How piracy really affects careers in film and television

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Brooke Boland

Village Cinemas recognises that intellectual property is an important issue in the arts and it’s infringement will have consequences for the future of Independent cinema.
How piracy really affects careers in film and television
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In a video for Creative Content Australia (previously IP Awareness Foundation), David Puttnam speaks out about the effect of piracy on the film and television industry. 

‘Piracy is a zero sum game. It only can result in less money being invested in new product, in less interesting, less innovative, less exciting material being available. So pirates are effectively kicking to death the very industry that they see themselves as accessing. That sounds a bit brutal when I say it like that but that is in effect what’s happening.’ 
 

Lord David Puttnam on copyright infringement, Australian Movie Convention 2014 from Creative Content Australia.

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Statistics show that 18-24 year olds are the most active pirates, and are almost twice as active as the total population in Australia when it comes to accessing content illegally. 

While research also shows that pirating in Australia is beginning to lessen due to the increasing popularity of online subscription sites such as Netflix, piracy is an ongoing issue particularly in light of the effect it is having on independent film.

We need to keep this conversation going so that filmmakers and producers can keep working. In the end, it comes down to creating a sustainable industry from the ground up.

‘Piracy does impact on filmmakers being able to keep working because if you are continually not earning revenue back from your films being distributed then it undermines your ability to keep working in the industry,’ said Cristina Pozzan, Executive Producer at Open Channel.

Initiatives such as the current Unscene short film competition, run by Village Cinemas in partnership with Open Channel and joint venture partner Event Cinemas, are starting this conversation within the film industry itself. With the tagline “Make a film for your future” this year the thematic competition is asking early-career filmmakers to create a short five-minute film in response to the issue of piracy. Entrants have the opportunity to win $10,000 with the opportunity for their film to screen in front of the eyes of a wide audience across Village Cinemas pre-show and foyer video walls.

Village Cinemas General Manger Marketing and Sales, Mohit Bhargava said on behalf of Joint Venture partner Event Cinemas, 'Unscene will enable aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their talent, create a pathway and kick start their careers. The competition is a catalyst for discovering new Australian talent, while at the same time giving awareness to the consequences of film piracy on the industry.'

'Village Cinemas have a proud history of supporting our community, and we look forward to working with Open Channel to assist in the development of the Australian film industry,' Bhargava said.

Read: Village opens screens to emerging filmmakers

‘What is great about this film competition is that it will actually put emerging filmmakers in the position of having to think about it and motivate them to understand “Well ok, what does piracy mean for me?” I have a chance for my film to be shown but I’ve actually got to look at the topic and do something meaningful with it,’ said Pozzan. 

‘I think a lot of aspiring filmmakers might go “Oh yeah, pirating is not a good thing” but in terms of how they see it impacting on themselves and their careers, I’m not sure they do understand that.’

Enter the Unscene Short Film Competition

While the misplaced assumption that piracy largely affects major producers and distributors prevails, more thought needs to be given to the way copyright infringement impacts the local film industry and low budget productions.

‘Big exhibitors have multiple films they are dealing with at any one time. They have films coming and going, and still have people coming through the doors, even though supposedly there is less incentive for people to go to the cinema. They are still successful businesses. As filmmakers we don’t get the chance to make that many films, so when we do our copyright and ownership of a film is very important,’ said Pozzan.

‘It really does affect the ability for filmmakers to earn revenue back and continue work in an ongoing sense.’

An example of piracy’s impact on independent cinema can be seen in 2012 Australian comedy-horror film, 100 Bloody Acres. After its release in the United States the directors found that more than 36,000 copies were downloaded illegally.

These situations force us to consider just what our responsibility as consumers is to support these films?


Image: http://www.creativecontentaustralia.org.au

‘It’s a hard haul to get low budget films like 100 Bloody Acres up. When you make a low budget film, the reality is you don’t earn a big fee for working on the film. You’ll sacrifice a lot of things to get it made and out there. But if it does get out there and it is relatively successful you have the chance to recoup some of that money that you didn’t get when you were shooting it and making it,’ said Pozzan. 

‘This is just about being fair and reasonable so that people can earn an income from their work.’ 

For many, it is even the difference between breaking even and operating at a loss.

‘For filmmakers like Colin Cairnes and his brother Cameron, who co-directed 100 Bloody Acres, they and their producer Julie Ryan put in an incredible amount of effort and commitment and then to have all those illegal downloads, it was a real blow. If that was translated into box office it would have a tangible impact on their ability to earn money,’ said Pozzan.

An important question remains. How will this lost revenue impact the future of independent cinema in Australia?

‘I think it is something for early-career filmmakers to think about. If piracy continues and even increases then how are films going to get made? Do they want filmmaking to be a career where they earn an income or a hobby where they don’t’, said Pozzan.

It will be interesting to see how the next generation of filmmakers will respond to the Unscene competition, which asks them to respond to the issue of piracy and its potential impact on their future careers.

Find out how to enter the Unscene Short Film Competition

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.