Film Distributor Convinced Oscar Nominees To Take Down Their Own Short Films, Because No Real Film Would Be Online

from the wtf dept

While the Oscars already happened this past weekend, we missed this one bit of insanity in the lead up. Apparently, Carter Pilcher, CEO of distributor Shorts International, made the rounds last week telling all of the nominees for "best animated short film" that they needed to take their films down from any online site. Why? Because, apparently, online stuff is too lowbrow, and no serious filmmaker would ever promote their films online. From the letter:
The fact that all the films were put online is perplexing as Academy voters have other and better means of viewing the films, including through the Academy-provided DVDs of all the Live Action and Animated short film nominees sent to all voting members. Making the films available online creates no competitive advantage.

Unlike Webbies or Ani's, the Academy Award is designed to award excellence in the making of motion pictures that receive a cinematic release, not an online release. Since 2006, we have built theater audiences significantly and created widespread interest in the films themselves and their place in the movie theater. This release of the films on the Internet threatens to destroy 8 years of audience growth and the notion that these film gems are indeed movies--no feature length film would consider a free online release as a marketing tool!
First off, that last statement is pure hogwash. A large and growing number of feature length films have been released online for free as a marketing tool. There's a whole company called Vodo.net that has helped filmmakers do that. All the way back in 2008, we wrote about director Wayne Wang (who has directed movies like The Joy Luck Club, Smoke and Maid in Manhattan) releasing his latest feature length film... free and online. Another success story involved a relatively unknown indie filmmaker who got his film on Hulu (for free), where it became the most watched thing on Hulu for a while. And, of course, Nina Paley famously released Sita Sings the Blues for free online. The idea that no maker of a feature length film would ever use the internet to release it for free is simply untrue.

And, in many ways, it seems even dumber to remove these short animated films from the internet. As many people have noted, obscurity is a much bigger threat to most content creators than anything else, and one way to guarantee further obscurity is to make sure your work cannot be found or seen easily. Somehow, I doubt that any of these animated short filmmakers are seeing that much money from whatever limited theatrical release Pilcher is able to give them. And yet, by taking their works offline, they may be missing out on building a much bigger and more loyal fanbase, which can help support future projects (Kickstarter, anyone?). The idea that no real filmmaker would promote their films online is something that comes from the viewpoint of an obsolete industry, not someone who is looking out for today's filmmakers' best interests.


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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:48am

    the dumbest thing is that these idiots listened to him, so what does that tell you? and if the internet is too 'lowbrow', why all this complaining about 'internet piracy'??

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:49am

    "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

    Sure, to those who want to get a message out or otherwise promote for non-monetary rewards, free online is fine.

    But a whole industry can't work on "give away and pray".




    Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up at same place!
    http://techdirt.com/
    The only forum where "give away and pray" is taken seriously.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:52am

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      "But a whole industry can't work on "give away and pray"."

      It worked pretty well for religion.

       

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        Vidiot (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:10am

        Can't avoid prayin'

        Or instead of "give away and pray"...

        Choose "distribute to theaters and pray"...

        - that your distributor bothered to promote your project
        - that the weather that weekend is good
        - that anyone is willing to shell out any amount of money to see your magnum opus

         

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:00am

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      Most short films can be given away from free because they are funded by means other than ticket sales. While 10 short films might get picked each year for the Oscars, there are hundreds if not thousands of other short films every year that will never see theatrical release or be seen at all if it weren't for the internet.

      I don't know anyone that makes a short film hoping to get a return on their investment by getting people to pay to see their film, and if they do they're fools.

       

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      Machin Shin (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:02am

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      "The only forum where "give away and pray" is taken seriously."

      You know, it is kind of funny you should say that. There have actually been a few studies about this "give away and pray" method. A prime example is the common car wash as a fund raiser. You will actually make more money if you setup offering "free" car washes and asking for donations than if you try and charge a set price.

       

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      Gwiz (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:13am

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      The only forum where "give away and pray" is taken seriously.


      Blue, your intelligence level is dropping noticeably with each passing day. I guess your medical professionals haven't worked out the correct dosages yet.

      Anyways, if you actually took some time to read articles here on Techdirt you might know that Mike doesn't think that "give it away and pray" is a very good business model at all and has been saying that for many years now.

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080522/1545021204.shtml

      Leveraging free can be a integral part of a good business model, but it needs to be done with forethought and focus towards the ultimate goal - making money.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:27am

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      "Sure, to those who want to get a message out or otherwise promote for non-monetary rewards, free online is fine."

      This has nothing whatsoever to do with anything the article's about, which for a start addresses filmmakers who have already willingly put their material online. Reading comprehension, for gods sake, learn it.

      "But a whole industry can't work on "give away and pray"."

