22 Jan 2012
While "Green Star Liner" seems to be motoring up under it's own power
(awful, awful pun), we're actually going to do another short film, this
year. It's called The Dead Drop and it appeared out of nowhere.
I added a scene to the Claddagh Films Actor/Director
workshops, last year. The scene involved a dialogue between an agent
"handler" and one of his reluctant charges. While we tend to think
of spies as James Bond types, with rugged features and over-the-top
heroic courage, apparently most are either disgruntled employees
in positions of influence, or idealists who want to change things,
one step at a time. The simple scene to be workshopped, was a cafe
meeting between Pope, the handler, and Michael, his agent. Pope's
network has been compromised, and he is in the process of 'lifting'
his various agents and getting them out of the country. His problem
is that he doesn't know which one of his agents actually "turned."
I tried the scene a few times, and it never
took off. I guess many actors don't have an affinity for the world of
le Carre. I removed it from the repertoire of scenes, never to
be repeated. However, some other vignettes which I had also discarded,
seemed to work with different actors when retried, so one evening with
actors Michael Bates and Gerry Wade, I dug the scene out again, and
asked them to have a go. The results were mesmerising. The antipathy
between the characters was palpable, as was the oppression of the
workshop, I decided to try out some variations on the scene, some
"back story" if you will. I had discussed shooting the particular cafe
scene with Gerry and Michael, on the basis that it might be a nice
stocking-filler for their showreels, and it would be worth capturing
on film/tape, regardless. As we tackled some of the back story,
it became clear to me that there was an interesting short film in
what was originally just a single scene.
I strung together some of the memorable performances from the
workshops, added a stronger plot and some other visual scenes, and
submitted it to the Film Board as part of the "Signatures" scheme. The
care for the story, and I found myself (yet again) at odds with their
paid readers. If one of their readers takes a dislike to your tale, then
from a Film Board perspective, your project is dead in the water. This is
a particularly cruel turn of fate. I find that only a narrow subset of
film genres are of interest to me, so I can't understand how a reader
can maintain a wide and diverse appreciation, and not let their own
interests guide their reports. However, it is always worth listening to
the opinions of others, even those who disagree with the script (ask
McMahon!) and somehow find a sort of "truth"
from the criticisms.
in spite of the "Pass" from the Film Board, the revised
script is now making its way towards preproduction with an
April/May shoot date lined up. We're also looking to see if
FundIt can help with the
26 Aug 2011
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
12 Apr 2011
So, another Script Frenzy is under way. I tried it last year, and I'd
love to say that it ended in a feature-length script, but it didn't. It
ended with a feature-length treatment, which felt just as good. There's
something about a deadline which focuses the mind and helps you to get
something over the finish line.
When there's all the time in
the world, then we'll take all the time in the world to do "research",
twitter, facebook and all the other distractions. When the script's
gotta, hasta, must must must be finished by such and such a date,
it's easier to sit down and write.
easier to put aside the distractions, the editorial "opinion" and the
constant need to refine and edit on the fly.
A deadline makes us forget everything except "getting it done."
I'm still not sure if Script Frenzy is a
nuisance or a truly great idea. Any thoughts?
16 Jul 2010
Digital Rights Management, or DRM is not exactly a new idea, and we've
lived with it for some time. Since the release of the DVD and the fact
it won't (legally) play on anything except Windows and Mac. However,
with the emergence of iTunes as the fastest growing music source,
DRM is becoming part and parcel of everyone's life, not just those of
us who use Linux or FreeBSD.
Let me first state unequivocally,
that I am not in favour of downloading newly-released films or music. I
do think the content owners have every right to monetise their efforts
and to try and recoup their budgets. It is said, and I have no reason to
doubt it, that the reason Hollywood is releasing comic-book movies these
days is because they need high spectacle. They need a big cinema release
(well, really, they need a big opening weekend) to make their money. The
DVD market has largely crashed, and apparently pirating is so rampant,
that the box-office fall-off after the first couple of weeks is because
people will have downloaded the film online and illegally. The studios are
struggling with this global problem, and failing badly. As a film-maker
they have my sympathy.
That said, yes I have downloaded music and
films. Yes, I have broken the law, particularly the dreaded DMCA. Do I
feel guilty? Yes and no.
I will spare you the trite defence so
often used, that "Hollywood is producing such rubbish, why should I pay
for it?" That is, in itself, rubbish. If you won't pay for the content,
then you don't deserve to watch it or listen to it. Simple as that.
As it happens, I used to subscribe to an NNTP server which made a
large selection of films and TV programmes available for download. This
service cost money - around $10 per month, and I gladly paid. Of course,
none of that money went to the copyright holders, and this annoys me in
particular (I no longer subscribe to that service). Likewise, I purchased
MP3 albums from a Russian site for around $0.99 each track. Again, none
of the revenue went to the right place. That site no longer exists,
So, why the double-standard?
Let me give you an
example. I recently wanted to watch "Dog Day Afternoon." I added it to
my ScreenClick list (the Irish equivalent of Netflix) and realised it
might take weeks to rotate to the top, given the nature of their strange
algorithm. I had a look on Amazon.co.uk and they were selling the DVD
for £3.97 (around €4.80 or $6). However, it would probably
take a week or two to get to me. I decided to use iTunes to download the
film. iTunes had it available immediately, and for a price of €9.99
(or $12.50). The file was 1.3GB which took a while to download, but in
it came. So, I payed over twice the price of Amazon, but I had it within
an hour. That was certainly worth it, because Amazon would have charged
shipping, and I probably would have added a book or two (that I don't have
time to read), and pushed the price up even further.
