Content Wants To Be Free

I have been writing software for just shy of thirty years. I've also been making films for over twenty years. Yes, I do feel old, thanks for asking.

Over the years I've written software for companies in the US, the UK and Ireland. I've also released a lot of it as open source through projects such as SourceForge. Interestingly, if I look back at the voluminous amount of C programs that I have written, most are now extinct. The companies which paid me, have been bought out or shut down, or the product has been mothballed or sold on. All that effort is now buried in some large data storage facility or other, never to be seen again. Yes, that does bother me a little. By comparison, the open source stuff I wrote, is still out there. People are using the code, modifying it, hacking it, changing it for their own purposes, but it lives on.

It lives on because it's free. Not in the commercial sense (although that's true too) but in the sense that it isn't owned by some large, ex-corporation. It is free to roam the Internet and find a home wherever it may. Sites such as SourceForge have undertaken to help it stay free and unencumbered.

In the media end of things, particularly at the sharp end of the world in short films, we beg, borrow, cajole, harass and blackmail people to help us get the film finished and over the line. Most of us make sure that there is a deferment agreement in place, so that in the unlikely event that the film makes any money, those who contributed their time and energy, might see a share of the revenue. The truth is, very few (if any) short films make back their miniscule budget, never mind pay a deferment. Over the years, I've become much more sanguine about this, and now I rarely even mention the possibility that there might be gold at the end of the short film rainbow, because it just doesn't happen.

But still, we dance the dance, we follow the choreography of feature films, and we protect the rights of the finished film. Whatever you do, don't upload it to a website like Youtube or Vimeo, because it will never sell to TV after that. Or at least that's the story we're told.

About ten months ago, I uploaded a short film I made called A Place in my Heart to Vimeo. The film was shot in 1993 and languished on an edit suite for many years, until I converted it to digital and was able to finish it on Final Cut Pro. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, it never really found a life in film festivals. Probably because it's a whimsical piece. It was also shot on 16mm and it shows it's age. I struggled with what to do with the film, and decided that it probably wasn't going to ever be seen either theatrically or on television, and so decided to set it free.

Amazingly, it has proven to be one of my more popular Vimeo films. It has gone from being the unloved child to most popular kid as school, just because I let it find it's own way, and needless to say, I'm delighted by this turn of events. I'm delighted not just for the film, but for all the people who gave of their time and creative energies to help make the film.

I often think of the countless thousands of feature films which are buried in vaults, either because they couldn't find distribution or because they're too old and unloved to be given the honour of a DVD release. Feature films from the fifties and sixties, for example. The copyright owners zealously hold onto the rights in the vain hope that perhaps, someday, someone will offer them some money for the film.

Let's be clear though, I'm not proposing that everyone should just give away their creations, films they spent countless hours and countless money producing, but if the film has been around the block a few times and has either finished it's theatrical and TV run, or has never found distribution, then it's time to set it free.

I think it is reasonable that any film or television programme older than ten years, should be made freely available on the Internet.

Gasp! There, I've said it. Am I proposing some alternative universe where artists are paid by sponsors and patrons? No. I'm just saying that your average feature film will have made as much money as it is going to make, within ten years after it has been completed and beyond that, you should let the work be seen rather than holding out for the last dollar.

Perhaps this isn't for all films, there are those that will continue to be broadcast or even be re-released in cinemas, but these are the exceptions.

I find it interesting and mildly amusing, that we regularly hear stories of such and such a film from the golden age of cinema being restored to it's former glory. Invariably, these stories revolve around the discovery of a film print in someone's attic. If the studios had done a better job of protecting their "Intellectual Property" then no such print would have managed to find it's way into private hands, and we wouldn't be able to restore those classics. You could go so far as to say that the dreaded piracy (of a bygone era) has ensured that the films live on.

Since A Place in my Heart found a little audience on Vimeo, I have decided that each and every film I make (that isn't owned by some-one else) will be released into the wild, after it's had a reasonable festival and TV life. I will go even further, and say that it is perfectly acceptable for people to download the films and save their own copies, or send them to friends.

It's nice to think that these films will be viewable at any point in the future, rather than being tucked away in some storage facility until it burns down or the film is dumped and lost forever.