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The Waterhole – An Epilogue

It was never going to be easy.  It took along time to write, a longer time to finance and what felt like even longer to get to the first screening.  The scary truth is that it was going to get even harder, especially since we had the high aspiration of wanting more people to see our film.  At the end of the day we accomplished everything we wanted to, had a blast doing it and learned more than I could possibly put into this blog.  So as hard as it was, it was the most rewarding non-offspring creating experience of my life and I look forward to doing it again as soon as feasible. 

Before I turn out the lights and lock the doors forever on The Waterhole I thought I would add some insight to the final step of our bumpy journey: Distribution.  Like everything else we experienced this turned out to be a mixed bag of “Wow, were are so damn lucky” to “How did this get so fucked up?”  What follows is not a cautionary tale nor is it advice; it is simply a recount with maybe a few editorial notes added for spice.  I will not mention our sales agent or distributor by name, because I have nothing negative to say about them specifically and for those who are truly curious that information is not too hard to find. 

After our minor festival run we were fully prepared to self-distribute.  And by that I mean fully ready for the possibility.  The discussions we had with sales reps had been in a word: creepy.   Used car sales men creepy.  The kind of conversations where you are never not feeling hustled.   To make matters worse these companies wanted to charge us for their services, fees that reached above ten grand.  The one good thing about those numbers was they were prohibitive enough to make our decision easy despite the promises the agents were making. (Side note: throughout this whole filmmaking process these agents were the only stereotypical Hollywood douche bags we dealt with.)  In the end we were able to find a sales rep that seemed genuine and frank and although we did have to kick down some cash, it was significantly lower than the numbers quoted by the others we had spoken with.

Thus, the rejection process initiated by the festival circuit was continued in the search for a distributor.   As the months passed, dozens of screeners were sent and the names of possible matches made in heaven were crossed off the list one by one.   It was bleak.  The self-distribution back-up plan was getting dusted off.  We would do anything to get the film out there, but prospect of someone doing the heavy lifting for us felt seemed like the best option for our schedules.  We really wanted a distributor.  We were so close.  Finally an offer would come.  The only offer we would get.  Decision time is always more fun when you have no other choices. 

We signed.  The reason for going with this distributor besides the fact that we had zero other choices are as follows: 1) they were very upfront and honest with us as to what we could expect from sales, as in “don’t get your hopes up,” 2) reasonable terms for revenue split and expenses, 3) we could sell DVDs off our own website, 4) and most importantly for me, every film in their catalog was on Netflix.   Why was Netflix so important?  At the time it was the one place that offered the quickest access to a large audience, something I wanted more than money.  When I emphasized to them that this was important to me, they stated that it should not be a problem but that there was never any guarantee. 

On March 23, 2011 our DVD was shipped out across the US and Canada.  It felt great to hold it in my hands, but the work was still not over.  We knew that our new distributor had limited resources to market the film so we did our own publicity, getting anyone and everyone to review it and hitting the social networks hard.  The first disconcerting interaction with the distributor was when I asked if I could see their media list to make sure we weren’t doubling up.  I was told “no” and wasn’t even given any sense of what promotion they were doing, which was unfortunate because it was at this time the best promotion angle was about to occur: our star, the wonderful Patrick J Adams, was just announced as the lead in a new USA show called SUITS.  This was a huge break for us.  Our casting philosophy had been to get actors that weren’t big now, but could be big and it was paying off.   I immediately informed our distributor who responded positively but that was all they did. 

At this point, any and all excitement started to evaporate.  The DVD was not on Netflix, not even listed as a title you could save.  We inquired and were told, “It is getting more difficult.”  Wonderful.  Deep breathes.  Not the end of the world.  A few weeks after the DVD was released we asked our distributor when we could expect to see the digital releases and were told, “In two months.”  Two months came and went.  Three months.  Four months.  You get the picture.  Finally in December we were released on Amazon Instant and a few others with iTunes to supposedly follow soon.  As of this writing, we are still not on iTunes.  Our digital distribution was and remains practically non-existent.  In this period we also received our first payment.  It was pretty embarrassing.  Without pulling down our pants completely, I will just say that we would need about 400 more of them before we broke even.   

