Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pirate Bay and Filmmakers

How would/do you feel about your film being pirated?

Those are the results just in from Shooting People, who just recently released their poll about what filmmakers think about piracy and the Pirate Bay verdict. I have a lot of opinions about this which I may write about later, but everyone should read this. This is the exact kind of research more film organizations should be doing. I met with their great team while all were in town (one is a sublettor, so that was easy) and we agreed to work together with others to do this more in the future. Kudos to Shooting People for being such a great service org.

Here's the poll, and here's the text of their press release (which I can't find online):

For immediate release. Friday 24 April 2009

* Shooting People reacts to jailing of 'download pirates'

* Independent filmaker networking community speaks out about the future of free downloads

* Results of poll of members announced

In response to the news of the jailing in Sweden of four men behind Pirate Bay, the world's most high-profile file sharing website, Shooting People polled its members - thousands of them holders of intellectual property in their films - for their reaction.

The poll found the members of the 35,000-plus strong network of independent filmmakers divided.

The majority of Shooting People members did not welcome the Pirate Bay verdict.

48% disagreed with the court's decision, and 62% thought the jail term was too severe. 26% thought it was a justified sentence and 12% thought the ruling was too lenient.

As a network for the independent film community, a perhaps unsurprising 35% said they would never download a copyrighted film without paying, whilst 17% would consider it if there was no easy way to pay. A fair proportion have also been on the other side of the fence, with 30% claiming they have had their film pirated. For those that hadn't, 21% said they would be bloody furious if it happened to them, but 35% said they would be happy for the extra distribution.

For the last week, the debate has raged in Shooting People's nine Daily Bulletins: "it's been like discussing politics over Christmas lunch", observed Shooting People co-founder Jess Search, who has strong opinions on the issue.

"God did not give us copyright - society chose it as a progressive way to organise things at a particular time in our industrial development (1710 in Britain). Yet people talk about 'rights' as if they are inalienable human rights. Surely it's an issue of pragmatism? If the digital economy makes copyright almost impossible to defend - except by throwing increasingly large amounts of state intervention at the problem, it's probably time to concede that new business models are needed to fund creativity. Once your fans are also your enemy, you know there must be another way to configure the equation." (Jess Search, in the UK Filmmaker Bulletin).

"Piracy is theft. Whatever way you look at it, it is stealing. Now I don't think the big companies are losing as much as they claim, because in reality more than half the people who download something for free would not download something if they had to pay for it. All artists are entitled to a fair return for their work and the people who want to enjoy their creativity without paying for it don't deserve the pleasure creative people give to them". (Shooter Ron Aberdeen, in the Screenwriters' Bulletin).

"Pay artists so they can continue to make your life better than the crappy round of bills and mortgages it will be without it. We are not the dregs of society and we are not pursuers of pointless whimsy. We contribute to the soul of existence and if you think that's not worth a token fee - then throw away every album you have bought, break every film you've purchased and burn every book on your shelf. If you don't think the creative forces and imaginations behind these works deserve a little kick-back - then you don't deserve to own them". (Lee Kern, filmmaker and editor of the UK Filmmaker Daily Bulletin).

"A fan base represents value - either because they'll buy your products / services or because brands will pay to get access to your particular demographic. Pirate sites don't generate much revenue and they don't provide viewer data. But they can be useful as a shop window and lead generator to send your audience into places where you can ask for their email and offer them something to buy. It's all about the audience ...". (Caroline Bottomley, in the UK Filmmaker Bulletin).

"As someone who has had a film extensively pirated, I can't tell you how galling and unpleasant it is to see this pirating happen and be powerless to stop it. Life is tough enough for indy film-makers anyway. In future we will hopefully all be selling our work online and therefore this judgement and sentence is an unequivocal victory for us. These are criminals who happily ripped off film-making talent. Throw away the key, I say!" (Stuart Urban, in the UK Filmmaker Bulletin).

The myriad issues raised were discussed at length in Shooting People's blog, edited by filmmaker and writer Ben Blaine:

The question posed and full results are here:

Do you welcome the pirate bay verdict??

  • No (48%)

  • Yes (34%)

  • Neither (18%)

Do you think the judgement is correct in law?

  • No (31%)

  • Yes (45%)

  • Don't know (24%)

Is the sentence proportionate?

  • No, too severe (62%)

  • Yes (26%)

  • No, too lenient (12%)

Would you ever download a pirated film?

  • No, never I think it's wrong (35%)

  • Maybe, if there was no easy way to pay (17%)

  • Maybe, if the price was unfairly high (15%)

  • Maybe, if I knew the filmmaker was already rich (9%)

  • Never, I wouldn't want to get caught (2%)

  • Definitely, because I don't have a problem with it (22%)

Has your work ever been pirated as far as you know?

