Four filmmakers share thoughts on piracy. All four artists have experienced piracy of their films in various forms. This discussion poses questions between being an artist who has work shown without their consent and the user who thinks one free view hurts no one. What do you think of movie piracy and its impact?
“This is what stops piracy: the knowledge that a cheap, legitimate copy is better than a free pirated one.” TairaGames Youtube Channel
Film Courage: What do you think is the biggest threat to independent film currently?
James Cullen Bressack: I would definitely say piracy. And the other threat…I’d pretty much just say piracy really. That and fan support. What I notice is that a lot of people say they’re very supportive of independent film and it’s like one thing that I notice that a lot of people (and maybe this is just a Los Angeles thing) are “Oh, I love independent film. I love foreign films and I love documentaries.” But if you actually look at the statistics like the sales of independent films, documentaries and foreign films or the statistics of how many people actually watch them on Netflix or whatever, they don’t actually watch them. They just like to say that they watch them. It’s one of those things where statistically speaking, they get the least amount of play of anything else. People like to sound like they like something versus actually support it. I’m the person who goes out to see independent films in theaters and that’s important. I make genre films, not just independent films, I’m know for making genre films, horror movies. I support any horror movie that comes out in theaters. I will go see it in theaters whether I think it’s good. Whether I think it’s bad. Whether I think it’s going to be good. Whether I think it’s going to be bad. I go see it in theaters because there will be a time with the way the industry is going, if they don’t get supporting in theaters, they will stop coming out in theaters. It will only be those major tentpole movies. The way I look at it is we have a responsibility to support the things we actually do care about within the theater or else we will have a time when we do not see these things in theaters anymore.
Film Courage. Why do you think people say they love foreign films or documentaries? Is it because they want to sound like a true cinefile or it’s romantic?
James Cullen Bressack: I think so. It’s the same thing when people say they like classical music.
“What I notice is that a lot of people say they’re very supportive of independent film and it’s like one thing that I notice that a lot of people (and maybe this is just a Los Angeles thing) are “Oh, I love independent film. I love foreign films and I love documentaries.” But if you actually look at the statistics like the sales of independent films, documentaries and foreign films or the statistics of how many people actually watch them on Netflix or whatever, they don’t actually watch them.”
Filmmaker James Cullen Bressack
James Cullen Bressack: I also find it interesting as well on the flip side because my auto-dm goes out [Automated Direct Message via Twitter] and says “Hey, check out my movies on Amazon.” or whatever. And I’ll get responses from all these people around the world saying “Hey, I love your movie. I saw this one or that.” And everyone is always responding saying ‘I love them’ or ‘I’ve seen them.’ And my response is either A) A distributor owes me a lot of money that I don’t know about or B) (which I think is the more likely one) is that things are probably getting downloaded on the Internet a lot. A perfect instance of piracy is a movie I did…I won’t say which one but the first month that it was out, it only shipped like 5,000 units. And then I looked at one of those piracy websites and it had something like 150,000 downloads. And I was like “Wow! If I only had like a dollar for every single time that this happened, I’d be”…but at least they’re watching them right?
Film Courage: I’m not advocating piracy but do you think it can sometimes help someone’s career or a project in some way?
James Cullen Bressack: I think sometimes. I mean if you look at that movie INK, if you saw that? They actually released it for free online. They encouraged the piracy of it. So I think yes and no. Personally I’m against piracy because I think it’s stealing. Legitimately stealing from the filmmaker. And I know it’s kind of weird to say but it’s like messed up to pirate stuff. But if you’re going to pirate stuff, at least don’t pirate the indie film. Like the really low budget indie stuff, the difference between one extra DVD and one extra download is somebody rent that month, possibly. So it’s like I feel for people because I have a lot of friends that are at this and haven’t really been doing well because of piracy. So I want people to understand that it really does hurt the filmmaker. It really does.
Film Courage: How do you think a lot of people in your generation and slightly older feel about this because they’ve received so much for free online [to now put parameters in place for force payment]? How do they view it?
James Cullen Bressack: I mean the weird thing about it is I will be talking to friends from high school or childhood, elementary school or whatever, people I’ve known for years and years. And I’ll be like “Hey, you should check out my new movie.” And they’ll be like “Oh, yeah. Sure. I’ll just download it.” or they’ll be like “Oh yeah, I’ll watch it on this website or whatever.” And I’ll be like “You’re literally just telling me you’re going to steal from me.” Are you really just going to be like “Oh yeah, I’m going to take $20.00 out of your wallet.” No! But for some reason it’s so okay amongst that…they actually think that it’s become so part of the culture, so that it’s fine when it’s really not. So if there is a way to monetize that, such as if we release movies for free online with ads on them or something, that is at least better than having them stolen. You look at those websites that have those movies hosted for free and all this traffic is driven to the website, they’re making money on those sites because they are selling ad space on those sites. People are making a lot of money off of our hard work.
