A few years ago during the release of my film THE INNKEEPERS, I wrote an open letter about piracy and the effects it has on independent films. Particularly in the case of films that premiere first on VOD before being released in theaters. This distribution model is becoming more and more common in an effort to help smaller films reach as wide an audience as possible.
You can read that letter in its entirety HERE, but basically the gist of what it said was: Paying for indie movies provides tangible evidence that there is a market for esoteric films, and that it's important they be financially supported - not necessarily for the filmmaker's bank accounts - but to prove to investors that there is in fact monetary value in all different types of filmmaking. It is about preserving sustainability.
Some people liked what I had to say, some people hated every word of it. Having just reread it, I would say that 90% of what I wrote still holds up. That's a pretty high percentage if you consider how embarrassing old journal entries can be...
So instead of writing an all new letter, or simply reposting the old one, I thought that this time around, with the VOD release of my new film THE SACRAMENT, I would briefly address a couple of thoughts not fully articulated back in 2011. These seemed to be the two most common rationalizations for "illegal" downloads.
So without further ado:
WHAT IF THE MOVIE SUCKS? 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.
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.
For theater listings and additional info about THE SACRAMENT please visit:
SEE THE ORIGINAL 2011 LETTER BELOW
SHOPLIFTERS OF THE MEDIA-WORLD UNITE
This Friday (Dec 30th) my film THE INNKEEPERS will be released on VOD an entire month before it's released in theaters (Feb 3rd). This means it will likely hit the Internet torrent sites within 24 hours and seed thousands of downloads in the coming days.
WHY I THINK YOU SHOULD PAY FOR INDEPENDENT MOVIES. It's not the money. Personally I don't care about the money. As sad as it is to admit it's very unlikely I will make a dime off of the release of the film. My previous film, "The House of the Devil," had a similar release and was very successful - That was in 2009, and to this day I have made ZERO dollars off of its success. I do not own the films, and by the time any profits would trickle down to little old me (writer/director/editor/producer) they would all have been mysteriously soaked up into vague expenses, random fees and outrageous overages. This is the nature of the business and I have come to accept it. As long as I don't own my films - something I give up in exchange for someone with much deeper pockets affording me the budgets to make them - this is how it goes. It's a trade off and I'm fine with it. I don't really care. What I do care about, however, is your support. I care very much about that.
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. I'm sure we can all agree that there are incredible movies made every year that never get the attention they deserve - That's not the movies' fault. That is our collective fault for not being proactive enough to GO OUT OF OUR WAY to support them.
So yes, I want you to go out of your way and pay for my movie. Not because I'm greedy, but because if the movie makes money (whomever for) that's tangible evidence of a paying audience out there for movies like mine. For independent films. For something different. Not just bland remakes/sequels or live action versions of comic books/cartoons/boardgames. This is a powerful time for the consumer. With a small platform release like ours (VOD/Theatrical), it's been made incredibly easy for you to support the film...You don't even have to get out of bed.
I do personally benefit from you paying for my film. So do my friends and collaborators. Maybe not in a direct, financial way; but in the gaining of support from consumer/fans whose collective interest convinces rich people to keep giving us budgets (hopefully bigger ones) for the types of movies we make. These investors only do this based on the accountable value of a movie. Not the content. Hopefully everyone knows that by now, but maybe there are still a few ideological people out there reading this who think movies get financed because they are simply great stories worth being told no matter what their commercial appeal. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions...They don't.
How about this: If you went into a store and there were two similar products - one made by hand by someone local who you knew (perhaps a small business in the USA?) and the other just churned out by a machine (perhaps not in the USA?) - wouldn't you pay a tiny bit more for the one made by the person you knew? Especially if you knew it was actually benefitting that person? Wouldn't that be better than supporting the machine-made, impersonal, uninspired version? Wouldn't you want to support them?
Where we choose to spend our money should reflect what matters to us and what we want to support. If independent film matters to you, then do me a solid and pay for the film instead of downloading it. It's not a huge financial commitment, but it has a huge financial impact. I am not a corporation, I am not independently wealthy, I don't come from a family of the industry...I'm just a regular dude who made a movie and wants to keep on making them. I can't do that without your help, and it would be very much appreciated.
Lastly, if you live in a city where the film is being released theatrically, please go see it in the theater. It took over a year to meticulously craft the film with the intent of it being seen projected on 35mm on a big screen with loud surround sound. This was all done for your benefit. It is meant to be seen in a theater - It is after all...A movie.
For theater listings and additional info about THE INNKEEPERS please visit: