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.

moviemeter.jpg

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The NinesThe Nines was one of the best films of last year, although, chances are you never saw it. I think John August‘s directorial debut didn’t get much further than a couple screens, which is a crying shame if you ask me. Thankfully the film is hitting DVD store shelves later this month. I highly recommend it.

But in a highly strange move, screenwriter turned director and self professed tech geek,  August has announced to his fans that The Nines is now available illegally on Bit Torrent.

“You can loan a DVD, without passing along that troubling knowledge that you’ve done something illicit,” August writes, adding “But if these reasons and/or your conscience doesn’t persuade you, it’s not hard to find The Nines online. And won’t think less of you. Probably.”

Wow. But I want to support this film with my money, so I’ll be putting down the cash on January 29th. I recommend you do the same. But what does my moral opinion matter when the filmmaker is telling you that he doesn’t care as long as you check out his movie.

John AugustDespite claims from IMDb, screenwriter John August is not writing the 3D feature film adaptation of Frankenweenie for Tim Burton. Apparently August had a meeting with Disney Animation last year where they pitched him the idea, complete with production art.

“Then, separately, I had a conversation with Tim about doing another stop-motion animation project like Corpse Bride. But they’re not the same thing. And as far as I know, I won’t be working on either one. (That said, I didn’t think I was working on Corpse Bride until I was halfway on a plane to London, so never say never.)”

However the screenwriter is looking to reteam with the Big Fish director on another as-yet-to-be-announced live-action project.

“I almost certainly will be writing [the unannounced Burton project] post-strike. And yes, I’d love to tell you what it is. But I can’t.”

But when will Tim Burton find the time? Burton is currently prepping a 3D version of Alice in Wonderland for Disney. That film will go into production in May 2008. And as we mentioned before, Burton is also signed on to make a feature film adaptation of his short film Frankenweenie.

In the meantime, August’s blog is probably the best place to catch up on “From the Frontlines of the Writers Strike” stories.

Star TrekScreenwriter John August has been doing an incredible job blogging about the WGA strike, and his encounters on the picket line. In one of his latest blog entries, August talks about a conversation he has on day 10 of the strike, meeting and chatting with Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams. The Star Trek director expressed his frustrations of being in production on a movie during the strike, and what problems it creates. Here is an excerpt:

“Damon is producing the new Star Trek movie, which J.J. is directing. Which is shooting on the Paramount lot. Which we are currently picketing.”

“Star Trek is the biggest movie shooting at Paramount. It’s directed and produced by WGA members, who are following the spirit and letter of the Guild’s rules. They’re walking the line while being forced to cross it.”

“‘Forced’ isn’t quite right, because there’s an alternative: J.J., Damon, and the other WGA producers could refuse to cross the picket line. They’d get fired, sued, and replaced by a less-conflicted director and producing team – all probably within a week’s time. What’s tougher to figure out is whether it would make a damn bit of difference.”

“Neither J.J. nor Damon are writers on the movie. But they are writers, and WGA members. During a WGA strike, you’re not allowed to write on movies or television shows, period. So they can’t change a word of the script, nor can anyone else. The script they had at 11:59 p.m. November 5th is the script they have to shoot.”

“To a screenwriter, that might seem kind of awesome. For once, the director can’t change things. But when its your own movie, it’s maddening. J.J. was describing a scene he was shooting the day before. Midway through it, he got a great idea for a new line. Which he couldn’t write. Couldn’t shoot. Couldn’t be in his movie.

“Damon described it like having one of your superpowers taken away.”

“You can absolutely make a movie without changing the script. Big Fish and Charlie were shot just like they were written. But to not even have the option of changing something is a bizarre restriction, like making a Dogme 95 film with a $100 million budget….”

Indeed.

Get Smart Poster

While I was in New Mexico, I missed out on a couple movie poster premiere. So let’s make up for lost time, and take a look at a few of them. First up is the teaser poster via cinematical for Get Smart starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. I’m really looking forward to this one, being a big fan of the Mel Brooks series as a kid. Also the footage shown at Comic Con showed major promise.
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John August on Why Writers Get Residuals

John August on Why Writers Get Residuals

John August (Go, The Nines) is not only the most successful underrated screenwriter working not working in Hollywood today, but he’s also a damn good blogger. Each of the posts that I’ve written about the writers strike has resulted in some interesting comment discussions. And one argument that gets brought up each and every time without fail is: “Writers don’t need residuals, they get paid enough already. I don’t get residuals for the work I do at my office.”