  • No (70%)

  • Yes (30%)

How did you feel about being pirated?

  • Happy to be getting extra distribution (35%)

  • Bloody furious (21%)

  • Not particularly happy (19%);

  • Resigned (19%)

  • Don't know (6%)

Will the pirate bay verdict reduce piracy?

  • No (70%)

  • Don't know (18%)

  • Yes (12%)

Notes to Editors

  • Shooting People is the international networking organisation dedicated to the support and promotion of independent filmmaking.

  • The organisation's 35,000 Members share tips, recommendations and news, and cast and crew their films using the nine Daily Bulletins. Members can upload their work for video streaming. Over 300 films are cast and crewed every week using Shooting People.

  • Shooting People maintains the Independent Film Calendar, hosts interviews, podcasts and free filmmaking resources, and Members-only special offers. Shooting People publishes books, DVDs and distributes independent film releases, DVD collections of award-winning short films 'Best vs. Best'.

  • Patrons of Shooting People include Mike Figgis, Morgan Spurlock, Richard E Grant, Sally Potter, Danny Boyle, Stephen Woolley, Christine Vachon, Nick Park, Martha Fiennes and Stuart Beattie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wreck & Salvage, New media panel

Last night, we had a great panel at the Apple Store for our TFI Youth program. I was able to come by for the latter half of the event, and have to say - it was the best panel of the entire Festival. I tweeted about it like crazy because the panelists were saying the most brilliant stuff. I wrote about the panel line-up earlier this week, but really encourage everyone to check out the websites for the panelists:
Wreck and Salvage
Jessica Ann Peavy
Zabet Patterson (this one's just a bio)
Jay Smooth
Kenneth Hung

After the panel, my good friend Kent Bye sent me a note on Facebook pointing out this great video from the Wreck & Salvage guys that excellently condenses/summarizes all of Good Morning America in less than 6 minutes. Hilarious, definitely worth a look.

Good Morning from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My using new tools 2.0 speeches online

When I gave my recent speech at TAA, several people asked me for links to some of my other talks. Here's a short snippet of the talk I gave in Scotland to Creative Scotland, a new org mixing the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. The crowd was general arts groups, not just film.

Find more videos like this on Partnerships 2.0

Here's the link to part one of my talk, and you can find all of them (and those of my co-presenters) here. I'm looking forward to a return trip to Edinburgh where I'll be speaking at the Power to the Pixel event at the Festival on June 23/24th.

Monday, April 27, 2009

When I Walk - MS On Screen

I've been meeting with many filmmakers this week at our Festival. Today I had brunch with many, and sat with one of our TAA filmmakers, Jason DaSilva. I'd read about his project in advance, and we'd talked briefly many times, but I didn't know that he's already started a vlog diary of his experiences. He has about 6 episodes up now, mainly dealing with how he's coping with having MS. I highly recommend you watch the videos, go see his short playing at the Festival (First Steps) and keep him in mind. He was at TAA pitching the feature version of his short, to be called When I Walk. He's building audience online with the vlog now, and will be posting episodes from TAA soon.

Beyond the Reel: Explorations in Media

Over at my day job, which this week is my entire life..., TFI Youth Director extraordinaire Lisa Lucas has put together a great panel on new media. It's for our TFI Youth program, but this one promises to be good for anyone interested in where things are going.

Hear from Wreck & Salvage along with many others. Here's one of their videos:

The American Man: What of Him? from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.


In an age where you can watch a blockbuster on YouTube and a rooftop can become a movie theater—the way that we view films and filmmaking will never be the same again. The internet has transformed how people watch and interact with moving images, while galleries and new venues for video art have created the chance for multi-screen projections. By bringing together four very different but extremely exciting artists who are expanding the definition of “filmmaker”—this interactive event will give students the opportunity to meet with artists like acclaimed hip-hop video blogger Jay Smooth and mashup masters Wreck & Salvage. Join us for this experimental evening as we explore spliced archival footage, vlogging, film installation, and video games.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Comparing Screens, Big and Small

Over at Reframe, Teri Tynes has a great post comparing big (theatre) and small (Macbook or smaller) screens. Teri says:
First, I would like to profess my conviction that the online world, the place of the computer screen where we increasing watch moving images, is a venue, just not a traditional one. As I have been screening many of the Reframe films through video on demand within this website, I've come to appreciate and enjoy the experience. Where sitting in the auditorium and watching a film in company of others brings the pleasure of the shared experience, watching a film online on a much smaller screen (I have a Mac Book), especially with headphones that cut out ambient sound, offers an intimacy and pleasure that has surprised me. I know people sometimes crowd around a computer and watch a VOD or DVD, and that’s fun, too, but I've grown to like my one-on-one experience with the artists I’ve been discovering through Reframe. While struggling to describe the experience, I feel a heightened personal reaction to what I see online, and perhaps I’m even a less self-conscious in this venue about holding my emotions in check.

