TorrentFreak asked independent film director Sam Bozzo to comment on his experiences having his two most recent films leaked to BitTorrent
. The stories in both cases were different. The first film, Blue Gold: World Water Wars
was released normally, and then leaked online. The second, his documentary Hackers Wanted
was shelved after internal disputes -- but has now leaked to BitTorrent. Originally it was an old cut that was leaked, but now Bozzo's "directors' cut" has been leaked, and Bozzo seems fine with it. In fact, he claims that if you make a good film, having it leaked to BitTorrent can only help. It's only bad if your film isn't very good:
In a nutshell, I believe the only films that are hurt by torrent sharing are mediocre and bad films. In contrast, the good films of any genre only benefit from file-sharing. Due to this, I feel the current file-sharing trend is a catalyst for a true evolution in filmmaking...
That's quite a statement, since so many in the movie industry disagree. But Bozzo does a good job backing it up by explaining his own experiences. In fact, he admits when he first found out that Blue Gold
was available online he was "enraged and terrified I would never make my money back," because of this. But he has since changed his mind, in part because he figured out how to embrace it:
I contacted the uploader of my film and asked she spread a message of support with the torrent, asking for donations if a viewer likes the film and explaining that was a self-financed endeavor. The result? I received many donations and emails of support from those who downloaded the film, but I furthermore believe that viewers spread the word of the film to their non-torrent-downloading friends and that DVD sales increased due to the leak. For me, the torrent leak was ultimately "free advertising", and I am the only truly independent documentary filmmaker I know making his money back this year.
He also responds to the usual complaint from filmmakers that even if unauthorized downloads might lead to more theater attendance, it must harm DVD sales, by highlighting, yet again, how obscurity is a much bigger "threat" than "piracy":
With "Blue Gold" already available on DVD in North America, UK, Japan, and Australia, the initial fear of a filmmaker is that each person who downloads a torrent would have instead paid to buy or rent a DVD if the torrent were not available. I feel this is false for many reasons. For an independent film like mine, most torrent users would have never heard of my film if not for the torrent. Unlike a large blockbuster film, I had no advertising money to spread the word of the film, so the torrent leak provided another outlet to hopefully create a viral campaign of word-of-mouth. The main point, though, is that this only worked because the film is a solid good film (for the target market at least), so word of mouth could only help the film.
The next obvious question is what about all those Blockbuster films that the MPAA and Hollywood like to pretend represent the pinnacle of movie making? He notes that it's probably wrong to worry about DVD sales, because if people are watching the movies on their computer, it's probably best to compare it to a situation like Netflix's streaming service, and again, notes the value of exposure over dollars:
In this case, I feel it is important to compare file sharing not with DVD-purchases or rental, but with streaming a film via Netflix's Watch Instantly and also with inviting friends over to watch a film in a group. In neither of these situations does a film make any money. Most are surprised to learn that Netflix pays only a fixed fee to the distributor for the number of years they may offer a film, regardless of whether that film is streamed once or a million times in that time period.
Yet anyone I know on Netflix's Watch Instantly platform, including me, is thrilled to be there. Why? The exposure. The more people who see the film, the more will likely love it and want to buy it for their collection. When you invite a group of friends to your house to watch a DVD, do you charge them? One person bought one DVD, and ten watch it free, but if the film is good, hopefully a few of them will buy a DVD for themselves, or at least spread positive word.
And from there he makes the key point:
Good filmmakers are not afraid to have their films seen, they fight to have them seen. They pay thousands of dollars for the "honor" of screening them for free at film festivals, so why not embrace screening them for free online with no "submission fee" required?
As for bad films? Well, he points out those are harmed by file sharing, because the negative word of mouth gets around much faster, leading people to avoid both the theatrical and DVD releases. But, he notes, for years, Hollywood has preyed on opening day box office numbers to define what is and what is not a good film, when the reality is those numbers are a factor of marketing and advertising:
Distributors of bad and mediocre films depend solely on a paying audience's misconception that they are paying to watch a good film, when they are not. Via mass marketing, trailers, posters, and paying high fees to star actors, distributors of bad films are betting all their money on one thing; getting as many people to pay to see the film the opening weekend in a theater before that disgruntled, unsatisfied audience tells all of their friends to avoid their bad film.
If you think logically just a second, it's ridiculous to judge a film's quality at all from the opening weekend, because nobody has seen the film yet to judge it! The opening weekend only demonstrates how much money was spent on advertising and the stars. That's it.
Believe it or not, all that is in just the first half of the article. Bozzo goes on to make a number of additional good points about why the legacy players hate BitTorrent -- not because it's "stealing" from them, but because it's upsetting their old way of tricking people into giving them money for bad movies. It's a great read. Someone should send it to Hurt Locker
producer Nicolas Chartier
, though I'm pretty sure I know how he'd respond...