It's 3 AM in central London - dark and quiet except for the odd car and the hum of generators huddled round the outside of Westminster Cathedral. But here, inside, light is flooding in through the windows as though it was midday. And in the minds of the 150 or so people here it is midday and this isn't London, it's the Escorial Palace in Spain in the year 1588. King Philip II of Spain, the most powerful man in the world, is about to tell his ministers that he now has the right to invade England - the Spanish Armada is about to be launched.
Uncover Favourite UK Film and TV Locations
When I lived in Oxford a decade or three ago, it would have amazed me to imagine that my modest street in the working-class neighbourhood of Jericho would one day witness scores of escorted tour parties earnestly retracing the murder investigations of Inspector Morse. But at last this sign of the times has gained a name. Set-jetting is defined as a passion to visit places you read about in books or see portrayed in films and television. Estimates vary on how widespread the fad is, but it's a fair guess that well over a quarter of us are influenced to some extent in our choice of holiday destinations by novels or screen presentations.
Writer Simon Rose on Getting His Story to the Big Screen
I can't be the only writer who, after sitting through umpteen appalling movies, has thought, "Surely I can do better." By 1994, I was itching to write a screenplay, but a subject eluded me. Then I heard about Graeme Obree. This down-at-heel Scot built a revolutionary bicycle from scrap and washing- machine parts and became world champion, only to be banned by the cycling authorities. Instead of giving up, the amazingly determined Obree redesigned his bike and had another go.
The only people who truly know how much blood sweat and tears go into the making of a feature length movie are those who have done it themselves. The effort required is also in indirect proportion to the size of the budget - the smaller the budget the greater will be the effort required.
This particular story is that of Neil Oseman ("Hereford's Stephen Speilberg" - The Guardian) a freelance lighting camera operator. Between jobs, Oseman co-wrote, developed, shot, post-produced and finally... distributed his film in his home town, sandwiched between trips filming corporates in London, reccees in Italy and being a Director of Photography on a film shooting in upstate New York. Oseman always travels with his own film file and story boarding kit to while away the travel time working on his own movie.
Anyone interested in the process of filmmaking at zero budget levels will find Neil's diaries on the making of his film Soul Searcher, a revelation and a thoroughly absorbing read. Neil Oseman has allowed us access to his diaries and his archive of film artwork, to put you more fully in the picture - his picture, Soulsearcher......
There are only two things that can make any motion graphic artist flinch and that's rotoscoping and chroma keying. Why? Mainly because both processes are time consuming and arm numbing. However despite all these, rotoscoping and chroma keying still remains to be very important in the industry we move in. Which is why, lately, software companies are launching new products that aim to lessen the pain in rotoscoping.
Here we will talk about the Top 5 best rotoscoping softwares currently available that deliver accurate and fast mattes.
and writer Julian Richards wanted to make a documentary film and had a
rare opportunity to study and film Tuareg nomads of Mali in
Saharan Africa. He readliy agreed to share some of his experience with
us. With The Nomads is an intimate, unromantic portrait of the Tuareg
herders of the Sahara Desert and asks: Can they survive the 21st
Two and a half weeks may be a little late to begin writing up the Open Video Conference, but then my first essay, penned in the few days after, discussed Pirate Bay at some length and even mentioned Michael Jackson and Brian Newman and so is now largely irrelevant. But with our new Tweeting Netwitbutions, perhaps this is the time to sign up fully for the more anti-knee-jerk Slow Blog Movement - if something's going to sit in Google's cache until the end of time, I suppose it's worth thinking about first. (Nothing to do with procrastination..)
So over this and the next couple of write-ups I'd like to introduce to those new to it the thinking behind Open Video, before looking at some of the technologies and ideas that were creating a big buzz and may go on to define the web of tomorrow, before trying to picture the long term scenario - for both technology and film - in light of some of the major changes that are coming in the next year (and the more interesting 'shifts' such as Pirate Bay's decision that, after all, they would like to be paid for their labour).
The first big realisation for me and perhaps the most important point for the (legacy) film world is that we're just one pane of the huge stained glass window that is 'open video'. It's more like the novel's relationship to the printing press; one application from as many as there are uses for the printed word. Also worth understanding is that the passionate vigour from the movement's prime movers is not the same as the similarly passionate pro-pirate movement, but rather folks who believe that technology must never stand in the way from any of us expressing ourselves with video. Back-dropped against the demos and mass communications of Iran the mood was generally one of somber valediction – here was proof that decentralised peer-generated media was capable of doing what no news organisation was able to do, while emphasisng the importance of keeping these tools on open standards and formats.
