Forward! Pirates Know Best

By Rob Millis
 
 
Last week Kim Dotcom — the notorious king of piracy — unveiled Mega, his new, barely legal file sharing site that is sure to be a haven for illegal video sharing. Film distributors are up in arms and a renewed cry for harsher consequences has reached the ears of Congress.
 
 
Yet there is no legislation, lawsuit or technical restriction that can stop piracy. In an industry riddled with conflicts of interest, many leaders of media companies are reluctant to speak frankly, but every single one of them knows they cannot protect against piracy in any absolute way. We can put up roadblocks, we can scramble data, but there is always a way around digital security.
 
 
So how do we defend against piracy when there is no way to secure content?
Kim Dotcom himself provided the answer in this tweet a couple of weeks before launching Mega:
 
 
@KimDotcomHow to stop piracy: 1 Create great stuff 2 Make it easy to buy 3 Same day worldwide release 4 Fair price 5 Works on any device
 
 
This is the same core message that online media companies have been trying to get across to the film industry for several years. Anyone who has worked on digital distribution knows without a doubt that the root causes of piracy are actually on the supply side. Even media executives who won’t admit to it publicly know that the core problem behind piracy is the user experience of legal purchase and viewing.
 
 
Ironically, last week the MPAA — creators of the FBI warning on DVDs and champions of digital rights management systems that prevent purchases on one device from being played on another —accused Kim Dotcom of damaging the consumer experience. But citing consumer experience as an attack on piracy only points out how flawed and out of touch the MPAA approach is. Most pirated titles available in crisp HD of course (shaky 8mm footage captured in a theater is now a rarity) and the consumer experience is also about the entire process of finding a film, paying for it, and watching whenever you want. In that context the pirates are often providing a user experience that competes very well with most traditional options.
 
 
So deal with piracy head on, distributors, filmmakers and studios at every level need to stop complaining about the ethical and commercial problems of piracy and begin competing with it. Media executives have long argued that they “can’t compete with free” but the marketplace consistently disproves that notion, and the huge success of systems like iTunes utterly destroys it. iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and others have succeeded precisely because they compete directly with piracy by providing better accessibility, ease of use and instant gratification.
 
 
Viewers can now watch almost any widely released film, in HD, on any device, almost immediately. Whether they choose to pay for it or not is largely up to the distributor.
 
 
Rob Millis is the founder of Dynamo Media and one of the creators behind the Dynamo Player, the first online pay-per-view platform freely available to independent filmmakers. Rob was an early pioneer of online video production and distribution, and has been a founder, investor or advisor with several online media and industrial technology companies. You can find Rob on Twitter at @robmillis or learn more about Dynamo at http://www.DynamoPlayer.com.

"7 Reasons To Release Your Film For Free"

guest post by Todd Sklar

A few weeks ago, my good friend Dean Peterson emailed me about releasing his film Incredibly Small for free on the internet. In full disclosure; he was emailing me not because I know a great deal about releasing movies on the interner (I don't), but because I was a producer on the film, and had been assisting with the film's release over the past year.

Flashing forward for a second; we went through with it, and thanks to the kind folks at Vimeo, you can now watch Incredibly Small on-line for free at the following link -- www.vimeo.com/40112752 -- As of this posting, the film has been viewed by over 31,000 people in less than a week. And at no cost to them, as well as no cost to us.

Back to Dean's original email -- my initial response was "YES! Let's definitely put it on the internet for free", which was quickly followed by; "But once we do that, it's like, on the Internet and shit, so we should make sure that's what you really wanna do. Cause that's essentially putting the curtains down so to speak on any other release plans we might have."

He said that it was, and my final email said; "I love it. Let's do it. But just for posterity's sake, gimme one good reason as to why we're doing this. So that we have something to put on the epitaph if for no other reason."

This was his reply;

You want one good reason? How 'bout 7...

1. I'm supremely bored by most of the traditional routes people have taken when distributing smaller movies. I'm really not interested in selling the rights to the movie to somebody for no money and then at best, getting a bullshit release, but more than likely, not getting one at all. We set out to make an interesting movie because we were excited about making movies, and I think we should take the same approach in the release and do it in an interesting way that we're excited about. Let's rattle the cage a bit even if it means we don't make back quite as much money.The opportunity to shake things up is worth whatever the shortfall is. That's the cost of doing it the right way -- you taught me that on the first Range Life tour, and just like with those films, creating exposure and getting the movie to a wider audience is our only priority right now. What better way to accomplish that than making it free and making it accessible to literally anyone with an internet connection.

2. Speaking of the internet, it's awesome. I spend most of my time on the internet and it's where I learned much of what I know about filmmaking, and I know for a fact that's even truer of you, and it's where both of us have connected with the majority of our audiences.It's where we both live, and I think that's true of a lot of people, especially ones that will like this film. You took your movie to college campuses because that was your wheelhouse and that's where your target audience was. Same goes for this one and the internet. Quite simply, this is where my movie belongs, we just took a roundabout way of getting here.

