Ti West On Why Piracy Hurts Indie Film (and It’s Not All About The Money)

Ti West On Why Piracy Hurts Indie Film (and It's Not All About The Money)

Today director Ti West wrote an open letter to the Internet regarding piracy. He referred to his previous open letter about the effects it has on independent films, in particular — especially films that premiere on VOD before a theatrical release. Instead of re-writing a new letter, West posted an update, timed to the VOD release of his latest film, "The Sacrament." In his latest letter, he addresses two of the most common rationalizations for illegally downloading films. For theater listings and information about "The Sacrament," click here.

With permission from West, we have republished his letter below: 


It’s true, sometimes things you purchase don’t live up to your expectations, and that’s definitely a bummer, but let’s not sink the entire ship just yet. One time I paid a suggested donation to a natural history museum only to find that the dinosaur section was under renovations. I mean, come on, the dinosaurs are the best part! So, I get it. Ten bucks may not be life changing money, but nobody wants to feel like they were ripped off, or didn’t get what they paid for.

The independent film world is a fragile ecosystem. It allows for unique experiences and challenging stories to be told by bold filmmakers in adventurous and often unproven ways. Studio films do not take the same risks. But this adventurousness, this ability to surprise us, is why we love indie movies. By supporting this ecosystem, we are supporting the possibility of original, rewarding experiences that would otherwise go unnoticed. The fact that these films are taking chances means that there will be polarizing reactions. "Sucks" is subjective, but supporting indie films is also supporting the spirited ecosystem that allows them to be made. That is important.

It is also worth noting that despite the museum’s renovations, my ten dollars were not wasted that day. Sure, I didn’t get to see the T-Rex skeleton, but the money still went to good use. The museum is still in business, the lights are still on, the floors still clean, and all of the wonderful exhibits and brilliant curators are still going strong. In fact, I had a pretty awesome time learning about rare spiders and other terrifying insects that day. So even though I went with purpose to see dinosaurs, I was reminded that there is more to the museum than just one exhibit.

Technically, I didn’t even have to pay that day. The ten dollars was only a "suggested donation," but in my opinion it was for a good cause, and voting with my dollar is important to me; so even with the slight setback, I was cool with it. Also, it is because of those donations that the dinosaur renovations were even possible, and when I went back to see them months later the exhibit was even better than I expected.

Well, the same goes for supporting indie movies. Ten bucks is not only supporting my movie. It is supporting independent film in general, and the platforms that audiences are seeing them on. I know that sounds grandiose, but it’s true, and indie distributors have now come up with numerous ways to support their releases. 

If you see it on VOD, then you are saying YES, WE WANT MORE INDIE MOVIES ON VOD. If you see it in an indie theater, you are saying YES, WE WANT MORE MOVIES IN INDIE THEATERS (while we’re at it, we want more indie theaters in general).

And, in the off chance that you happen to see THE SACRAMENT in a multiplex, you are saying YES, WE WANT MORE INDIE MOVIES IN OUR MULTIPLEXES. It’s a meaningful contribution. You are creating physical, financial evidence that independent film has value. This, above all else, does not go unnoticed.

I hope that makes sense. I hope it’s clear that it’s not just about my movie. You don’t have to like my movie; you don’t even have to see my movie if you don’t want to. But surely there is a movie out there, a movie made independently, purely for the love of cinema that you will want to see, and that will mean something to you. It’s up to you to support that movie.

It’s possible that movie hasn’t been released yet. Heck, that movie may not even have been made yet. Maybe that movie is actually a movie that you, yourself, are going to make some day. This is why it is so important that we support indie movies RIGHT NOW. The ecosystem is shrinking.

That movie you are waiting for, the one that will sweep you off your feet, the one that will blow your mind, or even that movie you are planning on making yourself, may not have a place to be seen, or may never even get made if we continue hurting the value of independent films.

Films are more than just momentary entertainment; they are also works of art. Most of the time, filmmakers have devoted significant portions of their lives to tell these stories. If we have to think of it like a "suggested donation" sometimes, then so be it, but they need our support. Encourage risky filmmaking. Don’t let the ecosystem die.


Yup, we hear you. This is an issue the industry is working hard on. Same day global releases will happen. But it’s going to take a little more time for hundreds of distributors around the world to be able to coordinate things perfectly. It’s not easy releasing independent films these days, so cut the distributors a little slack so they can solve this problem without going out of business. They are trying. Some better than others, but they still need time.

If a certain movie is not released in your country the same day as in the USA, then surely many others aren’t either. Let people know about it. Downloading a movie because "it’s not released here, and I wanted to see it so bad I had to pirate it but I will pay for it later" isn’t helping. It’s actually making it harder to give you what you want. We filmmakers appreciate your passion, and your desire to see our work no matter what. But unfortunately, this is still in the "take one for the team" stage.

Patience is tough these days, but progress is coming. Hang in there. We will work on making better films, and better distribution plans, but we need your help in not taking our legs out from underneath us while we try. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better. We can do this together, and vocal awareness speaks much louder for the cause than online piracy.