Splitting decentralised video, from which open video is born, into legitimate and non-legitimate activity we see on the one side massive (and inspiring) activity - including video in learning and education, reportage of human rights abuses, public archives, and free open source video editors, codecs and file formats. On the other side - the area of copyright & patent infringement - we see a history where the 'pirate' activity has gradually become absorbed by the mainstream. The independent rebels who refused to pay Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company license fees headed west to California to avoid being fined and included William Fox (who later founded 20th Century Fox), Carl Laemmle (one of the founders of Universal Pictures) and Adolph Zukor (whose company became Paramount Pictures). MP3.com, Napster and now Pirate Bay have all been acquired by legitimate businesses, while the steps from Napster to Spotify are not really so great. Even former studio boss Lord Puttnam recognised the sector's value in certain conditions, during his recent keynote in Edinburgh - it was pirate copies of The Killing Fields circulating the Ukraine in the late 80s, which in part helped educate against mass violence and prevent civil war, according to Ukraine's President Yushchenko. And with seats in the European Parliament, the pirate movement is inching closer to the mainstream, albeit on the back of a technology far more powerful than anything DVD street sellers or home bootleggers ever had at their disposal - which is they key point: ultimately Torrents and their successors are a very powerful, arguably unstopable, way to share pirate material. They also are a cost-free way for content owners to distribute their work.
If these two green and red worlds above could be polaraised as acceptable and inacceptable to the film industry and the majority of copyright holders - in the middle comes the murky world of creative re-use. Much of it technically illegal, yet almost all of it is the creation of new art and culture, the modern-day equivalent of basing Star Wars on a Kurosawa film or the Da Vinci Code on The Templar Revelation. More to the point, much of it is potentially profitable: as is often pointed out, had DRM been widespread in the early 80s, Hip Hop music just might not have happened, preventing a sector worth billions.
While the copyright industry has long legislated against this middle ground, in a peer-generated media space, such re-use may soon outnumber original content - how many more people must have seen remixes to Hitler's speach in DownFall than the original film? Indeed increasing numbers of copyright owners who find infringing derivative works of theirs on YouTube agree to leave it up so they can sell adverts against it. The longer the media industry and copyright owners oppose open creative re-use, the more it pushes next generation creatives, the lifeblood of the creative world, to the area of full infringement - and the more power it devolves to the new oligarchs - tech companies, ISPs and web services who will profit regardless of the origin, legality or quality of content (and whose collective size is so much bigger than the film industry that they will always be able to find legislative and mainstream support). To date the only music torrent I've downloaded was DJ BC's Wu Orleans - a mashup of the Wu Tang Clan and old New Orleans Soul which can't be bought anywhere, like Dangermouse's Gray Album. My interest in Creative Commons and opposition to DRM only came in 2003 when I got into the VJ world and Clip-Hop. Most VJs I know have nothing against sharing earnings - if and when they get any - with copyright owners provided it was a reasonable price and easy to do - at present the use of a tiny clip from Star Wars or An Inconvenient Truth may take a VJ weeks to clear and cost ten times more than they'd get paid for a night's work.
So the only DRM-free and creative-reuse space for films at present is mainly illegal. At the same time much of the Torrent sector seems to care little about their ability to destroy an art form. As one person told me at the conference in response to my exclamations that indie and art film could die if a payment solution wasn't found: 'that's kind of like moaning about being in the horse and cart business after the Model T Ford came out'. When I asked him what his favourite films were he admitted he didn't really like watching them, but was building a new web video platform nevertheless
Many in the tech community use the example of Bill Gate’s infamous arguments in the late 80s saying that there was no financial model for software based around its free distribution. He was wrong on a significant scale, at the loss of Microsoft and benefit of Linux, Apache, Firefox, PHP et al; yet simply because film can also be described in binary does not mean that the business of film production is the same as writing software. For one thing your average indie filmmaker is probably already working for free on the bulk of theirs' and their friends' films, yet they can't supplement this with $500 a day writing code or doing consultancy, like the open source sector. Payment for them is not about getting rich, but paying off the second mortgage they took out on their house for the film. For another, unlike music and books, real-world non-piratable activity (theatrical) is rarely profitable and very hard for small operators to get into, as I've long been saying here.
But this debate is unlikely to be resolved soon, and I only repeat it now because a number of emerging factors I hope to cover soon (once I understand all the issues) suggest that the train may already have left. So as the film and web worlds try to communicate with each other, the tech sector urgently needs to recognise the danger of a world where the only feature films are either zero budget or funded by major brands, while the film sector should re-appraise the value of fair and creative re-use at a time when it's getting harder than ever to get attention for what you do. With all thats on the horizon, every 'fan, friend and follower' is going to be needed, and some new revenue streams may emerge in the process, which also wouldn't be a bad thing.
So, Digital and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has backed MP Clare Perry's calls to create a firewall of Britain to support the seemingly reasonable aim of protecting children from pornography (and potentially keeping adults from materials classified under the Obscene Publications Act). With the web now moving further towards the TV, the suggestion is not much of a surprise.
While it's tempting to dismiss it as an attempt for the government to filter the web so it can block a future Wikileaks - especially after Vaizey's Network Neutrality misfire - the discussion of how to deal with the difference between TV, where you can't say certain words before 9pm, and the web, which knows no limits, needs to take place. And as The Register - telling people to calm down - points out, Vaizey has suggested he doesn't want to legislate but wants to act as broker between industry and ISPs.
