Sita’s Distribution Plan

Dear Audience,

That Roger Ebert article has brought a lot of attention to Sita‘s plight, and you are responding awesomely, as always. Audience, I trust you. So it’s time for me to share with you my distribution plan for Sita:

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First I must decriminalize it to the tune of about $50,000. That’s down from the $220,000 the rights-holders initially quoted. However, that “bargain” price comes with many strings: a “step deal.” This stipulates that for every 5,000 home video units sold (DVD or download sales or on-demand sales) I must pay another $750 per song, meaning $8,250, plus middleman fees (lawyer or negotiator – I’ve already been billed about $10,000 just trying to negotiate with these corporations). Also for every $1million at the box office, I must pay another $3,500 per song, or $38,500.

To put that in perspective, after theaters, distributors, agents, etc. take their cuts and deduct their costs, $1million in theatrical receipts would trickle down to about $30,000 to $80,000 for me. Luckily(?) it’s very unlikely to ever generate that much box office revenue, so I’m safe. DVDs are another story – the corporations measure their fees per unit (it works out to $1.65 per), regardless of how much the DVDs sell for.

But the good news is, promotional copies are traditionally exempted from step deals. Everyone needs to make free promotional copies for reviewers, festival committees, journalists, etc, and those shouldn’t be “taxed” by the licensors.

Which brings us to step two: while making one DVD pressing of 4,999 copies, I will place promotional files of the entire film – at all resolutions, including broadcast-quality, HD, and film-quality image sequences – online at archive.org and as many mirror hosts as volunteer to share it. I will license it either as Creative Commons Share-Alike, or some equivalent of the GNU/Linux license. This will prevent it and any derivative works from ever being copyrighted by anyone. Of course this license won’t apply to the songs, which will remain under copyright by their respective corporate overlords. But clearing the licenses first will decriminalize it, and make it safer to screen in theaters (and theaters will be free to screen it and charge for it without obligation to me). The free online copies are promotional copies.

“But Nina, how will you make money?” The way artists always make money: donations, commissions, grants, patrons, speaking fees. Indie distributors can’t pay anywhere near what it cost me to make the film ($80,000 + $50,000 to clear rights + $160,000 living expenses over the years I made the film + my TIME) but they do lock up the rights for 10+ years. In the Digital Age, distributors function primarily as a barrier between artists and audiences, prohibiting access rather than facilitating it.

I’m betting that you, audience, can find me more money – and certainly wider distribution – than a commercial distributor could. I get wonderful emails from people like you, people who offer to set up little fundraising screenings, who write good reviews, and do lots of things to help. Audiences are so eager to help distribute films! Old-school commercial distributors not only ignore the power of the audience, they actively fight it, calling it “piracy” and “theft” for example. And the audience comes up with much better ideas than I or a distributor could (I didn’t think of doing fundraising screenings, you did). And once I free the film, I won’t have to do any more work on it! You, the audience, can take care of everything.

Here are some ways I imagine copylefting Sita could generate some income for me:

1. Direct donations (aka voluntary payments, aka “pay-what-you-wish”)

2. Ancillary products: t-shirts, pins, toys, books, merchandise. Under a share-alike license these will be open-content as well, but there is little incentive for competitors to invest in producing such merch when it is already available (and much incentive if a certain product is not available, which is good). Any companies producing merch could use their sharing profits with me as part of their marketing; fans are much more interested in seeing their $$ go directly to the artist, than being all eaten up by some publisher or distributor.

3. Sponsorships. We expect the film to spread far and wide under a free license, and a sponsoring credit would be excellent publicity for anyone who cares to make it. Corporations sponsor shows on Public Television all the time for this reason (and under the free license, Sita can also be broadcast anywhere. At least one PBS station says they’re committed to broadcasting it.).

4. DVD sales and auctions. Although the film may be downloaded and copied for free, some will prefer an “official” signed DVD from the artist. These could be sold directly by me in a limited edition (of 4,999), and/or auctioned online.

5. Voluntary payments from public screenings. We encourage the film to be shown in theaters, schools, etc. and anyone can set up a screening and charge admission. They may voluntarily send some of the revenue on to me. Most exhibitors already expect to pay something to distributors, and although this is completely voluntary, we expect many will be willing to do this.

6. Selling 35mm film prints to collectors, archives, museums, and (hopefully) distributors willing to try a non-exclusive service model instead of the existing licensing model. Prints cost about $2,500 to make; I could sell them for $5,000 each. This also outsources the expensive work of archiving.