That was that.  I am not whining about the results.  I realize that we made a small film, a drama none-the-less, with a limited audience potential that didn’t get serious attention at film festivals.  I was not expecting be the driving force saving Blockbuster video.  I was hoping for options.  Our distributor made no promises and it doesn’t help them any if our film isn’t available in as many places as possible, but I can’t help but feel like we were just another movie to add to their library.  Yet, the only issue I can call them out on is the digital delay.  There is absolutely no reason it should have taken six months to get the film on Amazon Instant.  None.  Anyone can do it.  Unlike Netflix or Hulu, Amazon is great about accepting content.  I will never know why they decided to delay it, and when asked they just offered vague answers like, “It’s being processed.”   The only thing I can speculate that is when Patrick J Adams’ show was released they wanted to wait and see if they could sell more DVDs.  If that were the case it would have been great if they had let us in on the plan.  

So while I am not angry with our distributor we are faced with the question: was it worth it?  I still don’t know.  The fact is that other than getting the DVD in a few video stores they did nothing for us that we could not have done ourselves and with minimal effort.   In fact, currently on Amazon the DVD is being manufactured on demand – a service geared towards to those that are self-distributing – and at a price that is $10 more than what we are charging on our website here.  Even the sales agent was in a sense a waste, as we could have easily approach our distributor ourselves, in fact I have a friend who did.  The upside is that as we move forward on our next project we can say that we had a film picked up for distribution and that’s an accomplishment in itself.  Isn’t it?  Had we self-distributed would we have more money in our account?  Definitely.  Without a doubt.  But it was never solely about the money anyway, it was about the experience.  And what and experience it was. 

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Contracting Contagion

Call me lazy, but rather than actually write another post about the struggles to make and get an independent film seen, I will post another one of the articles I wrote for CinemaEditor.  One of the great aspects of writing for this publication is I get to pick which films I want to cover.  In this case I practically begged to do a story on Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and editor Stephen Mirrione.   Mirrione won an Oscar for his work with Soderberg on Traffic and it was an honor to get to chat with him.  He gave great insight in to what it is like working for some of the best directors working today.  So, it is with great pleasure that I share with you this article that originally appeared in CinemaEditor.

Contracting Contagion

By Nathan Cole

Contagion (2011), the late-summer release from Steven Soderbergh, astutely charts the spread of a viral pandemic and the lives it affects. The film begins on day two after a previously unknown lethal virus first comes into contact with humans, closely examining the lives of those fighting for survival, seeking to profit from the chaos, and racing against time to find a vaccine. Contagion is so relentless in pace and authentic in tone that it is hard to appreciate the skill of the filmmaking while watching it. Yet, upon reflection, the aspect that makes the film compelling is not the horrific images of a civilization crumbling, but the precision by which the story unfolds and how it reveals human behavior in a crisis.

In order for Contagion to play as effectively as possible, Soderergh and his team had a tremendous amount of information to pack into the film’s economic 105-minute running time. With dozens of characters (played by such notable actors as Matt Damon, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet) and their respective intermingling story lines it is clear that this film would have been a challenge to convincingly convey. The film provides the viewer with a copious amount technical information–scientists assessing the biology of the virus, military men sorting out the logistics and doctors trying to manage the overwhelming number of ill—all without sacrificing the drama of the characters and their individual struggles. Making sure that none of this information was lost while keeping the story on its toes was frequent Soderbergh collaborator Stephen Mirrione, A.C.E.

After discussing the project with Mirrione, it would not be much of a stretch to say that Contagion was made during post-production. Although it had a very effective script and was helmed by an extremely talented director, it was apparent after principle photography that there would need to be adjustments to better serve the final film.  A prime example of how editing helped accomplish this is the opening sequence.  In the film we are introduced to several different individuals that have come in contact with the virus, including an American businesswoman played by Gwyneth Paltrow. In the script the activities of these characters unfold simultaneously, but as Mirrione assembled the footage it became clear that the scenes as they were playing did not convey this fact.  In order to better express the intent of the script, Mirrione decided there was more value getting all the information quicker.  A 20-minute section was trimmed down into the three-minute montage that now begins the film letting the action unfold more viscerally.

