‘Keith Lemon: The Film’ or ‘The Imposter’: Which one would you pay to watch?
Anyone who regularly shells out the money to buy or rent DVDs will be aware of the advert that appears before the film warning you that piracy is a crime akin to stealing a car or a handbag. These adverts are not only hilariously over-embellished to the point of parody, but are also clearly hitting the wrong target. They’re directed at the ‘honest’ audience members who have paid money to watch a film at home.
However, not all of the UK’s movie-watching audience pay for every film they watch, and instead opt to download films using filesharing programs. They are therefore free to enjoy discovering movies that they missed out on when they were shown in the cinema – or that are old, rare, independent or cult – in high quality, in their own homes and without the hassle of having to sit through adverts, trailers or DVD menus. Although the movie industry may wish to think of those responsible for the 1.25 billion+ monthly downloads from filesharing programs as criminals, I believe that responsible and ethical filesharing among real film fans will help to salvage, rather than destroy, the movie industry.
Last week a study by The American Assembly, a Columbia University-affiliated public policy forum, found that US and German filesharers spend around 30% more on legitimate online music purchases than users who do not ‘pirate’ music via the internet. Whilst these findings may seem counter-intuitive to those who see music and film ‘pirates’ as evil, scrounging, good-for-nothings who are ruining the film industry for ‘real fans’ – it seems the rationale behind these results is incredibly clear.
Any dedicated movie fan would find it hard to resist using filesharing programs to enjoy as many, and as wide a variety, of previously released films as possible. Each free film they watch increases their knowledge, interest and adoration of artists working within the medium, and this leads them to spend more of their hard-earned money when new films are released at the cinema, or when their favourite films come out on DVD/Blu-Ray.
If these filesharing film fans had to pay for every movie they watched, they might have only seen a handful of highly publicised mainstream blockbusters, and perhaps the odd TV movie or rented DVD. Yet the knowledge and interest gained from being able to watch a wider variety of films, as well as the money saved from not paying for films they did not enjoy; will increase the likelihood of them patronising an arthouse cinema, a private cult screening, or an independent film festival. Not to mention greatly increasing their engagement with foreign cinema, and films released before they were born.
Although paying for every film they watched would have spared them being branded a ‘pirate’, they would obviously be considerably worse off in terms of their enjoyment of cinema – and would therefore have given less money to filmmakers and distributors as a result. In fact, they would probably end up being one of the many people who on 24th August 2012 turned down the opportunity to see Bart Layton’s brilliant debut indie documentary The Imposter (my favourite film of the year, so far) in favour of watching Keith Lemon: The Film.
This terrifying prospect exemplifies the most important, yet overlooked, result of filesharing amongst movie fans – it creates a more informed audience, with higher expectations and a greater respect for cinema. When someone is able to watch a hugely diverse amount of films, irrespective of the year or country in which they were produced, they are considerably more likely to discover a wealth of exciting and thought-provoking pieces than if they were only limited to watching what was showing in the multiplex that week. Immediately, the audience is able to more readily distinguish between filmmakers, writers and actors whose work they have previously enjoyed.
Filesharing therefore brings greater democracy and competition to the film industry. If audiences are able to heighten their knowledge and expectations of films, and only fund the movies that they enjoy, the best filmmakers will receive greater royalties and movie studios will have to up their game. The money spent on remakes will undoubtedly fall, as audiences will have easy access to the original productions; so studios will have to employ directors, writers and actors with originality and ingenuity, who can draw audiences into cinemas with fresh and exciting new movies.
Furthermore, filesharing can increase opportunities for burgeoning talent to rise through the industry. If a filmmaker has the talent to make an interesting film, but doesn’t have the money to compete with the publicity and distribution deals of the big movie studios, they can always fall back on filesharers discovering the movie online and sharing it around a considerably larger group than the DVD-purchasing audience. In turn, this can open up opportunities for them if a copy of their movie falls into the right hands, and guarantees a larger audience awaiting their next effort.
Perhaps filesharers are demonised by studios because they are seen as people who are watching films, whilst contributing nothing to the industry. Yet my understanding of filesharers, and the findings of The American Assembly, seem to run contrary to this perception. Maybe the studios like to brand filesharers as ‘pirates’ because their very existence means that studios are in danger of having to actually create something fresh and original, or else face walking the plank. It may be because the filesharers love of films, and hunger for new ideas, are turning audiences onto independent cinema in record-breaking numbers.
Whatever the reason is, as long as filesharers continue to pay for their favourite films at the cinema and on DVD/Blu-Ray, they are not thieves or criminals. Instead, they are members of a new kind of cinema: the cinema where you pay on the way out. A community where the most original, entertaining and inspirational filmmakers are discussed and rewarded, and a place in which absolutely nobody would pay to see Keith Lemon: The Film.Tagged in: cinema, DVDs, film, Keith Lemon
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