On Sunday I moderated the final panel at Film Independent’s 6th annual Filmmaker Forum (presented by indieWIRE Oct. 29-31) on a subject that is starting to concern independent filmmakers almost as much as studio execs: movie piracy. It’s becoming increasingly mainstream. We all know people who do it. Take a look at the music industry, which has been ravaged by piracy-related losses. The question I asked the panel: “Are we going to figure out alternative models and are independent filmmakers going to lead the way?”
The brutal truth: with 75% of worldwide revenue driven by the majors (80% in the U.S.), we are all going to live or die with their strategy and how they implement it. The indies can lead the way to alternative distribution models that essentially provide a competitive distribution platform to piracy, such as Magnolia’s VOD release before theatrical–which gives folks what they want NOW. Pirates care less about indie films than studio films. But they are having a negative impact on both. The other worry is that the indie audience is adults, not kids–and the younger generation is becoming acclimated to pirated material. What will their behavior be in five years when they grow into indie tastes? We are essentially training an entire generation to marginalize the value of content.
Justin Lowe covered the panel–from left, Matt Dentler of Cinetic Rights Management; Mike Masnick, President and CEO, Floor64; Chubb Film Co. president Cotty Chubb; and the MPAA’s Kevin Suh–and reports ten takeaways from the discussion that indie filmmakers may want to consider.
1) The impact of piracy on indies is more significant than filmmakers suspect: The MPAA’s Kevin Suh noted that “There’s more danger to independent filmmakers with respect to piracy” because “the impact tends to be more severe” than on the average studio movie, since indies have fewer resources.
2) Not only $100-million studio films get pirated: Independent producer Cotty Chubb described how a high-quality rip of the $11 million psychological thriller Unthinkable, starring Samuel L. Jackson and distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, was leaked before the scheduled release and became readily available online.
3) One promising strategy for limiting piracy may involve making some content available for free or lower cost to engage consumers: Mike Masnick of Floor64 observed that musicians like Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor have seen success with a mix of free online content and premium paid content. By connecting directly with their audiences, filmmakers deploying hybrid release strategies can persuade fans to buy tickets and DVDs in return for special access or content features. (His video presentation is must-see.)
4) Don’t underestimate the temptation for instant gratification: With the proliferation of entertainment sources, audiences are getting accustomed to accessing movies whenever and wherever they like. Once people become aware of a certain title, “they want to watch it now,” said Chubb, which may sway some toward pirated content.
5) Hybrid distribution models may satisfy consumer demand and discourage piracy: Matt Dentler described how Magnolia Pictures and IFC are releasing many titles day-and-date theatrically and on VOD to maximize audience participation, which may also limit piracy.
6) Even though criminal activity may be focused primarily on studio films, the risk still applies to independents as well: The blasé attitude that piracy can provide a back-door marketing opportunity for smaller films ignores the reality that overall the entertainment industry continues to suffer from piracy more than it benefits.
7) Creatively promoting innovative release strategies can maximize marketing opportunities: Dentler revealed that by setting the DVD and VOD releases of writer-director Ed Burns’ romantic comedy Nice Guy Johnny day-and-date on multiple platforms Oct. 26, the filmmakers and distributor FilmBuff, a division of Cinetic Media, were able to attract significant media attention for their non-traditional strategy.
8) Ignoring or minimizing piracy concerns may be short-changing independents: Suh noted that some filmmakers’ lack of strong anti-piracy strategies or creative distribution models could be scaring away financiers who “may be afraid that movies might not be profitable because of piracy.”
9) A generation of consumers accustomed to getting content for free poses significant risks for indies too: Engaging with pirated-content users can offer a better understanding of their motivations and lead to creative strategies that motivate audiences to pay for access.
10) Building loyal audiences may be the best defense against piracy: At the development and financing stages filmmakers can begin creating supportive communities and followers less likely to pirate content with crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and indiegogo.
[Photo courtesy of indieWIRE’s Brian Brooks]