I went to play the file, it told me I could authorize it for playback on
this computer (and four more). Hmm. Now, it's not that I wasn't expecting
this type of DRM, I clearly expected it would be encrypted, but I thought
I might be able to burn it to a DVD and play it on a regular television
(you know, those things with a remote instead of a keyboard).
way of reference, I have LPs which are over thirty years old and they
still work. They don't need to authenticate themselves to the record
player or the speakers. They don't request weekly "Software Updates"
and they are not encrypted. If I so wished, I could have made a tape of
any album and gave it to a friend. I certainly made compilation tapes
for the car (et cetera), but I've never copied an album for someone
else. When CDs came along, I ended up replacing a lot of LPs with CDs
so that I could play them on modern equipment and in the car (I'm glad
no-one ever tried to build a car stereo which played LPs!). In effect, I
payed twice for the same piece of music. That, however, was my choice. In
theory I could have recorded my LPs onto a CD and not paid twice, and in
some cases I did just that, but it was easier to just buy the new CD if
it was available. In some cases, such as the Horslips collection, they
re-mastered the originals and used modern equipment to clean up the old
recordings, so the CDs could be considered to augment the old LPs rather
than replace them.
Now, with iTunes, when I buy something it is
uniquely locked to this computer or iPod and woe betide anything might
happen to either. Some years back, when iTunes first started selling
music and music videos, I purchased a U2 music video (mostly because it
was directed by a friend of mine, but it's also a good track). Again,
I could have recorded this off the air from MTV or their clones, but
I didn't. It cost me something like €2.50. As I was working for a
different company at the time, that particular download is probably still
on that computer, but I have no access to it and no way of re-downloading
it. The investment in the content is gone. You may make the reasonable
point that it was "only" two euro, give or take, but I refer you to my
With iTunes music I can burn what I purchase to
a CD, and you can be sure that is step #1 after I purchase music from
them. Not so with video. It can only be played on authorized devices.
Earlier, I mentioned that I wouldn't feel guilty downloading something
illegally. How do I justify that? Quite simply, because I do not want it
encumbered with any DRM protections. Am I willing to pay for content which
doesn't have DRM? Absolutely. Not because I want to copy it, but because
I want to know that I can still play it in thirty years even if Apple
goes bankrupt or my computer dies, or whatever else might happen.
Where I think the studios (and the TV producers) are hurting themselves
is not embracing online downloads, properly. For example, CBS now allows
US residents to purchase programming which plays on certain computers,
but only for a limited time. The opposite should be the case. I would
happily accept DRM encryption and all its evil twins, provided it was
transient. Why can I not log in to the Apple iTunes store some years
later, and for the store to have a record of my purchases back to the
year dot, so I can re-download content I purchased in the past? How
about giving me the ability to re-download a movie as an unencrypted
file, once the film is some number of years old? If the DVD is in the
bargain bin, why are we still using DRM online? Dog Day Afternoon,
from the example earlier, was released in 1975. Do they really think
there is some massive underground market in Dog Day Afternoon pirated
DVDs? If I purchased UK newspapers, I'd probably have received it as a
"free" supplement by now.
Again, I don't mind paying a reasonable
price for content, but I need to know that the content is playable in the
future. The DVD took a retrograde step from the VHS tape because of CSS
encryption. It won't play on a computer unless that computer runs Windows
or Mac OS. Let's not even discuss the abomination of Region Coding,
or the fact that I lived in the US and have a collection of DVDs which
are now incorrectly coded for the UK and Ireland. I have had to purchase
a DVD player which was "region free", which is, according to the DMCA,
illegal. So, I've been pushed into the murky "outlaw" side of the street
simply to play DVDs which I purchased legitimately while a legal resident
of the US. But these pale in comparison to the insane limitations of
digital content and DRM.
In order to protect the studios from
piracy of content which has just been released to the cinema, my copy
of Dog Day Afternoon is viewable only on this and a handful of other
computers. I don't have an Apple TV system, and my Media MVP box can't
decrypt the file.
I could also make a plausible argument that if
a film has been broadcast over "free to air" television in this country,
then charging for the downloaded content is almost unethical. Has it
become illegal to own and operate a TiVo box? You'll note I didn't mention
the Sky+ system as it is a closed system with its own DRM policies. What
if I build a system to record programmes off-air and save them on a hard
disk? If I have cable channels, then surely Dog Day Afternoon will appear
on some channel at some point over the next twelve months, and I could
have saved it (encryption-free) for nothing.
When Pirates of the
Caribbean 4 is released, I will go and see it in a cinema, even if it is
in 3D. I'll pay over the odds for the tickets, and for the popcorn and
for the pleasure of getting a headache from the 3D glasses. I could wait
until it's on DVD and add it to my ScreenClick list. I could even wait
a couple of years for it to show up on TV, but I won't. I'll go to see
it in a cinema. I have no problem with the studio release system which
will put it into cinemas first at a very high price, then onto DVD for
sale only, then onto rental DVD, then cable TV, and finally broadcast
television. However, is it fair that after the film has finally been shown
"free to air" that I should have to pay almost ten Euro to download it,
and that the download will only work on certain computers or at certain
I suppose all I've really done is preach to the choir, and
asked more questions than anything else. The core issue for me though,
is if you attempt to lock down everything and force people through small,
monopolistic channels to purchase content, they will automatically seek
out other ways of accessing it. Even if those other ways cost money and
even if that revenue never makes its way back to the copyright owner. I
think the MPAA and the studios would find a lot more sympathy from the
general public, and could do a lot more to eliminate piracy, if they
applied the same logic of price reduction and general availability for
their content, as the content gets older and older.