Piracy: A Help Or A Hindrance For Indie Filmmakers? - Raindance

The Raindance Raw Talent‘s feature film, Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey (2014) has been bought for distribution in Germany, has played at Dublin Horrorthon, Film 4 Frightfest, and the Whistler Film Festival for its North American premiere. It also has been leaked several times to online file and video sharing sites before it has been made commercially available. This has lead us to discuss the problems of piracy, and the pros (if any), for independent filmmakers.

There is only one argument that is credible when defending piracy in regards to helping indie filmmakers. That argument is exposure. A report by economists at the Munich School of Management and Copenhagen Business School examines the effect of piracy on revenues before and after the file sharing site Megaupload was shut down for copyright infringement. The findings suggested that there was a correlation between illegal downloading and increased movie sales for indie films. This was due to piracy helping build awareness and in turn driving the sales of smaller films.

We argue that this is due to social network effects, where online piracy acts as a mechanism to spread information about a good from consumers with low willingness to pay to consumers with high willingness to pay. This information-spreading effect of illegal downloads seems to be especially important for movies with smaller audiences. (For full article, go here).

The report, clearly, fails to consider the independent films, or “smaller” movies, that never receive a theatrical release. For these films, the only sources of profit are pay per view streaming sites and DVD sales. Yet, regardless, several filmmakers are embracing piracy in hope of additional exposure.

When the sci-fi, low-budget film Ink (2009) was hit by pirate torrent sites, the production company Double Edge films contacted fans via e-mail explaining that their movie had been pirated. However, they also went on to say that this was a good thing because it raised the popularity of the film to unprecedented levels. At the time, Ink reached #16 on the IMDb’s movie meter due to this “promotional opportunity”.

Mark Diestler, writer and producer of indie film The Inner Room (2011), has expressed his delight when the film was BitTorrented. Speaking to TorrentFreak, Diestler reveals that there was a brief moment where he even toyed with the idea of pirating the film in hope that it will lead to an increase in revenue.

In the end not everyone is going to hate it, some will like it and you would hope that a lot of people would enjoy it – and even more importantly talk about it. The buzz would hopefully translate to additional sales of the film. People would buy the DVD to see the bonus features or just to help support the filmmakers of a film that they really enjoyed.

Yes, The Inner Room did see its IMDb rating increase on the meter after it was pirated. But, Diestler is surely being too confident in his belief that piracy will generate DVD sales. We are in an age where streaming software makes watching TV or films without paying as easy as saying 1, 2, 3. This has, inevitably, affected the sale of DVDs. If someone has watched a leaked version, for example on YouTube (as happened with Deadly Virtues), then the chances of that same person buying a copy of the film are incredibly slim. Undeniably, piracy gives independent film a voice online when there is, as is most of the time, little budget for advertising. Evidently, this leads to the “as long as my film is noticed, I don’t mind” mentality.

1. Isn’t this a sad, sad, sad thought? That filmmakers accept the piracy of their films for fear of the film fading into obscurity. Though understandable, is this not merely perpetuating the issue of people not willing to invest in independent cinema by doing so?

2. As Ellen Seidler, a former journalist turned indie filmmaker, has said, “Piracy really, if you’re talking percentages, bites into any potential profit”. The small revenue that could have been gained through sales makes a significant difference to an independent filmmaker. Without this revenue, due to piracy, the FUTURE of GREAT films are in jeopardy. No profit = no money to make another film. This is detrimental to talented directors whose blood, sweat and tears have gone into the project.

3. There are many reasons as to why people pirate indie films. One of these, and the most shameful, is that people believe low-budget and, in some cases, no theatrical release is synonymous with “crap”. So, they’d rather download a film illegally than pay for something that doesn’t have the Hollywood stamp of approval. However, there is an audience out there who do want something more than the sequels of Taken and the re-makes (butchering) of classic ’80s films.

Filmmakers need to believe this.

For, film is an art form and art should be celebrated. Independent film, particularly, celebrates creativity. Are we celebrating these artistic creations by “ripping” them or “leaking” them online? If we say yes to piracy, we are effectively saying no to an art form.

Ti West, director of the superb indie horror House of the Devil (2009), wisely states in an open letter about piracy to the “internet”:

Every time you purchase something you are making a statement. You are creating physical evidence that something has value. If something has a high value, then it becomes in high demand. So if you make a concerted effort to support lesser-known, interesting and esoteric things (Art?) then you are helping make those lesser-known things more popular.

When you choose not to pirate an indie film, you are contributing towards its worth. In turn, you are giving it value and demand. This will generate exposure which will equal profit which will equal more interesting films. Let’s support the independent film industry, not participate in its many obstacles to success.