from the creators-versus-gatekeepers dept
As all sorts of creators, from musicians to authors to filmmakers, have been discovering for decades, being scooped up by one of the entertainment industry's big-business gatekeepers isn't always the career-changing windfall that popular romantic notions believe it to be. Whether through crafty accounting, creative interference or a total lack of support, doing business with big labels, distributors and publishers often fails to deliver the financial and career benefits that creators expect. Once upon a time there was very little they could do, but with the direct-to-fan communication potential of the internet, we're seeing more and more artists publicly turn on their supposed partners and implore their fans to route around them. Recently we covered the indie band Streetlight Manifesto, who encouraged fans to either buy the music directly from the band or just pirate it, so long as they don't give their money to Victory Records. Now, via Twitter, @cephyn points us to a similar story in a blog post from indie filmmaker
Jordan John Michael Thomas, asking fans to please pirate his movie Corpse Run. Thomas explains how, after success on the festival circuit, he came head to head with the unfortunate realities of getting a film distributed the Hollywood way:
The first thing we had to do was get a Rep for our film, this Rep would then try to sell it to different distributors and take a small fee. We had many offers for Representation and ended up going with the most prominent one that had the lowest fees. They took a retainer fee to pay for their expenses. – of course this retainer would never be returned.
They did find us a few different distributors and we ended up going with the one that they reccomended the most. This was exciting, as our film was about to get released, we would soon see it on netflicks, on some cable stations and in video stores!
We didn’t get any money up front, which is the general practice in the indi world – I know you hear about these million dollar deals, but they are by far and away the exception to the rule, as Cicero would say, “You can’t hear the prayers of the dead on the ocean’s floor.” So we had a backend deal, a completely fair backend that I was happy with.
And then what happened? Our film was shelved. We had no recourse, it just sat on the shelf doing nothing, sitting there for years! In fact, They still have it for two more. Recently it has been released on Amazon as a print on demand title. And that is it. Well I don’t think my distributors should make any money for doing nothing.
So I am asking you, begging you, please steal my movie.
Entertainment industry gatekeepers have long profited from the cultural myth that once an artist has their blessing (a record contract, a distribution rep, a publishing deal) then they're on the fast-track to success and possibly stardom. That's never been true for any but the tiniest minority of creators, and now that the rest have the tools to expose the reality of these deals, gatekeepers are rapidly losing their status. Some will default to criticizing Thomas for encouraging people to break the law, and he is, but that is missing the broader lesson: contrary to the claims of groups like the RIAA and MPAA, entertainment gatekeepers are not all about protecting and benefiting artists. Their vilification by the creators they exploit is long overdue, and as it gains momentum, the myth of artists "making it" by hitting the "big time" is going to be swept away for good. And make no mistake: that myth is at the core of what sustains their dwindling relevance.