What Could Have Been – or Could It?

A publicity shot of me from 2005
A publicity shot of me from 2005

I recently came across some unpublished blog entries I wrote back in April 2005 when I was trying to sell my feature film Soul Searcher. It’s amazing how close I seemed at the time to getting my big break. It just goes to show you how big a pinch of salt you have to take what sales agents tell you with.

The Secret Diary of Neil Oseman, aged 24¾

April 26th 2005

I’ve decided to start up this secret parallel journal because distributors are now getting interested in the film and from a business point of view it’s not a good idea to be putting too much info about offers and stuff on the website. Hopefully this journal will one day see the light of day.

Today the number of sales agents/distributors planning to make an offer on the film went up to four. Echelon Entertainment (Burbank, sales agents) and Foundation Films (also California, sales agents) joined Third Millennium (London – the only UK distributor interested so far) and CinemaVault Releasing (Toronto, sales agent) in the ranks of the keen. CinemaVault sent me through the official Offer paperwork today but I haven’t read it yet.

The main reason I wanted to write this secret journal is to tell you about the e-mail I just got from Echelon. They reckon there’s a US TV show called Soul Searchers and they want to change my movie’s title to “Grim”. Who the hell’s going to buy a film called Grim? I politely replied that I couldn’t find any mention of this TV series on the net and that it might not be wise to change the film’s title after all the publicity it has had.

Another great story of sales agent stupidity which I couldn’t possibly put on the site is that CinemaVault reckoned SS cost $500,000 USD to make. Hahahahaha! Christ, I’d be seriously worried if SS was the best I could do for half a million bucks. [It actually cost £28,000.]

I just read the CinemaVault contract [see my previous post for an analysis of this]. The list of delivery requirements is five pages long. I estimate producing all the materials to be a two month full-time job. Most ludicrous of all is they want a “cut by cut description of the action in the Picture” and T/C in & outs for EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE.

April 28th 2005

I just found out that CinemaVault want to push for a theatrical release. Fucking YEAAAH!!!

[An hour or so later…]

Okay, now I’ve calmed down a bit.  I’ve recorded my thoughts on video for Going To Hell and I thought I should put some more in writing, only now I don’t know what to write.

Alright, here are the thoughts going round in my head right now:

  1. This is the FIRST company to make me a formal offer. They’re talking about probably a small US release, but what if another company proposes something bigger?
  2. SS hasn’t been to any festivals except Borderlines yet. That could be where the big boys pick it up. Surely I shouldn’t sign before it’s had a chance to go to Telluride, Raindance, etc? Though who knows if it’ll get in.
  3. Cannes of course is coming up. Perhaps I can meet Michael Paszt [from CinemaVault] face to face there. Should I fess up about the budget? (He thinks it cost nearly US$500,000.) After all, the fact that I made it for so little is a major publicity point.
  4. What will happen when I tell CinemaVault that there’s no 35mm print? Surely they’ve guessed that already, but what if they’re not prepared to bear the cost of it? Can I raise the necessary funds to pay for it, even with a sales agent behind me?
  5. These are HUGE, HUGE things I’m dealing with. Should I get someone who’s business savvy to negotiate this stuff?
  6. Who framed Roger Rabbit?
  7. Doesn’t the fact that I’ve had this offer mean I should be able to get more? I mean, now I can say I’ve been offered a theatrical release – surely other sales agents/distributors will come running? Can  I somehow use this to break into Hollywood?

The journal also includes a few previously unpublished thoughts from my trip to Cannes the following month.

I was feeling frustrated that I must seem to buyers like another punk kid with another lame movie. I had to tell them it cost $400,000 to make – if I’d have told them the truth they would either have ripped me off or not given me the time of day. The problem is that it’s not a good advert for me. If SS was the best film I could make for $400,000 I’d be seriously worried. I want to show them the Guardian article – explain how the fact that it was made for so little should be the cornerstone of the publicity campaign – the double-disc DVD, the making-of book. The El Mariachi effect. This is NOT just another low budget film. But I know that just another low budget film was all these people wanted.

Ultimately most of the interest trickled away. After initial enthusiasm and talk of theatrical releases, the sales agents retreated to much smaller offers (“maybe we’ll do a theatrical but probably not”) or stopped returning my calls. Soul Searcher failed to get into any major festivals and was released only on DVD and VOD by a small UK company that went bust shortly before the distribution term expired last year.

