The future of financing film

Sorry to be a bit late with this info, but I hope people have caught on to the news in some other way, but to state the fact: The Tunnel has been released. On both DVD and – of course – the internet via Bittorrent.

One of the frames I got, namely number 71468

I mentioned this film already last year, noting that I had donated to the production – in the way of buying 25 frames out of the total 135000. The production crew called it the “135K project”, noting that if every frame was bought for one dollar, they could produce the same amount of frames and produce a feature film. At the time of release (19th of May 2011), they hadn’t yet reached their goal, however there is steady support growing for the project now that it’s proven to be real.

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.

Currently they have only gathered about one third of the required purchased frames. This during a period of pre-production and only about 10 days of availability. During pre-production the skepticism is of course huge, who knows they’ll ever be able to finish the film? But they still managed to raise more than $30,000 during that period – and since release the smaller donations around $1 have been falling in steadily. Given a global potential fan-base, 135000 single-dollar donations is not far-fetched. In fact, I’m sure they’ve managed to cover their costs by the end of the year in donations alone – not counting DVD sales and possible movie festival incomes.

The movie itself is distributed with a Creative Commons by-nc-nd license, which sort of disappointed me. At the least, I’d wish for the non-derivative part to be removed, because it otherwise won’t let people produce remixed work of any kind. This is rather unfortunate, but something I can definitely see how they argue. Also, one may hope that once 135K has been collected, the movie is distributed under a more free license. (such as CC:by-sa which Wikipedia uses)

When the authorities say "you can't do that, it's impossible", the right action to take is doing it anyway.

While seeding the movie to more watchers (my cap is set on 10 peers, and I’m maxing out the bandwidth), I also read on The Tunnel’s blog that another Creative Commons movie is having trouble financing. A recent drop of an investor’s money has caused The Cosmonaut to lose 40.000€ – almost $60.000 USD. Two days ago when I checked, they had already raised more than 38.000€ (about 98%) of these… Today when I checked back, they were up to 75.250€ (188%)… The mail I sent asking a couple of questions didn’t even have time to be answered before they almost doubled their enquiry.

Now, of course all future films can’t be financed this way. The once that are being buzzed about right now have very good promotional abilities. Using the Internet, they can reach far more investors than any Hollywood film. And by not wasting everything on drug-addicted, overpaid actors, special effects and rebuilding stuff from scratch (sharing and remixing), the budget can get much, much smaller for each film. Imagine the future where extensive 3D models, landscapes, sound effects, particle generators and the like are shared amongst filmmakers. What a much cheaper, more agile and much more vivid movie environment the world would have.

Having started on the computer generated graphics part of this is the Blender Foundation, which supports and releases material using Creative Commons licenses for the world to use – royalty free. Short films you may have seen related to this project are Big Buck Bunny as well as Sintel.

There is really not much more to this post, except the entire future of the film industry, being able to archiving culture legally with respect to our future historians (which is virtually impossible with today’s copyright laws). As well as encouraging people to support free culture rather than restricted, locked down culture. Merely adding to the download statistics may very well support the means to produce more free culture – so go get yourself a copy of The Tunnel (and watch it). It was in fact very well made, and not as much “Blairwitch Project” as I had anticipated.

Tomorrow I will have a meeting with Tomas Svedgård at Region Västerbotten, the coordinator for Umeå’s film festival which will take place this fall. I am representing Common Culture of Umeå, a local organisation dedicated to promoting freely licensed culture of all sorts – and we hope to take part in the festival. We hope to make use of that opportunity to shine more light on free culture and present the idea as well as recent success stories to curious visitors.

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