Information wants to be free, and so do I.


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.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

27 thoughts on “Information wants to be free, and so do I.”

  1. Hey N, have you looked at They’re a much, much higher-quality alternative to YouTube, and I believe they’re gaining some traction out there with the kids. (See also… there may be others but I just haven’t lurned them yet.) Another method would be getting it distributed via something like Vuze, a BitTorrent-based video sharing scheme – I’m a bit fuzzy on how that last one works, but I have seen some quality (resolution-wise) stuff on there. Just stumbled upon this article which may have some relevance, re: the business side of online video. Good luck: I’d really like to be able to view Sita again (and again)!

  2. This post on John August’s blog might just have some helpful information on Indie film distribution through non-traditional means –

    and another post about August’s film the Nines and what he would have done differently –

    Another unique distribution attempt sprung up as a result of the writer’s strike with Joss Wheedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – streaming it free for a week with pay down-load available on itunes to be followed by a dvd.

    Not necessarily practical for you but maybe they’ll spur an idea that is practical.

    I hope to see your film someday – The clips you posted are great – Of course it would be even better if you find a way to make the art you want and be paid enough to live on.

  3. This is distressing – Sita should get a wide release! Vimeo’s a better option than youtube, to be sure. The Dr. Horrible thing is a potentially cool model, perhaps relevant to you? Otherwise, releasing via download from your site, or via torrent files?

  4. How about ? Not affiliated with them, s friend works there. Wonder if they might pay you.

  5. Nina –

    The first idea comes to mind may not be a good one, but I thought I should mention it just in case:

    The other way to distribute Sita in high quality for free is on the various file-sharing networks (the legacy of Napster) – the most obvious one would be Bit Torrent (which I think is the pre-eminent peer-to-peer filesharing network these days for movies and TV shows).

    The upsides are that you could easily distribute a pretty high quality copy & you wouldn’t have to worry about hosting and things like that. The downsides are that once it was out there, it would be out there for good (no control over the copies once in the wild) and perhaps more importantly – mostly only people who already know how to use the filesharing networks would be able to access your stuff (excluding people you might give instructions to) – that seems pretty hard.

    You would also still need to market it, to get people to know to look for it and to download it. You could perhaps include a “Tip Jar” screen in it at the start, end and perhaps intermission.


  6. Hi Nina,

    I would really like to see your movie “Sita sings the Blues”. I read your blog about giving it for free. Why don’t you sell your own movie online ? upload it on a server, and have a download link on the movie’s website with payment options.


  7. IANAL but would the rules and costs associated with commercial distribution be favorably affected if the distribution was by, through, and for the benefit of a non-profit organization?

    I loved the clips from Sita and would happily buy — strike that — will happily buy a full copy when it becomes available.

  8. Nina,

    I saw your movie at your fund raising screening last year at NYU. I will remind you that not only did my brother and I enjoy your film, my sons, both 7 and 8 at the time, enjoyed it (they didn’t go to sleep and viewed all the way through). I know you are in a tough spot financially. I do understand. But please, be patient. Do not give away your film for free. Not yet. To do so guarantees that you will never derive any direct compensation for your hard work. I am more than willing to pay to see your film. It would stand to reason there are many thousands more who would do the same.

    I also realize you are well aware of this so are far more well informed than I. Having said that, investigate digital online viewing. Consider trying to work a deal with Itunes to screen and showcase your work. Heck, you produced the movie on their hardware. Moreover, I do believe if you can determine what your exact costs are you can very well sell direct to DVD/Bluray. In fact, your film is made for large screen Bluray viewing. I will think about ideas as they come to me. I have always been inspired by Makota Shinkai and you. Don’t quit. All of this to say, don’t give up!!!


    ps. if this comes off a bit rabid sorry. You’re the inspiration for many.

  9. You know who might know? The good folks over at–they are all about free, remixing, no DRM, etc. etc. and geeky smart types, generally.

    I would just forward this to them myself, but they get so many inputs, something from you yourself is a lot more likely to get posted.

    If you get this worked out, I know lots of folks would be happy to pay/donate to you for your tremendous effort. Would your copyright problems go away if it’s free, though? I mean, would they come after you for your donations? That would suck.

  10. The trailer is already up on…that site hosts all sorts of free videos and in every quality you want right up to DVD quality. Why not just upload the movie there?

    I’ve literally been waiting for years to see this completed and it would be absolutely horrible if someone were to pick it up and not do a damn with it. Also, maybe try contacting these people ( and see if they have anything to say.

  11. animation co-op? cartoon brew?
    The latter has a minimal pay for download and good films. maybe AWN would change there hosting codecs for Sita?