The moral of the story is that it can be extremely exciting to be offered a distribution deal, but these companies will have no qualms about leading you on. Most hope you’ll sign quickly, but you should never do that. Ask them tough questions – many won’t even reply and the rest probably won’t give you the answers you want, but you must know what you’re getting into when you sign away your baby.

What Could Have Been – or Could It?

What to Look For in a Distribution Contract

Should you sign?
Should you sign?

What follows should not be construed as legal advice, and you should ALWAYS get legal advice before signing a contract. However, if you’ve been offered your first distribution deal and money is tight, these basic tips might help you reach a rough understanding of what exactly is on the table before you splash out on a solicitor.

rAs an example I’m going to use one of the contracts I was offered for my feature Soul Searcher, but not the one I signed.

Download the contract (PDF, 143KB) – I cannot be held responsible for any losses arising from the use of this contract or the following blog post.

Grant of Rights

Producer hereby grants to Distributor, with respect to the Term and the Territory set out below, the exclusive distribution and exhibition rights in all media now known or devised later including, but not limited to Theatrical, and Non Theatrical rights, Video/DVD rights, rights pertaining to all forms of Television syndicated or non syndicated, ancillary rights, and all kinds of internet rights pertaining to the feature film entitled “SOUL SEARCHER” (the “Picture”) a film by Neil Oseman, shot in Mini DV.

Territory: The World excluding U.K.

Term: Commencing immediately and expiring 25 years from the Date of Complete Delivery.

First of all check out the TERRITORY and MEDIA, i.e. what countries are you allowing the sales agent to distribute the film in and in what form (theatrical, DVD, TV, VOD…), but be aware that just because the contract grants them the right to release your film in cinemas, for example, it doesn’t mean they are under any obligation to do that. Also check out the TERM – how long will they get these rights for? The 25 year term in this contract is unusually long; five would be more typical.

Minimum Guarantee (“ Advance”)

Distributor agrees to pay Producer Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000.00 USD) as a Minimum Guarantee of Producer’s share of Gross Receipts payable 20% on signing of this agreement and approval of Chain of title. The remaining 80% balance will be on complete delivery and acceptance, in terms of technical specifications, of all the items noted under Schedule “ A”. 

This contract offers an ADVANCE – meaning that they pay you upfront, later recouping this advance out of the profits. But if your film doesn’t make any profits you’ve still got the advance. This is a great deal for a low budget filmmaker.

Distribution Fees, Expenses and Reporting

Distributor shall be entitled to a distribution fee of 25% of gross receipts net of withholding tax from exploitation of the Rights. 

The crux of the contract is the PERCENTAGE of any earnings that the sales agent will pass on to you the producer, the higher the better. Here they are proposing to take 25%. That leaves 75% for me –  pretty good, huh? But wait….

Distributor shall also be entitled to distribution expenses to a maximum cap of U.S. $ 75,000.00 excluding deliverables, unless additional expenses are approved in writing by Producer, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld (“Distribution Expenses”). Distribution Expenses mean out-of-pocket costs incurred by the Distributor, directly or indirectly, in specific connection with distribution, promotion, and marketing of the Picture including any costs which can reasonably and proportionately be allocated to the Picture in accordance with normal accounting practices of the motion picture industry.

Gross receipts shall be disbursed in the following order: (1) Distributor’s fee (2) To recoup Distributor’s costs for creating or correcting any deficient materials as set forth above (3) Distribution Expenses (4) Balance to Producer

Check out that last paragraph. When the money comes in, the sales agent creams off their 25%, then they recoup any costs in correcting the delivery materials (more on that later), then they recoup their EXPENSES, and only then does the producer get what’s left of the pie. So they can swan off to Cannes, Berlin, the American Film Market and so on, to promote their catalogue of films, and take the cost of all their lunches and air fares and slap-up dinners out of the profits before the producers of those films get to see a penny.

You should look for an EXPENSES CAP in the contract, limiting the amount the sales agent can claim out of the profits before they’re passed to you. Here it’s $75,000. The chances of a microbudget film ever making more than that are extremely slim. Result? You never see any money (except the advance, if you’re lucky enough to have been offered one).

