Film Director's Op-Ed Ignores Reality To Push Hollywood Lobbying Talking Points

from the opportunistic-assertions-of-lack-of-opportunities dept

John Singleton -- the director of "Boyz n the Hood" -- has written an op-ed for The Hill (apparently at the behest of two groups heavily-influenced by major studio money) decrying "digital theft." What will happen to young indie directors like he once was, so many years ago?

At just 24 years old, I was the youngest person ever nominated for the Oscars for Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay. My career launched in 1991 — before the explosive growth of the internet, before Facebook, Twitter and torrent sites — during one of the creative and financial high points of the entertainment industry. Even then, the odds of convincing a major film company to take a risk on giving a 24-year-old kid from South Central L.A. such an enormous opportunity was highly unlikely. In 2017, I believe it’s nearly impossible.

I’m deeply concerned the creative voices of the next generation won’t have the same opportunities I had.

So, what has changed? There’s certainly no shortage of young talent. On the opportunity end of the equation, however, you can draw a straight line from the widespread digital theft of creative works to the barriers filmmakers face when breaking into the industry.

It's hard to believe Singleton isn't aware of the numerous opportunities indie directors have now that weren't available when he first broke into the business. It's also hard to believe Singleton truly believes more barriers exist now than did 25 years ago. So, it's not that Singleton isn't aware of the opportunities and lower barriers. It's that he's being intellectually dishonest to further the objectives of the two entities that asked him to speak to Congress about digital piracy.

At the invitation of CreativeFuture, a creative industries advocacy group, and the Creative Rights Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to protecting the rights of content creators, I spoke to hundreds of government officials about what millions of us do for a living and how critically important that work is to our society and culture.

CreativeFuture is the rebranded CreativeAmerica: a Hollywood astroturfing group supported by several major television and motion picture studios. The Creative Rights Caucus was formed by reps Judy Chu and Howard Coble. Coble wrote the "Sonny Bono Act," the bill that has saddled us with "life+70" for copyright terms. He also helped push through the PRO-IP Act back in 2008. Judy Chu is basically an unofficial mouthpiece for the entertainment industry, seeing as she can't even be bothered to rewrite their talking points before delivering them.

With this propelling Singleton's statements, it's no surprise he doesn't depict the entertainment world as it actually is. Instead, he's simply regurgitating talking points about how piracy has so badly damaged the motion picture industry, it can barely post record ticket sales year after year after year.

The tiniest amount of perfunctory Googling would have shown Singleton his assertions are full of shit. Indie filmmakers are still selling films at film festivals. Only now, it's more likely Netflix or Amazon are picking up the tab. Not only that, but streaming companies are investing heavily in original content, so it's far more likely these filmmakers will find more work outside of the traditional studio system than within it.

Singleton wants us to believe that if the major studios aren't involved, it simply doesn't exist. (This is what major studios would like you to believe as well, as they treat Netflix and Amazon more like enemies than colleagues.) But his assertions are completely divorced from reality. Here's another eminently eye-rollable passage from Singleton's screed:

It’s easy to look at piracy in a vacuum and chalk the illegal streaming of a movie up to a mere $5 or $10 loss for Hollywood investors. Yet the aggregate cost of piracy goes far beyond that. It makes film and television companies far more risk-averse, narrowing their output to that which seems the most bankable, thereby creating a climate in which no one would be willing to take a chance on a 24-year-old with a script about inner city life.

Where's the concern for the small filmmakers, who arguably lose more when people illegally stream their work? Can't find it here. All I see is concern for major motion pictures studios, that will have slightly less money to screw directors, producers, and actors out of.

And the statement about television being more "risk-averse" than ever flies in the face of reality. TV shows that would have been unthinkable during Singleton's mid-90s prime are being made as fast as TV studios can crank them out, with budgets that far exceed the average major network TV show.

Even if Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services weren't handing out checks to indie filmmakers, platforms like YouTube and Vimeo would allow them to bring their creations to millions of viewers and monetize every play.

Singleton closes his op-ed with the expected "piracy will kill us all unless…" statement:

A critical component of that is understanding that copyright is the only thing that separates 5.5 million working Americans from the breadline. Without it, filmmaking is in jeopardy of becoming an afterthought, a hobby for the weekends.

Copyright doesn't keep filmmakers from the breadline. Copyright can't prevent infringement, so even with the absurdly-strong and ridiculously-lengthy protections given to US creators, the breadline may still be the end result. But there's no proven connection between file sharing and unemployed artists, no matter how many conclusory statements are presented without backing evidence.

