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In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/
The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
Before I launch into this entry I’d just like to take a moment to dedicate this to my Granddad Ricky. Anybody whom has read the first of these blogs will know that I name checked him as an influence on my love of film. Well he sadly died a little unexpectedly a few hours ago. Thanks again, Granddad. x
The last fortnight has seen the release of two Joss Whedon pictures, one as a co-writer is (The) Cabin In The Woods, and one as a co-writer/director is The Avengers (Assemble). Genre, dialogue and the casting of Chris Hemsworth aside these two pictures couldn’t be more different for two key reasons;
Firstly The Avengers is a highly budget film rushed to a deadline, fully supported and endorsed. However Cabin In The Woods has sat on a shelf for three years and survived primarily through word of mouth. Secondly, The Avengers is estimated to turn a huge profit and receive a follow-up movie. Cabin is on track to barely break even. I absolutely loved both films and one day dream the Avengers will take on the ______ from Cabin.
But love aside, the status of both films at the box office is a concern for me. After all, when a sure-fire hit does well and an attempt at a fresh idea barely survives but both are hailed equally within their respective fields, then you have to wonder what went wrong for Cabin. One potential reason I want to look at in regard to this is situation is online piracy.
Piracy is a tough subject to discuss. I’d be lying if I said that I had never downloaded anything illegally. But as I have grown to the ripe old age of 30, I’ve found myself far less willing to do so. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time that I did. When I was a little younger it was easier to justify doing it, but with ever increasing maturity- and I say maturity in a relative sense, since I have a Freddy Krueger tattoo on my leg and a Lego Werewolf figure beside me- has made me re-address things.
I’ve just known too many friends who were musicians or artists or film makers struggle to produce things without incurring losses, or worse having people steal their ideas. Does this make me a moral paragon, perhaps even some form of Guardian Angel for the struggling artist? Nope. I sometimes get free tickets to film screenings. Hell, I take leftover newspapers from the canteen at work! What can I say, I love a bit of Dear Deidree…. But no. This decision to avoid downloading does not make me particularly ‘good’. Instead what this makes me is just somebody who has slowly, but actively, chosen to help fund niche projects rather than just take from them.
So if it’s not a black and white issue, can we at least discuss the grey areas of downloading independent films? Here are some of the main things that come up when discussing this topic and how I see them.
SOMETHING THAT I WOULDN’T NORMALLY PAY TO SEE;
This is the argument that it is OK to download a film if the downloader was never initially interested enough to pay to see that film. From the downloader’s perspective, regardless of how enjoyable the film may or may not be, the film makers should not care that the film was watched for free since the downloader was never their target audience.
My problem with this theory is simple; how do you know what films are ‘worthy’ of actually paying to see before you see it?
At some stage I didn’t know that I’d like pickled eggs until I bought one. I’ve bought a hell of a lot more since. I didn’t just walk into a chippie, pick an egg out of a jar, bite it and then decide it was in fact good, but since I didn’t know that beforehand I could just walk out without paying.
Which leads to…..
WORD OF MOUTH
Taking the above example, perhaps a downloader watches something and ends up raving about how good it is to other people. Surely this positive act counters the negative act? Hmmmmmmm…. no.
Effectively downloading a film and watching it, even if the downloader ends up telling other people it is great, is making the statement that the downloader’s own voice supersedes that of the people who made the product.
They made it, they should decide if you can sample it for free, experience it fully for free or pay the same as everybody else.
Is it possible that the positive word of mouth from an individual downloader can cause a greater swell in profits? Sure. But if it was generally the case, the best regarded film a would be the most successful. Instead the most successful are mostly tripe. It simply is not your decision to say whether your positive opinion is worth more than the income raised by legal means.
THE MUSIC PRINCIPLE:
“Downloading music hasn’t killed the bands, just the music industry. The same will apply with films”.
Chances are people who use this have never been in a band…. And in the sake of honesty I will say that I never have either. But the fact even I can see this is a flawed argument shows just how dumb it is.
Bands have been able to survive beyond the recording industry, but guess what; it’s a different industry. Bands can get paid to perform live. They can have t-shirt sales. Even these are long shots for most bands given they have to self-fund their own tours and merchandise but at least it is possible to survive via slowly building up a loyal fan base. Yet films work the opposite way.
It is completely irrelevant if you love a film maker if you don’t support their product. For each film that is made they need to cover their costs to attract investors for the next project. Indie film makers will not get the funding to make any more films if you do not support them. You can’t pay to see the director ‘shoot a scene live’ or get a tour shirt for the latest Bela Torr film.
