Paying for a movie (or supporting Creative Commons)

Being an active promoter of filesharing, people ask me “how will the artists/filmmakers get paid?” every once in a while. Usually I respond with either of these alternatives:

  • The same way they always have gotten paid: delivering an experience, not copies.
  • Artists/filmmakers don’t get paid today nor have they ever gotten paid.

Both statements are correct, though they differ in context, depending on the definition of “artist/filmmaker”. Either you speak of established filmmakers – those who produce for your everyday cinema – in which the first statement is correct. For these people a movie itself doesn’t mean money – they have to make it “sellable” in the sense of adapted to every possible viewer. Through the centralized and narrow-minded Hollywood, however, there are few enough films made to cash in this way using the big herd of movie watchers who don’t bother choosing movies.

By choosing movies I speak in the sense of actually discovering other sources than what’s force-fed through your standard media monglomerate monstrosity. Alternative distribution styles, independent labels/studios or maybe even just older movies in general – perhaps produced before the viewer was even born. Going to the cinema (or using most pay-per-view services) and looking at the schedule is not choosing.

The second statement, that creative people don’t get money, is correct in the sense of independents and those who haven’t already established themselves in the industry. The people who create because they want to and not because they signed a deal to write 15 songs in a year or deliver 3 identical movies featuring Tom Hanks. I’m talking about the films you previously never got to see because it was too expensive to create, distribute and reach out to an audience.

So how does one finance a movie without already having a huge herd of sheep at your doorstep, ready to pay $10-15 for a visit to the cinema and then $20 for the DVD? I’m not entirely sure how they did it, but the production of The Tunnel might provide that answer. I just “bought” 25 frames – one second – of that movie, meaning I donated $25 to the project. That’s more than I’ve paid for Hollywood crap-flicks the last 10 years. And this movie will be free to redistribute at no cost.

For more information on the phenomenon called “the Long Tail” and probabilistic distribution I’d definitely recommend starting with the book by Chris Anderson.
Go to your local library and borrow it for free.

Previously I have promoted and helped raise attention to Creative Commons-licensed films such as Nasty Old People, though I did not support it financially. That specific production however, as well as other free films, seem to have made it fine anyway thanks to other people supporting it. As with any film production it requires taking a risk, but from what I can see there have been relatively small problems for actually good, well-produced films to finance themselves in order to gain a profit. Star Wreck (2005) is a marvellous example of a €15,000 budget movie catching attention and eventually making it possible to finance a €6,500,000 production called Iron Sky – set to be released in 2011.

But let’s return to The Tunnel, set to be released on torrent trackers in late 2010. It was denied an IMDb listing (until they release it) due to not using an “official” distribution channel, they also somehow mark the dawn of a new age in filmmaking and project funding. IMDb notes that they do feature films distributed via BitTorrent, not explicitly saying – but giving the impression – that they don’t want to give the film possible credits required to “be serious”. Who knows, The Tunnel may very well be a trick to collect $135,000 and close the project?

My hopes however are in the finalization and distribution of the movie before December 2010. This in order to show it as part of the 2010 edition of Common Culture of Umeå, a short festival promoting free culture such as that which is licensed Creative Commons.

Having donated $25 I count it as no more than 2 ordinary cinema visits (only one if you count the overpriced popcorn). $25 also counts to approximately one newly released DVD. Though neither of those alternatives give you any right to redistribute the film to anyone else – ever. Keep in mind that you can’t (legally) invite your friends for a movie night using an ordinary DVD release. That sucks and is why I never pay for anything non-Free.

Creative Commons however gives you social freedom, free culture and the right to redistribute.

4 thoughts on “Paying for a movie (or supporting Creative Commons)”

  1. A very interesting read.
    While I don’t agree with redistributing copyrighted materials without permission, I do believe copyright laws need to change. And I love what the Creative Commons and the free culture movement in general are doing in this space.
    I really like independent, outside-the-box media productions like Star Wreck or The Lionshare and Pioneer One are doing with alternative routes to funding, licensing and distribution. It gives me renewed hope that one day, culture will be free. Not necessarily non profit, but free. I don’t mind paying for cultural experiences, but I don’t like the corporate monster, either.
    A perfect example of their hypocrisy would be when they show clips from YouTube users without asking permission. Sure, it gives YouTubers more exposure, but it’s the exact same thing that kids do when they upload their favourite Monty Python or Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s not about stealing, it’s about sharing. And for now, the corporate monster stands in the way of that.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    1. Marius Krinnan: I personally have a hard time seeing how mixed licensed content can coexist. How can one tell the difference between legally and illegally copied material?

      Either everything is permitted to be copied for non-commercial use, or the Creative commons material (and similarly licensed) will be infected with fear of illegal redistribution.

      The current state is that people want to share, but are most often not permitted. And usually there’s very little knowledge of what copyright actually means and implies, causing an unnecessary fear when FUD is spread from copyright enforcement agencies. This hurts free culture and my interpretation is that it can’t go away for real without making redistribution legal for non-commercial purposes at least.

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