Indeed Vaizey was cautious when the issue was first raised by Conservative MP Claire Perry in the Commons on November 23rd, afraid of what he called a 'Twitter Storm', but in yesterday's Sunday Times he said he wanted to see the ISP industry introduce measures soon. To recap what Perry was calling for:
"I am asking for a change in regulation that would require all UK-based internet service providers to restrict universal access to pornographic material by implementing a simple opt-in system based on age verification."
Yet - as anyone who understands the web's structure will know - there is no 'simple opt-in system'. So asides from the censorship problems of blocking entire websites - spelt out well by the Guardian today, which points out that sites like Flickr, YouTube, Blogger and Tumblr all have adult channels - is the practical fact that the kind of filtering Perry and Vaizey are calling for just has never been proven to work - indeed research below suggests it could slow down connections by up to 86% while wrongly blocking millions of child-safe websites, and letting millions more child-unsafe websites flood thru.
There are three ways to crudely filter content by age:
- on websites themselves, putting responsibility on publishers;
- in browsers, putting responsibility on parents and those who control the web connection;
- and at ISP level, which requires the ISPs to track, review and filter all of their traffic thru some automated process.
Vaizey pointed out to Perry in the commons debate that a UK adult website was recently prosecuted for not providing sufficient adult content warnings on their front page (which in turn alerts browser blockers like CyberNanny). Perry responded that this is no help with foreign websites and suggested that most parents are either too busy to know how to install a filter in the browser - "through technological ignorance, time pressure or inertia or for myriad other reasons, this filtering solution is not working" - so the responsibility should be with the ISP.
To avoid parents having to take responsibility for what their children has access to (unlike alcohol, cigarettes, DVDs or TV in the home) Perry says the ISP should play a kind of gatekeeper nanny, filtering all content unless someone tells their ISP they are an adult, while presumably auto-filtering anything else that looks like it might be illegal under the Obscene Publications Act. And here is where many online have started to panic - it would surely just be a matter of time before other kinds of content got added - first suicide forums, racist hate sites, terrorism related content, then alleged copyright misuse perhaps. At such a point, the Internet would be a different place, subject to the whims of the government of the day. If a filter was in place it would be a challenge for MPs to avoid using it as a political tool, and it's hard to imagine in the long term during, say, student demonstrations them not blocking sites for protesters who 'may be planning violence', or sites which publish damaging leaked confidential documents.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves - right now, all that's happening is a meeting of ISPs and concerned parties, around a table, some time next month. And whatever the outcome of that, the simple issue is that ISP-level auto filtering doesn't work. As well as slowing down web connections considerably, ISP-level filters fail to block what they’re supposed to, and succeed in blocking what shouldn’t be.
It's a no brainer - how could can anyone other than a well-informed human distinguish between, for instance, scenes from Lars von Trier's Antichrist or Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ and material currently banned under the Obscene Publications Act?
In one of the main studies into the area, ahead of trying to implement a similar Australia-wide firewall, Australia's OFCOM, the ACMA, did research into the accuracy and impact of ISP-level filtering, called “Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering” which showed five big problems with ISP filtering:
- All filters tested had problems with under-blocking, allowing access to between 2% and 13% of material that they should have blocked;
- All filters tested had serious problems with over-blocking, wrongly blocking access to between 1.3% and 7.8% of the websites tested;
- One filter caused a 22% drop in speed even when it was not performing filtering;
- Only one of the six filters had an acceptable level of performance (a drop of 2% in a laboratory trial), the others causing drops in speed of between 21% and 86%;
- The most accurate filters were often the slowest.
If you were one of the 3 - 18 million inaccurately blocked websites because of ISP filtering (based on 231m websites world), who would you sue for loss of business? The government? The ISP? Meanwhile websites that auto-publish content, like Netribution, as well as web forums, would be at risk of being blocked automatically from the actions of one user - only the web giants who could afford constant 24-7 moderation would be able to survive.
The fact that children and teenageers have access online to images and video beyond my wildest imagination when I was that age has long troubled me, and a serious debate between ISPs, web and browser companies, content producers and end users is a good thing - especially as the web moves to the TV. It also troubled me when working in a primary school last year which had a strict web firewall,that it offered unlimited access to YouTube - which is filled with adult content - but not the website we'd built for the school, or the Vimeo videos embedded in those pages (until we spoke to a filtering help desk for 30 minutes).
So it's an important issue, but what must be avoided - after the chaos of the Digital Economy Act - is for an MP with rudimentary technical understanding to push thru an invented 'solution' to a genuine problem that bears so little relationship with reality they end up creating a heap of new problems - and alienating the people whose support would be needed for a solution to work.
