With SOPA/PIPA on hold, I was curious what was coming next in what seems to be a battle for the hearts and minds of filmmakers in Hollywood. The ordeal brought up a lot more questions than it answered. What if piracy isn't always bad? Who will the Hollywood gate keepers of the future be?
I feel like the solutions proposed from Hollywood establishment just might be in favor of the status quo rather than helping up-and-comers. Call it a hunch. So while industry bosses are distracted with their fight to sustain the old business model, I figured it might be a good time to start a series of conversations between the tech sector and young Hollywood to make some sense of the seismic shift happening in the industry.
My first conversation was with Mike Masnick, CEO and founder of Tech Dirt. It's a great site you should be following if you want to get a sense of the incredulous outrage that tech observers have about our industry.
Masnick's M.O. is disruptive innovation -- or as he describes it "how we get cool stuff." Creating cool stuff -- honestly, isn't that what most of us get in the business to do? The problem is, Hollywood isn't responsible for creating enough cool stuff these days (especially locally) to keep us all employed. A lot of the cool stuff is now coming from the tech sector with Hollywood standing idly by. In conversations with those employed with the studios, production companies and agencies around town, I've heard projects worked on self-described as "lame," "derivative," or the backhanded compliment: "Meh, at least it'll make money."
So how do we spend time creating cool stuff rather than work jobs that pay the bills with little more reward than a credit on something you'd wish to wipe off your IMDB page? "The battle isn't between Hollywood versus tech companies," noted Masnick. "It's about control and it's between the middlemen gate keepers and the content creators."
We all know many aspiring filmmakers who are hopelessly untalented; you could say the same about plenty of gate keepers that guide content through development. The major difference is that gate keepers have been infused with authority, earned or not. And they control opportunity for young artists.
While the tug-of-war between artist and development is nothing new, the threat of disruptive distribution models that circumvent the process is. Getting content directly to the consumer is a problem for the status quo.
Do we want to dismantle our current system? Probably not; some of it is helpful and necessary. But it's due for a major renovation, which will probably be painful. It's also a major reason the war on piracy has become such a contentious issue as of late. It's been a way to lay blame for declining revenues on an external source, rather than a lack of innovation and good content emerging from our development process.
"Piracy is a symptom, not the problem," said Masnick. "It's indicative of the consumer's desire for new tools, new services."
Studios are making the hard sell that piracy and lost revenue are what's costing us jobs, asserting that so many more millions of tickets and DVDs would be sold if people weren't pirating the content online.
It's somewhat like when economists tell us each year that employers lose millions of dollars worth of employee productivity to March Madness bracketology when that productivity was never actually there (usually it's time that was just used for online shopping or Facebook). It's hard for studios to convince that pirated downloads would be actual "sales" and not just the equivalent of an impulse buy -- downloaded because it was there, otherwise out of sight out or out of mind.
So what if it's not piracy that's costing us jobs, but a limited support system to output cool stuff. And, what if that requires a new gate keeping system? Those are questions I'm curious about too, so stay tuned...