Tommy Pallotta is an American film director and producer from Texas, currently living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Being this far away from his home country is one of the reasons why he became a BitTorrent enthusiast, no further explanation needed for most TorrentFreak readers.
In film circles, Pallotta is known for his outstanding animation work that defines most of his work thus far. His last film, A Scanner Darkly starred Keanu Reeves and was a smash hit on BitTorrent. With more than a million downloads, the movie earned a place in our list of Top 10 most downloaded movies four weeks in a row.
Pallotta’s latest work is something totally different though. It’s a follow up documentary to film legend Martin Scorsese’s cult-classic American Boy that was shot more than thirty years ago. In American Boy Scorsese documented the life of his friend Steven Prince, who was also the inspiration for one of the best known scene’s in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With American Prince Pallotta continues the saga.
Since Scorsese’s original documentary is a rarity nowadays, Pallotta had to ‘pirate’ much of his material on BitTorrent sites and YouTube. In return, Pallotta is giving the film away for free on BitTorrent. This of course caught our attention and we decided to catch up with the director to lear a little more about his motivation to embrace BitTorrent.
Film director and producer Tommy Pallotta
TF: First off, A Scanner Darkly – which you produced – became quite successful on BitTorrent and was downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people. Were you aware of that at the time? What do you think of people who use BitTorrent to download the film?
Tommy: Really, A Scanner Darkly was successful on BitTorrent? GREAT! I wish it was more so, I have to admit, I get jealous when I look at the top 100 downloads on the trackers and I don’t see my movies. In fact, part of the reason I am releasing American Prince on BitTorrent is for the hope that it breaks the top 100. I live in Amsterdam now, so the only way I can keep up with some of my favorite shows, events, and films is to download. I think it is great, especially for filmmakers of niche movies. My movies tend to get limited releases and are more of the cult film status, so the initial release is often overlooked or simply the movie is unavailable in many areas. For me as a filmmaker it is most important that the work I make get seen. I feel for many people and places, downloading is the only way they will get to see my movies. Waking Life is a movie that I produced that is a pretty interesting example of that. It seems more popular today that when it came out in 2001. I think BitTorrent and steaming sites like YouTube are completely responsible for that phenomena. Since I use BitTorrent, I wanted to give back to the community, that was part of the motivation is releasing American Prince via BitTorrent.
TF: The MPAA has often argued that the movie industry loses billions of dollars through piracy. Others think that it has close to no impact. What’s your position in the ongoing ‘piracy debate’?
Tommy: Well, everyone has a different opinion. It is pretty simple to me: The exact same thing that happened to the music industry will happen to the film industry. I suspect the film industry knows that and is trying to hold off the inevitable as long as they can. My guess is that they will try to make as much money as long as they can until they have to change or someone comes in and organizes and unifies the industry in the way Apple did for music. But even that is tricky because obviously Apple benefited more than the music industry. So they should be looking at alternative revenue streams, I find it hard to believe that many DVDs will be sold a few years from now. I would rather embrace new technologies and distribution methods, I feel this gives me greater and more immediate access to an audience.
TF: For American Prince you’ve used material from BitTorrent and YouTube, which is great. Did you license all these clips, or are they pirated copies?
Tommy: Yes we used material from BitTorrent and YouTube for American Prince and no, we did not license them. I did receive the Master copy of American Boy from Steven Prince himself, but we found a copy via BitTorrent that was better than that copy, so we used that! Plus, there is some confusion as to who actually owns the rights to American Boy. Part of the motivation of this film was to get a proper release for Scorsese’s American Boy. I felt this film would help uncover who has the rights and hopefully get it in front of a larger audience.
TF: Why did you decide to release American Prince for free on BitTorrent and what do you expect from it?
Tommy: Scorsese’s American Boy has been and is still generally unavailable for over 30 years, yet so many filmmakers have been influenced by it. The way we saw it is through multi-generational VHS tapes. Now with BitTorrent, there is a whole new audience and generation ready to be influenced by that film and I hope mine. Steven Prince is a gold mine of future cinema scenes and I hope a whole new generation of filmmakers will understand how he has influenced American Cinema. My biggest expectation is that the most people possible will watch my film! Also, I would really like to encourage people to talk about the film, with each other as well as on the Internet. It would make me happy to see Wikipedia entries and IMDB boards as well as Internet sites. I would love for people to get together and have screenings of it with their friends, or for universities to suggest to their class for the students to watch it. I look at American Prince as the film school I never had, what I always imagined film school to be.
TF: Do you think that the Internet and file-sharing technology will play an important role in shaping the future of film distribution?
Tommy: I absolutely believe how we watch and share movies will shape the future of film distribution. I believe it will have such a profound influence that it will even change how movies are made. I think it is a win-win for the filmmakers and the viewers. Filmmakers will have a more direct reach with audience and viewers have more to choose from. I wanted to release this film in support of file sharing and to prove to myself and others that it can have a profoundly positive effect.