3. And if we agree that it should be on-line, then I know we both agree it should be free. Cause that's what the internet is all about. And I think the fact that this movie didn't cost us a ton to make puts us in a unique position that we have a bit more freedom to be adventurous when rolling this out. We've made back enough of the money that even if we don't make another dollar on it and none of the people who watch it on-line buy a DVD, or make a donation, or give us their money in some other way, it won't be much of a loss.

4. This movie is the product of the crowd sourced, internet 2.0, 'other buzz word' culture of the internet through and through. We raised money on Kickstarter, garnered an audience and fan base on Tumblr and Reddit connected with fans on tour through Twitter and Facebook, and if Google+ made any sense, I'm sure we'd find a way to utilize that too. Now it seems fitting to stay true to that spirit and bring it all back full circle and put this motherfucker on Vimeo or YouTube right?

5. One of the other major benefits of putting it online is that we can reach people all over as opposed to a traditional release of a smaller film like this, which would in a best case scenario play 3-5 markets? If that? We probably wouldn't do any screenings in Scottsdale, AZ but the residents there are crying out to see this movie (Maybe)(Probably not)(THEY COULD BE THOUGH). And even if we continued touring, how many colleges can we hit before it's not worth the work anymore? Let's buck the trend and not just focus on major cities. OR college campuses. OR both. Let's get EVERYONE

6. We can have the option for people to donate money if they so feel inclined. We can't do that at Target, or on Comcast, or at the multiplex. I know we're both big fans of bands that have done this and I don't see why it's not more prevalent in film. It should be as unobtrusive and nag-free as possible, just a button somewhere below the video that's quietly sitting there. I really think that if we give the movie away for free that people will respond to it and if they like the movie maybe they'll chip in a few bucks or whatever they feel it's worth. Did you read the Chris Anderson book "Free" that I told you about? He outlines pretty eloquently how in the past when artists have given their product away for free that it's worked out fantastically.

7. Torrents. Piracy is viewed as a huge problem in the film industry but what if we turn it into a boon? If you go on Pirate Bay there are over 10,000 people who are currently downloading The Hunger Games, who I'm sure the studios view as villains but we should view them as potential audience members. They're our friends! This is a huge untapped group that I think it would be a mistake to ignore. They're going to download movies no matter what we do, so we should at least provide them with OUR movie to download and watch versus one of the other ones. Let's put a super hi res version of the movie on torrent sites and try to get something from them. An email address, a donation, a DVD sale or them blogging or tweeting about it or using that X-Box headset thingy to tell their Halo friends about it. That's better than nothing.

That's all I got for now.I don't think nearly enough filmmakers have explored this option and it would be exciting to try it out. Let's talk about it more at the batting cages.

P.S. Let's start going to the batting cages.

Please watch Incredibly Small for free on Vimeo

And please share it with other is if you enjoy it.

And please help us find some batting cages.

INCREDIBLY SMALL - Free Independent Feature Film from Dean Peterson on Vimeo.


Dean Peterson grew up in Minneapolis, MN and has studied film in New York, Paris, and Chicago, where he received his BA from Columbia College. He was an official participant at the Berlinale Talent Campus as well as the Adobe Reel Ideas Studio at the Cannes Film Festival. His short films have played in festivals around the U.S as well as in France. His interests include but are not limited to: black coffee, Siberian Huskies and twirling pens on his finger. Incredibly Small is his first feature.

Todd Sklar loves coffee. In 1994, Sklar won Best Blocked Shots in his youth basketball league. In 2007, he wrote & directed his feature length debut, BOX ELDER, which developed a cult following after Sklar & his comrades toured the film across the country throughout 2008 & 2009. Afterwards, Sklar founded Range Life Entertainment, a privately held marketing company that tours independent films to college campuses on a quarterly basis. His latest short film, '92 SKYBOX ALONZO MOURNING ROOKIE CARD premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and serves as a prologue to the upcoming feature, AWFUL NICE, which recently finished filming.

"Music, Film, and Branding"

guest post by Brian Godshall

I know how important music can be to your projects.I wanted to point out some new developments in the music business that may prove advantageous for any upcoming media you are producing. You may already be aware of some of these and some may be new to you. I hope this information is helpful. After you've taken a look at this, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

1. Putting brands together with music and indie films I have been working on some ideas and connections to put together a brand or brands with music and indie films. Specifically I am proposing that an advertiser can pay for some or all of the music rights in an indie film in exchange for co-promotional opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in this concept, please contact me directly. I expressly would like to hear about upcoming film projects and/or review scripts where source music is a key element to see which brand(s) may be appropriate for such opportunities.

