I just got an email about a film called INK – many of you will have heard about it. Indeed, we recently interviewed the film makers for the upcoming Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook. So the story this far is… just a few days before the big fanfare release in the USA, ‘Ink’, a US produced low budget, true home grown indie feature film, a kind if sci-fi fantasy epic, has appeared on various file sharing sites and has been downloaded several hundred thousand times. The upshot is, it has hit the number 16 spot on IMDB and film is pretty much on everyone’s radar. Not quite ‘Paranormal Activity’ yet, but certainly very, very visible.
In the cold light of day, this looks like a stunt (or rather tactic in a wider release strategy) by the film makers themselves as their film will undoubtedly benefit from the incredible exposure. Did they release the film themselves on bit-torrent? Did someone else do it? Of course I don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter either, as the movie being ripped and uploaded is for ‘Ink’ an inevitability. Once a film, album or other piece of media hits a certain saturation point, or interest in fans and consumers, it gains some momentum and will at some point appear on torrent sites. This is just a practical reality in 2009 and as we move into 2010.
The big question being asked, and there are entrenched camps on both sides (and indeed many who are simultaneously entrenched in BOTH camps…) IS PIRACY GOOD OR BAD FOR INDIE FILM MAKERS?
I was asked by Sherri Candler, Hollywood publicist, to post my thoughts as I had posted on this subject previously. I thought it would be a short one… alas!
First off, I don’t like the word piracy.
I don’t think it is an appropriate description in 2009 for the activity of file sharing. None of us are piracy free. Not even the squeaky cleanest of us. Even if you have to go back 20 years, I am sure there was a tape of that Led Zep album somewhere in your teenage past (or other such ‘illegal’ recording).
I don’t have an alternative phrase to piracy, but I think the word suits ‘big business’, ‘enforcement organisations’ and ‘governments’ and does not help the situation for anyone. It simply demonises. In fact, I find it a positively self righteous description.
Second. Piracy is here. It is not going away.
There is in fact no point in debating if it is good or bad for film makers. It’s like debating ‘is it good if it is sunny or rainy on the weekend of our release?’ It is a system, it needs managing where possible (choose June, choose September based on weather patterns?), but ultimately, it is both too large and random to manage IF your film reaches that magical critical mass point.
Of course, none of us want to lose control of our films. And that is not what I am saying. I am just pointing out that…‘when your film reaches a certain critical mass of exposure, it being ripped and shared becomes significantly more likely, and demonising people for this activity does not help anyone either control the exposure or monetise the results either…’
So what does it all mean?
Well in the case of ‘Ink’, I can’t help but feel that there is some excellent marketing going on. If you open a coffee shop in town, what do you do on your first day? Offer free coffee to your customers in the hope that tomorrow they will choose you over Starbucks, or that you will tell a friend, ‘hey those new guys serve great coffee, you should check ‘em out…’ Rule one of marketing is always, ‘the customer must know the product even exists.’ I suspect these guys will make a very serious killing out of the exposure. They will shift a pile of DVD’s (which I believe you can buy direct, so no middle man there), and they will also do well in global TV sales. All in all, I will be amazed if they don’t fully recoup and make a tidy profit. The mistake many of us could make is that we assume that our films will also work in the same way, and it could be that putting your film up on bit-torrent could kill it dead. It’s a numbers game, a timing game, a strategic game, and in some ways a genre game too (sci-fi / fantasy fans are harder core than others and will seek original material such as a signed DVD). For ‘Ink’, to my mind (and heck, remember I am risking nothing here so it’s easy for me to say), it makes a lot of sense.
But beyond ‘Ink’…? As I said in my previous blog, it’s quite clear. Consumers are fed up of being ‘sold’ something and then told it isn’t available just now… either in their town (cinema), country (DVD regioning) or preferred platform (DRM nonsense).
Create a demand and consumers will seek out that product. Again, don’t tell me it’s great, then tell me I can’t have it and then be surprised if I find a way to get it without your permission.
The current business fails because it seems unable, unwilling even, to pioneer simple and effective new distribution channels. Everywhere on the same day, and make it value for money!
Here’s what I want (and what I think others want too – and piracy will exist until we all bite the bullet on this).
Music albums on all of my devices with no staggered releases or DRM. And I want to pay a sensible price of, say $3
Movies on ALL of my devices, not just Apple TV or Sky, with no staggered release, and a sensible price of say $2 to watch it.
Charging more than a cup of coffee for a movie WILL encourage illegal copying.
It’s just human nature. And why not? Look at it from the consumer side. All the consumer sees of the film and music businesses are producers in fast cars, stars and artists making so much money they don’t know what to do with it, and they never ever hear about the majority of struggling and broke creatives who rely on a few sales to make ends meet.
Futher, I believe consumers will ask ‘why does a movie or album cost the same online a physical world disk? With online delivery there are no DVD’s to reproduce, no warehousing of stock, no delivery (sure there is data storage and delivery), so why is it still so expensive?’
Come to think of it, really, why the heck are movies and music SOOOO damn expensive?
Oh right, that would be all the middle men and companies who take the biggest slice for the least risk (it starts with an international sales agent, then the local distributor, then the sales outlet like Amazon or Apple), AND these entities always feed from the artists pie before handing back what they deem a reasonable slice. Look at a standard sales contract and astonishingly, it becomes very clear – when you sign your film, THEY OWN IT! And what do they do in return for you giving your film to them? In my experience, very little (though not always).
I chose not to do this with ‘Gone Fishing’ and held onto the world DVD rights myself, asking Derry at Network Ireland to sell TV rights and online. And I am delighted with Derry so far, as he has made some sales in a very tough environment. And he has also reported back to me in great detail and with simple clarity (the only nut we have failed to crack is iTunes, more on that in later posts).
So right now, we stuck between what once was, and what could be. The ‘once was’ being a few gateke
epers to distribution controlling what gets released around the world, and what ‘could be’, an open access platform where consumers can buy what they want, when they want it, with value for money, and enjoy on any device or platform with stunning quality. When we get to that place (and I hope it’s very soon), piracy will fade back into an underground world for fans and bootleggers interested in only obscure material.
So… if you are interested in ‘Ink’, you can download it, or you can shoot over to their website and buy a DVD – and if you can’t wait for the DVD to arrive, why not buy it now, feel good about supporting the film makers and know you will get all the extras on disk in a week or so, then download and watch it tonight? I think that serves both masters?
Onwards and upwards!
Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author