7. Probably many more that we just haven’t thought of yet!

Now dear audience, if you’ve read this far, what do you think of this? Maybe some of you want to help. Here’s some help I could use right now:

Money
I’m about to take out a $50,000 loan, and am already deep in debt from having to hold on to the film. But obviously I can’t guarantee I’ll make it back. Donors and sponsors will, as always, be acknowledged in the credits of the final version. Big donation? Big credit. Plus I can modify the “intermission” scene to include messages from really, really big sponsors – like $50,000 sponsors – so get in touch if you’re interested. Questioncopyright.org is hoping to arrange Fiscal Sponsorship for the Sita distribution project, so that you could get a tax write-off by donating to them. They would pass the whole thing on to me without skimming any of it (most nonprofits skim 7 to 10%). Questioncopyright.org is AWESOME.

Even with the $50,000, I still may not be able to clear all the songs. So far only Warner-Chappell and EMI have informally agreed to those terms, but they haven’t issued contracts yet, and they can still change their minds for any reason. The rest of the rightsholders are under no obligation to agree. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, will they work with me or against me? Hence my next request:

Is there a lawyer in the house?
I mean a good, progressive, Free-Culture-oriented lawyer. Right now we have questioncopyright.org‘s legal counsel, whose experience lies in Free Software. The California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation hasn’t yet agreed to help directly (maybe they’ll change their minds!) but is looking for additional pro bono legal help for me here in New York. The coolest legal work seems to be in Software; I haven’t yet found anyone in Entertainment Law who really gets it. But if you’re out there, please get in touch! Let’s make a Sita Legal Defense team.

Love,

–Nina

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“fairies are forever”

As we know from the US Constitution, copyright is permitted

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts

This was supposed to be for limited Times, but Big Media corporations like Disney have managed to extend copyright terms continually. How are their efforts promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts?

Fairies!

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That’s right, the way for the new Disney Fairies franchise has been paved by Disney’s tireless efforts to secure endless copyright extensions. Limited copyright terms would conflict with their “Fairies” business plan:

Mr. Iger said he singled out the Fairies line as a potential blockbuster in part because longevity would not be reliant on the aging of human stars, as is the case with “Hannah Montana” or “High School Musical.”

“As everyone knows,” Mr. Iger said, “fairies are forever.” (link)

Unlike nasty ol’ human beings, who age, and nasty ol’ constitutional limits to copyright monopolies, today’s copyrights – and the Fairy Franchises they protect – are forever. Let’s hope that’s worth sacrificing freedom of expression for, ’cause this is what “culture” is going to look like for a long, long time.

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my next project

I’m finally ready to start my next project. It will be about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and current threats to those traditions, especially our corrupted copyright system. As with Sita before it, “I’ve got a song in my heart and it’s gotta get out.” Also as with Sita before it, I have no idea at this point exactly what I’m going to make or how I’m going to make it, but I know it’s gotta be made.

Will it be another feature film? Or will it be a series of shorts, or a comic book? Whatever its form, I’m thinking it should be free by design. The problem with feature films is they’re still distributed through an old business model that runs counter to freedom of expression. It doesn’t have to be this way forever, but right now bad laws, media consolidation, and “gatekeepers” make the film world work against cultural progress. And I’m all about cultural progress, just like the US constitution:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”(link)

Unlike Sita before it, I am beginning from a place of financial ruin; I am broke and in debt. But I still have my computer, and I have as much time as the project needs. I do need a way to stay alive though. I need money, but NOT through suppressing speech or restricting access to my work, which doesn’t make money anyway. Suggestions? I could:

– ask for donations here
– partner with existing free speech organizations

If the latter, who can help? Where do they get money? Anyone want to partner up with me?

The copyright system has certainly failed me as a means to extract money from my art. Perhaps the old patronage system will work better, especially if distributed over thousands of supporters. Or maybe we should try this? What do you think?

“copyright was designed by distributors, to subsidize distributors, not creators.”

Read more at QuestionCopyright.org. Or continue reading here after the fold – the author, Karl Fogel, actually wants people to read his essay – imagine that! – and therefore grants permission for all to copy it.

Continue reading “copyright was designed by distributors, to subsidize distributors, not creators.”

I Be Illin’

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OK, so I’m not in Athens right now. I left Israel early. I got sick, is what happened. A little food poisoning, a little irritable bowel syndrome, a little appetite loss and not eating for days, a little nervous breakdown, and next thing you know I’m back in New York trying to recover in a friend’s apartment, because I lost mine to bed bugs in July – not that that could be contributing to my stress or anything.