Personally, I think it is important to keep talking about these issues (hence the addendum). Conversations about piracy don’t have to be condemning. They don’t have to be preachy, self serving or reactionary. To me, this is not about "stealing" as much as it is about "supporting." We live in an era where consumers have all the power. That’s actually a very cool thing. Let’s not waste it.

People are often nostalgic about the movies they loved growing up; about drive-ins, about video stores, record stores, etc. It’s true, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Many indie movies are fighting for survival in a world full of "Micro-Budget" films and 200 Million dollar "tent-pole" blockbusters. Surely there is room for more movies in between. Everyone wants access to more great films, and with today’s competitive technology, they want that access as effortless as possible. That takes a lot of work to accommodate. It takes time, and a commitment from both sides. I know it’s hard to take the high road over convenience…But it’s worth it.

So to all of you who support independent film, and especially to those who are seeing my film THE SACRAMENT: Thank you. You are awesome, and we couldn’t do it without you.



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Film Goer

I get where Ti is coming from, but regardless of his proclamation I find it impossible to believe it’s not self serving.

I liked his film ‘House of the Devil’. A lot. I torrented it and as soon as it had a proper DVD released purchased a copy. I voted with my dollars that it was worth the money.

I saw Innkeepers on Netflix, and it wasn’t good. Or I should say that I didn’t enjoy it, not that it wasn’t good. I didn’t enjoy the Sacrament either. Having torrented both, I’ve chosen to not vote with my dollar to support the films. Sort of like the suggested donation at the museum. You gave $10, Ti? Well you could have given $20. You decided what it was worth. I’m doing the same.

I recently fell in love with an Indie movie and saw it four times in it’s two week theatrical run. The dvd release date was months off, so I downloaded it.

Having spent $36 on it already (not counting snacks or parking) I felt absolutely dandy about getting a copy off of the Pirate Bay. When It comes out, I’ll buy it on Blu-ray. And not on Amazon for half off, but from a smaller ‘community’ dvd seller who can’t afford to undercut the Big A.

If I spend almost $60 on one movie, that dude in Croatia who’s downloading it can rest easy that MY suggested donation covered them.

And it’s easy to say ‘no piracy’ when you’re given screeners/screenings/set visits.

In short (too late)… This is the new reality. Adapt.

Brandon Sites

(1.) I like how people on this forum are saying indie stuff is mostly rubbish. I guess Transformers 4 is a masterpiece?!? Indie film is responsible for giving us some of the most interesting films of all time — Mad Max – Halloween – Pulp Fiction – Sex, Lies & Videotape – The Usual Suspects – Clerks – Memento – Drugstore Cowboy – Lost in Translation – etc.

(2.) I like how people justify stealing from other people. Yes, downloading movies illegally is stealing. If you owned a business and someone came in and stole stuff from you, I seriously doubt that you would think of yourself as whiny for speaking up against the person stealing from you.

(3.) You ever go to the theater nowadays and wonder why nothing interesting is playing? Part of it (I'm not saying all, but a part of it) has to do with piracy. It's too risky to slate a small, indie film for theatrical release without piracy coming into the equation.


Whiny filmmakers can't demand the world we now live in, like it or not, change to accommodate them. No one else can.

Christopher Webster

More young directors like West need to come forward and discuss how piracy is hurting the industry and culture. Most dip-shits think they are just kicking ass and getting stuff for free, but really they are responsible for creating a cultural hegemony.


If I was off-base in the grammar department, can someone please clue me in? I'd hate to repeat the error.

Jeff Koenig

Crap. Well-intentioned, completely misguided crap.

Filmmakers – especially indie ones, should never blame audiences for watching their films, under *any* circumstances. They don't have much of one to begin with.

If indie filmmakers have issues with the way their films get distributed, the reach they can attain, and the way their films are monetized, they should be railing against the companies that control those things.

It's not the fillmmaker's fault the distribution and monetization of their films is crap. It's not the audiences' fault, either. But articles like this get written because it's easier to reach someone who might watch your film than someone who might actually make it profitable.

Indie film is comatose. The film market isn't built for $5M films that make $10M. It could be (part of it, anyway), and real opportunities for rethinking distribution and marketing exist. Some are exploring them, most aren't.

Audience shaming won't make it happen. Industry shaming could.


Go f*ck yourself JB!


I'm one of those people who pirate indie films because im smart enough to know better than to spend hard earned cash on a film that sucks .At least with a bigger budgeted film you know what your getting and they can get you interested enough to get up and out to go see them.The indie market is for first time film makers getting there feet .They aren't as skilled at making a film and because not everyone will go see it the expectations for it aren't as high.There is more room for error in a indie market .Thing is alot of big budget films being turned out these days sucks so what makes these people that .If people can find a way to see a lousy movie without paying that they wont go and do it .The other thing is the media itself and technology indie film ecosystem is weak to this because.Most of the people who habitat in this world use any means to get there film out there . Exposing it to being bootlegged or a pirated .


So, you went to the natural history museum and didn't learn that spiders are not insects ?

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