      Do you YET AGAIN need to be pointed to the articles where Mike has specifically said that's a bad idea and not something that's part of the business models he supports? Read the damn articles occasionally rather than fight your fictional phantoms.

      "The only forum where "give away and pray" is taken seriously."

      Liar

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:28pm

      Re: "marketing" to industry types means "get money in return", Mike.

      Yes, because there's never such a thing as a leap of faith. Which is why you use the manager who told Paul McCartney "Sorry boys - guitar groups are on the way out" as a point of reference for your never-ending, infallible wisdom.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:50am

    The first indication that this is complete bullshit is the line "...on the Internet threatens to destroy..." How many times has the entertainment industry cried wolf here? More than most people can count. Every new technology ever is "threatening to destroy" their livelihoods. I usually stop reading right there.

     

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      David Muir (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:02am

      Re:

      Allow me to expand on your point.

      This release of the films on the Internet threatens to destroy 8 years of audience growth and the notion that these film gems are indeed movies.

      Both of things supposedly threatened here are probably not at all threatened. The statement is based on nothing but a gut feeling from someone who cannot see beyond what IS.

      Give away and pray is NOT what judicious use of free availability, AKA promotion, in a business model is all about. REAL movies can be released in various ways.

      <sarcasm> It devalues the Academy Awards to show them on television, which is such a pervasive and free medium. They should invite only Hollywood elite, and hold them in a big theater in secret somewhere. </sarcasm>

       

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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:53am

    Wait a sec...

    The Oscars are still relevant to anything? Really?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:53am

    I was about to get shocked and slightly outraged at what he said but then it came to mind:

    obscurity is a much bigger threat to most content creators than anything else

    I say let those who are as myopic as he is fall into obscurity and into oblivion. Such artists are not needed. If we simply started ignoring artists that think like this moron (Metallica comes immediately to mind) then they should experience first hand what's to fall into oblivion.

    I'm seeing it happen (specifically with Disney), slowly. People are turning to alternatives that are affordable and that they know the ones behind it aren't arseholes.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:55am

    putting films online is too low brow..

    but letting seth macfarlane host the oscars was A-OK

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:03am

    If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

    [emphasis added]

    "When Finnish filmmaker Timo Vuorensola came up with the idea for his movie Star Wreck, a parody of Star Trek, he knew that looking for conventional distribution would be futile. An amateur, science-fiction comedy with a miniscule budget — and in Finnish, to boot — would hardly be attractive to mainstream studios. So Vuorensola took matters into his own hands: he used a Finnish social networking site to build up an online fan base who contributed to the storyline, made props and even offered their acting skills. In return for the help, Vuorensola released Star Wreck in 2005 online for free. Seven hundred thousand copies were downloaded in the first week alone; to date, the total has now reached 9 million.

    "Releasing it for free is just good marketing," he says. "Whether it's through piracy or distribution your film is out there on the Internet, so we decided to harness this." And he has managed to make quite a bit of money out of it. Online sales of merchandise — including T-shirts and collector's editions of the DVD — have generated $430,000 on a film that only cost $21,500 to make, Vuorensola says. He and his team have also now secured a proper distribution deal with Revolver Entertainment in the U.S. and Britain."

    YES, IT'S EASY WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY LABOR AND ACTORS! (Besides pesky promotion.)
    That's why I have the tag line:

    Every "new business model" here requires first getting valuable products -- including money and labor -- for free.

    Getting a profit is never a problem when expenses are artificially minimized. We need Mike to show us HOW to promote and get the free products up front, not just repeat claims that it can be done. He's not even a very good cheerleader.

    [BTW: I've seen this. It's okay, even well done in spots. Yet I wouldn't PAY to see it.]

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:17am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      That's a bunch of blah blah blah just to say that you didn't like the movie.

      Next time, just shorten it to "I didn't like it".

       

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        PaulT (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:41am

        Re: Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

        He's the one who's normally obsessed with the idea of a $100 million movie in business model discussions here, as if that's the only kind of movie there is. I'm honestly surprised he bothered to see it at all, but it's not unusual for a free independent movie to get attacked here (see AJ's - I assume it's him - reaction to Sita on the average thread).

        It's amazing really, he watched a movie legally for free, admits it generated huge interest (can he name any other Finnish movies, let alone any he's seen?), has achieved traditional distribution in some markets and generated at least 20x its production budget (by whatever date the article he's quoting was written, so probably more by now). Yet, to him it's still a failure because someone didn't wank enough money away to make it in the first place.

         

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      Gwiz (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:23am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      Getting a profit is never a problem when expenses are artificially minimized.


      That's kind of stupid, Blue, even for you.

      Why do you consider that to be "artificially minimized"? It wasn't forced labor, it was volunteer work, plain and simple.

      This guy has come up with a solution to your narrow-view question of "How do I pay for my $100,000,000 movie?" by reducing the upfront costs to something that is manageable and now you are mocking him? What gives?