Because the only solution that I can imagine working is the crowd-model, the - gulp - Big Society answer. A huge federated opt-in crowd-built database run by parents, teachers and concerned people ticking off websites and video safe for different ages, based on common guidelines. And then browser and operating system makers could hardwire a very simple way for parents to turn ON a filter for their children not showing anything that isn't on the ever increasing list for that age group. Crude, but more dependable than any of the other controls - and at the same time not absolving the parent from their responsibility over what their child can do at home.
was a turning point in the entertainment industries, the year that
Hollywood's tried and tested methods of reaching the masses finally had
tio give way - to iPods, TiVos and Xbox 360s. What lessons will 2006
bring? The lesson of changing markets, that's for sure. The best
admission of that came from NBC Universal TV chairman Jeff Zucker; "The
overall strategy is to make all our content available everywhere."
I recently heard from a music industry insider that Radiohead make some 80% of their income from touring, which opened up the question of why they put so much effort into packaging, selling and protecting albums. A question that has now been answered. Free from a record label after their six album deal with EMI had come to an end, one of the most revered bands of the last 20 years have taken the twin giant leaps into self-distribution and inviting downloaders to decide how much to pay for their new album (In Rainbows).
Thousands of buskers today make a living from an upturned hat, which - tho no DRM system can ever force people into filling, often they do.
Trust - it's a model that has supported musicians perhaps longer than any other system, and hundreds of thousands of buskers and touring musicians today make a living from an upturned hat, which - tho no DRM system can ever force people into filling - somehow they do. Magnatunes has already been using the 'pick your own price' system for a while, and despite having a minimum cost of £5 (unlike In Rainbows where there will be no lower limit), sees an average payment of around £8 (Magnatunes also have great licenses for filmmakers wanting to only pay for music rights *after* the film starts making money).
We've seen the publishing industry shift from a paid-for model for newspapers and magazines to free ad-supported distribution in less than a decade. The New York Times was set to make millions this year from pay-per-view articles, the management eventually decided it would make more from advertising in the long run and made everything free. Rumours abound that ft.com and WSJ.com are set to follow suit.
With Amazon now opening a 2 million song DRM-free store, making it easier than ever to pirate (if you are so inclined), the tide for music too seems to be shifting towards a more open trust-based situation. Inherently - as with life - the trust approach has a lot going for it, viewing people as decent until proven otherwise, and it is sufficient to support church collections, eBay and plenty more.
Supercomputer HAL in 2001 A Space Odyssey would be upgraded to Windows Vista and instantly cheer up.
But film is that much more expensive than music or writing to produce, and it'd be foolish not to consider what if trust doesn't work? If so, and unless we are to adjust to watching only microbudget productions and demand that film professionals work for free, then we are presented with the nightmare scenario Orange has been taking great pains to illustrate over the past decade with its Film Funding Board cinema ads - the advertiser as film funder and script developer. In some ways its only a small step away from current practices where Spiderman is filled with Sony technology, or films eligible for British tax breaks have to have sufficient 'British elements'. But it would spell the end of big budget art films. Supercomputer HAL in 2001 would be upgraded to Windows Vista and instantly cheer up.
Part 1 - Three reasons why the Digital Economy Bill will damage British businesses
Part 2 - What can be done? Five steps the UK content industries could take to offset piracy losses
A few weeks ago I chatted with a single dad in his 40s, working in a brewery. He's a biker, Sun-reader and towards the right politically, hating to see his taxes used to fund free school meals or asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, Jack (let's call him) talked with great pride about his downloading habits. He had already seen Shutter Island tho it was yet to hit cinemas. He had hard drives packed with every feature you could imagine and had the unreleased new Matt Damon film torrenting at home while we spoke. When I suggested to him that the film industry was struggling and without people paying for films the good ones might stop being made, he said he couldn't remember the last good film he'd seen, that most of them were terrible with overpaid actors and not worth paying for. When I mentioned the proposed legislation in the Digital Economy Bill he didn't blink - at worst he said he would go back to his former method of having a Love Film subscription and copying every film he received onto a hard disk, and swapping the files with his work mates, who were quick to educate him on the latest software or technique. I asked him if there was a film he downloaded that he really liked, if he would consider paying something after watching it to help the filmmaker make more, and he paused a few moments before diplomatically saying that most people he know would consider that they've already seen it, so what's the point.
This conversation illustrated for me two key points: that there is a good reason for the film industry's concern about downloading; and that the proposed new legislation won't make the slightest difference to Jack and pirates like him. Indeed he looked excited by the challenge of a new cat and mouse race with the powers that be, like being alerted to speed cameras on his sat nav.
Yet, the proposed new Digital Economy Bill will allow any foreign company to block a British website or disconnect a British business, school or family from the web without first having to go to court (and with no penalty if they make a mistake).
Some organisations have even argued that it shouldn't even be debated by MPs before it becomes law. And indeed it appears that on Tuesday the Bill is expected to get one or two hours debate rather than the 80-90 hours such a bill would normally receive because of the planned election announcement. As a result, the most substantial piece of legislation about the Internet in British history is likely to be pushed into law without any debate by elected representatives.