Copyright doesn't enhance creativity and it can't prevent anyone from being unable to make a living doing creative work. The only purpose it really serves is to make legal threats more threatening by dangling the possibility of statutory damages above the heads of accused infringers. And that's pretty much the only purpose Singleton serves her: propping up legacy industries with legacy arguments.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 10:05am

    Piracy is killing music and movies since Ramses II haven't you heard it Tim?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 10:29am

    According to director's surname, he must be thinking that an opportunity is something created only once, long time ago, when the grass was greener.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:12am

    ...the odds of convincing a major film company to take a risk...

    You have identified the sole source of your problem, so you can publish this not-even-complete sentence and be done with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:32am

    I’m deeply concerned the creative voices of the next generation won’t have the same opportunities I had.

    Funny thing is that they have much better opportunities than you had, as they can afford cameras and computers, and make and publish a films without finding a studio to back them. Indeed they can build a portfolio of works to support their case when they want to do a film that needs a bigger budget and the support of a studio.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 4:37pm

      Re:

      I FULLY agree with this OP's statement -- I also think that it will be EASIER for "the right" 24 year old to get the opportunity -- That person could have been working on their skills since the age of 8 (or whatever) posting "shorts" every so often FOR FREE to YouTube and a studio could see that person growing and honing the skills needed to handle a full production at 24. Sure Mr. Singleton was lucky but there is a new bucket of luck filling up right now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:32am

    I have subscriptions to ...

    Netflix and Amazon Prime.

    For civil disobeidence, AnyDVD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:44am

    oh so typical of someone who would have done anything at that time to achieve success and recognition and now that he has achieved what he wanted, he condemns the very thing that got him where he is today! what a two-faced wanker, just like so many others!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:53am

    I’m deeply concerned the creative voices of the next generation won’t have the same opportunities I had.

    Don't know what he's smoking, but today, all you need is a cell phone and a YouTube account to publish a movie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 12:56pm

    Is this supposed to be some kind of countermove to the creative industry making the Google internal email scandal blow up? Weak sauce.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 1:04pm

    Up next:

    The Emoji Movie is declared a failure "because people pirated it via SMS."

    A solution is announced that only works on BlackBerry Messenger. The MPAA lobbies for legislation to make it mandatory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dingledore the Mildly Uncomfortable When Seated, 9 Aug 2017 @ 9:04am

      Re: Up next:

      I believe the Emoji Movie would be significantly improved by being converted to SMS.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 3:09pm

    Not even OutOfTheBlue will stop gnawing his milkbone long enough to defend this garbage. That's sad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rapnel (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 3:35pm

    I think I'm actually starting to thing that "distribution rights" are a thing of the past for all but print and vinyl. You're lying to yourselves. Copyrights should not be transferable in this manner, at all. Either the creator "creates" or he doesn't. Distribution "needs" are a fallacy. The distributors have stolen copyright and now seek the fairy tales of lore and fantasy.

    Life +70 does not serve anyone, with the rarest of imaginable exceptions, but distributors. Now, why is that, exactly?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 3:46pm

    "I’m deeply concerned the creative voices of the next generation won’t have the same opportunities I had."

    All of these young creatives should be forced to sign contracts they are ill-prepared to understand and be ripped off by the gatekeepers like I was.
    It would be unfair that they might pursue a deal with any of the other outlets that the cartels want to end.

    Imagine a 24 yr old getting a deal & keeping control over his output without having to give all of his dreams & plans to the cartel to throw in a blender & turn it into the basis for Sharknado 6.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 12:58am

    And so let us once more remember the words of Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 1:56am

    "Even then, the odds of convincing a major film company to take a risk on giving a 24-year-old kid from South Central L.A. such an enormous opportunity was highly unlikely. In 2017, I believe it’s nearly impossible."

    Strange, why do you think that a major studio is necessary to get this film made now? Recent successful films like Moonlight (to give the first example from the top of my head) were made independently - and sometimes for far less money than you spent in 1991 with high quality results. Why do you support battling to get permission to work within the studio system when people can work independently with greater creative control?

    In fact, he himself has railed against an industry that he feels was biased against him - an audience that new production and distribution methods allow newcomers to bypass:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Singleton#Criticism_of_Hollywood

    "On March 19, 2014, Singleton criticized popular studios for "refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films". Singleton told an audience of students at Loyola Marymount University "They ain't letting the black people tell the stories.""

    But, now he's telling people that they have to fall in line with what those people want? It's sad, really. Rather than support the independent filmmakers who are out there, which, according to quotes I've seen he owes his career to as much as the studio (for example, one quote states that Paramount mainly agreed to greenlight Boyz due to the success of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, Lee being a resolutely independent filmmaker even when working with studios). He should surely be promoting the next Lee or Barry Jenkins, not demanding that everyone fall in line with major studio demands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 2:50am

    Why do lobbyists for Hollywood like to talk about creative risk-taking as if it's a good thing?

