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When I began producing, the idea of starting a company was synonymous with building a library. The idea was that your accumulated work would retain value over time and, when the initial licenses expired, could be licensed again to sustain the company's future years. Yesterday afternoon, in fact, I went to DuArt Film Laboratories and moved the negatives of the films I've produced since the early '90s to a storage facility. (The lab is closing their vaults and DuArt Vice president Steve Blakely has been making a valiant effort to reach out to decades worth of indie filmmakers to get them to pick up their materials. If you have materials there, I'd give him a call immediately.) But that old notion of library value has been upended by piracy. The value of a collection of films is necessarily diminished, many argue, by the availability of those films for free on servers around the world.
So, given the above, why am I uneasy about SOPA?
You don't know what SOPA is? Well, you're not alone. In fact, it's really surprised me that the most significant piece of legislation to affect independent filmmakers who use the web to market and distribute their work in a decade is on the verge of passing Congress this week without any debate from the independent film community.
In brief, SOPA stands for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and it is legislation endorsed by the major studios and Hollywood unions -- and largely opposed by the tech industry -- intended to shut down sites that host pirated content. For the purposes of this newsletter, I'm going to concede the argument that piracy is bad for content creators. (Of course, I'm well aware of counter arguments opposing this view and have even published them over the years in Filmmaker. See, for example, "The Digital Divide: The Political Economy of the MPAA's War on Piracy.") Honestly, though, I do resent that a Google search for a movie will take you on its first page of results to an offshore cyberlocker wanting your credit card info for a pirated copy.
But my qualms with SOPA, the intended fix, boil down to three issues (and I'm speaking personally here).
1. The legislation's tools to combat piracy -- which include messing with the internet's Domain Name Service and empowering private rights holders to not just take down a single piece of infringing material from a site but actually choke that site's entire revenue flow -- are drastic, overreaching remedies with the potential for much collateral damage across the web.
SOPA and the related bills currently before Congress are complicated, and they are changing as we speak. (The most recent draft of SOPA is a little better than the previous, focusing entirely on foreign sites and requiring a court order for a rights holder to shut down an infringing site's Visa and PayPal processing, which was not the case in the original draft.) There's a lot of information on the bills online. One sober summary of the current situation is here at WikiMedia. And here at Fight for the Future is a video by Filmmaker 25 New Face Kirby Ferguson on the ramifications of the legislation.
Like I said, this is major legislation that is barreling through Congress with input from the studios but not from the independents who have a different relationship with tech and online media. Inform yourself about the proposed laws and express your interests and concerns to your Congressman.
See you next week.
IFP: INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER LABS WRAP AS PROJECTS HIT THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs wrapped the third component of the 2011 edition December 7-9 with a three-day immersion on specific distribution options and plans for each of the 21 Lab projects. The sessions were led by IFP staffers along with filmmaker and Lab leader Jon Reiss and distribution mentors Jim Browne of Argot Pictures, Dylan Marchetti of Variance Films, Erin Owens of Long Shot Factory, Abramorama's Richard Abramowitz, Motto Pictures' Julie Goldman, and Back Allie Films' Andrea Meditch. The 2011 Lab films (and prior Lab alums) have already begun hitting the festival circuit: Ryan O'nan's The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best premiered at Toronto, Sara Blecher's Otelo Burning has screened at the Durban, Busan, and London Film Festivals, and Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix's The Light in Her Eyes just premiered at IDFA, followed by the Dubai International Film Festival. Also at Dubai, Susan Youssef's Habibi (from the 2010 Lab) won Best Film and the FIPRESCI Award for Best Feature, along with awards for Best Actress and Best Editing. Just announced - Keith Miller's Welcome to Pine Hill will premiere at Slamdance 2012, and Terence Nance's 2008 Lab project, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, will premiere in the New Frontier section at Sundance 2012. The IFP Filmmaker Labs are a year-long program supporting first time feature filmmakers, with a finishing and creative feedback lab in the spring, a marketing lab in the fall, and distribution lab in the winter. IFP continues to mentor these filmmakers as their films move beyond festivals into a distribution life. Applications for the 2012 Labs will be available in mid-January.
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SLEEPLESS NIGHTS STORIES By Susanna Locascio
December can be perverse, especially in New York. Underneath the jingling bells, cinnamon, and pine, the promises and obligations to keep, there's a pervasive anxiety about the dying light. Time flattens the remaining days like a steamroller as we frantically categorize our memories into lists of ten and wrap it all up in colored paper and ribbons. This can create a hectic, merry numbness that doesn't subside until January's hangover, when the cold is undeniable. Perhaps the timing is fortuitous, but I was thoroughly pleased and soothed by watching Jonas Mekas' film Sleepless Nights Stories, a loose montage of gatherings between Mekas and his friends, inspired by his insomnia as well as the Arabian tales of One Thousand And One Nights. I hadn't realized how immersed I'd been in images of hollow, brittle glamor until I confronted this film's overwhelming drive of sentiment. Mekas and the film itself are what December should be but is not: warm, funny, and immediately accessible, but also fueled by spirit(s) and melancholy. read more CARNAGE 78-year old Roman Polanski uses his patented interest in uncomfortable subject matter and combines it with some of Hollywood's top talent to adapt Yasmina Reza's hit play, God of Carnage. Titled Carnage it stars Kate Winslet, Christoph Walz, John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster as two couples forced into a meeting after their children get into a playground scuffle. As the tension between the two couples escalates briskly, Polanski crafts a wry, unapologetic satire of American upper-class hypocrisy. CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL A gleeful, tongue-in-cheek, and ultimately loving ode to B-movie pioneer Roger Corman, this new documentary from director Alex Stapleton overviews the iconic director's 60-year career. Featuring interviews with some of the talents whose careers Corman helped to launch, including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdonovich, and Jack Nicholson (who openly weeps on camera discussing his admiration for Corman), Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel convincingly frames its complex subject as a misunderstood, and at times mistreated, artist. This week on the blog, Scott Macaulay shares producer Karin Chien's (Circumstance) open letter to the Producer's Guild of America, Michael Murie interviews documentary filmmaker Jared Flesher (pictured left), and Dan Schoenbrun reports from IFP's Labs about film merchandising and analyzes HBO's Game of Thrones.
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IS SHALLOW DEPTH-OF-FIELD A FAD? By Michael Murie
Most creative arts suffer from trends. Someone does something new or unusual, and suddenly dozens of others are imitating it; just look at Hollywood. Since the arrival of the Canon 5D Mark II, shallow depth-of-field has become almost a fetish. There's certainly valid reasons to want to have shallow depth-of-field, as filmmaker Stu Maschwitz wrote on his blog: "With a 5D Mark II, its sensor double the size of a motion picture film frame, we can achieve cinematic focus at F4. We can get fetishistically shallow depth of field at F2.8. At F1.2, we can create abstract art in a Burger King. The insanely shallow DOF afforded by the 5D Mark II is the artistic solution to the camera's numerous technical problems." read more
Dallas International Film Festival
Late Deadline: December 16
WAB Deadline: December 21
Festival Dates: April 12 - 22, 2012
Ashland Independent Film Fesitval
WAB Deadline: December 16
Festival Dates: April 12 - 16, 2012
Newport Beach Film Festival
Regular Deadline: December 16
Late Deadline: January 27
WAB Deadline: February 10
Festival Dates: April 26 - May 3, 2012