By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood December 3, 2013 at 8:54AM
So when you use the phrase ‘canary in the coal mine'—and obviously as technology continues and movie files become easier to download—do you think the movie business is headed down the same track as the music business? Or have they seen the warning signs and started shifting gears.
Fortunately, the movie business has a part of the record stream that the record business doesn't, and that is the live experience. You can make a comparison of someone wanting to see their favorite band at the Staples Center and someone wanting to see "Gravity" in 3D at the IMAX. There's a live component of that where record companies don't participate in that part of the revenue stream and movie studios do. The live [music] business is fairly healthy and has weathered the storm, but the problem in the live business is that it's over-saturated because people spend too much time on the road. So many artists aren't able to make money off the road. It used to be that artists toured a couple months out of the year; now they're at home for a couple of months of the year and they're on the road the rest of the time.
I want to make it clear that I'm not anti-record company and I'm not anti-corporation—I'm anti-greed and pro-fairness. I think it's wonderful around the world that artists are putting their vision to light. A lot of artists are great businessmen and a lot of businessmen are great artists. There's always going to be an uneasy relationship between art and commerce. Sometimes that relationship can be wonderful, and it is possible for record companies and movie studios to treat artists and audiences fairly and make a transparent, clear deals with artists that leave both parties in a really great place. And there's tons of profit to go around. We had more success that we ever dreamed of when we made an album called "A Beautiful Lie." We sold millions and millions of copies around the world, we came back to Los Angeles to make a follow-up album and we found that not only would we never be paid a single penny, we were actually millions and millions of dollars in debt. We decided to look into it and were shocked by what we found. And we decided that we were going to contest our contract. We used a California labor law that says you can't be held by a contract for more than seven years, and we cited that, we walked away, and they sued us for $30 million. We fought them for years and we filmed every single second of it. "Artifact" is the story of that battle.
How would you describe your relationship with EMI now?
There is no EMI—it's changed. We were at EMI when it was owned by a billionaire who was more experienced buying and selling gas stations that he was dealing with creative people. His big idea was to put artists on salary like he did his accountants and marketing executives. He ended up losing control of the company and personally lost around a billion dollars. He lost the company, Citi took control of it, and they sold it to Universal; Universal now owns what used to be called EMI. It's called the Capital Group, and it has Capital, Virgin and a bunch of other labels in it and completely different people. The EMI that sued us for $30 million is no longer in business.
It was an interesting film to make. At one point, the film became a part of the battle—the film became a part of the film—and ultimately, we got the film into festivals, we won the people's choice award at Toronto and at Gotham. We had offers of people wanting to buy the movie, and we decided to release it ourselves on a new platform called VyRT, which is really a new technology platform and a way of broadcasting something live and sharing that experience with people all over the world. And we had massive success with it. We were able to do better than any of the ideas that we had been offered, and we retained our copyright and ownership of the film. And now it comes out wide on iTunes in a couple of weeks. And I don't think we would have taken that approach had we not had the battles with the record company and learned the lessons that we had learned. It's important to fight for what you believe in, and it's important to fight to be treated fairly.
Let's zoom out past "Artifact." I wanted to ask why you decided to return to acting in "Dallas Buyers' Club." Was it that you wanted to move into acting more regularly or was it this film particularly?
I didn't have any plans to make another film. We were touring the world with 30 Seconds to Mars, playing in front of twenty, thirty, sometimes a hundred thousand people a night, and it was incredible. We were having the tour of a lifetime, and I got this script. I hadn't read a script in a couple of years, but I read it and I fell in love. I thought, what an incredible opportunity. And though I hadn't made a film in six years, I had been close to film since I was making a lot of content, doing a lot of editing and directing and producing. But I decided that it would be really interesting to make a film again, and this seemed like an incredible group of people that were all coming together to tell a really special and important story. So I dug in deep and I made this film, and I'm really proud to be a part of it. It was the role of a lifetime.
So does that mean we won't see you in front of the camera for a while?
I don't know. If something as seductive came along, I would jump at the chance to have that opportunity. But movies like this don't come along that often. So we'll see.