Director Colin Cairnes speaks out on piracy

There's a school of thought that widespread piracy can be to the filmmaker's benefit but that seems driven by a defeatist attitude that says the pirates/downloaders are always going to be one step ahead with the technology and their ability to skirt the law, so why bother fighting it?

I'll admit [brother] Cameron and I were both shocked and flattered to learn that tens of thousands of people illegally downloaded our film 100 Bloody Acres.

But if we're serious about the sustainability of independent filmmaking in a very tough environment, we need to deal with the issue that a large portion of a film's potential audience believe it's fine not to pay for your film. The "try before you buy" claim of some who download seems disingenuous… while no doubt some people might go off and "do the right thing" when the opportunity arises (and questions of timing and accessibility are key considerations in looking at solutions), why would they when there is so much more product waiting to be consumed?

The ultimate impact to the people who have downloaded an indie film (in our case 35,000+ people) is that they are inadvertently compromising opportunities for the filmmakers to make another film. Downloaders may have enjoyed the film, shared it with their networks, and might even be looking forward to the next one, but in denying the film significant revenue, they may in fact be helping to create an even greater risk-averse approach amongst investors. This in turn could limit the volume, and perhaps more importantly, the diversity of independent and genre fare available to audiences.

Future investors may look at the box office results of an independent film and wonder if certain filmmakers and genres are really worth investing in. Grand ideas in circulation like "wow, they were downloaded so many times that they must be popular and people must like their film" hold little water in the world of those who decide what gets supported.

This is a cultural, generational issue, exacerbated by, and tangled up with, problems in the way that the industry handles its product. As an industry, we've been slow to respond, but it's not too late; we have to tackle these issues, for the survival of the independent scene in particular. Films like ours that rely on building word of mouth are the ones whose potential margins are the easiest to erode.

Just because the activity has been apparently normalised, doesn't mean it's right. Maybe we can engage with that "lost" audience, find out how it likes to consume film and how we can bring them back into the paying fold. Clearly a cinema release is not the be all and end all now. That will mean filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors and audiences trying to understand each others' needs and habits, and all making some compromises.

There's been a bit of talk lately about theatrical windows and how limited release films with little advertising spend, such as the one we made, might benefit from substantially closing that gap, and we agree that the current system is totally outmoded for a film like ours. We know there are people out in the suburbs or in regional areas who have downloaded the film because there was no other way of seeing it, although their inner city cousins may have had access to a single screen (assuming they knew it was playing).

The current situation in Australia is a relic from a pre-YouTube, pre-bit torrent past, where there were more screens devoted to alternative product, and the pirating of VHS and DVDs may have existed, but was a pretty labour intensive and more easily investigated crime! What used to be arthouse or alternative cinemas are playing the same Hollywood product you see in the shopping centre multiplexes, and that's a reasonable business decision.

But it means we've given people another excuse to illegally download films like ours because they're harder than ever to see the "old school" way. Filmmakers working with lower budgets and P&A spends are screwed if they get caught up in the dated model we have now. So we need to either fix that release model so that it offers scope for ALL films to find their audience and make everyone a buck, or to join with fellow filmmakers and other lateral thinkers to create a new model.

Colin Cairnes
Co-Director/Writer, 100 Bloody Acres

  1. Thanks Colin for writing such a clear article. When we released BELLADONNA we ran into exactly the same problem and managed to find some of the hacking sources in Russia and the Middle east and went as far as alerting the website which they were hosted on and were successful in their removal… but the viral nature of this situation was more powerful.
    Now with our second feature film BUNNY which we have been holding very close to our chest and will be releasing in a completely different way, if you type in the title you can already find how to download it, except there are no links as the World Premiere will be in October. It feels like the pirate platforms have set up shop…and are just waiting to pounce on the product.

  2. Going to the movies is a ritual. The night out, the anticipation, the popcorn, the big screen, holding hands in the dark, sharing laughs and thrills. Conversely the P)rate, must go through the trouble of finding a website that shows a degraded copy and watch it on a tiny TV screen, in a room full of kids and dog fart, eating reheated spaghetti, while the phone keeps on ringing… What sort of miserable, petty, boring, soulless life form is the Pirate? Who needs them anyway? We do

  3. Great article. Don’t understand why more people in our industry aren’t up in arms about this issue, since their future paid employment is surely dependent on it?I’d love to see the Game of Thrones actors doing a spoof on what the low budget version of their show could be like.. you know, Bertoldt Brecht style!

  4. We feel your pain Colin. Filmscope have made three low budget features and piracy has had a major effect on our business. Having friends, crew and strangers saying they loved your film before it was released proving they stole it from the internet, and you watch them drive away in their Jag’s and living in their lovely homes – they can’t pay $15 and wait to watch it legally??? It really hurts. And they honestly don’t think they have done anything wrong!!! The system allows thievery to continue when it can be easily controlled by technology. Television and newspapers are regulated so why not the internet? Why are my children accidentally coming across porn on the internet on school computers? And why am I made out to be the bad guy when I suggest the government do something about the situation? There is something seriously wrong here.

  5. Colin’s lengthy piece above is all well and good if he wants intellectualise ‘why my dopey bumpkin murder farce was avoided by the paying public’ but what his genius fails to gasp is the fact that the audience it is intended for (if it exists) DID pay what they thought they should pay…ie:NOTHING. Calling a bumpkin murder film 100 BLOODY ACRES and then crying over lame ticket sales defies belief. ACRES is so unoriginal that I can indicate that MOTEL HELL in 1977 was the same film. Australia does not have a ‘grindhouse’ cinema market. Tourists being murdered in rural horror… gee where have I heard that before…..and Colin wonders why nobody left their home waving a $20 note saying ‘please take my money from me and show me the meat grinder…’

  6. Paul- I think you’ve missed the point- the discussion is about the moral ethics (or lack thereof) & flow-on effect of pirating. Your petty, small-minded spit about the production in question certainly doesn’t reveal either your educated inner film critic or your empathy with a problem that is rife within both film & music industries (I work in both). Just what are you doing here? I suspect your ship & crew of scurvy dogs awaits you in some stagnant pond.

  7. Look, there’s no denying that online film piracy is damaging, but there are several factors that aren’t being taken into account by all the articles that are writing stories about this.

    a) So, what about all those genre titles that flopped in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s before the internet was a thing? I remember hearing the anecdote (maybe it was in NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD?) that DEAD END DRIVE-IN, now considered an Ozploitation – and Aussie film in general, I say – classic played in limited cinemas for one week only when it was released in 1986. The horror genre is notoriously fickle in Australia.

    b) It was released on the same weekend (or maybe the second week?) of one of the few legitimate horror smash hits. That’d be THE CONJURING. No Aussie film, least of all one of as minimal screens as 100 BLOODY ACRES, was ever going to be able to compete.

    c) I can guarantee that those 35,000 people weren’t going to go out and see the film in cinemas anyway. No way. You don’t just somehow convince 35,000 to swarm a few cinemas across the country for a locally made horror comedy with no names (Angus Sampson does not count).

    d) Where is the VOD option for Austr… oh, wait, we don’t have one.

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