August has written a comprehensive blog post explaining why writers get paid royalties. He explains the situation far better than I could have (and heck, he’s not writing screenplays so it makes perfect sense that he’s instead creating great blog content).

“Most songs don’t become hits. Most novels don’t become best-sellers. Songwriters and novelists may only generate new, money-generating work every few years. Royalties are what pay the bills in the meantime. Without royalties, very few people could afford to write songs or books for a living. These pursuits would become hobbies for the rich, or patrons of the rich. (And in fact, Western literature was largely written by the people who could afford to write.)”

August explains the legal reasons why screenwriters get residuals and not Royalties, and argues that residuals allow for a middle class and for a larger pool of talent.

“Residuals are like the research and development fund for the industry.”

“You’ll note that the studios aren’t talking about eliminating residuals altogether. Even in one of their earlier proposals for “profit-based residuals,” they were acknowledging that writers are entitled to them. Without some form of residuals, the charade of authorship-transference ceases to be mutually beneficial.”

And more importantly, August explains why the guy at the soda bottling factory doesn’t make residuals on all the pop he bottles, or why his friend Jeff doesn’t make a royalty on a spreadsheet he created in 2003.

“When he created it for his boss, he was an employee of the company. Copyright-wise, everything he did for them was a work-for-hire. They owned it outright. When a screenwriter writes a script, she’s transferring this bundle of authorship rights to a corporation. In exchange for these legal and creative rights, she gets paid an upfront fee and royalties (called residuals).

Readers from the technology and medical fields might recognize an analogous situation with patents and intellectual property. It’s not uncommon for an inventor to get paid per unit for the right to use some proprietary innovation. So it may help to think of screenplays as “literary inventions,” subject to a strange but industry-standardized procedure to protect both creators and corporations.”

Read John August’s full blog post on JohnAugust.com.

NBC Cancels Heroes: Origins? Boba Fett in Star Wars TV Series?

NBC has decided to pull the Heroes spin-off miniseries Heroes: Origins from a midseason launch. THR is claiming that the writers strike may have contributed to this move, but I’m sure the slight drop is Heroes ratings had more to do with the decision. And while the network isn’t saying what will become of the six episode series, word is that it’s dead. Kevin Smith, Eli Roth and John August were some of the writer/directors tapped for the miniseries. Very disappointing, because it would have been interesting to see what Heroes would look like with some good writing talent involved. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show. But it is the worst written good show on television. Some of the dialogue this season has been over-the-top horrendous (“Are you an Alien or a Robot?”).

Meanwhile our friends at IESB say that infamous Bounty Hunter Boba Fett will be featured in the Star Wars live-action television series. Apparently Star Wars producer Rick McCallum told the audience at Star Wars Reunion 2 in France this weekend that he would like to see Daniel Logan in the Bobba Fett armor in the planned live-action television series. Logan played young Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones. If you remember, the young guy witnessed his father Jango Fett’s death. A revenge story involving Samuel L Jackson’s character Mace Windu would be great, but didn’t George Lucas say that none of the major Star Wars characters would show up on screen in the new series? McCallum also revealed that George Lucas hopes to extend the planned 100 episode series to close to 400 episodes.

The NinesWhen Clerks 2 was getting ready for release, Kevin Smith had a great idea to release an audio commentary track for the film a couple weeks after the film had hit theaters. The idea was to encourage people to go back and pay for the movie again, and to listen to the film commentary on their iPod. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but if I remember correctly, the theater owners complained about people may be laughing at parts during the movie that shouldn’t have laughs and that would be distracting to others in the theater. It was a great idea though, although I can see that complaint, especially considering how funny some of Smith’s commentary tracks can get.

John August has taken that idea and run with it. Not only has he announced he’s releasing the commentary track for The Nines on MP3, but he’s already posted it. I guess it’s easier to get something like this through on a smaller limited release. Also, I’m sure August’s track is probably more informative than funny, and would not result in such distractions mentioned above. And The Nines is the perfect film for this experiment because it offers a complex mystery which people may want to explore a second time with a guide.

“In the age of iPods, there’s really no reason why audio commentary has to be relegated to DVD. That’s why Ryan Reynolds and I recorded one last week for The Nines which is now yours to download.”

You can download the commentary track now at JohnAugust.com.

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