There has, however, been much online discussion of the Bill, with some 18,000 letters sent to MPs, with The Register's Andrew Orlowski describing it as 'the political issue for people who don't want to do politics'. He defines the polarised positions of the debate well:
"On the one side is [the] idea that coercion will cause "behaviour change", leading to the public embracing the current set of retail choices. This permits them to apply the might and logic of physical distribution control in a digital world, and avoids embracing structural reform. On the other side is the idea that music just had to be free, just because some people demanded it must be - therefore it had no value... The possibilities that new technology opens all go legal eventually, as black markets go white. To deny this - as both sides do - requires self-interested and incredibly unimaginative arguments. We got no shortage of those."
At this point I would like to state categorically that I am not a 'freetard'. I have pointedly avoided downloading music and films illegally, against the incredulity of many friends and colleagues - in part so that I could one day write this article. I have - I confess, downloaded one episode of Heroes, after my iTunes purchase went thru but didn't download and I couldn't wait to see it, and I also tested the Tribler software after learning it was being used in a major EU-funded project with the BBC, by successfully streaming a Torrent of a Harry Potter film (an activity that combined with an IP Spoofer would be untraceable under the Bill). Beyond that my only torrents are from filmmakers who chose to distribute their work that way as it costs them nothing (unlike the £1.50 or so per download it would cost via Amazon S3 storage).
I am - as I have been since setting up Netribution ten years ago, and trying to map the world of film finance - concerned about the future for indie filmmakers if everyone takes the attitude of Jack. Nevertheless, this rushed Bill as it currently stands would be a disaster if it was ever implemented and I urge you to ask your MPs to give it the debate it deserves - if not to block it altogether. Here's why:
A late amendment to DEB by the Liberal Democrats (as a way to prevent control over Copyright Law being subject to the whims of the Secretary of State at the time) will let any copyright owner ask that a website be blocked from the Internet if there is a 'substantial' amount of infringing content on it. Although the process can be opposed by an ISP and taken to court, if the ISP loses, all legal costs must be met by them so takedown requests would only be refused with the biggest sites such as YouTube or MySpace. With no financial incentive to defend websites, ISPs may start blocking hundreds of thousands of them on demand, regardless of the non-infringing content also hosted there. Writing about 120A on her blog panGloss, Lilian Edwards of the Sheffield Faculty of Law illustrates how obliging ISPs will be:
"In one amusing study , an Oxford team posing as rightsholders asked ISPs to take down a chapter from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty - out of copyright for several centuries. All the ISPs complied without a murmur."
Picture this scenario. Netribution publishes an article with an exclusive that a big movie star punched a TV producer backstage at a London awards ceremony. The studio representing the star submits a site blocking request for Netribution and - given that as a user-generated website, where we do not own the content that has been posted here by our users - our site would get blocked. Most of our photos are publicity stills and posters, yet it would be easy to argue in a court that a substantial proportion of the images on this site were 'infringing' as we've no paper-trail to show these we were assigned a license - and of course Netribution is not worth enough to any ISP for them to consider fighting the studio request in court. So Netribution (and your blog or website) could get blocked as the UK adopts a law that goes one further than the great firewall of China in that it allows foreign companies to decide which websites British people can and cannot access.
2 - The consequences of web disconnection = I can't run my business
I share a nice home with four other creative people. Sometimes they go away for several months and rent their room out - and occasionally these new folk aren't the best sort and leave without paying their bills - it happened last summer. So it's entirely plausible that they could also use our web connection to download. Easily, then, visitors to the house - not to mention my flatmates' partners and close friends - as well as mistaken infringement where a wrong link is clicked or something is downloaded that appeared to be legitimate - could add up to three infringements and we get disconnected from the web indefinitely.
Our flat is packed with legal DVDs (I'm not a BAFTA member), hundreds of CDs and we spend a fortune on trips to the cinema and live music. Yet through an automated process - the mechanisms for which is about to be signed into law - I could suddenly be unable to update this site, check my bank accounts, administer the websites I manage, submit my VAT and tax returns, look for new jobs, promote new films and - well - do my job. Nor would I be able to go to the nearest coffee shop or pub to use their Wifi as no business will be able to risk running free wifi any more. I probably won't even be able to plug my laptop in a paid web cafe via ethernet, as they couldn't risk the chance I was downloading something.
In short my business goes bankrupt, I sign-on yet can't even search the web for jobs, and the British Digital Economy has become one of the least competitive places to do business in the world.
3 - The consequences of Clause 43 = large corporations still can rip off creators
After the sad death of British casting legend Mary Sellway, we were flattered to see the New York Times quote her interview with Tony Pomfrett on Netribution in their obituary. That same week Screen International printed an obituary and reproduced a photo by Tom Fogg from the same interview - again without permission or fee, but also without credit. Having credited them as source to countless news stories over the years, we were a little miffed, not least because they rarely returned our calls (but we moved on!). Clause 43, a peculiar addition to the bill, enshrines the right of Screen to do this, into law. In an attempt to deal with orphan works, ie works where the author cannot be found, the bill somehow assigns a right for use for any photos or images online where it's not immediately obvious who owns a photo (eg if the photo credit was on the first page of an article, while the article was found on page three).
