Argh, I am a pirate.

With the release of Color out of Space I’ve heard a renewed focus on piracy in film. Mostly how much of a scourge it is and how it cripples filmmakers and stifles auteurs by castrating studios into believing smaller budgeted films have no chances of being funded because only higher grossing tent pole films can weather the storms brought forward by rampant downloading of films for free. Watching a film for free is theft pure and simple. You wouldn’t steal a car, Etc. Etc.

Specifically, it’s a disservice to Richard Stanley’s come back film that so many people had already seen it before it was even released in cinemas.

With that said – I did download Color out of Space. I’m thankful I did and I look forward to seeing it again when it comes out in the flicks here in the UK at the end of February. I know many people who also watched a downloaded copy. How much have I personally hurt its sales? How much has any of these people hurt its sales?

So far if you check their website https://coloroutofspacemovie.com/screening-schedule you can see that the distributor fears the film is too much of a genre film and didn’t risk a wider release as its only opened in 81 out of 3000+ movie theaters in the US so far – and has sold out screenings in all of them making nearly 400K so far. Not a bad start. And already after just 5 days there is talk of more theaters taking the film on.

Genre films or “specialty” films don’t generally get wide releases because they are very niche by their nature. And film fans often laude the fuck out of them. But the average audience? Could go either way. Some seem to go unnoticed and others just hit the right place at the right time – and I would argue that piracy has definitively helped Color out of Space hit the right place at the right time.

Genre fans knew it was coming, but did the general audience? Most of the people I know were on the fence about seeing it. Nicolas Cage is hit and miss, Richard Stanley hasn’t exactly been proving he knows his craft lately, being he ran away from filmmaking for so many years, and HP Lovecraft fans like myself know that those stories more often than not cannot be translated direct without substantial changes to the material which may make them better – or more likely worse. So there was a lot of “eh, I don’t know.” Going around.

But nearly everyone I know that DID watch it, enjoyed it and told their friends they enjoyed it or spoke about it on social media and pre-release word of mouth was very positive from this while critics were a very mixed bag. I’d argue piracy has a very positive knock on effect in this way for a lot of films. There are many movies in the past I had no interest in and when I saw them downloaded and I ended up enjoying them I either a: bought it, b: told others about it, c: bought or looked for other films by the same people or d: wrote a review of it.

I know, already you’re saying “but you still stole the movie, even if you go and pay to see it later, someone else who downloaded it might not, so the movie suffers still.” Or whatever argument you wanna make. That’s cool, everyone is different and I am entitled to my opinion as you are yours. But if you choose to read on, I’m gonna detail why I think Piracy is good. (There is some factual evidence which will be at the bottom of the article)

First of all, there are NO FACTS in the piracy argument. There are many articles and essays and even recent studies which say that Piracy has no or limited adverse effects on box office results and may even be beneficial*. As well as lots of other articles, news stories and essays which say that box office loss from piracy is somewhere between 25 million and 58 billion per year and costs as low as 100 or as high as 75,000 jobs annually*.

There are many suppositions made about impact, not the least of which is that anyone who downloads therefore doesn’t buy a ticket. It doesn’t consider that people who don’t have more than a passing interest and would never buy a ticket may still download and have their opinion changed, or those who would but can’t due to financial limitations but then may choose to spend what little they have on a dvd of it down the line, etc.

One of the main arguments about piracy being bad is that by downloading you are denigrating and devaluing the work of the filmmakers and crew who made that film. First of all, most below the line staff are paid a wage and then leave – so it doesn’t impact them directly for this film – it could be argued it may impact them if a secondary film is not produced to employ them but there are so many variables to that argument that its asinine.

And secondly, if the above the line filmmakers are impacted – good. GOOD?! HOW DARE YOU?! I know. As a filmmaker myself you must think I’m a hypocritical dick ‘cause surely I’d never want anyone not to pay me as much as possible at all times so I can keep doing what I am trying to do – but that’s not true either. I don’t side with the filmmaker. I side with the audience. And as audience members we should be voting on quality in the end with our wallets.

