Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Times They Are a Changing- Again

Bob Dylan is in Chicago this weekend and as always he has me thinking about the times we live in.

Not too many years ago if you were a Chicago based filmmaker and didn't have a production office in the 312 area code you were not a player. All of the major production houses, post-production facilities and recording studios were within a few blocks of each other. While many still are there, the film community has expanded and your physical location is nowhere nearly as important. These days an ftp server or secured website is as important as an office. More often than not we post rough cuts and let the client see them when and wherever they want to. This comes in very handy when a handful of people need to screen a cut.

At Flashpoint I am currently teaching a Creative Producing class where we spend a fair amount of class time discussing changes in the industry. Of late the conversation has turned to public art, giving away your work and new modes of distribution. It is very interesting and the students have lots of insights.

A few weeks ago the band Radiohead announced they would release their new record and let people pay whatever they wanted for it. We did a survey in class and the average price our students "paid" for the record was a little over seven dollars- some said they would pay nothing, others more than $20. Interestingly, after they first few hundred thousand downloads, the average price paid for the Radiohead record was just about eight bucks. Our un-scientific survey was pretty accurate.

From Radiohead we jumped to Wes Anderson and his short film The Hotel Chevalier which is a free download on iTunes. They are using it as a marketing tool for The Darjeeling Limited and it seems to be working. We don't have enough public art in this country and it is great that a successful filmmaker is putting his work out there for free.

From Wes Anderson we turn to Ed Burns, the actor and director whose film Purple Violets will be released not in theaters or on DVD but directly to iTunes. This will be the first film released on to iTunes and I believe it is a harbinger of things to come. Purple Violets was made for $4 million and received good reviews when it premiered earlier this year at the Tribecca Film Festival, yet it didn't get any great distribution offers so they decided to go straight to a digital release. The p.r. alone has probably helped recoup the investment.

Finally, we come to American Gangster the new Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott film. American Gangster opens in theaters next Friday, yet at least half of my students have it already on their computers thanks (no thanks?) to someone posting a screener copy. I looked at some of the film and it is a great copy and as of yesterday I heard that it had been viewed on-line at least 30,000 times. That's a lot of people not paying for American Gangster movie tickets or DVD rentals.

For the record I am completely against stealing works of art (or works of Crowe). But as I talked with my students they said, "Our generation takes it for granted that our work will be copied, shared and stolen." (BTW, thanks for making me feel old and categorizing me into that generation.) I don't like that but they thought nothing of passing a flash drive around the room and getting their own copies of American Gangster. It will be interesting to see how they feel in a few years when someone is stealing their works.



strunny said...

i am more of your students' generation :) but i feel the same way you do - and so do a lot of my friends. in a recent class i was in we had an unscientific survey (110 students roughly) and all of them agreed it's "wrong" to download free music, but most all do it at the same time. it's a great way to get in to an ethical debate! :)
a lot of my friends are the way your students are, even my family is divided. i used to download for free and i just stopped because it felt wrong, and in principle i'm all for free sharing and free giving out of art/media (and it's the direction we are heading in anyway...), but it would be more supported if, like radiohead, it is also the person(s) who created it's philosophy. of course, there are gray areas to all of this. i'm going to check that film out on itunes though.
i was once at a concert a couple years ago of a guy who was on his way to becoming someone pretty big (at least in his genre of music), ..someone asked him if he minded if people burn cd's of his music. he was flattered first...but then said since for him and his family that is income, if you have the money please buy it, but if you don't, by all means burn away. i thought that was a great answer (and he wasn't full of money at the time so it made sense).

Rose said...

Another good example is Moby, who has started making his music free to indie filmmakers if they use it for nonprofit films at

denise said...

AND moby thought the movie sunshine was the best science fiction movie he's seen. how many degrees of separation would that make?!