It's the Alice in Wonderland part of the legislation which contradicts the arguments of the rest of it. Businesses and households risk ruin by losing web access, in order to protect commercial copyright owners. Yet your family holiday photos posted online can be exploited by commercial entities without asking your permission. More can be learned at the Stop 43 website.
The Bill has arrived at the demands of US studios, yet goes further than anything that America, would consider implementing domestically. Given the potential problems, open questions and the drastic last minute changes - one or two hours of Parliamentary time to discus it and no third reading is really insufficient.
Britain is a world leader in the creative industries - across film., TV, music and video games we are remarkably successful, and the sector contributes £112bn or 7% of GDP - almost 4 times more than agriculture - to our economy. Understandably, the support for DEB is built on a desire to protect this sector. Yet this proposed solution to the content sector's problems is built on misguided assumptions about how the web is won.
The Internet was meant to unfetter indie creatives from the stranglehold of studio distribution control, which long forced independent movies out of cinemas and off the shelves at Virgin, yet instead we have new battles - to get on the front page of YouTube or to persuade iTunes to sell our films. The biggest earner for content online is ads, yet Google have most of that market sown up - and we can't even get them to pay tax on the £1.6bn they earned in the UK last year.
Indeed, Britain is largely a web failure, beholden to the US giants (just as with film distribution). Of the top 250 most popular websites in the world, only two are British - the BBC and the Guardian. The BBC sits on healthy license fee income (tho it's budget is illogically threatened with 50% cuts), while the Guardian was the first UK newspaper to go online for free fully, and has stated that its business model, in opposition to Murdoch's, is multifaceted, with the free website supporting other profitable activity. But elsewhere we are tiny fry - the subscription business model of pioneering Friends Reunited, for instance, losing to the free, yet billion dollar turnover, 400 million member Facebook; QXL and Last.fm surrendered to foreign buyers.
The government is dependent on our high tech sector to help us into recovery. Yet while San Francsico looks set to implement free city-wide Wifi and continue to rule the Internet, the UK is just a week from effectively banning free public wifi and handing control over which website is visible and which homes and business have web access, to foreign companies. If the world's leading high tech economy - the US - isn't debating such laws, is it wise that the UK should?
It's easy to condemn the bill, but there are scarce few alternatives around, so a critique needs to be accompanied with some alternative thinking.
I would firstly echo Paul Carr's excellent description of the Bill at Tech Crunch and suggestion that above all the legislation must not be rushed through before the election, as it is too important. If we get it wrong it could cripple British new media (and creative) businesses for the next decade. Furthermore, badly written legislation could be easily manipulated for censorship and backfire on the media industry as a whole with a public backlash against commercial media. Paul makes other good suggestions at the foot of his article: penalties for copyright owners who file spurious claims, and more protection for businesses/libraries/universities who offer free wi-fi. TechCrunch have also backed the creation of Coadec - the Coallition for the Digital Economy which looks at the Bill from a business perspective (unlike the excellent campaigners the Open Rights Group whose focus is more about civil rights).
But for the more pressing concerns of the content industry - for whom this bill may appear the only hope of salvation at a desperate time - I suggest five things that can be done to tackle piracy losses...
"Investors fleeing Wall Street's
mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into
grain futures, driving prices up even more."
So its official. The UN anounced Monday that food speculators were mostly to blame for the recent surge in food prices. Agrofuels and changes to diet no-doubt have a part to play, but as Vietnam moved to stop panic buying at the weekend, with the Prime Minister stating that food supplies for the country were more than adequate , its clear that markets have been artificially inflating prices. A special meeting of the heads of the UN's agencies, along with the WTO and World Bank has been called in Bern for later in the week to discuss sollutions to the crisis.
Since I started researching the subject , a couple of in-depth articles have appeared in the Washington Post and BusinessWeek/Spiegel Online. It’s good to see that not only have two instituions of the conservative press picked up on the story (finally) but that they join the likes of hedge fund head George Soros (who ran the US’s second most profitable fund last year) in describing the speculation as a sympton of unfettered capitalism gone too far.
My flatmate from Oxfam did point out to me that higher food prices had an upside – the impoverished farmers, many of whom have faced tough tough years (like in India where suicide amonst small farmers is very high), would be seing increased income. If the money is shifting from the miners of precous metals to impoverished farmers, it can't be all bad. It makes sense as an argument, but not if it’s at the expensive of mass starvaion – otherwise we’ll see a return to feudal systems with rich landowners supporting the people working the fields who can barely afford the produce they grow.
A few months ago I downloaded an open source add-on for Joomla, the (free) software that powers Netribution. It's a powerful tool which should make a nice addition here at some point - and it was free. So impressed was I after half an hour of using it that I checked out some of the add - available for it. I could buy alternative templates for $19 a time, an iPhone version, integration with other bits of software - or the whole bundle of extensions with a year of updates for $99. Plus there was a discount code of $20 floating around. It took me about five minutes to decide to make the payment.