(I do of course support the creation of indie film and will continue to support my fellow low budget filmmaker friends who DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY TO RELEASE FILMS – I am speaking only about films which already exist and have been funded as they are released)

If I listen to a song – in full – on the radio I can decide if I want to buy it or listen on my streaming services, etc. If I watch a trailer (which can be misleading*) and it suckers me in and I go and pay my money to watch that film and I hate it, it sucks, well so what? I already paid for it. They got my money. I don’t support ALL films, I support the ones I like.

And it’s not like movies are cheap to see. 10 bucks to see a movie at the flicks now. I can buy a digital copy of a video game with 50 hours of gameplay for that – or see a 2 hour maybe. But therein lies another argument – fighting piracy increases ticket prices to cover overheads of trying to prevent piracy and mitigate its impact.

Yeah, but that’s not true. You know what is true? Greed.

Filmmaking as a business has become cheaper the last 25 years – but the price of films, the price of screening and the price of releasing has all increased. Yes, film itself is still expensive as in film reels. But digital film cameras such as RED systems which many modern big budget movies are shot on – are a fraction of the cost of the film equivalent and does not require costly processing and reproduction fees – just storage space.

Visual effects used to be created from scratch in special production houses and matted to films through costly chemical or exposure techniques which often required trial and error and expensive physical rigging and creation. Now can be done on Maya and after effects, bespoke software utilized by hundreds of digital effects houses.

Distribution would involve costly reproduction of film reels in mass quantities, spooled and physically transported to thousands of theaters – which can be delivered digitally now via the internet and screened digitally in theaters.

But budgets get bigger and bigger and ticket costs rise and rise. Because someone logged onto the pirate bay? I would buy that argument if it weren’t for the fact that profits also rise year on year.

1998 Worldwide top 5 grossing films:

Armageddon – 554 million.
Saving Private Ryan – 485 million.
Godzilla – 376 million.
There’s something about Mary – 369 million.
A Bug’s life – 363 million.

2008 Worldwide top 5 grossing films:

The Dark Knight – 1,001 million.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal skull – 784 million.
Kung Fu Panda – 631 million.
Hancock – 624 million.
Mamma Mia – 615 million.

2018 Worldwide top 5 grossing films:

Avengers Infinity War – 2,048 million.
Black Panther – 1,346 million.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – 1,308 million.
Incredibles 2 – 1,242 million.
Aquaman – 1,146 million.

This does not include DVD, rental, VOD or streaming. But each of the 2008 and 2018 top 5 were also top 5 downloads illegally as well. And adjusting the 1998 figures for inflation still only comes to 873 mil for Armageddon. (By the way the average ticket cost in the US in ’98 was $4.69 [adj.inf $7.11]) and it is currently: $9.11 – 2 bucks ahead of inflation. And let’s not talk about 3D and all the special add ons these days.

So, does piracy only hurt the “little movies”? Or does greed hurt the art because the wallets have spoken? The only place indie film is hurt is by Studios and funders who are more concerned with no guaranteed return instead of the potential return. I paid at the flicks to see Midsomer and I regretting giving Aster more of my money – films are subjective. I don’t enjoy funding movies I don’t enjoy. Why should I? I watch films to enjoy them. Not to feed the machine. But there is a movie for everyone and all have an equal chance. If people like them enough they will find a way to survive. Piracy helps more than it hurts. Because it lets unknown good films be discovered and bad films ignored.

I downloaded Drive and I loved it so I bought the Blu-ray. Then I paid for Only god forgives. Oh Nicolas, you robbed me there! Well done. So, I downloaded Neon Demon. I do not own it and have deleted the film. Need I say more?

Also, Warner Herzog* agrees with me, so boom. Indie cred.

*Further reading:

https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2015/04/12/piracy-helping-or-harming-the-world/

https://www.mcvuk.com/no-evidence-that-piracy-affects-video-game-sales-eu-commission/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nelsongranados/2015/12/03/how-piracy-hurts-the-filmmakers-and-artists-you-admire/#689af22d4554

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/piracy-is-back.html

https://www.econ.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Illegal%20File%20Sharing%20%26%20The%20Film%20Industry.pdf

https://marketly.com/does-piracy-impact-sales/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/oct/10/woman-sues-drive-trailer

https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2019/04/werner-herzog-piracy-has-been-the-most-successful-form-of-distribution-worldwide/

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