Representations and Warranties

Producer warrants, represents and agrees that it is the holder of the copyright, and has the right to convey all of the rights, licenses and privileges granted herein; that it has not entered and will not enter into any agreement, commitment, arrangement or other grant of rights competing with, interfering with, affecting or diminishing any of the rights and licenses granted herein, and that the Picture, insofar as the Rights granted herein are concerned, are free and clear of any encumbrance and do not infringe upon the rights of any party or parties whomsoever. 

If you sign this contract, what you’re saying via the paragraph above is that you haven’t already sold the rights to anyone else and that your film doesn’t infringe anyone else’s copyright. You’re WARRANTING that you’ve cleared all the music and branding that appears in your film. You got Apple’s permission to show that logo on the iPhone your lead character’s always using, right? And you got WHSmith’s permission to have their shopfront in the background of that highstreet scene?

Now we come to the reason I didn’t sign this contract: the DELIVERY MATERIALS, the list of which occupies five full pages of this contract, so check out the PDF download above to see them.

When you sell a film, you can’t just hand over one master copy of it. The sales agent wants all kinds of different versions – eleven different submasters in this contract, plus all the film elements (those would have been expensive – I didn’t shoot on film!), sound elements, press kits…. And then the documents. Some of the things listed on pages eight and nine (especially the E&O insurance) are serious legal documents that could have cost thousands of pounds to have drawn up. The delivery materials could easily have eaten up the whole $15,000 advance and might even have cost more than the whole production budget of the film. I recommend getting quotes for all delivery materials before signing any distribution deal.

I hope this has given you some idea of what to look for, but let me say again, GET PROFESSIONAL LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE YOU SIGN ANYTHING!

What to Look For in a Distribution Contract

Making a Digital Cinema Package

The finished Stop/Eject DCP. Not as cool as a roll of 35mm.
The finished Stop/Eject DCP. Not as cool as a roll of 35mm.

Now that huge reels of 35mm film are all but obsolete, Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs) are the new means of getting a film to a cinema. Many top film festivals will only screen off a DCP or 35mm print, and in terms of picture and sound quality and compatibility it is your best option for screening at theatrical venues in general. Much has been written about how you can make a DCP at home for nothing, but having just gone through the process myself for Stop/Eject I’m going to round up some of the best sources of information I came across and enlarge on the area of disc formatting which hasn’t been too well covered elsewhere.

To ensure maximum compatibility of your DCP you need to:

  • convert your film to 24fps if it isn’t already at that frame rate
  • use a standard 2K aspect ratio, 2048×1080 or 2048×858
  • put it on a disc that is EXT3 formatted
  • supply that disc in a Cru Dataport DX-115

I’ve spoken to filmmakers who have ignored many or all of the above and still run their DCPs successfully in cinemas, but I decided to play it safe and do all of the above, except the Cru Dataport, which was a little too expensive. Instead I bought a 500GB LaCie Rugged USB drive and put my DCP on there. Read Knut Erik Evensen’s excellent blog post on DCP delivery for more info on Dataports and USB compatibility.

The formatted drive as seen in Ubuntu, with the DCP files copied over
Step 5: the formatted drive as seen in Ubuntu, with the DCP files copied over

So, here is the process I went through. I was starting out with 25,409 uncompressed 16-bit TIFF files representing each individual frame of Stop/Eject, and six mono 24-bit linear PCM WAV files for the 5.1 surround soundtrack. The TIFFs were in 1080P (1920×1080) letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

