8/10/08

INFORMATION DEMOCRACY or: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE YOUTUBE

petersellers

Last week I was asked by one of the production entities helping to finance my film "City Island" to stop posting clips of the dailies. Actually I wasn't asked to do so, I was ordered to do so. Being in mid-filming and this not exactly being a priority of my day, I told them it was not a problem. So the clips came down.

But now I wonder: why did they ask me to do this? And what message does my compliance with their request actually send? Having had a few days to think this one over, I'm gradually coming to some conclusions and am ultimately glad that this controversy--minor though it is--has reared its head. I was especially interested to see how many readers of the blog wrote in protesting the removal of the clips. This, more than anything, told me that I was on to something with the whole notion of blogging a film production and sharing the experience as well as sharing the bits of the mosaic--the "dailies"--that go into the end result.

So, in order of the above questions. First: they asked me to remove the clips because of "piracy" issues and fear that the small amounts of the film that I'm sharing could possibly appear to other buyers as "unpolished" or "unrepresentative" of what the final product will be. Okay. But what is piracy? It's taking something for free that should have a monetary value and profiting off it. So my question is: what could possibly be done with any of the dailies clips I've posted that would provide monetary gain? Would anybody pay cash for a ten to thirty second clip of my film? Clearly the answer to this is no. As to how representative of the final product the dailies are, I argue that they are both completely unrepresentative while at the say time super-representative in their rawness and thus a good deal more tantalizing than, say, a slick little trailer. When I show you a piece of my dailies (and believe me I'm like all good directors--I ain't showing nothing that I'm not proud of) I'm showing you part of the process we go through in achieving the end result. One of the reasons outtakes are so fascinating and elucidating (and I'm a big fan of DVD extra outtakes for old movies--check out the new "My Man Godfrey" edition with some fine Carol Lombard and William Powell outtakes) is that they provide a view of the meta-film, the other movie that's happening while the end result is achieved. Robert Altman used to insist that the cast and crew watch the dailies together at the end of the day because, he said, "the real movie is in the dailies". (This was also Altman's way of encouraging his actors to improvise and then feeling free to discard 90 percent of it without guilt since they'd already seen and admired their work in the dailies). Dailies are an entirely different view of the movie that will eventually emerge. I think it's important and not at all harmful to let people in on how the process works. That old "don't show the magic" line feels last century to me. By now, the bizarre and beautiful process that movie making is is known to many, many people. And if it's not, I think it's my right to share the process. What are you going to do? Pirate the process?

As to what message I'm sending by complying with the request to not show the dailies, clearly I'm agreeing that the last century and its thinking is still correct, that the world order is unchanged, that 19th and 20th century notions of ownership and control (as well as 19th and 20th century fears) are still wagging the dog. But let's face it: even large corporations realize that in the current world, any viral presence is a help, not a hindrance. Clips of movies on youtube are a non-starter in terms of harming people's copyrights. Clips are clips. Not movies. They are their to educate you on the existence of the finished product, not rob you of the opportunity to see it.

A final word about this subject for now. We live in the age of branding. If you're an artist and haven't found a brand for yourself, chances are your marching uphill on an increasingly lonely trip. Nothing I do is "brandable". The movies that I make, and the movies that I watch, are specialty items. The music that I love--jazz--is also now considered "boutique". (That means unpopular to large masses). With the advent of youtube, the cultural treasures that I've clung too ever since I was a kid are now available to share with others and--I hope--are being given new life because of this availability. Hence this blog--which I started in order to justify the hours I was spending on youtube watching clips of forgotten movies and dead musicians. The glory of the information democracy is in the ability to reinterpret the very existence of this material without profit being an issue. Thus people post short brilliant clips of music or dance from old two hour movies that are simply not movies that most people would watch in their entirety anymore. Perhaps the sum of the parts of "Down Argentine Way" no longer speaks to many people...but the parts certainly do. The numbers featuring the fabulous Nicholas Brothers deserve to stand on their own no matter the dubious value of the rest of the structure that was initially there to support them.

Similarly, I don't know how many people will see "City Island" when it's done. Plenty I hope. Some readers of this blog will probably seek it out and some may have, by the time of its release, moved on. But if right now people are interested in the story of how a movie is made, that part of the process should be shared should if I choose to do so. And posting information about the film--production reports, call sheets, dailies,--can't, I believe, truly do any harm and probably can do some good in terms of letting people know that we're out here, creating this particular film. I'm not sure that removing the clips was the right decision. And while I think it over and decide what my next move is, how 'bout those Nicholas Brothers?