  12. Hello Nina,

    I was pointed towards this blogpost of yours from The House Next Door, and after reading what you’ve written I became very curious about your film. So I checked out the trailer, the website – all of it. And I must say that your film seems very original and appealing to me – I’m certain that it has commerical potential for a world-wide audience, at least within its niche. Just look at idiosyncratic films like Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir – they reach audiences that couldn’t have been meticulously researched about and found beforehand. The deeply personal animation films are here to stay (because audiences loves them)!

    Writing from Norway, as a film columnist and somewhat international film blogosphere addict, I can support many of the links and the advice that has been put up here by other commenters. I’d like to add that a site like seems to cater a widespread global audience for “art films” from around the world. They might me a possible partner for digital screenings of your film.

    And as the others here write: John August is a must-read.

    Locally, from my point of view, I’d like to recommend you to make contact with Films from the South festival in Oslo (takes place in October each year. Submission deadline is 1st of August, no submission fee I think). One of the awards at that fest is financial support from The Norwegian Film Institute to a local theatrical distributor so that the film will be distributed in Norwegian cinemas.

    Your film seems to me as a natural fit, and I also think it could play well in Norwegian art house cinemas. I’m writing an email to the people at the fest to alert them of your film (but they may already know it, for all I know).

    Anyway, this was too long, sorry, but in essence: The presentation of your film intrigued me, and I’d love to see and I’d love to help, so that’s it. Best of luck, and try finding the balance between not giving it away, but still opening up so that the audience can find you. Because we’re out here, and we’re always looking.


  13. Thanks everyone!

    Karsten – notes like yours give me hope.

    My Festival Relations Manager (aka my Mom) will submit to the Oslo festival. Ironically, the film is doing so well at festivals that we are out of prints for October. But maybe they will accept HD. I’d make another print (we already have 4) but they cost over $2,000 each. It is such a strange problem to have, not being able to afford the success of my own movie.

    I found John August’s (thanks Dan!) blogs about distribution very interesting, as well as the many comments that followed them. I’m currently at the Durban Film festival in South Africa (another irony of my life is that I’m traveling the world even though I’m broke and homeless, because festivals pay for my tickets and hotels) and other independent filmmakers confirm this is the worst year yet for independents to find distributors. Everyone is talking about self-distribution, but many filmmakers are even more exhausted and daunted than I am. I still have some fight in me though!

  14. Hi Nina,

    Have been looking forward to seeing SITA at some point, having heard about it for the past couple of years.

    I wish I had something good to say as to distributors… like, maybe pursue foreign distribution first. The fact is, unless your film is some sort of commercial monster to be exploited, you’re gonna get screwed — hell, you’ll STILL get screwed even if it was totally commercial.

    If you go with self-distribution (the way a lot of filmmakers are going), you’re still going to have to deal with the copyright issue. It might be worth it to attempt to deal directly with the estates and see if there’s a way to cut a deal, since you’re not with a huge studio with lots of cash.

    You’re also looking at spending as much time pushing your film as it took to make it, which will cut into time to create new projects.

  15. Hello Nina,

    you should have a look at I think you can sell or give your film for free away through their website/player.

    Even if you give your film away for free – I am not sure what musical rights you have or don’t have – it wasn’t clear for me from the posting – you still can’t give away copyrighted material e.g. recordings from another band.


  16. I remember being shown some of the episodes two years ago in class. I was looking for them again but sadly could not find them.

    I hope you manage to get it out somehow, I remember enjoying what I did see and hoped to see the finished movie sometime.

  17. Sorry to hear about the silly legal issues holding you back. I was hoping to someday buy your movie on blu-ray. 🙂

    Please look in to releasing your film on bit torrent. Maybe even release it as a creative commons with source files?

    Contact some of the bit torrent server admins from piratebay or mininova, they might help you get it out there.

    Don’t quit now. Things will get better.

  18. As mentioned previously, I would consider the Dr. Horrible model of distribution. Post somewhere for free (I am a little vague on those details, I believe in this case it was hulu) and then sell on iTunes as well. I would be happy to buy a fellow animator’s work, and pass on the link to friends as well.

    Best of luck with all of your adventures!

  19. First of all, kudos for pulling off the incredibly difficult feat of making an animated independent feature film. I’m very impressed!

    here’s my suggestion: why don’t you ask some talented young musicians to “knock off” the music for free or deferred pay. Of course you’d have to redo your mix and strike new prints, both huge ordeals.

    But it might be worth it, because then YOU would own the rights to the music & you could finally sell your film.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

  20. The film looks fantastic –
    I specialize in web compression and would be happy to help you make it look good on the web – maybe even assist in the hosting and setting as a “free” itunes podcast so that people can still see it that way

    also im on the programming board of the Vermont International Film Festival and would love to solicit the film for this years festival

  21. As Bernard said, Bit Torrent will allow 100% full quality free distribution, but if you want to make your money back drop me an e-mail. I’ve got an idea that might get a more reasonable offer from distributors.

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