To reverse this process, psychologically: if at the beginning I had learnt about a good piece of software costing $80 I would probably have ignored it and looked for something cheaper or free. Instead, because I got something very powerful at no cost, that I could try out, I decided to trust the software developers to make something even more incredible at a price.
It reminided me how the film and creative businesses who succeed on the internet will be those that find a way to first offer something incredible for free, and then offer something even better that is worth paying for.
Music is pretty much there. Listen to a song on MySpace or Spotify or wherever, and like it enough to pay £25 to see the artist in concert. Radiohead made more for pay-what-you want In Rainbows than their previous three albums combined, and followed with their largest tour in years. The same with books - Cory Doctorow's and Paulo Coelho's sales famously rose after they began to offer the full texts online for free. For film tho we have a significant challenge. The non-free experiences worth paying for are merchandise, DVDs and going to the cinema. DVD sales are in decline, while merchandise and cinema releases are typically reserved for bigger budget releases.
This is why the news that Franny Armstrong's Age of Stupid made £110,000 (over $160,000) through non-theatrical exhibtion - eg screenings in community groups, schools, town halls and conferences - is worth paying attention to. She not only probably made more money for distributor-free exhibition than anyone in British film history, but also got people to promote her film endlessly for free (the same people who had previously funded it's production, often). At the same time, while Franny didn't offer the full film on the web, she created a huge universe of free content that could be watched and read online, as well as a compelling narrative from the film's inception (and first public mention here on Netribution) through it's record-breaking fundraising through to it's legendary release. GoodScreenings.org - launched last week in partnership with the ever dynamic BritDoc - seeks to bring the system to more films and filmmakers and builds on the famous work of Jim Gilliam and Robert Greenwald in re-conceiving exhibition.
If it is clear that the producer wants the product on as many websites as possible, would market forces really create competition amongst filmsites or encourage them to scramble to pay money upfront in return for the "privilege" to sell the movie?"
If you thought the biggest threat facing the
international film business was piracy, think again. The creation of a single global market on the Internet for distribution
also challenges the pre-sales model where film rights are sold on a
territory by territory basis. The majority of independent films
intended for theatrical release often raise a third or more of their
budget through pre-selling rights: in a world where distribution
is day-and-date across territories and platforms this doesn't make
so much sense, as a producer you would probably not want to favour one country
over another any more than there would be a point in releasing through
only one download/streaming service.
Adam P Davies, one of the top film finance and tax brains in the business, and adviser on several hundred features, including Warzone, Nil by Mouth, Gods and Monsters and Sexy Beast, has written a detailed explanation and exploration of this little discussed but genuine problem. The threat of piracy is still tough to quantify: however the loss of some 30% or more possible production funding is far more immediate - it is as if all sources of public finance were to vanish suddenly. The article first appeared earlier this year in the Film Finance Handbook - World Edition which we wrote together, launching in Europe at Cannes in May and hopefully debuting in North America at Sundance next year.
The Future of the Mainstream Financing Model by Adam P Davies, taken from the Film Finance Handbook: How To Fund Your Film (Netribution, 2007).
The Tangling of the Web
No discussion about the future of the film financing "model" is
complete - or should even start - without serious thought being given
to the impending changes from the growing impact of the internet. Not
just from the perspective of the end-user's experience, but also the
implications for distribution methods, real-time transfer of money,
sources of production finance, piracy and so-on. It is true that no-one
can unequivocally proclaim through a crystal ball exactly how the
business will be run in ten years time. But what is clear is that the
various "possibilities" thrown up by the internet that everyone was
hypothesising about five years ago have now been replaced by
"probabilities". At the numerous over-priced seminars regularly
addressed by top-brass industry executives discussing forthcoming
issues, the phrase "This is how things could change" has finally
switched to "This is what we are currently planning and testing"...
"Most of the independent films that we have seen or heard about suffered from one problem: finance. Some have come and gone because the young independent producers have failed, and are still failing to source the big budget required for production."
Sound familiar to you? It certainly will if you are a filmmaker in Bulawayo. It looked strangely familiar when it caught my eye in Zimbabwe's Sunday News, so I had to read on for some further analysis of what is clearly as big a problem for filmmakers in Zimbabwe as it is anywhere - but this is Mugabe's country, not known to be a benign regime.
Providing a write up for the Edinburgh Film Festival 2011, which came to a close yesterday, is not straightforward for me – Edinburgh is my adopted home of 28 years, and taking pleasure and pride in its cultural events is part of why it’s a great city to live in. But whether or not we wanted it, press coverage prior to the festival launch on 15th June was sharp, even nippy: the programme was not only slimmer, but possibly just thin and rather unappetising; contentious decisions had been made with regard to content as well as form – the omission of You’ve Been Trumped being the most glaring example; and a messy year of funding cuts and a departing director seemed to be finally taking their toll.
So it has felt like Edinburgh was being set up for a fall this year, even if it is the job of journalists to report barometer readings and keep organizers on their toes. The festival has sought to prove its worth on the international festival stage without the cosseting of the August culture extravaganza with its ready supply of tourists and visitors. But in doing so it is exposed to the harsher, very competitive world of film festivals, which are now in their thousands. And so defining a festival and attracting what you want in terms of films or names becomes an ever-tougher task.