       

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:24am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      "Every "new business model" here requires first getting valuable products -- including money and labor -- for free."

      How is that different from anywhere else? Think about it, if I want to make a movie your way then I have to make something that can be pitched to a movie producer. I have no money, they're not going to pay me to make a script.

      If I want to start a company I have to produce something that is worth buying before I can draw in investors. The investors aren't going to give me money with a promise of "I'll think up something good, I swear".

      At least our way lets us keep control of the distribution platform. I don't think I could live giving my stuff away to a movie producer and praying that he will promote my movie, get it into theaters (that's a different prayer right there), and then pay me... ever.

       

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      Rikuo (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:43am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      " We need Mike to show us HOW to promote and get the free products up front, not just repeat claims that it can be done. He's not even a very good cheerleader."

      You do know Mike works as a consultant in the area of business plans, don't you? So...how much are you going to pay him to show you what to do...or are you expecting him to donate his labour to you for free?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:53am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      "Every "new business model" here requires first getting valuable products "
      so i dont see he car maker complain because they are not paid before the r&d begins for the new car model, i see them geting a product first then chargin

       

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      btrussell (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 5:31am

      Re: If you can SAVE ON COSTS this way...

      How do I recover the cost of my million dollar car?

      I own it but others get to enjoy it as well. Shouldn't they each have to pay for my car? Why should others be able to see it for free?

       

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:04am

    Real films don't win Oscars.

    I hate award ceremonies as you can probably guess.

     

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    Lurker Keith, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    Another element...

    There's another element to this. Yesterday on Meet the Press they did a spot on the Oscars (no idea why, it had nothing to do w/ Politics @_@), & someone mentioned that the Oscars are decided entirely by insiders, so the Public seeing the shorts doesn't matter AT ALL!

    Perhaps everyone complied because it was threatened the insiders wouldn't fairly consider them if they didn't?

    Either way, I avoid these award shows like I avoid "Reality" TV shows (& I avoid them like the plague). They take what I want to watch off the air & replace it w/ nonsense.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:16am

    To hell with the Internet, I've got somebody's Oscar.

    "as Academy voters have other and better means of viewing the films"

    There's the problem. They only care about getting the Oscar.
    When all you care about is rewards, then fuck the Internet. If you're a true artist and want to get your stuff seen by everyone, the Internet is a godsend.

     

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:03am

    A shot at Disney

    Of course, Disney released their "Paperman" animated short on YouTube a few weeks ago. I didn't see Wreck It Ralph but I saw the short. And searching for recent news it seems the short went viral. As a bonus...it won an Oscar for it's category. So what is his point, again?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:57am

      Re: A shot at Disney

      But because it's Disney, and they have anything they do is ok because they are among the elite insiders so they don't count. Right?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:35pm

      Re: A shot at Disney

      Unfortunately, it's been removed from Youtube - thank heaven for Downloadhelper.

       

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 2:39pm

      Re: A shot at Disney

      But it didn't make any money! If it's not making a ton of money, it must not be any good.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:06pm

    Two points

    First, the Oscar nominated shorts are typically compiled into (historically) a DVD and (probably going forward) a premium iTunes or some such offering, so reducing the availability of free copies is arguably a good business move for the distributor.

    Second, those of us who make a living in filmmaking have always volunteered some of our labour at some point -it's how you break into the business. But to stick with it long term most of us need to get paid a stable, non-speculative wage. Thats why the "give it away for free and pray" approach remains mainly applicable only to certain niches in today's capitalist economy.

     

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      BentFranklin (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:20pm

      Re: Two points

      I would understand your point if it was someone else putting your work online, but it was the people you worked for who did it, for marketing purposes.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:35pm

      Re: Two points

      For your first point - why should that affect whether or not the film is eligible for an award? Unless you're admitting that awards ceremonies like the Oscars are really just ego massaging for the established elite, a movie given away for free should be considered for an award based on quality as much as one paid for at a premium. The distribution method doesn't change the quality of the end product. Besides which, how many short films are actually both available commercially and become successful? Outside of film festivals and random late night TV, only things like the Wallace & Gromit and Pixar shorts get any mainstream attention.

      For your second point, how many people working in the film industry actually get royalties vs. simply being paid union rates for the days they work? Given Hollywood accounting, you're probably better off with the latter, and if you're working for that rate the amount you're paid for your day's work shouldn't alter whether the movie is distributed via traditional means, via a freemium model or funded upfront via crowdsourcing. Yes, low budget movies might have to ask you to volunteer - but that happened 50 years ago as well under the traditional models. Ever hear of "poverty row"? The existence of those films didn't affect the viability of those models, and it was much more difficult to get traction outside of those studios.