I agree. While I am a lover of films on the big screen, I've always found that I can enjoy them differently on my computer, an ipod or even my cellphone screen. I know many people disagree, but her post is worth a read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TAA Presentation - Online Tools, making money and building audiences for film

A few friends asked me to post the presentation I gave yesterday at Tribeca All Access. So here it is. I think I've credited all sources/photos/etc but let me know if I'm missing anything. Also, keep in mind that this was an audience that had some beginners and some experts, so it's nothing new for those of you really immersed in this stuff. And the last caveat - I ad lib most of my talk, so the notes are not completely on track with what I say - but you'll get the basics from this.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Statusphere and Filmmakers

I have become obsessed with the future of newspapers these days. Everywhere you turn, there's another story about their death, or their new ideas to generate revenue or their senseless attacks on new directions. I barely have time to keep up, what with our festival around the corner, but I think the conversation is crucial for filmmakers (and their supporters in the industry) to follow. What's happening to journalism (and music) is also happening to film, just at a somewhat slower rate. We can fault the papers for not having the foresight to come up with new business models before it was too late, but only if we hold ourselves to task and make sure we are doing this now.

Brian Solis has a great article over at TechCrunch on the future of journalism. He relates that he asked Walt Mossberg (of the WSJ) whether newspapers should be saved. Walt's reply:

"Walt thought for no more than two seconds and assertively replied, "It’s the wrong question to ask. The real question we should ask is if whether or not we can save good journalism.” He continued, “Think about it. Of the hundreds, thousands, of newspapers around the country, there are really only a few that matter. Good journalism and journalists, on the other hand, are worth saving.'"

Walt's comment is spot-on, and it also applies to media - television stations, studios, film festivals and even filmmakers. As I've said before, I have little interest in saving any industry from the radical changes of digital. People need to adapt or disappear, but I am interested in what's good for audiences/society and what's good for filmmakers. And the changes happening online are (for the most part) really good for filmmakers. But Walt's comment also implies something else - it's not about saving all journalism/journalists, but those that are really good. Now I'm not going down the slippery slope of qualifying what makes a "good" filmmaker or film, but I think we all can understand that the same applies here. Luckily for savvy filmmakers who think they are good, there are more tools than ever to build your own brand and your own fan base without needing some big system supporting you. As Solis explains:

"It’s not unlike the renaissance currently underway in the music industry. Artists are discovering that they have a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) channel to reach fans and cultivate relationships. Those in touch with technology and the cultures of online societies can bypass traditional music production and distribution altogether."

This is equally true for film, but it only works if you are an industrious filmmaker willing to take the leap and embrace this change instead of following in the same old patterns. Many filmmakers (rightfully) resist this new paradigm - they are creatives and shouldn't have to think about marketing, how to use Facebook, etc. But increasingly, unless you are one of the lucky few to get a big distribution deal, you have to learn this stuff. And even if you do become "big," I'd argue that it's still important because it builds your fan base for anything else you do. As Solis says in the article, "Personality, motivation, determination, and the ability to embrace risk and venture into unchartered and unpredictable territory is the only way to champion change and influence the direction of professional adventures"

Solis finds hope for journalists in what he calls the statusphere, that continuous stream of Facebook (and Friendster and Twitter, mainly) status-updates, which he defines as:

the new ecosystem for sharing, discovering, and publishing updates and micro-sized content that reverberates throughout social networks and syndicated profiles, resulting in a formidable network effect of movement and response. It is the digital curation of relevant content that binds us contextually and through the statusphere we can connect directly to existing contacts, reach new people, and also forge new friendships through the friends of friends effect (FoFs) in the process.

(he continues...)

This is the new way of building audiences and fans.

If you are a journalist, it’s now your responsibility to create a dedicated tribe that supports, shares, and responds to your work and personal interaction in both the Statusphere and also at the point of origin. It’s the only way to build a valuable and portable community around you and what you represent.

I think this is true for filmmakers (and film journalists/reporters/businesses) as well. You simply have to get involved actively in promoting yourself, building a fan base and using this network to push people back to your content - your films. Can the statusphere save indie film? I'm not sure, but it's one more thing to keep in mind as we try to build a better system for indie filmmakers to reach their audiences.