The first cut of Contagion was over two hours long and Mirrione recalls that although it was very scary and the reality of the story was very present, it didn’t quite feel right.  It felt too cynical and the negative aspects that arise resulting from the destructive force of the virus were too prominent. By the time the first version ended it was so convincing that the reality and inevitability of the events seemed to eradicate any sense of hope. Fortunately, they had a potentially very good solution. Mirrione explains, “What we realized was at the same time, because of what the actors were bringing to their performances, a lot more of the heroic moments stuck out and what we did was design a way to bring those more into focus … to pull back a little bit on the cynicism.”

To accomplish this would mean adding new scenes. Before they even screened the first pass for the studio, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns made some fairly significant changes to address the concerns. Then, in a somewhat unconventional move, they screened the film to the studio with place cards indicating where a new scene would appear and provided notes on a corresponding sheet describing the scene. The studio was very receptive, leading the filmmakers to have to make a choice as to whether or not to screen this version to a test audience.  Mirrione says that they were hesitant, “It can be dangerous. When you are doing a preview you want it to be as finished as possible because you don’t want to accidently affect people’s perception of it. It can be problematic if [test] scores go down because people aren’t watching something that is completely finished.  But at the same time it is such an incredibly useful tool. If we have a chance to go back and reshoot a significant amount of material we want to have all the information possible.”

In the end, they opted to move forward with the test screening, but Soderbergh wanted to try something first.  “Steven knows the value of just doing something even though it doesn’t makes sense … to try something, shake things up and discover things out of that.” At first they had done a lot of reimagining of the scenes, putting them together in ways different from what was in the script. The goal was efficiency.  Yet the results were that the movie became more comfortable losing some of the sense of danger. Soderbergh’s idea for the pass before the test screening was to get ruthless, cutting down the film as short as possible. They expected they were going to lose too much information. To their surprise the new cut was even scarier.  It provided just enough information to keep the viewer wanting to know more and created a pace that added to the film’s tension.

The test audience’s response was very positive. The questions posed at these screenings mirrored the questions the filmmakers planned to answer with the reshoots. Mirrione states that, “We went into those reshoots with a lot of confidence knowing that the things that we wanted to do were also the things that somebody who knew nothing about the movie was hoping for.”  Without this process, some of the better scenes in the film would not have existed. One such scene is when Dr. Ally Hextall, played by Jennifer Ehle in one of the film’s strongest performances, injects herself with a prototype for the vaccine and shares the information with her father, who is sick with the virus. The scene originally took place off screen, but having it in the film was crucial. Mirrione sums it up, “It put into focus the heroic things that people would do in this situation.  Even though we are going to make mistakes, that people’s intentions are to do the right things … and I think that made a big difference in how you felt at the end of the movie.“

Mirrione sums up his work on Contagion, stating, “Steven created a very specific visual vocabulary when he designed the film and I feel like part of my job is to discover that.”  This is an approach that seems rooted in who Mirrione is as an editor.  When asked about his influences he says, “I don’t sit and study other movies or go into a movie thinking I want it to be like this or that.  I treat every movie like it is documentary footage coming into me and whatever that footage is I put on it as little restriction of what I can do with it as possible, so that I am totally free once I get that material.”  He thinks that it’s a mistake to begin work on a film with a rigid point of view because you risk missing some of the creative opportunities in the material.  “As an editor I think my talent is in taking that material and communicating the point of view and the weight of the scene in a way that makes it feel like it was on purpose from the beginning.”

Mirrione first discovered editing while taking film classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  He loved it immediately, feeling he could do it day and night without growing tired of it.  After college he headed to Los Angeles where he volunteered on student thesis films at the University of Southern California.   It was there he met Doug Liman, who ended up giving him work on his first feature film.  This was a few years before Swingers (1996), the film that pretty much launched the careers of everyone in it.  Looking back Mirrione says, “The same types of themes that were going on in Swingers we were all going through and I think it created an authenticity and honesty that struck a chord.”   Until that point Mirrione was trying to be what he thought an editor should be, not what came to him naturally.  After Swingers he only took movies that he picked, that interested him.  The film helped define who he was going to be as an editor.