IBS

Unfortunately airports and airplanes and trying to sleep in different time zones are kind of killing me, so I’m canceling personal appearances for the next few weeks. It is a serious bummer, because I love meeting audiences and doing Q and A’s; and also because some of my upcoming lecture gigs actually pay, and I need the money. But my body and brain apparently can’t take this much travel, and I’m really sick.

On a bright note, the Rehovot International Women’s Film Festival was amazing – really excellent films, and excellent women. I also met some wonderful animators from ASIFA-Israel.

Am I a Criminal?

Naturally I keep up on the latest grim developments in copyright law. The new Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act, which unsurprisingly “is strongly backed by the music and movie industries,” would “(allow) for the Department of Justice to bring civil suits against IP infringers.

Continue reading Am I a Criminal?

The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow

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Here’s that Very Good Idea I promised yesterday. Please bear with this long post, it’s worth it I promise.

I.

Everyone’s heard of Dark Side of the Rainbow: You play your own legally-obtained audio of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, while watching a legally-obtained video of the Wizard of Oz. As long as the audio is legal, and the video is legal, enjoying them at the same time is legal.

Continue reading The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow

Shit

Actually the DVDs have too many visual errors – from the messed-up HD master I was never able to view, because who has an HD system? – and I have to start from scratch, making a new HD master, new exhibition tapes (for the festivals that aren’t showing 35mm) and, if DVDs are to circulate at all, new DVDs. Please ignore my previous enthusiasm. This is the fault of my Post-Production Supervisor, who I am firing immediately. Oh wait that’s me.

I also accidentally dropped a Cintiq stand on my toe:

My Toe After Dropping a Cintiq Stand on it (click thumbnail – or should I say toenail? – for larger photo in gross-o-vision)

Yes, it’s been another bad day, but all is not lost, just the $7,500 I spent on DVD authoring and manufacturing, plus the $1,500 or so I spent on the HD master and all the HD, Beta, DigiBeta, and DVCAM tapes I made from it. Because I have an Idea. A Very Good Idea, I promise. More on that tomorrow. I’m going to bed now.

“Review Copies”

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Look what arrived today! Thanks to Gillian and Sylvie at Elektrofilm for the professional authoring in both PAL and NTSC formats that hopefully won’t crash like my home-authored version, and especially to my genius Momz for managing what turned into a more complicated logistical challenge than any of us imagined.

These aren’t for sale, of course – that would be illegal. They’re just festival screeners and review copies for, like, reviewing and screening in a festive manner.

Update: That said, it has some, ah, glitches. Glitches that apparently some people won’t notice, or think I did on purpose, but watching them feels like knives in my heart. Glitches which I must correct on the “next” version. Glitches which were in my HD master. Oh boy.

A Fair(y) Use Tale

Watch this now. It’s absolutely brilliant. And it’s 100% animated!

Information wants to be free, and so do I.

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My main goal with Sita Sings the Blues was always to have people see it, but the movie business makes that very difficult. I’ve been trying to go the movie biz route, really trying, with a sales rep and everything, but I’m about to throw in the towel. Distributors gain exclusive rights, and if they don’t exploit those rights competently, your film remains unseen (and for a little indie feature like mine, they offer to pay shit for those rights). Television actually pays very little for indies – about 1/6 what studio films get. Then there’s the problem that I can’t afford to sell my own film, due to the cost of officially clearing rights to the underlying compositions (the Hanshaw recordings aren’t protected by Federal Copyright law but the songs’ underlying compositions are still controlled by publishers and estates). I already owe $6,000 just for “festival rights” – the right to lose money sending the expensive prints to film festivals. To officially sell DVDs, I’ll need to purchase even more expensive rights – at prices designed for moneyed studios, not broke artists – and buy “E and O Insurance,” and doG knows what else. Yeah, yeah, I knew this going in, but I expected a distributor to pay for some of it. These costs are a pittance by studio standards, nothing at all really, but I’m still an “indie,” and no matter how many awards Sita wins, no distributor is going to spend real money on her.

I just want people to see the movie.

So last night I thought, maybe it’s time to investigate Plan C – giving it away for free. But how? Free online video like youtube is too low-quality, plus it’s not set up for feature-length works. I’m happy to give the film away for free, but I don’t want it to look like crap! There are higher-quality online venues like itunes, but those aren’t free. I’m pretty adamant about it being free, because

a) I can’t afford to sell it (see above)

b) no one should be denied viewing for lack of funds

c) I detest the movie business and their Digital Rights Management, and don’t want my film used to support their bullshit.