    I don't find it a very attractive idea to force working-class creators into the role of entrepreneurial risk-takers against their will. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that when you don't have as much money as others and you are really struggling to make money in the creative world, gambling what time and earnings you have on something as creative "risk" doesn't seem to strike me as wise.

    Because that's what copyright forces creators to do. If a creator invests tons of his own labour and money into a project, and then waits to know what the copyrighted benefits will be AFTER that investment, he can't exactly guarantee that recuperation unless it's a known brand of art with plenty of corporate backing or at a minimum selling your soul to a middleman for SOME prospect of return, which is unlikely for artists who are not the top 1%, and of course puts that corporation in the natural position of offsetting all the downsides of any risk onto anyone but themselves (by that I mean the hard-working creators). Just look at the way some musicians have been bankrupted because of this.

    Whereas... if you revolve creative economies around assurance contracts, not copyright, look what happens: <i>you know what you're going to make from a project BEFORE you invest all that labour and money</i>. When a band does a gig, we know what the profit will be before the gig starts. When a magazine sells monthly, they know what they will make from their monthly subscriptions before they write their columns. When a crowdfunded piece of art is about to start, we already know how much is made before. When you take tons of time, effort and care into setting up an expensive nature shoot, it doesn't matter if a monkey pressed the shutter, you've still made the money you were going to make anyway because of the assurance contract system of gathering your customers' fees beforehand, and you don't end up down a road of despair and depressing lawsuits.

    In each of these cases the creator doesn't gamble - he knows what his profit is going to be, and hence doesn't slave away for what could be nothing in the end.

    In fact... if you were to take a job, any job, which was meant to support your daily life, your daily expenses, why on Earth would you sign an employment contract that said "we don't know how much we can pay you because we have no idea if your labour will succeed or not" unless you were anything but the most adventurous risk-taker who thinks it'll all be fine when it comes to pay the bills? No! You want to know what you're damn salary is going to be! Like anyone else!

    Why is it that copyright folk want creators to be paid "just like anyone else who has a job" and not be made to work for free, but then immediately demand to be treated <i>differently</i> from any other employee with things such as not even having a basic guarantee of salary?

    That's one reason why assurance contracts are superior to copyright, never mind the Monopoly Money connotation copyright has.

    Assurance contracts are not callous enough to keep demanding that poor creators take risks all the time, with no guarantee of income.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 3:09am

      Re:

      I fear you might have got part of this the wrong way round, though I agree with a lot of what you said. The quote about risk-taking is this:

      "Yet the aggregate cost of piracy goes far beyond that. It makes film and television companies far more risk-averse, narrowing their output to that which seems the most bankable, thereby creating a climate in which no one would be willing to take a chance on a 24-year-old with a script about inner city life."

      In that quote, Singleton is not talking about the risk that he was taking as an artist. What he's saying is that the studio would have viewed hiring him and funding his movie as a risk, and that in the current climate they may have passed on him for something less "risky" than put their money behind him.

      Singleton isn't talking about people who have put their own money behind a project then are going to studios for distribution. He's talking about people who want to convince a studio to finance their project, but who may be deterred and put their money being the new superhero movie, action movie, or something less "risky" than the kind of drama that Singleton was producing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 3:53am

    Yes. I'm saying the risk-seeking attitude that he's part of to get new material and less comic-book movies is now in this day and age leading to the opposite and the need to play safe.

    An assurance contract method of making a profit would mean if a brand new idea was thrown out to people, you can be safe in the knowledge that there's no harm done if people don't back it, because you won't be throwing money away. In other words, plenty of new material, but no "risk" in the same way. I'll admit though this is only if people want new material. If people want to stick to comic-book movies, well, it can't be helped if that's the market. But at least there's plenty of room to experiment freely with no pain, to throw out ideas and see if people will pledge towards them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:10am

    As long as Big Entertainment is not in total control, they will not be happy.
    And if they achieve total control, they still won't be happy (because never enough).
    Start the `conditioning' close at home, with those that already get payments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:57am

    I guess he forgot what he said here...

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-singleton-says-studios-aint-690486

    John Singleton criticized the major studios March 19 for refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films. "They ain't letting the black people tell the stories," the Oscar-nominated director-writer told students at Loyola Marymount University, expanding on a theme he addressed in a Dec. 18 Hollywood Reporter op-ed piece. "[Studio executives say] 'We're going to take your stories but, you know what? You're going to go starve over here and we're not going to let you get a job.' The so-called liberals that are in Hollywood now are not as good as their parents or ancestors. They feel that they're not racist. They grew up with hip-hop, so [they] can't be racist. ‘I like Jay Z, but that don't mean I got to give you a job.' "

    So he wants to murder the independence of these young up and coming people, and force them to accept the limitations of a system that is terrified of telling a story that doesn't focus group well. An industry that hasn't had a new idea they haven't stolen and perverted into some sort of twisted illusion of this is good film making.

