellowships. The filmmakers are Jem Cohen, Luciano Larobina, Valerie Soe, James Spooner and Casper Stracke. Watch the other shorts, or make your own remix on Eyespot.

Renew Media has partnered with Eyespot for this project. Eyespot allows users to post video online, find footage from other artists and individuals, edit the footage into new creative works and share these works with the public. Renew Media has posted the 5 short films to Eyespot, where other artists can take samples, combine new video footage and music and create new works. All works created will acknowledge the original artists work, and will also be available for further mash-up and viral sharing.

Become part of the anniversary celebrations by creating an account with, so you can log in and make a remix/mashup of the films online. You can also download the films to your computer. Remember to let us know when you’ve created your remix, so we can link to it!

A panel of Fellows will select the top 5 remixes as winners, which will be showcased during other Renew Media Anniversary activities throughout the year, as well as on Eyespot.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

MPAA getting smarter about DRM?

Great news, relatively speaking, out today that Dan Glickman, head of the MPAA is committed to fair use, interoperability and DRM. From a report on Arstechnica (by way of Public Knowledge):
"Glickman said the movie studios were now fully committed to interoperable DRM, and they recognize that consumers should be able to use legitimate video material on any item in the house, including home networks. In a major shift for the industry, Glickman also announced a plan to let consumers rip DVDs for use on home media servers and iPods."
This is a major step forward, publicly, for the MPAA. While the studios are still committed to digital rights management (DRM), they are at least realizing that consumers want to be able to play movies that they purchase on multiple devices and that current DRM schemes aren't up to snuff. Most people who study DRM think it will never work, but Hollywood is scared to death of piracy, so getting Glickman this far in his thinking should be considered a good first step.
The MPAA is eventually going to have to face the facts that soon consumers will want to mix/mash and sample video as well, and will do it whether or not the MPAA likes it. You should also be able to buy a film and give it to a friend - whether on DVD, tape or new formats. Under current DRM you can't, which studios love because they make more sales. But there's a legal precedent called "right of first sale" which says you are allowed to do this. Currently, DRM stops this, and the MPAA will have to address this or consumers will eventually revolt as well. But, a positive sign.

Friday, April 20, 2007

First Academy Award Film under Creative Commons

From Interplast - "In 1997, a film crew accompanied an Interplast volunteer surgical team to An Giang province in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The filmmakers donated their services to document the team's experiences and produce A Story of Healing, which earned the 1997 Academy Award for best documentary short subject. The 28-minute film is followed by a short epilogue after the credits which follows-up on two patients 16 months after their surgeries.

Ten years after its original release, A Story of Healing has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives license (by-nc-nd) and is available for free online."

Wow! This is great. And, they are also making the DVD available for sale, for those who don't want to watch it for free online. I bet their sales increase, and will try to find out. Great publicity (I saw this first on BoingBoing which means the entire world has now seen it), and a great way for a nonprofit to better accomplish their mission.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

MPAA ban effect on theaters

Today's post is given over to the text of a recent email from Ray Privett of NYC's Pioneer Theater. He's calling a meeting to discuss the potential ramifications of a recent MPAA pushed law in NYC aimed to fight piracy, but which could have broader implications. The meeting is today, and I can't make it, but Ray has promised updates.
From the email:

Hello, as some of you know I have called an informal meeting about a recently passed New York City law, relating to the videotaping in movie theaters. The Hollywood Reporter published an article on the topic, which says the following:
"Secretly videotaping movies in a New York City theater for illegal sale on the street would be a misdemeanor, with penalties including possible jail time, under a bill the City Council approved Thursday."

The law is here, and it proves to be more restrictive than the HR article indicates. As a movie theater operator, who is very concerned about the ongoing strength of theaters as exhibition spaces, and also as someone who cares a lot about filmmakers being able to profit from their hard works, I am very sympathetic to and appreciative of the law.

However, I have some pretty sincere reservations. It is in that context that I have called the informal, open meeting for Thursday, April 19, 1pm, at the Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street Near Avenue A.

