The End of a Piracy Era – Kickass Torrents’ Big Take Down

An incredible story is emerging about the take down of arguably the Internet’s biggest torrent listing site, Kickass  Torrents. On July 19th the site went offline as alleged KAT mastermind Artem Vaulin was arrested in Poland under orders from the United States.

Full coverage of this is happening over at TorrentFreak, but I wanted to chime in on this as piracy is something that I’ve written about over the years.

I am not 100% against piracy, as I have said many times. In my opinion one of the driving factors behind movie piracy is the inflexibility of the movie industry to serve it’s customers. I live in Japan. Sometimes our release window is months (in the case of Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix film ‘Her’ it was more than a year) after domestic North American release dates. This often comes down to local distributors and the fact that movie distribution runs much as it did in the days of sending prints by steamship.

When I raised the question at an industry forum about why we can’t abolish these windows I was told ‘it’s not logistically possible’. To which I replied that the pirates seem to be able to do it for free, so telling me that billion dollar corporations can’t do it seems a bit silly. Some filmmakers agree.

But I’m also a filmmaker (I recently received my MA in Film – yeah me!) and I appreciate that piracy is damaging to the financial outlook of a film, especially an indie film that is already running the risk of losing wide swaths of money. But I still argue that piracy stems from desire to consume. If we offer a better, easier, more instant way of consumers getting product then a large chunk of piracy will disappear.

Yes, there are people who pirate for pirate’s sake. And piracy has become incredibly easy….which is another point to the failings of the entertainment industry. NetFlix understands this: the goal is to make it easier to buy than pirate. People want easy. But people also want fast.

Finally, the fact that companies like Apple and Facebook cooperated in the bringing down of Artem Vaulin is concerning. Apple refused to assist in a case of domestic terrorism, but when it comes to jeopardizing their bottom line of movie and music sales via itunes, they’re all over it! As a shareholder in both Apple and Facebook, I see this as a worrying trend that will erode the public confidence in both of these brands. Vaulin’s ‘crimes’ are most definitely economic in nature, as opposed to violent. He also was a Ukrainian citizen living in Poland. That he was arrested under a US extradition order is also worrying. America seems to have no problem with banks foreclosing the homes of veterans, or indeed Wall Street types walking away with billions of government money. But don’t threaten the profit statement of corporations.

It is another case of imposing a rule without a solution. I don’t support piracy, but, I also think that equal, economic, assess to entertainment should be the goal of these companies, not simply clamping down and doing nothing.

Inspiring, especially in the fine print – the Approaching the Unknown story

This story is making the rounds this week. And it is awesome. Mark Rosenberg sold his first film even before it was completed. That is so cool!

But, and I hate to play the cynic because really I applaud Rosenberg and I really really want to see this film, be aware that:

  1. The budget was in excess of $1.3 million. So he wasn’t shooting in his backyard.
  2. He has an amazing actor as his star. Mark Strong, while maybe not a huge box office pull, is a star.
  3. Rosenberg is the ‘artistic director’ and founder of Rooftop Films, the New York film nonprofit who’s films include ‘Frances Ha’ from Noam Baumbach. He founded Rooftop 20 years ago(!). To be honest, Rooftop is an exciting organisation that deserves more coverage.

So yes, this film is Rosenberg’s directorial debut, but the press wants to intimate that he is new to the business. He is not. And that is the lesson to learn: overnight success can take years. Rosenberg did it the smart way: he started out, built his network and his chops and then knocked it out of the park. I find this – a real story of perseverance and determination – the most inspiring.

Get writing, get learning, get making films.

How a First-Time Filmmaker Sold His Sci-Fi Movie to Paramount Before It Was Finished

Here’s how writer-director Mark Elijah Rosenberg made an outer space film for a fraction of the cost of “Gravity” and “The Martian.” Striking a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures for your low-budget sci-fi movie as a first-time filmmaker is close to impossible, but that’s exactly what writer-director Mark Elijah Rosenberg did with ” Approaching the Unknown.”

 

The Perk Problem: How not to run your Crowdfunding Campaign

If you want an example of how NOT to do your perks, you can look at the potentially enthralling documentary about the legendary Bob Moog – basically the inventor of the synthesizer.

See the campaign here: link

You’d think a documentary like this would be backed in a few days (as per the Frank Zappa archives documentary). But it’s not. With only a few days to go they are only at 40%. I blame this on the perks. (And yes, of course it’s possible they will reach their goal).