Yes, it would cost money to give Sita away – someone would have to donate a lot of server space and management. But it could be a worthy cause. Has anyone ever given away a really excellent, award-winning feature film online before? Maybe we could start a new trend. I’d ask for donations, of course – to me as an artist, not for the film – and there’s always merchandise, if the film gets really popular. I know many readers of this blog and fans of Sita are progressive, creative computer types. Any ideas? Any friends in high places who could help? I made Sita by ignoring the rules of filmmaking, I’d like to distribute her the same way. Information wants to be free, and so do I.

Sita FAQ #126: How can I get the DVD?

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I’m getting a lot of requests for Sita Sings the Blues DVDs, but unfortunately they’re not yet available for sale. The film’s sales rep has asked until the end of July to try to make a deal with a US distributor. I can’t release a DVD before then, because distributors all want DVD rights. Also, most festivals won’t accept films that are already available on DVD. So for now, we must wait. By the end of the Summer, Sita will either have a distributor, with an estimated release date for the DVD; or Sita won’t have a distributor, in which case I’ll publish and sell DVDs myself. Thank you for your patience!

Return of the Stork

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My short film The Stork went missing recently – in fact its entire host, clusterfunction.com, was alarmingly missing from the interwebs for a while. But it’s back now (whew!), and cluster-functional as ever. Nonetheless, here’s a link for another host, Channel13. (The clusterfunction link can always be accessed by clicking the little picture of a stork head on the right-hand column of this page. Click all the different pictures and see what happens!)

Channel13, like Frederator before them and every other corporate or commercial or just plain big web site wants me, the media creator, to direct my fans to their site for their benefit, throwing in a small bone – you can vote for my film, and if it wins it’ll be broadcast on Channel 13 next Saturday, and I’ll get $500. I can tell you that in spite of countless friends and family voting for the Sita Trailer, it failed to win the “Freddie Award” – meaning some other creator managed to send even more of their friends and family to the site (for free of course). So I’m not very optimistic about “winning,” and I’m pretty ambivalent about these contests, as they exploit small non-commercial fan communities. However, I want both the Sita Trailer and The Stork to be seen by as many people as possible, so I’ll continue to let bigger websites use them as hit-bait under the guise of a contest. I guess. Maybe.

Oh yeah, feel free to vote. Or not.

UPDATE: “Stork” didn’t win, but did lead for a while. Thanks to everyone who voted for it!

Whining Advisory Next 600 Words

I got back from Stuttgart, still coughing (albeit less), and slept for about 2 days. Now I’m slogging through my backed-up emails and figuring out what to do next. I looks like I’ll be touring the Eastern Hemisphere most of June and July, and sub-letting my Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Interested parties please get in touch – the apartment comes with my cat Bruno, who needs daily food and love.

You’d think I’d be all overjoyed about this, but actually I’m stressed and confused. Will Sita get a distribution deal? Will it win an award? Awards drive me crazy – I always want one, “for the sake of the film,” I tell myself, but surely it’s for my ego. Press too is like coke, I always want more; google blogsearch is becoming a compulsion. I compare Sita‘s progress with other films, which can’t be good. I’d like to detach from all this, but what about the festivals? This is my big chance to attend film festivals, it’s not like I can postpone them all until next year. But film festivals are orgies of comparison: who’s getting the most press? the best reviews? whose shows are selling out first? who’s getting the award? These are enemies of the Muse, and I’m not sufficiently mature to maintain my equilibrium in their midst.

Also, I am out of money and racking up expenses like you wouldn’t believe. Take “film festival rights”: publishers charge at least $500 a song just to play the film at festivals – and I don’t get money at festivals, I spend money to make the prints and stuff. I’m spending money I don’t have to get the film out there, and although something always works out, I have no idea how I’m going to pay for French subtitles (the “honor” of attending the Annecy Animation Festival is costing me over $5,000), or legal fees, or rent. Someday the film could bring money in, but I’m not sure how I’m going to make it to that day, if it ever comes.

What a whiney post this has turned out to be. On the brighter side, I’ll post next about all the sweeet reviews Sita got at Tribeca, with tasty little quotes selected by Publicity Bitch herself. But I am not Publicity Bitch. I am a servant of the Muse who is losing her way.

“a tiny slice of the world”

Apparently an American distributor rejected Sita Sings the Blues because, culturally, “it only relates to a tiny slice of the world.”

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