At this meeting I want to discuss the ramifications of this law as it relates to film showings of public domain or other free to copy / reuse movies, where videotaping is encouraged. What defines a movie theater? What defines a movie? Does this resolution overlook contexts where sharing is authorized and appropriate, in a rush to redefine movie theaters according to the MPAA's dictates? Should a protest exhibition / civil disobedience act be mounted?

Feel free to bring your friends who might also be interested. If you or your friends are lawyers, or city council people, you are all very welcome.

In the remainder of this letter, I sketch out my reservations in further detail.

Best wishes

Ray Privett
Pioneer Theater

Appendix: commentary.

Here is the law, which, from my reading, seems to have passed and will become active within the next few months.

Int. No. 383-A
Full text is here:

Let's look at a few scenarios that this law affects. I'll start with a few scenarios about which there should be little debate, but then I'll move onto a scenario that I think is more complicated.

Scenario A - Robert:
Robert buys a ticket to a screening of THE DEPARTED, which has reserved all copyrights. Robert gets a seat with a clear view, from which he videotapes and audiotapes the entire movie. He goes home, and dumps his taping of the movie onto his computer. From that, he prints DVDs, which he sells on the street.

Has Robert violated this law? Yes, he has. In the parlance of the law, Robert has used a Recording Device, within a Place of Public Performance, in an Unauthorized Operation.

By selling DVDs, he also is directly profiting from this action.

Should this be a criminal act? In my opinion, yes. As it is.

Scenario B - Alice:
Alice buys a ticket to another public screening of THE DEPARTED, which, still, has reserved all copyrights. Alice also gets a seat with a clear view, from which she videotapes and audiotapes the entire movie. She goes home, and dumps her taping of the movie onto her computer. She then places the file online for download.

Has Alice violated this law? Yes, she has. In the parlance of the law, Alice has used a Recording Device, within a Place of Public Performance, in an Unauthorized Operation.

She has not, however, profited from this action, because she has not sold anything.

Should this be a criminal act? In my opinion, yes. As it is.

So, those are two scenarios that are relatively clear. They are also, probably, the scenarios the law intends to address. They are the scenarios addressed by the spirit of the law and also the letter of the law.

But let's look at Scenario C.

Scenario C - Bill:
Bill buys a ticket to a public screening of some short movies. Casey and Rudy made one of those short movies. Their short is licensed under a Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike license ( The screening is in a commercial venue, but Casey and Rudy have authorized the screening, thus waiving the "non-commercial" part of their license.

Bill goes to the screening, and videotapes Casey and Rudy's short while it plays in the theater. He then posts his taping of that screening online, in a manner from which he clearly has not profited. From their own website, Casey and Rudy themselves even link to the tape Bill recorded in the theater.

Has Bill violated the law in question? Yes, it seems, he has. In the parlance of the law, Bill has used a Recording Device, within a Place of Public Performance, in an Unauthorized Operation (as he did not receive any explicit authorization from the theater owners and managers, who only found out about his taping after the fact).

Should this be a criminal act? In my opinion, no. Why should it be? For starters, no copyright law has been broken. But, according to the law that went into effect, Bill has broken a law.

I doubt the people who crafted this law had any such scenario in mind as they were moved by the spirit of the law and as they wrote the letter of the law. However, the letter of that law would indeed make what Bill did a criminal act.

In fact, exactly this scenario has already played out, as you will see if you click here

Now, I don't think the law affects exactly the scenario as documented in that link, because everything happened before the new law passed.

But if something similar took place again, it seems the law would be violated.

Why? Aren't we inappropriately constraining the definition of what a movie theater is, and of what can be shown there? Doesn't it constrain the definition of a movie theater as a place that only shows "all rights reserved" movies? How does the law affect the ability to remix and reuse "some rights reserved" and public domain works?

If you come to the meeting, let's chat about this. Again, this is an informal meeting. To some, the context might seem trivial. But I think the kernel of the issue is important.