  1. First of all I used Photoshop to batch convert all the TIFFs to the 2048×858 aspect ratio. This is actually 2.39:1 rather than the 2.35:1, so it meant cropping a sliver of the actual picture off the top and bottom, not just the black bars, as well as enlarging the picture slightly. It took my poor iMac about 12 hours to convert the 25,409 frames. I’m sure there’s quicker batch conversion software out there than Photoshop if you hunt around though.
  2. Next I used a free piece of audio software called Audacity to slow down each of the six audio files by 4% so that they will match the images when they run at 24fps. (Stop/Eject was shot and edited at 25fps.) Thanks to Matt Cameron’s blog for this tip.
  3. Then I downloaded and ran OpenDCP, the brilliant free software that actually creates the Digital Cinema Package for you. It’s very simple to use, but check out the help Wiki and Danny Lacey’s seminal blog post to guide you through it. The end result was six files: four XML files and two MXF files, one for sound and one for picture. Encoding at the default bitrate of 125mb/s, which the Wiki says is more than good enough for 2K at 24fps, Stop/Eject’s DCP was just under 17GB, so about 1GB per minute.
  4. Now the tricky bit – copying those six files onto an EXT3 formatted drive. EXT3 is a Linux file system, and is not supported by MacOS. So I downloaded Ubuntu, a free operating system which does support it. (Choose the 64-bit download unless you have quite an old computer.) The downloaded file is a disc image (.ISO) which you can burn to DVD using Disk Utlity (found in the utilities sub-folder of MacOS’s Applications folder). Then restart your Mac, with the DVD still in the drive, and hold down C when you hear the chimes. This will boot up your Mac in the Ubuntu operating system. (You can release C when you see the black screen and Ubuntu logo.)
  5. Once Ubuntu was running, I right-clicked the LaCie Rugged in the list of drives in the lower left of the desktop and chose format from the contextual menu. To get more than the default options, I clicked Disk Utility in the dialogue box that came up. I could now select EXT3 as the file system (leaving the other settings at their default values). When I clicked format, Ubuntu didn’t seem to be doing anything, but after a few minutes the Disk Utility showed that the volume had been created. I could then close the Disk Utility, and drag and drop the six DCP files from another hard drive (MacOS formatted) onto my newly EXT3 formatted LaCie. Apparently you can put these files inside a folder if you want, but again to be extra safe I put them in the root directory.

After completing the DCP I took it to the Courtyard, my local arts centre, where head projectionist Simon Nicholls was kind enough to let me test it. To my very pleasant surprise it worked perfectly, uploading at about real time via the Doremi server’s USB 2 socket and playing shortly afterwards with superb sound and picture quality. Much as I love celluloid, the ease and cheapness of this process are breathtaking, the purchase of the hard drive being the only cost. I’ll let you know how I get on running it at other cinemas.

Making a Digital Cinema Package

How to Create a Blu-ray Motion Menu in Adobe Encore

Today I thought I’d share the process I figured out for creating looping menus in Encore for DVD and Blu-ray. If, like me, you want to do it all from scratch rather than using any of the built-in templates, the process isn’t particularly intuitive, and was sufficiently different from DVD Studio Pro (the software I’m used to) to leave me scratching my head from time to time, but here’s how I did it in the end. I’ll use Stop/Eject‘s main menu as the example. I’m going to assume you already know the basics of Encore and can find your way around Photoshop.

First of all you have to understand how DVDs and Blu-rays (henceforth collectively referred to simply as “discs”) work. They’re not like websites or Flash movies where you can do anything you want; the specifications are quite narrow. A motion menu consists of two elements:

  1. The background, which is a video (typically with audio) that you can create in Final Cut Pro, Premiere, or whatever.
  2. The button highlights, which show the user which button is currently selected. The user will only ever see one of these at a time.

Hang on – background, button hightlights…. but what about the buttons themselves? These have to be part of the background. Yes, you can import your background movie as a Quicktime into Encore and then add buttons to it within Encore, but when you come to build your disc the software will render those buttons into the background movie. All the disc player can deal with is a background movie and the highlights.

I prefer to build my buttons into the background movie in my editing software (Final Cut) rather than add them in Encore, and that’s the approach I’ll outline here.

Another crucial point to understand is that each button highlight can only be one colour. So look at the Stop/Eject main menu below. The button highlights are the white rings. They could not be red-and-white striped rings, like life preservers; they can only be one solid colour.

Stop/Eject's main menu with all the button highlights visible
Stop/Eject’s main menu with all the button highlights visible

So, now you appreciate all of the above you can get started on your menu. The first step for me was shooting and editing the background movie, although for most people this will be a computer-generated graphic rather than something shot with a camera. It’s important to think about where your loop point is going to be so that the menu will loop smoothly.

The following video shows my edited background movie. The buttons were created in Photoshop and added to the movie in Final Cut, before exporting as a ProRes Quicktime (with these buttons now baked in) ready to be imported into Encore.

In Encore I can now create a new menu and use the pick-whip in the properties panel to select my Quicktime file as the source for both the video and the audio. I can also set the loop point in the same panel.

I need to make sure that the loop point is at a place in the video where the audio track is silent or at least is playing a constant background noise – e.g. an air conditioning hum – that will not jump unpleasantly when the menu loops. You’ll notice that my menu’s audio track has a beat or two of silence around the loop point. If you’re using music, don’t start it immediately at the loop point as many players take a fraction of a second to kick in the audio after they loop.