“Are you really just going to be like “Oh yeah, I’m going to take $20.00 out of your wallet.” No! But for some reason it’s so okay amongst that [idea of illegal downloads]…they actually think that it’s become so much part of the culture, so that it’s fine when it’s really not.”
Filmmaker James Cullen Bressack
Film Courage: Writer Elizabeth Renzetti of The Globe and Mail wrote an article in 2014 about Iggy Pop. She basically says that “If Iggy Pop can’t live off of his art, then what chance do we all have?” And I’ll play the part of Elizabeth for a second. So she writes “A new reality has tripped him up and it’s the same one shafting artists all over the world. Namely that everyone wants to listen and no one wants to pay. So in short, the cat is out of the bag in the new electronic age with electronic devices which estrange people from their morals also make it easy for people to steal music (i.e. content) then pay for it. We know this is something that the two of you have had to deal with. We want to get your thoughts on it.
Jamin Winans: My feeling is that we’re in a period of transition more than anything. I don’t necessarily think that what is going on right now is the future. I think things are always changing. And yeah, I agree that right now it’s particularly difficult to monetize your art, especially if you’re trying to do something very independent and outside of the system. I guess I feel like a monetized solution is coming and we’re slowly going to enter into a period where artists really find their niche and find out how to survive. I think right now a lot of people are still thinking about the hey day of the last 20 years where DVDs and ancillary markets were like a big thing and the industry as a whole is still kind of clinging to the money that they were making on that market and the same thing with the music industry, it hurts right now because we’re going through this transition. Optimistically, I think it’s going to work its way out.
“I think right now a lot of people are still thinking about the hey day of the last 20 years where DVD’s and ancillary markets were like a big thing and the industry as a whole is still kind of clinging to the money that they were making on that market and the same thing with the music industry. It hurts right now because we’re going through this transition. Optimistically, I think it’s going to work its way out.”
Filmmaker Jamin Winans
Kiowa K. Winans: I think it’s two things. I think it’s ease of access and the whole piracy idea or movement has happened out of a reaction to ease of access and things being really overpriced. I think that when I was a teenager, I spent all my babysitting money on CD’s that cost $15.00 – $18.00 dollars and I only liked one song on the album but you’ve just shelled out $18.00. Same with the cost of DVD’s and Blue Rays and people keep trying really hard to keep locking up territories and making region coded disks and ultra violet this and this digital rights management. And the longer that Hollywood and the record industries keep trying to push people out and charge them a lot, the angrier they get and there has got to be a happy medium at some point and hopefully there will be, whether it’s a Bit Torrent bundle with a pay gate or something that eliminates the barrier of access and also eliminates the over-priced nature of what’t happening. So that is my hope.
“I think it’s two things. I think it’s ease of access and the whole piracy idea or movement has happened out of a reaction to ease of access and things being really overpriced. I think that when I was a teenager, I spent all my babysitting money on CD’s that cost $15.00 – $18.00 dollars and I only liked one song on the album, but you’ve just shelled out $18.00.”
Filmmaker Kiowa K. Winans
Film Courage: And you said one theater was playing the film for over a year [without your knowledge]?
Paul Sidhu: Yeah. I heard about it. I was kind of shocked. Somebody…one of the guys who was actually on the crew in India he called me up (I don’t remember if he called me or emailed me). He was like “Hey, Paul. I just saw your poster here. It’s still up and they’re playing the film.” And I was like “Nahh, you’re full of it.” And I was like “Come on man. Who is going to play that film for more than a year?” And he sent me a little picture and it was up in the theater. And I was like “Damn! They’re playing my film? It’s been up in the theater for like over a year.” So I decided to take a trip to go see like what’s the story here? Why do people like it? It was a pleasant surprise.
“And [a crew member from the film] sent me a little picture and it was [still] up in the theater. And I was like “Damn! They’re playing my film? It’s been up in the theater for like over a year.”
Filmmaker Paul Sidhu
The other thing that was also a pleasant surprise was that first film was actually made it to a lot of sources that I didn’t know about. This is the funniest story. So I told the theatrical rights. I got money for the theatrical rights. And that’s how we made our money. But we didn’t sell our television rights. So we’re shooting [Paul’s other film] THE BLACK RUSSIAN up in the mountains and there are only 2 channels. And on one of the public channels they’re playing AAKHARI DECISION and this is crazy. So my crew (the make-up guy) he got sick. So he was the only guy who was laid up in the hotel. And he was watching this and he sees my film. And in India they just assume that…since this is a film you’re starring in they just assume “He’s a well-known actor.” And so he goes “Oh, there’s another one of Paul’s films, it’s on TV.” So he recorded it on his cell phone and he said “Hey, your film is playing.” And I’m like “My film is playing? What are you talking about? No ones playing it. This is my first film. How can my film be playing.” And he’s like “No your film is playing.” So I go “Well show me.” So he recorded it and my first film was actually playing. So we contacted the station. We said “Hey who gave you the film?” And they just didn’t answer the question. So that was cool! [Laughs]
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