Director Sam Bozzo On BitTorrent and the Movie Industry

Last month an early cut of the unreleased movie Hackers Wanted found its way to BitTorrent. As the director's cut of the movie also leaked out last night, TorrentFreak caught up with director Sam Bozzo who through the prism of 15 years in movie making gives his opinion on how leaks, BitTorrent and file-sharing affects the industry.

As described by director Sam Bozzo, the movie ‘Hackers Wanted’ explores the differences between true hackers and today’s “computer criminals” and follows the lives of hackers who found themselves arrested after pointing out security holes in computer systems.

Although the movie was completed, internal conflict with its producer meant that it was unlikely to see a release, officially at least. Last month we were able to report that the Internet had pushed those conflicts aside and the movie had leaked and become available worldwide through BitTorrent. It seems that the version was only a rough cut though.

“I am sad that my cut was never officially released,” explains Bozzo. “It would be hypocritical of me to complain of this internet leak, since I openly spoke on TorrentFreak in favor of such leaks for my new film Blue Gold, but on the other hand, I am sad that the leaked cut is not my Director’s Cut, but a very old cut!”

Yesterday, Sam’s disappointments were overcome. Pirate Bay releaser ‘room101bellboy‘ told us the he was about to release the Director’s Cut after being offered it by an unnamed source. TorrentFreak contacted Sam and informed him of the new leak and followed up an earlier request for a first hand opinion on how BitTorrent is affecting the movie industry. Here is his response in full.

Hackers Wanted Director Sam Bozzo On BitTorrent and the Movie Industry

I have never uploaded or downloaded any torrent, so it is strange for me to be in a position where both of my independent feature documentaries have been so positively effected by torrents, both in very different ways. One was an already released film, the other an unreleased film.

TorrentFreak asked that I consider my fifteen years navigating the film industry as a struggling filmmaker and these torrent experiences to write up an opinion of how file-sharing will affect the film industry, in hopes that my opinions may benefit both the torrent and film communities.

In a nutshell, I believe the only films that are hurt by torrent sharing are mediocre and bad films. In contrast, the good films of any genre only benefit from file-sharing. Due to this, I feel the current file-sharing trend is a catalyst for a true evolution in filmmaking and attempt to explain my theory in this article.

Readers of TorrentFreak may remember when my already released documentary “Blue Gold: World Water Wars” was leaked. Initially I reacted as most independent film producers do, enraged and terrified I would never make my money back from my film due to this ‘breach’. Thankfully, I have some very good hacker friends who talked me into viewing the situation in a positive light, which I did.

I contacted the uploader of my film and asked she spread a message of support with the torrent, asking for donations if a viewer likes the film and explaining that was a self-financed endeavor. The result? I received many donations and emails of support from those who downloaded the film, but I furthermore believe that viewers spread the word of the film to their non-torrent-downloading friends and that DVD sales increased due to the leak. For me, the torrent leak was ultimately “free advertising”, and I am the only truly independent documentary filmmaker I know making his money back this year.

With “Blue Gold” already available on DVD in North America, UK, Japan, and Australia, the initial fear of a filmmaker is that each person who downloads a torrent would have instead paid to buy or rent a DVD if the torrent were not available. I feel this is false for many reasons. For an independent film like mine, most torrent users would have never heard of my film if not for the torrent. Unlike a large blockbuster film, I had no advertising money to spread the word of the film, so the torrent leak provided another outlet to hopefully create a viral campaign of word-of-mouth. The main point, though, is that this only worked because the film is a solid good film (for the target market at least), so word of mouth could only help the film.

But what about major films which have millions of dollars of advertising costs to recoup? Blockbusters which have already been released and are public-knowledge due to their market exposure?

In this case, I feel it is important to compare file sharing not with DVD-purchases or rental, but with streaming a film via Netflix’s Watch Instantly and also with inviting friends over to watch a film in a group. In neither of these situations does a film make any money. Most are surprised to learn that Netflix pays only a fixed fee to the distributor for the number of years they may offer a film, regardless of whether that film is streamed once or a million times in that time period.

