I get angry like fire gets burning. Ask around.
In some ways, this is a helpful trait. Get my anger going, the really good cherry-colored flames of pissed-offedness, and I will mount a juggernaut assault leaving the anger-inducing party absolutely miserable. You can be assured that I will follow through on my anger and turn it into a finished “work”, whatever that may be, regardless of outside opinion on the wisdom of that approach. This is not web hubris. Ask around.
On the other hand, if the party hadn’t thought through the ramifications of what they’ve done, or even better yet, see absolutely nothing wrong with that they’ve done, then I make a whole new enemy. On the frequent times I misstep in life, these non-fans have occasionally shown up to chortle and point. I move on regardless, glancing at that significant scar I gave them across their face, and realize that they should be given a little understanding as to why they’re taking such joy in whatever my current mess-up is. Such is the price of exhibiting such anger as I am capable of.
So be aware I put a waiting period on this article, before even starting to write it. I gave myself over two weeks on this one, friends. I let fourteen days go by before a single word was written here. That’s fourteen redemptive showers, a few miles of walks, and dozens of alternate projects and distractions. And I’m still pissed off. So realize that you’re seeing a post that is dulled with weeks of cooling off. If it’s still hot to the touch, so be it.
If you haven’t heard me talk about Peter Hirschberg before, let me summarize by saying I absolutely love this man. He’s part of a small group of individuals I’ve known in my life, people like Al Kossow and Gene Buckle and Jim Leonard who are like Scrubbing Bubbles going around Life’s Shitty Bathtub, making everything better behind them for having come into contact with them. I’ve been to his wonderful arcade a number of times since he finished building it. I’ve been following his work for well on a decade. So let’s establish that right out. I am a fan.
I also knew about a documentary he was part of, called Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. I knew about the work he’d done on it, from animation and titles to helping make a promotional arcade at Sundance when the movie premiered there.Â And when I finally had a chance to see the movie at Peter’s arcade earlier this year, I flew down for the chance and didn’t regret it at all. I don’t think anyone’s made a movie like it and I don’t know if anyone will again. So I am a fan of the movie itself.
Another movie came out at the same time and eclipsed Chasing Ghosts. Let’s not go into that too much, since it’s beside the point, but feel free to decide this somehow makes me unusually sensitive about the fate and future of Chasing Ghosts. You’re wrong, but ultimately it’s all irrelevant to where I’m going with this.
The Chasing Ghosts movie languished for well over a year, with the ultimate fate of the project up in the air. I and (I assure you) many others chatted with Peter and with other parties associated with the movie about how this thing needed to come out, that it’d be a shame if a film with so much wonderful historical footage and with such interesting things to say just disappeared off the face of the Earth. Peter knew this, and I knew his frustration, but it wasn’t his film to put out, not his money to lose, not his project to determine. He’d done work on it and was a part of the team but others held the property and were working along their own ends.
However, a little context here. At any given time, I’m tracking a whole load of documentaries that are in production or just finished. And by tracking, I mean I’m corresponding with, or on the phone with, or sending along material to people who are making documentaries. Some of these are subjects I wouldn’t cover in a million years, and others are of a subject that fills my heart with joy that somebody, somewhere, is going to do work in this area that interests me so much. The combining thread of all these projects is that the people behind them believe in them and in some way discuss or know of me and my work and we all chat about stuff. Sometimes I’ve given them cash and materials. Other times I’ve just given a pep talk. Some of them have fallen to the wayside as life and reality blew out their tires. Many are years into a project and will one day likely finish them, and I’ll be right there to shake their hand and take none of the credit, because there’s none for me to take. It runs the gamut. I assure you. Within this collection of documentary people are the people who made Chasing Ghosts. I didn’t pay money into it. I didn’t help. I just watched and chatted with Peter about it. There’s your context.
Ultimately, however, news came through: it was going to show up on Showtime, which if you’re not from around here is a movie channel on cable. They’ve been around a hell of a long time and as it turns out they’ve diversified to a collection of channels under the Showtime brand. They’re in a lot of homes. They cost money to subscribe to. They’re a real entity. And now this documentary was going to make an appearance there. A couple dozen appearances, actually. With some detective work, I found a listing of all the times it was going to show up. And in fact, Peter found out at least one showing was in HD. Since the movie was shot in HD, this was going to be a big deal. Money changed hands for the film being shown, and the film was going to get nationwide play. Good news. Very good news.
I’ve built this up enough. Let’s do it.
Here’s the thread. If they start deleting or changing their posts, don’t worry, I have a copy.
The thread is on a webforum for the Killer List of Videogames, which is an excellent resource for arcade game collectors, keeping track of the data associated with arcade games, and a bunch of ancillary facts about arcades and the industry of videogames. Like most such situations, the web forums are a jaunty little sidecar bolted to the main site. I am not discussing or judging the main KLOV site. I am not discussing or judging the KLOV webforum in general. I am discussing a thread on a webforum.
