In this week’s FilmWorks masterclass one of the speakers mentioned a filmmaker whose work was the subject of repeated YouTube mash-ups. She was faced with a choice: invoke her rights and request YouTube take them down, or embrace these creative responses and re-interpretations of her work. She chose the latter, engaging with the mashers(?) and nurturing her fan community.
Following the DVD release of my 2005 feature film Soul Searcher, I became aware of numerous pirate copies floating about on the internet. My feelings were mixed. On the one hand, given the years of my life and the thousands of pounds I’d put into making the film, I was furious that people were ripping it off. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be flattered that people had thought it worth pirating. One Russian pirate (arrrrrsky!) had even gone to the trouble of dubbing it into his language, albeit doing all the voices himself without any attempt to differentiate them or act in any way. Watch some clips here.
Having spent the last year crowd-funding Stop/Eject, I am all too aware of the importance of posting free content online – like this blog, or Stop/Eject’s behind-the-scenes videos – in order to promote myself and my current projects. But promote myself to what end? Like many filmmakers, my ultimate goal is to make feature films for a living, but how can I or anyone else making a living in a world where almost all media content ever produced can be obtained, free of charge, at the click of a mouse? In the last few years I’ve already witnessed the specific type of filmmaking it’s always been my dream to work in – the kind where movies are shot on real sets with real actors on real celluloid and exhibited on real celluloid – start to disappear. But is the industry as a whole doomed to oblivion by piracy?
Maybe not. Perhaps crowd-funding demonstrates a glimmer of hope. Even though some people would rather pirate Hollywood blockbusters than pay for them, some other people will pay for independent films that haven’t even been made yet. How can we account for this dichomoty? Community engagement. Sponsors of a crowd-funded film feel part of the project in a way that they never could with the latest Tom Cruise juggernaut. Perhaps if I could have talked to that Russian pirate (arrrsky! That will never get old.) while Soul Searcher was still in production I could have involved him in the project, making him the official translator or the online publicist for Asia or something. Co-operation rather than competition. Perhaps that is the way forward.