    The Emoji Movie - Seriously.
    Did they make a movie to introduce hollywood to emojis?
    How cutting edge, how informative, how the fuck did this get funded?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:43am

    "It's hard to believe Singleton isn't aware of the numerous opportunities indie directors have now that weren't available when he first broke into the business. "

    it always comes back to the same place. The new chances and situations are there generally to let people play in the minor leagues at best. Cheaper technology, equipment, and editing suites mean that yes, more people can turn out movies. We can see it by the number of movies competing to even get into many of the "alt" film festivals.

    Yet, very few of them are breaking through. Very few of those people are actually going on to making a career out of it at a level that makes it possible for them to only make movies for a living.

    It's almost a glass ceiling.

    The same thing has already been shown in the music world. More people making music, more people making a little money at it, and fewer people and groups breaking through to the top levels. The mid and lower level pie has been chopped up differently so that there are more lower end people and the mid level people make less, in no small part because of fewer live music venues and more competition for them. That doesn't even consider the people who "play for exposure" or "play free and sell your CD" type gigs.

    I think what this guy is pointing out is the same thing we see in music - that middle step is now missing. The ladder has more, closely spaced rungs at the bottom for usre, but then there is a gap that few people can climb over that gets them climbing the steps nearer the top of the ladder.

    Is piracy at fault? I think we know that since piracy has become a big issue, Hollywood has turned towards what they feel is more sure things, name stars, sequels, and the like. The terd-riffic Emoji movie is perhaps the most out there that they will dare try. No more Waterworlds!

    Mid range past winners like Kevin Smith have hit he skids. His last one (Yoga Hosers) made a shocking 40k of ticket sales on a 5 million budget - and that with all of his internet fame, his followers, and all that - they essentially sold about 40k tickets total.

    So yeah, something is different. Piracy? Who knows. Just something is different and it's not all that good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:04am

      Re:

      >Yet, very few of them are breaking through. Very few of those people are actually going on to making a career out of it at a level that makes it possible for them to only make movies for a living.

      That was even more true before the Internet and the self publishing revolution. That said, many more people are able to make a living as full time content creators, and a vastly greater number of people are happy that they can publish content and interact with people who enjoy what they produce .

      It no longer requires a large investment to be able to create content, and making a fortune is not always, or even frequently, the prime driver for the creation of content. The latter point is one you do not seem to grasp.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:07am

      Re:

      "Very few of those people are actually going on to making a career out of it at a level that makes it possible for them to only make movies for a living."

      How many were doing that at the time that Boyz N The Hood came out? Is it honestly your thesis that people who made films in 1991 were automatically more successful, despite the massive amount of evidence to the contrary? Or, is it just you complaining that there's more competition so people who make bad, cookie cutter movies have to work harder. Singleton had a decent sized hit, and a studio contract. Many of his contemporaries were not as fortunate, and would benefit greatly from the market and production facilities available today.

      "The terd-riffic Emoji movie is perhaps the most out there that they will dare try"

      Meanwhile, in that real world I keep telling you about, Emoji has been a relative underperformer, while the more conventionally risky Dunkirk and Baby Driver have been big successes.

      "No more Waterworlds!"

      Well, yeah. Movies that virtually have to be the biggest money maker of all time to recoup their costs are generally frowned upon, even if your example did eventually become profitable. This is nothing new. Nor does it reflect on the complaint that a mid-budget drama is deemed more risky today.

      "Mid range past winners like Kevin Smith have hit he skids. His last one (Yoga Hosers) made a shocking 40k of ticket sales on a 5 million budget"

      ....at how many theatres? That makes a huge difference. Release at 1 cinema making $40k? Pretty good, shame it was going straight to VOD afterwards. Release at 2000 cinemas? Massive flop. What's your context?

      Strange how you'd refuse to supply the most pertinent piece of information to your argument, isn't it? I'll allow you to redeem yourself by actually showing me a link that shows some context for the figures you found, my normal sources don't show it. They do show that it wasn't a wide release, however.

      Also, Yoga Hosers got notoriously bad reviews, and followed on from the equally poorly received Tusk. If you're saying that *bad* films don't make much money, then all is well. If you're trying to say that *independent* movies don't make money, you're lying out of your ass, yet again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 8:27am

    Fuck Hollywood
    Why was Hollywood formed ? to escape the east coast rules that were in effect at the time
    So basically Hollywood was formed to escape copyright
    And now they want to embrace it ?
    FUCK EM ALL

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 9:37am

    "I'm deeply concerned the creative voices of the next generation won't have the same opportunities I had."

    Looks like an informed Internet user talking about freedom, security and privacy in the digital world.

    Fuck the copyright cartel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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