The thread is started by Peter Hirschberg, and is simplicity itself; a link to Showtime’s website to the scheduled showings of Chasing Ghosts. Here’s a guy coming along, who helped in his way to make a movie, letting people know where they can see the movie. Everybody should generally say thanks and move on. This does not happen.
A range of messages are the usual whines about not having access to Showtime. Fair enough.
“Bahhh, I don’t have Showtime. :(“
“Me neither. Release this on DVD already!!! :)”
“Good to know a network picked it up. Too bad its a premium channel. Still, a lot of people will see it and I’m sure Showtime has built in rights to broadcast it through other sister networks eventually.”
Within a short time, the calls come out for people to rip the Showtime show and put it somewhere for people to download.
“Can someone please capture it and put it on a friggin’ DVD for the rest of us who don’t bother subscribing to lousy channels like Showtime?”
“someone dump it on the newsgroups!”
And with that, comes the hue and announcement of the heroes who will do the heavy lifting of turning this broadcast into some sort of “ware”.
“Someone has to have a TV tuner/Media Center that can record this. If thats possible, Ill do the rest of the work and put it out there for everyone.”
“I’ve got a DVD recorder that hooks up to my TV and Cable Box allowing me to burn taped shows from my DVR to it. I’ll tape the Dec 3rd showing and send you a copy for upload. Just remind me via PM about this.”
“Someone has to have a TV tuner/Media Center that can record this. If thats possible, Ill do the rest of the work and put it out there for everyone. Its not hard work, just need to get a copy. I have other movie channels, but no Showtime, otherwise it would be out there.”
“Heres an idea for all of you who say they would pay $15 for a copy. With satellite, movie channels are $12/month. Why not pay the $12, get Showtime, cancel it at the end of the month, and record the show? Easy.”
This is to be expected.Â It is the modern era, after all, and if there is one doctrine that has progressed itself forward more than any other, it’s “If I can get it, it is mine.” Hard to argue with, really; a show is broadcast into your home, and within the confines of your own home there’s this easily duplicated entity, so you do what you want. Perhaps it’s not entirely wise to announce you’re willing to commit copyright violation on a public web forum, and perhaps Michael Hay (“brotherhay”) should think twice about announcing his willingness to do it so openly, but that’s his rope, his little dance. And really, when you think about it, saying that you’re willing to do something is not the same as doing it.
The environment is about what I expect when faced with something out there, something relatively easy to duplicate like audio, video, data or program: give it to me now, for free, and get past anything I perceive as a roadblock to me getting it. If you overcome these roadblocks and give it to me for free I will consider you more worthy. What’s taking so long?
Hirschberg himself is no fool. He realizes that broadcasting the episode on Showtime is guaranteeing its immediate duplication and transfer. He realistically points out the best quality version of the broadcasting schedule (HD) and why people should focus on that one:
“Was also just informed that the screening on Dec. 11th at 2:30 in the AM will be in HD. If you’re going to Tivo it that would be the one to record.”
“Tivo” in this context is pretty easy to discern: to copy. The show is being broadcast, it is going into homes with consumer-grade recording devices, it is going to be copied. Peter is at peace with this and while I don’t know the opinion of the other creators of the film, they can’t be expected to be floored by this turn of events. So let’s say that at this point, all parties are in agreement. The movie’s going to go be copied, and maybe in the future a DVD with extras will come out, and there we go, life in the present day. Gimme Gimme and where’s my show and all the rest of it.
Of course it doesn’t stop there. Let’s take a step back to talk about screeners.
Let’s go back a bit. Let me say that I have direct corroborated information from people I’ve interviewed about such things that a film like the original 1977 Star Wars was being passed around between a set of people who technically should not have had access to this film, before the film appeared in theaters. This happened. The reason it happened is because for many, many years, films have been available in one form or another for private showings. This was, at one point, the way to have it evaluated by management and distributors for eventual showings in theaters. A distributor would get a copy of a film, see it well in advance of release, and decide whether or not they were going to show it in their theater chain. Oh, sure, they could rip a copy using a transfer method I don’t feel like going into, and this most certainly happened, but to call this situation a limited distribution would be putting it mildly. I have no doubt that copies of these not-yet-released films ended up in other countries or in private collections. Movie reviewers, when they wielded power, would be shown pre-released films, and some of them in the comfort of their own homes or in local theaters where all the critics in the surrounding area and some general press as well would show up for a showing, all in advance of this official release date.
Duplicating film to other film is relatively a pain in the ass. Gaining access to reels of film from a distributed print of a as-yet-unreleased film is slightly more of a pain in the ass, then becomes much less of a problem after release. But people overcame these older roadblocks, just as they overcome the roadblocks of today, tiny as they may be.
The advent of videotape, however, changes this radically. Even though ghosting will probably occur, you can re-use videotape. It’s very compact, and easy to ship. And you can copy from it pretty easily, even though the copies will be pretty shitty, all told.
But again, videotape is pretty easy to move around compared to film, and everyone has televisions, and if the choice is to see a film for purposes of review or judgment on videotape or not at all, the entities in charge would prefer you see it. So videotape, over time, has won. DVDs have since supplanted the original technology, but the idea has stayed the same, even if the whole “gets really crappy with each successive copy” part hasn’t.