Yet anyone I know on Netflix’s Watch Instantly platform, including me, is thrilled to be there. Why? The exposure. The more people who see the film, the more will likely love it and want to buy it for their collection. When you invite a group of friends to your house to watch a DVD, do you charge them? One person bought one DVD, and ten watch it free, but if the film is good, hopefully a few of them will buy a DVD for themselves, or at least spread positive word.

Torrents should be viewed the same. But why aren’t they? The difference is the quality of the film being produced. Because I believe in the product I create, I want as many people exposed to it as possible, for free if needed, as I believe my films will create fans and grow a wider audience. I’ve had college students change their majors to environmental studies because of seeing “Blue Gold”, and an activist with terminal cancer using his last months of life organizing hundreds of free worldwide screenings. Why would I want to hide a film that creates such a reaction in an audience? How would that benefit me?

Good filmmakers are not afraid to have their films seen, they fight to have them seen. They pay thousands of dollars for the ‘honor’ of screening them for free at film festivals, so why not embrace screening them for free online with no ‘submission fee’ required?

How, then, do ‘bad’ films become hurt by torrents? I believe it is because of the timing.

Whereas Netflix Watch Instantly will only be available ‘after’ the theatrical release and DVD sales, torrent leaks make the film available for mass online blogging reviews and word-of-mouth ‘before’ the film is for sale to a paying audience.

Why is that a problem? If it is a good film, I don’t think it is. It only spreads a pre-marketing buzz for the upcoming official release.

But distributors of bad and mediocre films depend solely on a paying audience’s misconception that they are paying to watch a good film, when they are not. Via mass marketing, trailers, posters, and paying high fees to star actors, distributors of bad films are betting all their money on one thing; getting as many people to pay to see the film the opening weekend in a theater before that disgruntled, unsatisfied audience tells all of their friends to avoid their bad film.

If you think logically just a second, it’s ridiculous to judge a film’s quality at all from the opening weekend, because nobody has seen the film yet to judge it! The opening weekend only demonstrates how much money was spent on advertising and the stars. That’s it. Yet you will notice all of the industry reviews and charts of the ‘success’ of a film looks primarily at the opening weekend versus the long-term results. Why is the system set up like this?

I and many other film fans feel the quality of storytelling in films has deteriorated at an alarming rate since the 1970-mid 1980s. Of course there are rare gems each year we all look forward to re-watching, but in general the quality of film product being produced is mediocre at best. Why? I remember Kathleen Kennedy, a great producer, visiting my film school Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and explaining that a film’s ‘success’ was judged during the 1970-mid 1980s by the long term box-office, not the opening weekend. About week five, after the audience has had a chance to discuss the film, positively or negatively with their friends, did a film audience attendance peak.

Why did the shift occur? One reason is certainly that as distributors were willing to put more money into pre-advertising, usually to at least match the budget of the film itself, then theater owners were somewhat safer booking those films, even if they were bad, so they could make a lot of money on opening weekend, drop the film after people realized they were robbed, and replace it with a new bad film that has had an insane amount of money put behind it. This could conceivably make the theater owner more money than waiting four weeks to see which films were going to live and which were not. This became especially true as less and less great films were being made. So it is a chicken and egg problem. Regardless, why are bad films made?

Again it’s completely subjective what has happened since the 1970-1980s period of filmmaking in America. Personally I believe film used to be considered a director’s medium and now it is considered a Producer’s medium. How?

A great Producer is priceless and I only hope to work with more, having worked with Si Litvinoff and Mark Achbar already. But increasingly the credit “Producer” has become a bargaining chip that any executive who recommends a script to another demands they receive, so you end up with fifteen “Producers” on a film who did no real Producing (To Produce is a verb, remember). So we end up with real Producers as angry with this problem as Directors.