The early reporting options were twofold: join the criticisms and moan at some early shortcomings or alternatively, champion uncritically. But neither tack was going to help the cause of supporting the event. Instead, I’ve waited till it’s all over, and opted for an appraisal based on what I, and others, saw and experienced. It’s not exhaustive research, but it’s a start. We all want Edinburgh to survive and flourish, so here’s an attempt to get beyond the carping and work out what happened over the last 10 days, but to be realistic about what may have to be faced given the tough climate it’s weathered during the last few months.
Firstly, the up side and what can be celebrated. Edinburgh was operating in conjunction with Sheffield for the first time this year to provide ‘joint premiere’ opportunities for documentary. This aspect of the programme was robust: as well as docs we’d seen in Sheffield – including Bombay Beach and Hell and Back Again - there were further strong inclusions: Project Nim, Shut Up Little Man, Sound It Out, Calvet, Mrs Carey’s Concert and Off the Beaten Track, were all name checked as solid and inspired film-making.
My Edinburgh preference was Off the Beaten Track (above); a bucolic odyssey, with the tempo and beauty of an epic. It was a tale of a pre-industrial way of life now threatened by agri-industry in Romania. Transylvanian shepherds accompanied their flocks along lorry-ridden roads to fresh pastures, revealling an agrarian world of genuine sustainability on its way. With horses, donkeys and motley mongrels as the biblical entourage that trekked highways, dales and meadows in an attempt to maintain a way of life in the competitive and quota-determined world of EU membership, it was an exquisitely paced piece of direct cinema.
Fiction and the not-to-be-missed
The choice of feature movies, unfortunately, felt less satisfying. Once the horror movies and films about psychos were put to the side, it required a bit more application to sate the appetite. The Guard was a very unambitious choice for a gala screening: big names do not necessarily great films make. John McDonagh introduced his self-penned and directed tale by firstly slating the director of the previous film he’d scripted in 2003 - Ned Kelly – calling it ‘a cliché ridden pile of bourgeois bullshit’. I’d rather he’d just kept the comments off stage the night we all sat down in the Festival Theatre, as one negative word could infect the DNA of any other words uttered or written and disrupt the already delicate ecology the festival was attempting to withstand. And, as McDonagh had wandered down the genre path of comedy cop thriller, I did wonder just how unclichéd he was hoping to be with his particular outing. Turned out he was turning them all out for The Guard anyway. Yes, there were some great actors and some nice turns in choreographing the inevitable set pieces of a face-off and a shoot out, but beyond that Brendan Gleeson’s over-written smart-arsed garda, romping at times, rather than just comedying, through Oirland, was definitely one for the multiplexes. McDonagh made himself a hostage to fortune, and was burned in the process with his hubris. I don’t care about bad blood between directors and writers when the tone of an opening night should be upbeat and celebratory – McDonagh should keep it for his movie memoirs.
And if a film festival is a celebration of the less available and the more challenging, there was Béla Tarr’s ostensible swan song, Turin Horse, to take in, with long, long one take shots, references to Neitzsche and black and white photography all keeping the art house expectations met. Tarr had presented us with a bleak allegory about the apocalypse, yet claimed it was a celebration of life in the Q and A. Tarr was droll and genial, so I can only surmise that Magyar sense of joie-de-vivre is one lost a little in translation. But the horse - forlorn and masterfully captured in motion in the fabulous opening sequence - was wonderful, out-acting the humans as a being weary with resignation and burden. The father and daughter principal characters swore I thought too much for allegory, and the horse’s non-speaking part was a nice counterpoint.
But a film that had the hallmarks of its director’s black, black sense of humour played to searing effect was Post Mortem (above, right) - another macabre, unflinching trip into the history of Chile’s political past by Pablo Larraín. Following on from his second feature - the twisted, bleak, but very smart Tony Manero - this was the one film which had to be seen at Edinburgh for its UK premiere. Larraín is conducting a cinematic form of forensic research into what happened to the soul of a country that unspeakably abused its own. This time it’s the autopsy theatre that Larraín presents as the proscenium through which we glimpse Chile’s descent into hell as the 1973 military coup brings mass murder in its wake - all while public servants dissect its victims and type up its reports. Alfredo Castro from Tony Manero is again cast as a protagonist stripped of any morality or responsibility with regard to his fellow citizens, utterly absorbed in his own desires and disrupted masculinity, while Larraín drives the story with bold, spare images and a cold, comedic eye. Every frame grips in Larraín’s films, with each character, object and word rich with meaning. This might still be art house but it’s utterly compelling and absorbing – it’s a film, like Tony Manero, that gets under the skin and stays there. For the unrepresentative poll conducted for this article, it was the film that came out top – and for those critics who I heard were sniffy about the films on offer at Edinburgh, it was a missed opportunity if they felt nothing was worthy of a trip to the city.
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