I also need to ensure that all of the buttons have appeared before the loop point. This is because the loop point is the place at which the player will start displaying the button highlight. If your menu loops back to a point before the buttons have appeared, the user will momentarily see the highlight without the corresponding button.

To create the button highlights, right-click (or ctrl-click if you’re using a single button mouse) on the menu and choose “edit menu in Photoshop” from the contextual menu. Photoshop will open with a still of your menu as it appears at the loop point. Annoyingly, this still will be in standard definition even if you’re creating a Blu-ray disc, so the first thing you’ll need to do in Photoshop is to change the pixel aspect ratio to square and re-size the image to 1920×1080.

For each button, create a new group in the layers palette and give it a name that starts with (+). When you go back to Encore it will recognise this folder as pertaining to a button. Within the group, make a new layer and call it (=1)highlight. Draw your button highlight on this layer, remembering that it can only be one colour.

Now we need to pause a moment and consider hit areas. When your disc is played in a computer, the user can select buttons with the mouse. The hit area determines what part of the screen the user must hover the mouse pointer over for the button to be considered selected. This area MUST be rectangular. For each button, Encore will look at all the layers within the relevant group and draw the smallest possible rectangle that will completely enclose all those layers; that will be your button’s hit area.

In my case, right now the only layers in my groups are the white rings which are the button highlights themselves. But what if someone hovers the mouse over the words “special features”? I want the button to be selected then too, so in the (+)special features group I’ll create a second layer (critically, it must be below the highlight layer) and draw a rectangle where I want my hit area to be. I can then click the eye icon next to this in the layer palette so it becomes invisible and doesn’t ruin the look of my menu.

The main menu with the hit areas visible
The main menu with the hit areas visible

Another restriction of the DVD/Blu-ray specs is that button hit areas can’t overlap. Given the restriction I mentioned earlier, that they must be rectangular, you can see from the layout of my menu that it isn’t possible for the hit areas of Play Movie and Scene Selection to include the text for those buttons without overlapping each other. I choose not to compromise the design of the menu and trust that users will soon find the hit area with a quick sweep of the mouse over the whole image.

I save the image in Photoshop and return to Encore. I can now see the button hit areas outlined on the menu. If I click the icon for “show selected subpicture highlights” (see below image) I can see the highlights too. It’s now simply a case of setting the target for each button using the pick-whip in the properties panel.

The Encore interface with the button to view the highlights hovered over
The Encore interface with the button to view the highlights hovered over

When users return to the main menu, after they’ve visited the special features menu, for example, I don’t want them to have to sit through the intro part of the menu again; I want them to go straight to the loop point. So I’ll go to the main menu button in the special features menu and set the target – not using the pick-whip, but through the pull-down menu. I’ll select “specifiy link” and in the dialogue box which appears I make sure to tick the “set to loop point” checkbox.

One final point. The version of Encore I used (CS5.1) has a bug whereby any motion menu longer than 70 seconds will not loop smoothly; a second or so of black will appear each time the player gets to the end of the loop. This issue does not occur in Encore’s preview, only when you’ve burnt the disc. There’s no workaround that I can find other than shortening the menu.

I hope this has been some help to those of you out there who are still burning your films onto physical discs. Let me know if you’d like to hear more about any part of the disc authoring process.

How to Create a Blu-ray Motion Menu in Adobe Encore

HENRi

I have to share this amazing short film I discovered recently thanks to nofilmschool.com. HENRi is a 20 minute crowd-funded sci-fi movie about a computer that builds a robot body for itself and tries to become human. It stars Margot Kidder (best known as Lois Lane in the original Superman movies) and Keir Dullea, who flips his famous role as David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey to play the titular computer. But the human characters are only a small part of this film. Shot on beautiful quarter-scale sets, the real star is the HENRi robot, realised through a combination of rod puppetry and first rate CGI. Trust me, this is one of the most unique and awesome shorts you will ever see and well worth every penny of the £1.19 rental fee.

HENRi

Music Cue Sheet

If your film gets picked up by a distributor, one of the many delivery materials they’ll ask for is a music cue sheet. If you’re unsure what one is or how to lay one out, take a look at Soul Searcher‘s as an example. See the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook by Chris Jones and Genevieve Joliffe for more information on music cue sheets. For more on distribution and delivery materials, read this post about what to look for in a distribution contract.