There was a great Producer’s Guild of America campaign where George Lucas made a PR poster saying “Even in Science Fiction, the Fiction ends when the credits role” or something like that. Any person can claim to be a producer. An ex-military Wall Street broker can wake up and claim to be a “Producer”. No questions asked. So these type of people do not want to hire good filmmakers. I know of so many such “Producers” who will not hire a Writer/ Director because they want to control the film even though they don’t have the creativity or talent to. They would rather hire six Writers and two Directors to maintain the drivers seat. The result? Bad to mediocre films. Sound familiar?

Regardless of ‘why’ films have deteriorated, I believe nobody goes into a film wanting to make a bad or medicore film. These self-declared “Producers” feel they have enough talent to juggle mutliple filmmakers and make it work, but then don’t. I also believe that subconsciously they and their distributors know their film is not great. This is why they are willing to spend $20 million on a star actor and hundreds of millions on advertising. It’s a panic move. They want to try to appear to make money even if ultimately the film loses money. How? By throwing insane amounts of money towards the opening weekend.

Enter a torrent leak. You can see how a bad Producer would panic. They fear that the torrent community will reveal their scam by letting consumers know they will be wasting their money on trash.

I have never self-produced a short film or documentary that has not won international awards and had a strong audience. Huge audience? No, but always devoted. And being a true filmmaker who produces, writes, directs, and edits his film, let me say for the record that no film should ever cost more than $2 million, and that only if people are well paid. With such a budget, a film can and should make its money back and torrents can only help spread the word to make that happen.

It’s when people spend hundreds of millions on one film that it becomes an impossible model, similar to the real estate bubble that recently burst. With everything focused on the opening weekend, it is difficult to really calculate how many of these ‘blockbusters’ actually ever net a real profit after advertising, film prints, and star salaries are factored in.

Torrents threaten to pop that bubble. I, for one, am glad. Why? Because I am bitter towards people who make large budget films? Yes and no. I feel a studio would make more money and safer money by taking $300 million they spend on one film and making 150 independent films and betting that half of those pay for the rest and make profits above the $300 million invested. If that were the model, we’d have more filmmakers, more films, and torrents and Netflix Watch Instantly would be no threat to anyone. It would be, as I said, free marketing.

My second and most recent film that leaked was another issue. It was an unreleased film called “Hacker’s Wanted”, which I did not produce but wrote, directed, and edited. The potential here is almost more rewarding for a filmmaker, to simply have his work seen at all.

I had the honor of meeting my film hero Terry Gilliam on set of “Brothers Grimm” (Matt Damon introduced me as I was a Top 10 Project Greenlight Director). “Brazil” is one of my favorite films, and any who are fans know of the infamous “Battle for Brazil” where the studio simply did not understand the film and wanted to recut it and make a dark surreal comedy-tragedy into a light romantic-comedy. The fight was epic and basically “Brazil” sat on a shelf for years. Gilliam eventually had to take out a full page Variety ad saying “When will you release my film Brazil, Mr. (Producer)”, enter his cut into Los Angeles Film Critics Association where it won Best Picture, and even arrange a private USC screening where the studio sent police to try and get the film print from him.

What if this all happened with the internet out there? With torrent users? I think what just happened with “Hackers Wanted” is a very small humble example of how much easier it would have been for Gilliam to have his film seen. And if he were lucky like me, he wouldn’t even have to leak it! I have no clue who leaked my documentary, a frustrated hacker fan or disgruntled ex-employee of the producer. Who cares. It lives somewhere now. And people can talk. They can blog. They can discuss. They can give life to what was lifeless. If the producers release another cut, great! There is already word-of-mouth leading up to it. Free advertising. How can that be ‘wrong’ in any way?

Ultimately, I believe there is no choice. I believe that given the ease of Netflix and others being streamed to TVs and the impossibility of stopping torrents, the evolution from billion dollar all-or-nothing gambles to greater quantity, lower budget films will happen. Torrents are, if I had to pitch it, “Darwin meets Hollywood” and frankly Hollywood needs an Evolution!

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