What all of this means for filmmakers is pretty clear, but as a person more on the industry side, I also think it gives us an important mandate. As I said before, not all filmmakers are good at this stuff - they are good at being creative. So how can we, as an industry, use our value in the statusphere to better serve society? Meaning, for any of us in the industry to be worthwhile to society and filmmakers we should be using our roles in the statusphere to bring more attention to quality filmmakers/films. This is, obviously, what many film festivals, distributors, critics, theatres and broadcasters have been doing for years. I'm not arguing that we haven't. But we've mainly been doing this in the physical world - as opposed to digital - and if we're going to stay relevant in the future we need to be doing this better online. This doesn't mean just adding more Twitter feeds to our institutional websites, getting a Facebook page, etc. Of course we should do all of that. But we're only as good as the filmmakers we are supporting, so we need to find ways to incorporate their voices into our message - actively. They need to be part of the conversation we are building with our audiences. In regards to publishers, Solis suggests that:

Savvy publishers and content producers will also benefit from the extended visibility and vibrancy of the supporting conversations and should in turn build and support campaigns and presences that promote the individual in addition to the media brand to create a dynamic and blooming human collective. Monetization is then influenced by the earned social capital and currency that is valued and measured through relationships and dialogue.

So, perhaps it's time more distributors, festivals and other start thinking about how they can use the Statusphere to help their filmmakers find the right audience.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The economy, the internet, scams and Sugar

Reading the NYTimes this Friday morning - in print as I always do before I leave home, being so old fashioned - two disparate articles really hit me. The first was an odd feature for the front of the business page, an interview with Raymond Vaughn, one of the wittiest, most prescient thinkers on the economy to grace the Gray Lady. Really. Vaughn is out of work and trying hard to make a change in his life. You can get the full details of his story from the article, and you should, but this quote from him is probably my favorite quote about the economy thus far this year:

“For me, it’s always been a recession,” Mr. Vaughn says. “I’ve always struggled to find work and pay my bills. And now we’re hearing recession this, recession that, and I’m like, yeah, now that it’s hitting the rich people, it’s officially a recession. They’ve got to give up eating in those fancy restaurants with their $100 chicken dinners, and now they’re stuck eating Church’s with me.”

Amen. I'm not in his shoes - I currently have a job, and have been lucky in this respect, but what he says is 100% correct - the boom didn't ever hit for many in this world. And his quote neatly sums up what I bet a lot of people feel. Reading this also reminded me of something completely different at first glance - Mark Gill's famous speech about the film industry's sky falling, and how every filmmaker I knew wondered what took him so long to realize what we'd already known about the indie film business - that it was overpriced and underperforming, and that for most filmmakers, these companies would never buy, market and make money from their films, so his troubles were irrelevant to the most of us. And most of these filmmakers weren't making any money through the indie boom, the doc boom or the mumble boom.

I also found myself nauseated reading the article - this gentleman is now putting his bets on an online training program to become an expert in medical billing. The article's author clearly isn't sure this is the best idea, but doesn't seem to tell him that. (and I'm really wondering about journalistic ethics now...stand idly by??)Now, I hope I am wrong for Mr. Vaughn and wish him only the best, but it also kinda reminds me of all the film reporters not willing to tell filmmakers what's really going on out there for fears of angering a company and inviting a lawsuit or dashing a dream. It also reminded me of all the get rich quick through internet magic schemes being sold to filmmakers today, 99% of which will fail soon, and which also won't make filmmaker's rich.

Then I read this great review of the new film Sugar, which I can't wait to see. A.O. Scott writes this great line:

"There is something undeniably noble and beautiful about the love of sports: the appreciation of grace and excellence for their own sakes, the pleasure of competition, the discipline of training. But the practice of big-time sports is often cruel and corrupt, a business built on the exploitation of young people and the peddling of impossible dreams."

And this too reminded me of the state of film today. A lot of hard working filmmakers, just wanting to tell their story, learn the craft and reach an audience. And a big, corrupt business often exploiting these dreams. And I don't just mean Hollywood, it's in many aspects of the indie film world as well.

Boy, depressing stuff this print media. Luckily, I work with some great people, and know many others, trying to be real about the business and help dispel these myths. (boy, the hotlinks I could put for the word "myths," but there's those lawsuits...) We need more of it in the film world. Anyway, just thought I'd share these random thoughts on the interconnectedness of all this.

Image - NYTimes, Fernando Calzada/Sony Pictures Classic

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Advertising a cow

By way of my friend Joe Summerhayes, who I must admit mentions me in his post so this is rather incestuous, links to a great TED talk from Seth Godin that is more about marketing than anything, but again touches on the continued failure of advertising online - this month's fave subject du jour, but it's worth a watch. So what's that cow about? Watch about halfway through when he compares advertising to your general response driving by any cow (that's not purple). Brilliant stuff and relevant for anyone thinking about how to market film and whether advertising can support it.