      "give it away for free and pray"

      I do wish people would stop repeating this fallacy. It definitely doesn't help your argument when it's not only false for many films out there but specifically warned against on this very site.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Two points

      It may make sense to someone with the distributors mentality, it makes no sense for the creator, as any money made by commercial distribution will remain with the distributor (due to Hollywood accounting). Further the film will be seen by fewer people, and so be less valuable to the creator when comes time to raise funds for the next film.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    All of the short films were released last week in a compilation film on itunes. This was all about money, nothing more.

     

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    Iris, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

    I think this is about codding the theaters

    "Since 2006, we have built theater audiences significantly and created widespread interest in the films themselves and their place in the movie theater."

    Am I the only one who read that statement and thought this was the more important part: keeping audiences in the physical theaters? This is about windowing. Denigrating online is only a means to an end -- throwing a conciliatory bone to the theaters to preserve windowing.

     

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    Mega1987 (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    No global exposure

    Sure, remove those movies from the net.

    Then once you boast that you're well known in the world, we can say this magic question: "Who are you? And what did you made to become famous?"

    *cue rage against the questioner*

     

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    Samuel Abram (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 6:57pm

    You missed one…

    You forgot Poland, er, I mean Sintel.

     

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    Rekrul, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 7:32pm

    I really hate the words "short film". Why? Because it means that 99% of them will never be seen by most people. Every time I look up something on the IMDb and see the word "short" in the description, I no longer bother reading about it because I know I'll never see it.

    For whatever the reason, short films are treated like precious jewels that are only taken out occasionally to be shown to a select group of people before being locked away again.

    Like this one, which the majority of the world will never see, despite looking like a very cool film;

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1942059

     

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 8:51pm

      Re:

      Have you heard of Youtube or Vimeo? It's full of short films. You can watch them for days.

       

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 8:56pm

      Re:

      Did you mean this short film? Looks like it's on Vimeo.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 12:39am

      Re:

      You mean this one, from the first result I got in Google by searching for the title and director?

      http://vimeo.com/21965312

      If something interests you, don't ignore it simply because you won't be able to rent it on DVD.

      "For whatever the reason, short films are treated like precious jewels that are only taken out occasionally to be shown to a select group of people before being locked away again."

      Erm, no they're not. The problem is that since the multiplex model arose (removing the theatrical distribution models that often left shorts being shown as filler in double features, etc.), short films rarely get mainstream distribution. They play a lot at film festivals, quite often show up randomly on TV or get released as compilations or edited into anthology movies. Occasionally, they even get expanded into full length features (Saw began life as a short film, for example, as did District 9), and often included on the DVD of the resulting feature.

      They're not deliberately locked away, they're simply difficult to sell to a mainstream audience. If you're really interested, have a look online, watch them on YouTube, etc. - since they're not commercially viable there's less of a grey area. You might even find short films showcased as part of a film festival, and some areas even have festivals dedicated to short films. The more people support them, the more likely they will be made available in a more accessible paid format...

       

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        Rekrul, Mar 1st, 2013 @ 10:59pm

        Re: Re:

        You mean this one, from the first result I got in Google by searching for the title and director?

        Thanks. I did search for it, but didn't get have any luck finding it.

        Now I just have to figure out why I can't get anything on Vimeo to play...

        They're not deliberately locked away, they're simply difficult to sell to a mainstream audience. If you're really interested, have a look online, watch them on YouTube, etc.

        There was one short film whose trailer I watched on YouTube. I wrote a comment asking why they didn't upload the whole thing to the net and was told that because he had used some copyrighted music in it, he wasn't allowed to distribute it.

        In another case, a short film showed up on YouTube, but was quickly taken down by the author. When I asked why, he said that he only wanted it on a particular site. The problem was that the site he used restricted viewers to his home country (Germany I think).

        Many other short films I've been unable to find online. Another one I've been looking for is "Equestrian Sexual Response" (2010). The trailer is online, but I haven't been able to find the actual film.

         

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          PaulT (profile), Mar 2nd, 2013 @ 2:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Hey thanks for the info, those do seem like decent short films but I've also been unable to find the equestrian one (the title reminded me of the fictional film inside Berberian Sound Studio, an excellent movie btw).

          But, just understand that "we couldn't distribute it due to copyright" and "I can't find it" are very different from your original assertion that they're "treated like precious jewels (and) locked away". Most short film directors I've spoken to are desperate to have their film distributed, there's just not a mainstream market for them.

           

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    Zem, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:12am

    This does not go far enough

    Lets be honest about this.

    The audience are dolts, poltroons, unable to appreciate true art. Once a film gets nominated for an Oscar the public should be banned from seeing it. It's the only way to protect the art of movie making from the unwashed masses.

    Of course the government should reimburse each film for the money they should have taken from the public if they had done their duty and seen the film before it's nomination.

    It's the only way to ensure a thriving movie industry.

     

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