2. 3/27/12 - DMNews - Madonna & Smirnoff - Hip Digital
Per Digital Music News Smirnoff announced in March a massive discount on a modified version of Madonna's latest album, MDNA. The 'Nightlife Edition,' which includes 7 album tracks, 4 Smirnoff exclusive remixes, and 3 additional remixes (apparently non-exclusive), is selling for just $3.50. The special collection was put together by Hip Digital, which specializes in just this sort of music branding alliance.

3. Less expensive music on YouTube clips I have a contact at Manhattan PR firm and they had posted a promo clip on Facebook for the Broadway play VENUS IN FUR. I've attached a link below. They used a popular song (from 2009 - Florence & the Machine/"Kiss with a fist") so I contacted them as how they got this (thinking maybe no one cleared it). However he told me, and my cursory research confirmed, that as of recently youtube has available a certain amount of current music for cheap (meaning $100-$200.00) for use on Youtube only. Anyway I thought it made the clip really "pop" and evidently it was all legal and it looks and sounds great.

If you think you have a client or need to see about this and want my help, let me know and I can look into it for you. I may be able do some initial work gratis - it may not even take that long.

4. With Romplr, fans can now connect to artists' music in a whole new personal way by creating their own versions of a song and being part of the creative process. In addition to the core song elements, fans can then record and share their mixes through Facebook Connect, through email or on www.romplr.com the online interactive music companion site. Heh, the song example on the home 'how to' page is Tone Loc's 'WILD THING' - from 1988. Check it out.

5. These Numbers May Change Your Attitude About Three-Strikes...Tuesday, February 21, 2012 by paul from www.digitalmusicnews.com

SOPA could be the first battle in an anti-piracy World War III, but there may be softer solutions to this problem. Just last week, prominent VC Fred Wilson outlined a plan that involved self-policing of bad actors by the tech community itself - without the bitter aftertaste of FBI raids and DNS takeovers. And across the Atlantic, France just presented some interesting stats related to its controversial three-strikes enforcement campaign. You know, the one that features warning letters and threats of access cutting, all under the banner of Hadopi. This effort has a bad reputation, but it's actually far softer than high-profile RIAA lawsuits that bankrupt file-sharers, some of which are still being prosecuted today. Hadopi claims that file-sharing is ebbing, though certainly apps like Spotify and the native Deezer have something to do with that. But a separate study out of Wellesley and Carnegie Mellon asserts that iTunes sales are now stronger in France relative to the rest of Europe.

But this may be the most interesting set of stats:

French population (2011): 65.8 million
Number of first-round letters: 822,000
Number of second-round letters: 68,000
Number of third-round letters: 165

So, the group that ultimately received a third letter is 0.02 percent of the group, and 0.00025 percent of the broader population. And, these aren't devastating, RIAA-style consequences: rather, the 'bad actors' will receive fines of 1,500 euros, a month of no internet access, or both (we've heard higher terms, but this is according to the latest information from the group). That's it.

It's softer, and just maybe an effective strategy.

"We suggest that with regard to mitigation of sales displacement by piracy, a national anti-piracy policy combined with educational efforts is much more effective in the longer term than a small number of high-profile lawsuits."

Wellesley/Carnegie Mellon researchers.

6. from Variety 4/27/12 -- DJs look to thefuture.com for mix royalties - With the mainstreaming of electronic dance music, the industry has had to confront a number of challenges adapting DJ culture to more established digital music platforms. Not the least of these issues is that longform DJ mixes -- which are to dance music fans what extended jams of "Dark Star" are to Deadheads -- are virtually impossible to find on mainstream Internet radio or streaming services.

Since DJ mixes can contain nearly unrecognizable snippets from countless songs, attempts to stream or sell them on aboveboard platforms can run into hurdles from the amassed rights holders involved. But a newly launched startup dubbed Thefuture.fm -- formerly Dubset -- is trying to clean up the space, offering what it claims is the first platform to offer fully legal streams of mixed audio.

The company utilizes an audio fingerprinting technology it calls MixScan to track every song incorporated into the mixes it provides and to allocate payments to both DJs and the rightsholders of all sampled material accordingly. Partnering with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, SoundExchange and NARM, the service calculates royalty payments by analyzing the plays a particular mix receives, coupled with the presence of particular songs in the mix, then distributes payments to the appropriate bodies.