After Swingers, Mirrione had many opportunities to work on a variety of films, but he and Liman were both looking for something exciting creatively.  That next project came in the form of Go (1999), a film he is very proud of despite not being a commercial hit. The financial success of the film aside, Mirrione’s work on it attracted the attention of Soderbergh, who brought the editor on board to edit Traffic (2000). Their effort on that film would win them both Oscars® and the two have been collaborating together ever since, having done a total of six films together. When asked what makes for a successful director-editor partnership Mirrione states, “Flexibility, having a similar sensibility and sharing the same taste.” According to Mirrione, their working relationship has really evolved, with him editing in Los Angeles while Soderbergh is out on location in various parts of the world.  The post-production process makes it easy for Mirrione to quickly get the footage, cut the scenes together and send them back to Soderbergh. There is not a lot of communicating back and forth other than the work itself. He muses, “It’s funny, in the same way that the movie reflects this lack of contact and social distancing, I would say our process has developed into some social distancing … but it works.”

Mirrione describes Soderbergh as very low maintenance as far as directors go and very clear about what he wants.   He says, “I am very keyed into the things that he likes or the way he likes to communicate things.  When you are dealing with a master storyteller it’s very easy to look at what he shot and let that guide you into how to do it.” The process by which they got Contagion to its final cut is a great example of what it is like working with Soderbergh, who always lets the process be fluid.  “He is very keyed into all the aspects that can change how the film will subtly be altered from what was initially written in the script and sees it as a chance to keep making the film better,” adds Mirrione.  Soderbergh gives him freedom to try anything he wants, but at the end of the day if it works it is kept and if it doesn’t they keep trying until it does work.

For Contagion, the post-production process was very straightforward.  Soderbergh is known for keeping things on set moving quickly, and using the RED camera allowed for the media to be processed quickly and sent back to Los Angeles to Mirrione. Corey Bayes, the first assistant, travels with Soderbergh and is responsible for getting the footage from the camera, making copies and creating the media.  Back in Los Angeles assistant editors Brian Ufberg and Jade Chatham prepare the media bins and manage the data traveling back and forth between Soderbergh and Mirrione. They used an AJA Ki Pro to record and playback ProRes files, keeping the process in the digital space for all their needs, including all screenings. Mirrione says the whole process of keeping all the work internal complements Soderbergh’s aesthetic and style of working and it saves the production money. Mirrione explains that, “There are a lot of movies that are making the transition to digital and finding that it’s not really less expensive than doing film right now because there are a lot of procedures involved that Steven doesn’t bother with so he is able to streamline and make the process more efficient.”

When asked what it takes to be a successful editor, Mirrione says, “For me, knowing that I wanted to be an editor early on, my attitude was to be as indispensible as possible and make sure that whomever I am working with can’t imagine doing it without me.” This approach has definitely served him well. It would appear that Mirrione has had an ideal career thus far and he has worked with some of the top filmmakers in the world on multiple occasions. He considers himself lucky to work on projects that fascinate him and thinks that he is equal parts fortunate and careful.

And he continues to stay busy. While finishing up work on Contagion, which had run longer than expected due to the reshoots, he began work on The Ides of March, a film he had already committed to for George Clooney. Not long after that film he began work on Gary Ross’s highly anticipated The Hunger Games.  It is no doubt that he will be contributing to the success of many more films in the future. Mirrione reflects, “For me it is about the day-to-day work, the relationships and the collaboration. When you work with people who you are a match with artistically, creatively and philosophically, you want to continue to do that.”

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A Totally Awesome Script for Jessica Alba

Apparently a lot of screenwriters are offending by something an actress said. The actress is Jessica Alba and if you have ever asked the question, “Is she more than just a pretty face?” You might now conclusively have your answer.  I am not actually going to re-look up the  comments, but they essentially claimed that great actors never use the script as written.  They are so talented they don’t need to.  I have no idea if she actually said what was reported, or if the quotes were taken out of context.  Let’s just assume for my own amusement she did.

