Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Why Sundance films don’t get pirated


According to a recent article in Slate, movies appearing at the Sundance film festival by and large don’t get pirated, and instead wallow in obscurity. The author’s contention is that pirates only pay attention to big releases, but I think it may have more to do with the fact that the average Sundance filmmaker probably isn’t tech-savvy enough to get their film onto torrent sites in the first place. After all, 90 percent of the films at Sundance and other film festivals go on to virtually no distribution, so why not at least try to get some eyeballs on all that hard work?

Warren Frey is a journalist, freelance writer, podcaster, video producer, and all-around media consultant currently based in Vancouver, Canada. His written work has appeared in such publications as Metro Vancouver, the Westender, Mac | Life and the Japan Times.

6 Responses to “ Why Sundance films don’t get pirated ”

craig says:

I don’t think it’s because the average Sundance filmmaker isn’t tech-savvy. You’re dealing with filmmakers who have probably spent a whole lot of time with computers while completing their films. I’m pretty sure that someone who can spend hours in a dark room making their film look professional is smart enough to upload a film. Odds are that the reason Sundance films aren’t pirated is because the average Sundance audience has more respect for the filmmakers and their work than the average audience at your local cineplex. I’m guessing the average Sundance audience member believes in an artist’s right to actually earn a living and would like to see others pay for the movie just as they did. Not to mention that I’m sure many Sundance audience members are filmmakers themselves and are just treating other artists the way they would like to be treated themselves.
For some filmmakers, I’m sure that sticking to the festival circuit is very rewarding. Pirating is not an easy way to get your work seen, it’s a way to steal from artists. If a filmmaker wants to make something available for free that’s up to him/her. Let him put it on YouTube.

killahmullet says:

They’re probably “independent piraters” working in 16mm, and they don’t have enough money to get it processed. They need financing to digitize the stuff they’ve stolen to get it up on the web.

I agree with you Frey. You would think people would actually want other to see their films. But in my experience, most independent film makers don’t really care if people see their films, hence the fact they don’t work really hard at getting them distributed. And when they do get a distribution deal, they complain about how they got ripped off by some “evil” producer who doesn’t understand their work.

Warren says:

Here’s a filmmakers take on his film hitting the torrentosphere…


Maybe I was off in saying independent filmmakers aren’t tech savvy….but I think obscurity is a far worse fate than a few theoretical bucks lost to piracy. And I agree with Killahmullet’s take that some (not all) indie artists can be real dilletantes, though that may be a Canadian phenomenon, where the Canada Council has created a welfare system for artists.

craig says:

One of the things I treasure about Canada is the Canada Council. We are so lucky to live in a place where art and artists are treated as valued members of society. The Canada Council is not ‘a welfare system for artists’ it is a wonderful program that allows artists to focus on their work and maintain complete autonomy and integrity in their artistic process. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I’m sure if they offered you a grant you wouldn’t turn it down. It sounds like you and killahmullet would rather see our Canadian filmmakers pumping out carbon copies of Armageddon and maybe another Saw sequel than create something with artistic integrity and original thought.

Warren says:

Nah, I have no desire to see Armageddon redone by anyone, Canadian or otherwise. What I’m criticizing is the system of tax breaks and handouts the government doles out, often to second-rate fare that mimics American films without any actual production or entertainment value. Do a few great Canadian movies get made because of the Canada Council? Sure. Would I refuse a grant? Of course not…though if I was to make a film, it wouldn’t be on film in the first place, and I’d do everything in my power not to go to anyone for money.

So I’m fine with institutions like the Canada Council…but it (and rthe government ) shouldn’t be the ONLY engine of creation in this country.

killahmullet says:

I think the Canada Council is a good thing too, but I agree with Warren in that it has created a dependence on government funding. And Canadian films certainly haven’t had the same impact internationally as a comparable country like Australia.

When the government doles out money to filmmakers, it can have an adverse on the film industry. Private donors and companies think the government will take care of things, and let’s face it, more money for filmmakers isn’t a bad thing.

By choking off private money, you create a system where fairness (granting money to people in every province) and bias (the donor panel’s feeling on what exactly a Canadian flick should be), which in turn cranks out a lot of subpar films.

Encouraging filmmakers to get out and distribute their films – not to Hollywood, but to independent festivals if it is “art” – you take away the tendency of people to shoot one film with grant money and disappear into obscurity forever. Getting the stuff on the Internet works the same way. By getting out there – whether it be on the net or in person to festivals – people raise awareness about themselves, their skills and their work, which in turn will lead to money in the future.

You could do this by scaling back grants or building in clauses that say the film has to be out in the public to a certain extent and you have to have some private money involved before you get all of your money.

By just saying, “great you’ve completed your wonderful film, here’s the money,” there is not any incentive to take it any further than just getting a few friends to show up at the Cineplex to see it.

I bet most filmmakers make films that they want people to see and like. I haven’t met many that do it just to say they made a film.

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