7. FINALLY some music branding trivia -- The Rolling Stones did this commercial jingle for RICE KRISPIES Cereal in 1963; the song appeared in a commercial that aired only in the UK in 1964. Here’s the spot in question:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZBmhEMFdl0


Brian Godshall has handled music clearances and/or licensing for over 15 years for many dozens of independent films including more recent movies such as CAUCUS, PLEASE GIVE and JACK GOES BOATING as well as past films such as TOWELHEAD, BORN INTO BROTHELS, GARDEN STATE, GUNNIN' FOR THAT #1 SPOT, KINSEY, THE NAMESAKE, SONGCATCHER and many others. He looks forward to new ideas and changes in the independent film industry.
email: info@bgodshallclearmusic.com
web: www.bgodshallclearmusic.com

Piracy: (Some Of) The Short & The Long Of It

Thankfully, Taylor Hackford recognizes that the film industry needs to wise up and educate itself on piracy. He and I agree on that. And I think we agree on the goal of it all, but I suspect we have completely different approaches to solving the problem.  And that is where I am really concerned.  To solve it, Hackford seems willing to sacrifice greater principles in the service of business, and that is a shame.  I hope I am wrong. Mr. Hackford, president of the DGA, was recently speaking at the Content Protection Summit and Variety reported on it. Reading the article I remain unclear as to what Hackford's point is about piracy beyond that it is bad and we need to make it a real concern of the industry. He seems to be saying that if we want to protect our content, we have to be willing to give up on a free and open internet. He claims groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press as enemies. Shutting down a free and open internet is not the path to solving the piracy problem; it is the path to a closed society that favors a class or capital over access and opportunity -- and that is the antithesis of what we need to do.

We can not create a system that favors the powerful, the connected, or the well capitalized. The Film Business already favors all those niches quite well, and government and utilities should do all they can to provide for all equally.  Equality under the law and within the society remains one of the greatest ideals, and personally speaking, I would rather have a world that strives for that ideal's enforcement, even if that striving has to support some bad apples, rather than risk that anyone does not have equal access or equal opportunity.

Hackford was insightful to link Hollywood's focus on event pictures to piracy, in that if piracy is eroding film's revenue -- or even thought to be -- then investors will be more likely to put money into the projects most likely to generate the quickest return and the most unique experience.  The insight would actually make sense if individual investors were backers of event pictures, let alone studio pictures.  They rarely have such opportunities.

Being someone who has depended on private equity for all but a few of my 60+ films, I have never once heard an investor confess concern about piracy (and granted some of that may have to do with their education on the issue).  I do have investors express concern about distribution opportunities, access to markets, cost of promotion, and difficulties to reaching audiences.     I do hear people intrigued about using the systems that have been developed by pirates and copy-forward advocates to reach audiences that they have not reached before.  They know that the system has to change and recognize the realities of the time we are living in.

I have witnessed first hand, and was one of the key witnesses, in a successful anti-trust suit against the MPAA for coercing the studios to take action that unfairly hurt independents in the process.  That case, popularly known as The Screener Ban, used piracy as the fear that prompted excluding the key marketing tool of Award Screeners from all filmmakers' arsenal.  The powerful often look out for their interests without even consulting the rest of the industry about their practices.  When Dan Glickman took over at the MPAA, he was quite vigilant at soliciting the indie sector's opinion on the state of the industry, and I hope his successor remains as committed.  I hope whomever takes over the MPAA recognizes the necessity of our culture industry to commit to a free & open internet or else exclude a serious sector of our community.

When it comes to protecting artists' rights, piracy is a serious issue, but open and free access to a public good (i.e. the internet) is a greater one.  We can not look at short term solutions that have long term repercussions.  The focus on the piracy issue tends to take place at events that exclude a large portion of the film community -- namely the truly independent artists that will never have access to the studio system.  We need institutions, organizations, and methods that make sure to include this segment's voice -- and that includes the DGA.

I, and artists everywhere, will not be able to support ourselves -- and thus generate new work -- if our work is widely stolen and we are not compensated.   Mr. Hackford is right on when he speaks of the need for passion and education when it comes to the issue of intellectual property theft, but as we enter that discussion, we need to strenuously protect the greater ideal of equal access and opportunity.  We also need to recognize human behavior and the current state of things -- people want convenience, but they also want other things.  The large media corporations have done little to offer a better option to theft.  Our methods of licensing and distributing work relies on out of date analogue models.  There are actions that can be taken, by artists and businesses, and it is hight time that we begun this discussion in earnest -- but let's not abandon the ideals as we start the march down the road.

Save the internet!

Job Ops In IndieLand (pt.6): Move Beyond A Single Product

Most industries and practices get stuck in a rut of doing things the way they've always been done.  The film world is a stellar example of this phenomenon.  Most practices are designed around the way the world used to be, not how it is now.  The film world and it's economy used to be based around scarcity, but now we live in a world of abundance.  Adapting to this change will bring new opportunities.  The first step is acknowledging that change.

Some Job Opportunities in Indie Film with Ted Hope (part 6) from Hope for Film on Vimeo.

If you missed the prior posts on Job Opportunities in Indie Film, watch them here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Seven.

Special thanks to Chris Stetson for shooting, editing, and posting this.