The Perk Problem:
1) Poorly written perks. The perks have way way way too much info in them. Each perk gives you a short history lesson about some facet of Moog’s history. Just tell me price and perk!
2) They have given ‘clever’ names to the perk levels, which is not unusual, but the way they have done it is to name them after a real world thing. It appears at first glance that you will GET the thing they have named it after as the perk. (eg: for $10 you have THE REALISTIC MG-1
(Moog-made, Realistic-branded 2-VCO monosynth with simple poly section, c.1981-1984)). You don’t.
3) They make #1 even worse by saying things like (on the $25 perk): PLUS receive THE REALISTIC MG-1. They mean the perk called the MG-1, not the real world thing called the MG-1.
4) Horrible delivery times. For $25 you get a digital copy of the film. This is an awesome perk price point and normally I back every film I am interested in if they offer this perk. BUT, here they tell me:
“* Please note: digital release date may be up to 1 year later than the theatrical screening premiere.”
Are you kidding me? I have to wait 1 year after the cinema release to get something I helped you make?????
Are you saying that you won’t give it to me because of piracy concerns? So, you’re happy to have me fund you, but don’t trust me with the result.

I feel for these people. They want to make a documentary. They have the access. But for some reason they just don’t get what people are looking for in a Crowdfunding campaign nor understand how to create a sense of trust and community.

See the campaign here: link

Why things aren’t getting better for musicians. Filmmakers, watch and learn

I believe that changes in the music industry usually are faster and earlier than in the film industry. We saw piracy of music take down large record labels while people in the film biz blithely believed themselves safe.

Over in the New York Times Sunday Review they have an in-depth article about one of the biggest issues: lack of transparency. We’ve already seen many complaints about Netflix and transparency. So, beware. And what can we do about it?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/open-the-music-industrys-black-box.html?curator=PhilsFilmLinks

From the front lines of a diverse Hollywood…

I love Jon Ronson, and his articles for GQ are something I always wait for. This one covers a sad reality about the film and tv industry. After the scandal about the lack of women in top positions in the industry this article on the sad state of Muslim-American roles really is no surprise. In the UK I think actors fare better, but, America seems almost incapable of understanding that people of different backgrounds can play non-stereotypical roles.

It’s an important subject and I hope it gets more coverage.

http://www.gq.com/story/muslim-american-typecasting-hollywood?curator=PhilsFilmLinks

Quagmire: Europe’s Digital Single Market plan

Variety has a further article about the proposed changes to Europe’s content and copyright laws (called DSM – Digital Single Market).

Everyone is up in arms about it. Well, almost everyone.

Producers don’t like it because it cuts out pre-sales to many small territories. Pre-sales, historically (I hate to say ‘traditionally’) were a way of funding films in advance of completion. The issue seems to be that because Producers want the same (if not more) money from each territory only a big company will be able to afford buying the rights for all of Europe.

Crazy Idea #1: If your film was truly worth it then a small company could issue a promissory note that a bank would loan against. Loaning against receivables is common in other industries.

Small distributors don’t like it because, well, they are small and regional and can’t hope to serve all of Europe.

Crazy Idea #2: Producers could find many small distributors and let them work in the area they are good at. Contractually limiting distributors to regions is, again, commonplace in other industries.

The only people silent on this are the big boys like Amazon and NetFlix. Everyone else’s inability to innovate a new solution to distribution is playing right into their hands.

Great article. Stay informed.

50 Shades of Orange and Blue

Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed it.

Everything has come up all orange and blue recently. Especially movie posters, but also the movies behind them.

Over at ‘priceonomics.com’ Rosie Cima examines the trend and quotes some interesting studies into the phenomenon. It’s a great article that has advice to us as filmmakers (and especially those of us working in post-production like colour grading): there’s a whole spectrum of colours out there. Use them.

Good read. And don’t forget to click through to the other articles she sources.

Changes in YouTube – will key creators bail?

Interesting article over on Pando.com

Recently YouTube has been focusing on things outside of its original remit: stuff like a streaming music service, pay subscriptions and more. All of this doesn’t sit well with some of the platforms key adopters. Most of the changes apply to music – for now. I can’t imagine that similar restrictions on licensing for video will be on the way.

Supporters of the ‘always free’ ethos are already moving on. For video YouTube is the most recognizable name, so video creators may think longer about it.

Take a read.

Because Indie’s are doing so well… 25% increase in SAG rates

I can picture the process.

The board of directors of SAG-ACTRA – the actors union – sits around and says “should we make people pay us 25% more?”. Unsurprisingly, they said yes. (This is like politicians voting on their own pay packets!).

Slowly but surely SAG will chip away at what was once heralded as a chance for low budget films to use better talent without violating the sacred SAG rules. All of this is a mystery to me. It’s not like when you hire actors you are sending them down into a coal mine (except when the script calls for it!). It’s acting. I’ve never understood the need for a minimum wage. I can’t see the upside. Yes, you are guaranteed more money, but where you can work becomes limited (in some cases severely).

Anyway, if you need a better written article about it, without the bias, read the attached piece from Deadline.com