It takes me a long time to write even a bad script.  It is a painful process followed by a long recovery of rewrite after rewrite.  Yet, her comments did not really offend me.  In fact, I choose to take those lemons and make the sweetest lemonade from it, mixing it up with a healthy pour of Jim Beam Rye Whiskey.

So, it is with great thanks to Jessica Alba that I give the world the fastest, greatest script I will ever write.

TITLE: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE

FADE IN:

INT. WHERE EVER JESSICA ALBA THINKS IT SHOULD BE — WHEN IT SUITS JESSICA ALBA

Jessica Alba is going to do something awesome.  Totally fucking awesome.  She is going to do it with some of the most talented actor friends in Hollywood.

JESSICA ALBA’S CHARACTER: [Alba says something witty, that reveals character and possibly sets up parts of the plot without relying too heavily on exposition.  Her character never hits a false note and if she did it wouldn’t matter, the superb acting can cover that up.]

TALENTED ACTOR FRIEND’S CHARACTER: [The actor provides dialogue that is realistic, yet entertaining enough so that the audience doesn’t get bored. It also give Alba’s character lots to work with. Everything the actor says helps create a fully-realized, original character, one that the audience reacts to appropriately]

Some very compelling things happen, all the time leading the character on an awesome  journey – either internal or external or maybe both.  Challenges are overcomed and the most perfect resolution ever is realised, possibly with a twist.

THE END

Script done in ten minutes.  (Now I have plenty of time to re-watch Barton Fink.)  Next I am looking forward to Jessica Alba’s parenting advice, because I’m sure that is much easier than I am making it too.

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Long Live the Movie Theater

Yesterday marked somewhat of an unusual landmark for me.  It was the first time since the birth of my son that I have seen a film in the theater for three straight weeks in a row (it will be four if I make it to next week’s Film Courage Interactive).   This is significant in that ever since I could drive I have seen at least one film a week in a movie theater.  I love going to the movies and the reasons I no longer make it out as frequently are not because I spend too much time on the internet, playing video games or that the theatrical experience is bad (which it is), it’s simply because at this stage in my life it isn’t as convenient.  I still go as often as possible, I just have to be more selective.

During these recent trips something occurred to me as I watched the previews, all ten thousand of them that preceded each film.   Of all those films I had to look forward to, there was only one that aroused my interest enough to make me think:  “I have to see that yesterday!”  That film was the first part of the final films in the Harry Potter angst-ridden boy wizard series.   I have seen only two of the prior films in theaters.  I enjoyed the books but find them utterly forgettable, yet my desire to see this film is high.  Feel free to speculate as to why this is, but what interested me most is all the other films previewed.   As I watched one after the other I mentally cataloged each: 1) Must See 2) Rental 3) Seriously, do they really think people want to see this shit?  Going to the theater is as much of a choice about content as it is about experience.

The future and viability of the theatrical window is always the subject of morbid speculation.  How long does it have left?  How many more gimmicks like 3D can they attach to its dying body to keep it alive longer?  The fact is that the theatrical window will see a decline but not because people aren’t willing to go to the theaters.  Do you know how expensive it is to take a family to the movies?  It’s about as much as my bar tab*.  Even faced with this expense families pile into theaters every time a kid-friendly film arrives.  And just like I did, those kids will fall in love with the experience and they will return again and again.   As long as there is something that compels them to.

Any reason you could give me why people won’t go to the theaters will more than likely be valid, but the fact is that people do go to the theater and they must like it because they do have other options to see a film.  Many people are willing to wait.  The thing is, nobody ever says – “Damn, are you telling me I have to go to the theater to see that? Oh well, I guess since there is no other way to see this film in my lifetime I will have to make this tremendous sacrifice.”  People aren’t stupid.  Well, that stupid. People still pay to see Katherine Heigl movies and she has scientifically been proven to be awful.

