Posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2008 by Hunter Stephenson
It amazes and terrifies me that so few filmmakers are as open, interested and engaged in the torrent phenomena as director John August. You might remember that earlier this month we reported on August’s curious announcement to fans that his indie film (and /Film favorite), The Nines, was available for illegal download online via Bit Torrent and sites like Mininova. He seemed to express that he wouldn’t hold a grudge if you saw his film that way. Well, August has posted twice more on the topic on his personal blog, and he now attributes a huge surge for The Nines on IMDB’s MOVIEmeter (which measures movie search trends) from 1,539 all the way to 11 to its exposure via the Internet’s torrents.
You don’t see a lot, actually any, directors making the correlation between illegal torrent leaks of their films, their films’ popularity and consumer interest, but August has voiced up. And it’s clear that August has received a lot of flack for doing so, as he’s extended on his prior statements and countered others’ directed at him in another blog entry.
I’m not bouncy with joy over my movie getting torrented, but I think it’s a stretch to equate unlawful downloading with traditional theft. As many commenters have pointed out, The Nines isn’t available in any legal form in many countries around the world, nor will it be in any foreseeable time frame. So I have a hard time arguing that a reader in Germany should pay for the movie when there’s no way he could.
August goes on to say that he has far less tolerance for viewers who download a film that is openly available to them, be it on DVD or theatrically, but even then, he seems to think that downloading his film is less harmful than buying a bootleg of it on the streets of New York, referring to the latter as “organized crime” and torrent sites as merely “far less noble.” Moreover, he says that Hollywood should lay off the downloaders and lay on an innovative solution.
I’d steer the legal machinery towards stopping the true black market – counterfeit discs and camcorder specials – and spend more time coming up with legitimate, convenient alternatives to the torrents, so that’s it’s not any more difficult to find and download a movie legally. Apple’s new rental deal with the studios sounds promising. That and a dozen other efforts could make the market competitive, which will be better for everyone.
But where August takes a next step in becoming a unique voice on this subject is with the following statement…
One of the things I hope to do with The Nines – sometime after the writers’ strike, when I can call Sony again – is work with them to release a low-res version of all the source material for The Nines, so budding filmmakers can try their hand at cutting (and re-cutting) a real feature. So I’m watching this first wave of torrents carefully, hoping the people who are downloading The Nines are doing it because they love movies, and not because they want to screw over some mythical The Man. Because to a very large degree, I am The Man in this case.
Yes! This is the kind of forward-thinking the industry needs and props to August for doing it for them. I cannot express enough how frustrated I am watching Hollywood slowly but surely follow the same “all defense all the time” path as the music industry when it comes to ignoring downloading as the future (in favor of Blue Ray), going after torrent communities and prosecuting downloaders, and practicing what basically equates to an erred philosophy on human beings’ relationship and instincts in regards to sharing information.
The fact that 99 percent of all moviegoers around the world were put in the position of waiting to see The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, an Oscar-caliber film barely released theatrically in America last September, until it arrived on DVD five or more months (or years) later, or illegally downloading a pristine DVD screener a month ago, burning it to a DVD-R, and watching it in their home with friends or loved ones is preposterous. I have a separate post about this in the works, but I can’t help but notice how many more comments on /Film and other sites are now referring to a combination of smaller, less intriguing and under-distributed movies as “[illegal] download only” and “maybe I’ll download it to see what the fuss is about.” And it’s not just the “nerds, criminals, derelicts and college students” as the music industry used to label those who first adopted Napster.
As for whether illegal torrents can actually make films more popular, to me this is a no-brainer. Yes. They Can. In a global marketplace, we should all be able to view movies on demand via the Internet at the same time. And more and more, we can, except that it’s not Hollywood and the big corporations that are promoting, initiating, investing, improving and expanding this means of populist, and incredibly lucrative, distribution. It’s the people, whatever you think of “the people.” You can go the Daniel Plainview these people route if you want, but I’m leaving that mindset to the antiquated oil set.
Here is the aforementioned IMBD MOVIEmeter for The Nines. August attributes the huge surge in January in terms of movie searches to the film’s leak on torrents this month.