Download Soul Searcher’s music cue sheet (.doc, 84kb)

Music Cue Sheet

A Window on Oblivion

Last month the lastest Eric Bana movie, Deadfall, was released in US cinemas. The unusual thing is that it had already been out for a month on demand. This is one of the first examples of yet another massive shift that’s occurring in the film industry.

For the first few decades of its life, cinema was unique. Then television came along. The film industry responded by introducing colour and widescreen aspect ratios to the cinema. TV eventually caught up with both of these developments. As we approached and entered the new millennium our home entertainment options were expanding exponentially. TVs are now huge, 5.1 surround sound systems are highly affordable; you can even watch 3D at home if you want.

So why go to the cinema?

Until recently, the answer was “because you have to if you don’t want to wait months for the DVD release”. This is known as the theatrical window, the time within which a film must be exclusive to cinemas, before it becomes available in other media. Many claim this system fosters piracy. After all, if you could buy or watch a film on demand for a reasonable price as soon as it’s first released, why would you pirate it?

Many others claim that without this system, cinemas would go bust. I suspect this may be true.

I will be interested to see what happens as more and films follow Deadfall’s example. Clearly the aim is to create word of mouth with the on-demand release, building the film up to the point where people will be desperate to see it on the big screen. Sorry, I mean the slightly-bigger-than-the-screen-you-have-at-home screen.

35mm projectors - a thing of the past.
35mm projectors – a thing of the past.

Ask yourself this: what happened to phone boxes when the infinitely convenient and flexible mobile phone became affordable? The same fate, I fear, awaits cinemas.

Because we can all have cinemas in our homes now. If we want to ban popcorn from our living rooms and pause the film whenever some weak-bladdered buffoon has to get up, we can. Or (and I’ll never, ever understand this behaviour) if we want to make phone calls and chat to our mates all through the movie, we can do that too without spoiling anyone else’s enjoyment.

The only possible reason to go to the cinema is to watch a movie on 35mm film….. Oh no, hang on… You can’t do that any more either.

Right, I’m off out to see Les Miserables. At the cinema. While I still can. If I could watch it on demand, would I? Given that it’s f**king cold outside and Hereford Odeon only seems to project digitally now, yes, I’d probably stay home and watch it on demand. A sobering thought.

A Window on Oblivion

2012: The Year that Film Died

Dark Side camera negative lab rolls
Dark Side camera negative lab rolls

A couple of weeks ago I screened the 35mm print of The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot at the last FilmWorks session in Bristol. It had been about 18 months since I last ran the print, and I was shocked how much attitudes towards celluloid had changed in that time. People were acting like they hadn’t seen a roll of film in 20 years, like I was some kind of whacked-out nostalgia hippy for wanting to shoot on 35mm. (But it still looked fucking awesome on the big screen.)

Digital cinema is one of those things that’s been lurking on the horizon for ages, then suddenly, silently… it’s here, like it’s always been here. Projection of moving images from celluloid is very, very quickly becoming extinct, as is acquisition of moving images on celluloid. Suddenly the likes of Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, staunch defenders of shooting films on film, are starting to look a bit loony, although I agree with them completely.

In September Fuji announced it would cease manufacturing of film stock, leaving only Kodak in the “market”, if such a word can be applied to an unwitting monopoly.

Dark Side mute print
Dark Side mute print

So we’re quickly heading towards a world in which “film” is a word completely divorced from its original meaning. Plastic strips coated in light sensitive emulsion will no longer play any part in the production or consumption of “films”.

The other day I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Although I chose to see a 2D 24fps screening, Peter Jackon’s sedate trilogy has been made in 3D at 48fps. The higher frame rate produces smoother motion which most people will associate with news broadcasts and documentaries. Overall the aim seems to be to make watching a film more like experiencing real life – sharper, smoother, three-dimensional. But is that what we really go to the cinema for?

It’s not what I go for. I want the scratches and the weave and the flicker because without them there is no magic, there is no suspension of disbelief. I want escapism. I want film. It seems I’m to be disappointed for the rest of my life.

2012: The Year that Film Died

Piracy (Arrrrr!)

The cover of the official Russian DVD release of Soul Searcher
The cover of the official Russian DVD release of Soul Searcher

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.

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 make 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.

I’ll leave you with some highlights from the Russian bootleg of Soul Searcher.

Piracy (Arrrrr!)