Granted, theaters must improve the experience if they want to extend their life expectancy.  They need to  keep the prices reasonable (Hey AMC – charging $3 extra for an “E” ticket to a film in a theater with good projection and sound is truly awful marketing.  Shouldn’t that be ALL of your theaters?) and accept that short windows are the new reality.  Distributors need to better leverage marketing costs, choose carefully what needs to go to theaters and not make decisions too hastily that could unnecessarily kill their theatrical markets.  Independent filmmakers have always had a tough fight to get their films into the theatrical arena, and maybe it just isn’t right for most films from an economic standpoint, but if the audience for your film is there, they will see it in a theater.  You are just going to have to work your ass off to get them there.

Seeing a film in the theater can be a special thing.  Viewing our film “The Waterhole” at the high-end Arclight in Hollywood was one of my proudest moments.  I suspect that when the Harry Potter finale reaches theaters it will be a tremendous success, maybe even breaking records.  There are many things I dislike about going to the theater, but if you create a story I really want to see, you can bet I will be there and I will not be alone.

*Alas, in reality I never get to go to bars anymore either.

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Become a Successful Filmmaker in One Difficult Step

Every day I read dozens of new articles, blogs and tweets piling on to the mountain of advice on how to build a career as a filmmaker.  Some of these posts have proven very valuable, some have spawn heated debates in the comment section, and others seem to beg the question as to why they were written at all.  It’s a lot to sift through.

Given all this information on film making I think it is helpful to remind those that aspire to make a film, are currently making films or even those that have successfully made films to the point where driving their Bentleys off a Malibu cliff side is a weekly occurrence of one simple fact.  You need to make the best film you can.  Duh, right?  I guess another way to put it is if you have an idea that you would like to spend years of your life getting made into a movie, you had better be clear with yourself as to the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.  This must be the driving force behind everything you do to subsequently get the film before audiences.

If you cannot do this you are setting yourself up for failure.  Anyone can make a film, the trick is to make a good one.  If you have a good project that you have a complete vision for it will help you tremendously in making the decisions to get it made.  It will also help draw those who can help you get it made and made well into your fray.  I truly believe that talent rises.  Your work will be your best advocate, your best marketing tool.  Never forget that.

Nobody wants to make bad movies and yet so many bad films get made.  Hollywood tries to second-guess audiences or re-heats past successes but even after decades of experience they still make more flops than hits.  As indie filmmakers we are just as susceptible to these trappings.   If you think of all the greatest independent films what was the one thing they have in common?  They are made by artists that were true to their vision.  Artists that saw something new and exciting and fought for it.  This is why independent film found an audience to embrace it and this is what me must continue to do.

There is no “right” way to make a film.  When I was lucky enough to chat with filmmaker Gary King he shared the same sentiment and I instantly liked him for it.   I love this philosophy, a more constructive take on William Goldman’s famous statement about Hollywood that “Nobody knows anything.”  It is true.  The final product is the only thing that matters and the only tool you truly have to get to that point is your idea and the will to do whatever you can to see it through to the finish.  Depending on how you eventually decide to make your film, you will have to wear many hats.  If you get too bogged down with all the other things that can occupy your time it is easy to lose sight of the original goal.  If you spend too much time obsessing about technology or money or marketing or audience – although they are all important factors – the film will suffer.

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Piracy & The Independent Filmmaker

Every once in a while my day job pokes its ugly head into my new life as an independent filmmaker.   Most recently this occurred when lawsuits were filed on behalf of the producers of “The Hurt Locker,” lawsuits they were essentially filing against their audience.  What crime did the audience commit?  They downloaded copies of the film from the internet.  Yet again frustration with film piracy leads to acts of desperation.

Full disclosure: until last year, when they were reduced to having only janitorial staff, I was employed by a major film industry trade association.  (I will not name them here for fear that this will make it into their daily news briefs.)  I fell into the anti-piracy* world quite by accident after working in government affairs and international relations, but I learned a lot and now I am going to bore you with that knowledge.