It is absolutely true that copying tapes did not kill the music scene. It gave audiences more incentive to fund bands via other means. Sadly films do not have other means beyond being paid to watch them in some format or other.
This is actually hard to argue against in some ways. They sure do cost a lot these days for the privilege of being served by staff who look bored whilst other patrons play on phones and the seats about as comfortable on the knees as brick jammed in your joint. Shocker; Nobody likes to pay for a poor experience! But when you download, you’re getting that anyway. I’m not going to imply that all downloads are poor quality or camcorder jobs. Many are excellent rips from digital transfers. But the ‘quality’ in question is the size of the screen and the impact of the surround sound.
It is not good films in bad cinemas that put us off cinemas. A good film makes you feel like it was worth the battle. It makes you appreciate the effort you put into seeing it in its optimum form. It is bad films in over-priced cinemas that disappoint so massively. But with this logic none of us would ever move on from any bad experience. We’d never get back on the horse, nor drink after a hangover nor bother voting in elections. In life you balance good experiences with the bad ones to dictate your future experiences. Cinema trips are no exception.
THE PUNK PRINCIPLE:
It is giant corporate entities that fund films or at the very least distributes them. So you are only ripping off ‘the man’ not the artists who get paid flat rates.
Yeah, yeah. Well that all depends on the contracts which none of us are privy to. Some film makers rely on flat fees, some rely on profit shares. So there cannot be an assumption that the film maker is unaffected with something that they may have sunk their life-savings into.
None of this is to mention that indie films are made independently. The clue is in the name. They are then distributed by major studios on very rare occasions. This does not mean anything more than the costs will be covered for years and years of personal labour.
Now in full honesty, some film makers actually do support this idea of giving something back to audiences. A friend was recently at a Kevin Smith Q & A. Apparently ol’ Silent Bob himself said he doesn’t mind his films being shared by people whom have bought his other stuff in the past. So in all fairness maybe these are exceptions to the rule- so long as you have heard the film maker say it’s fine and you’re a long term financial supporter of said film maker. Unfortunately common sense tells me that is rarely the case.
Oh, and speaking of the big business mode, how about merchandising?
If we stick purely with this example of The Avengers and Cabin In The Woods, both films will be pirated. But The Avengers has a toy line, a video game etc. as a secondary source of income. Perhaps a downloader will rip a film for free and intend to give something back via merchandising.
It is very doubtful that this will work to the film makers advantage. Since Star Wars’ merchandise rights were given to George Lucas, studios have gripped onto them tightly. The writers and designers will not see a cut of the merchandise. Earlier I mentioned that bands can sell T-Shirts to help them survive (and even bands won’t see much return in this way), but film makers simply will not get a cut of the merchandise sales.
Something I was formerly guilty of; Robin Hood syndrome.
The idea that it’s OK to download the big boys but not the little ones. Well perhaps there is some truth to that. Avatar is both the most pirated film of all time and also the biggest box office hit. But Avatar was always a massive corporate entity. Indie films are not. If you steal them you steal from artists and not from artisans.
Besides which, many lower-level employees on film sets are not the fat cats. A carpenter or an electrician still needs to get paid. On indie films they will work for free or for scale. They need to charge a full rate from their bigger jobs on blockbuster sets. Who is a downloader to even begin to erode that job opportunity from a hard working crafts person? Just because downloading blockbusters is ‘less’ wrong than downloading indie films, it does not mean that it is right or that it will not affect everyday people trying to feed their families.
I don’t expect this article to change how people behave or the choices they make. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am no angel. It is not a black and white issue. I was given a free cinema ticket so an Indie film screening just today. My personal justification is that it was offered to me. I had the money on me and I would have willingly pay for a ticket. As it happens I did not due to a friend being nice. I consider this to be different to actively seeking out illegal means of stealing films, but perhaps you disagree.
All we can do is make choices we believe to be acceptable an try to maintain them the majority of the time.
I suppose my real is summary is that if you are going to download any films, indie films in particular, then at least acknowledge what you are doing. As Ian MacKaye of the ‘most excellent’ band Fugazi once said in regards to punk shows; it is not always about how much money you spend but rather where that money goes.
If you are going to skim from artists then you have to accept the consequences- and I don’t mean a bobby knocking on your door. I mean a lack of future art.
Incidently, for a slightly different take on this topic please read Ti West’s piece here….. then go buy The House of The Devil. It’s intensely brilliant and can be found here.
If you agree or disagree with me then please leave comments. I’d rather this was discussed. I don’t have all the answers, I just have an opinion
Thanks for reading,