From my perspective there are two types of piracy.  The first and most offensive, is the piracy where pirates profit from stealing the hard work of others. Let me be clear, if you record my film off of a movie screen or steal a screener and sell it to a release group or a DVD bootlegger, you are a thief and deserve to go to jail.  If you broker deals with people who have access to acquire film content early, you both should go to jail.  I think often in the piracy debate it gets overlooked that the real pirates are making millions of dollars every year reproducing sub-par copies of films. The root of all piracy is money.  If someone somewhere wasn’t making money most piracy would disappear.  Just ask the hypocrites at Pirate Bay how much cash they continue to make every month.

The second type of piracy, the one that gets all the attention, is the sharing of content.  I guarantee you most people are guilty of this in some form or another.  We have all reproduced copyrighted material and shared it with our friends, even before the digital age gave us “millions” of new friends to share with.  Strictly speaking, we are all pirates.  That fact doesn’t really justify the volume of pirated material we all have access to, but where do you draw the line?

Is “file-sharing” stealing? Technically.  Is it immoral?  Maybe.  Is it preventable?  Definitely not.    Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Research has shown that people who consume numerous films online via file-sharing also tend to consume a high number of films legitimately.  Pirates are not people who refuse to pay.  In fact, very few people ONLY get their film and music via piracy.  In attacking pirates, you are attacking the core supporter of your business model.  The cure is worse than the disease.
  2. When you look at the total number of individuals that consume a movie through pirate means versus legitimate means, even when you use worse case scenario pirate data, pirate consumption is a very small fraction of how people see a film.   Also, there isn’t any compelling evidence that I have seen to support that piracy is doing significant harm to the legitimate market.  Theatrical is healthy and the home entertainment market is suffering for numerous reasons, not the least of is that, in my personal opinion, people got sick and tired of spending $20 to have a movie they will never watch again collect dust on a shelf.
  3. A film downloaded does not necessarily equal a lost sale.  Intrinsically there is no reason to believe that just because a person downloaded “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Robots That Change into Vehicles and Destroy Shit” they would have actually shelled out their hard earned money to watch it.  (The fact that anyone would pay to see that film is beyond me, but that’s best for another post.)  There is a lot out there competing for our money, that even if you wanted to you could not afford to see everything – although Netflix does make a compelling argument that, yes, maybe you could if you were patient.

So where does the independent filmmaker fit into all of this?   It is hard enough to make money from your film let alone if people are downloading it for free.  At the same time it is even harder to get people to watch your film even if you give it away for free.   Quite frankly, as an independent filmmaker worrying about piracy is about as productive as making your film with the lens cap on.  People download for a lot of different reasons, not just as an excuse to rip you off.   Maybe they want to kick the tires, or maybe they don’t have access to it anywhere else. (Ironically, I once came across a Russian bootleg of our lead actress’s first movie that had not yet released.  It was great for me to be able to evaluate her performance.)  Our goal as filmmakers is to connect with the audience in anyway possible. Some filmmakers are giving their films away for free as a choice, a choice not motivated by a sense of defeat, but by a sense of opportunity.   Anyone who sees your film has the potential of becoming a fan, and fans will generate you money in the long run.  If this scares you, keep your film locked in your closet.

If I was to see a torrent for our film THE WATERHOLE online I won’t lie, I would be angry.  At the same time I have to accept that there is little I can do about it and hope that those that watch it like it, talk about and even go on to buy it.  I certainly am not going to sue anyone that wants to watch my film.  The economics behind the “Hurt Locker” lawsuits are based on fear with the goal of getting quick settlements.  I will look forward to hearing the outcome as the first of these cases go to court.  The cherry on top of this story is that the producer, when challenged, further insulted and belittled his potential audience.  My advice to him: get out of the film business and seek a career where shitting on your consumers has no negative effect, like the oil industry.

*TRIVIA – Anti-Piracy in those circles is now known as Content Protection, way too late for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” to reap any benefit.

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Adding to the heap…

My talent for procrastination knows no bounds.  I had intended to start blogging about my experiences making THE WATERHOLE many months ago.  There are so many keen voices out there blogging about about independent filmmaking I didn’t feel the need to chime in.  Until now.  Let’s see how it goes!

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