These pre-release available copies are now called screeners. They are given to various folks for various reasons, from the aforementioned judgement (Oscars, other awards) and review (reviewers, press) to general industry stuff (Pee-Wee Herman saw a review copy of Frankenweenie and chose the director of that film, Tim Burton, to direct Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). They are part and parcel, often, of making a film; you might have a case where a star is being asked to make a cameo appearance or narration of a film being worked on, and they will be sent a screener of the work print (the in-process version) to persuade them. A film with masses of special effects or production houses will send rough cuts to these contractors so those contractors can start making decisions about how to go about adding effects.
This then, in relatively short form, is what we mean by “screeners”.
Chasing Ghosts had a screener. This screener was of the rough cut of the film, with music that hadn’t been licensed yet, sound mixing that wasn’t quite complete, and editing that was still in flux. Sequences were in there that got changed around. Footage would be added in other places. But in the rush to get to Sundance, you have to have films somewhat ready in advance of the festival and you choose to get stuff out there and show it without spending too much time on polish. This is especially the case where you intend to sell this film to someone; then, by that thinking, you have to do what you can to get into something high profile like Sundance and do a little monkey dance and hope beyond hope someone will buy it.
Some people don’t have the time to see every film on the schedule. So, in those cases and in the cases of press and reviewers, the creators of a film make a screener available, a DVD that explains what the film is and which then shows it in whatever state it was at the time of the DVD’s creation. Information on contacting the creators is usually always created, and some even go as far as putting “SCREENER” or “NOT FOR SALE” at the bottom of the frame for the entire work.
Chasing Ghosts’ screener had different music, different editing, different sound mix, and was very simply not done. It came on a DVD. It was made available to a set of parties.
One copied it and handed it out.
That’s how it goes.
But on this webforum, in this place where one of the creators of the film had generously mentioned how to see the film, someone took it upon himself to distribute the screener he had acquired some time before. Right then. Right there.
That person was Mattroid.
“geez mod, stop beating around the bush So who wants a torrent?”
It was, of course, trivial to find out who Mattroid is, unlike the good old days when there was at least a token attempt to keep one’s handle or username consistently obfuscated to prevent detection by driven parties. Mattroid is Matt Miller of Houston, Texas. He runs ArcadeCrusade.com.Â His birthday is June 6th, 1982. Here’s his XBOX Live Account. His ICQ Number is 9315159. His AIM is arcadecrusade. His WII number is 1945 6732 4818 3591. Between all this, any particularly interested party should be able to track him down and ask him his motivations for distributing a copyrighted screener.
But you see, what angers me isn’t that he distributed the screener; it’s that he did so within a day or two of the legitimate release of the film, the release that was the final cut, all out there and ready to be snatched up by the self-styled heroic copy-paste crowd.
By putting this screener up when he did, Miller totally undercuts this film. It didn’t take long for the torrent to make its way from Mininova to the Pirate Bay and points beyond. And when the inevitable searches for “Chasing Ghosts torrent” rained in, what people found (and continue to find) is the screener. The not-as-well-edited, missing-parts, unpolished screener. What a douche.
Here, though, is when the rabbit hole goes deeper. And here is where I really get angry.
Miller invites commentary, and justifies his actions based on the flawed presumption that purchasing (purchasing?) an illegally duped screener gives him worldwide resale rights:
“Hopefully someone will get a good encoding of the Showtime HD version and share that one. But this one is good enough. Let me know if anyone has any problems. Also, if anyone is pissy for me sharing, let me know that too.”
“What I paid for the copy was fair and for the disc/case/shipping only, but that’s why I put it up on a torrent. This saves time, trouble, and shipping fees for those who can download it. The only difference is that the rip I uploaded is obviously lower quality than the DVD. I could have uploaded the DVD image, but that’s a download over 3GB, so I figured I’d encode it so it’s a bit smaller and easier to download. I assume the HD version will be up shortly after it airs anyway.”
Peter Hirschberg returns and, quite naturally, is horrified the sub-par version is now out for release just a matter of days before the “official release”. Taking up mattroid’s solicitation of comments, he makes his opinion known:
I don’t like the idea of a screener being passed around. In my opinion it takes it even one step further than piracy – sort of like when an author’s unpublished or unfinished manuscript gets leaked to the web. It’s just not a cool thing to do to steal something that was never intended to be seen outside of a specific group of people.
If this is a screener I’m not even sure if what you are watching is actually the finished film. I have no idea how it got leaked (I guess how they always get leaked) but why not just wait another day or two and watch the fully sanctioned Showtime version?
Like I said, who the heck knows what state the screener you are passing around is in. I know of a bunch of changes that were made to the film after the film festival circuit, so it’s definitely not going to be what shows on Showtime.
This direct confrontation, however, is a little too “real” for Matt Miller, because he doesn’t deign to respond to Peter once in the thread. He continues to post in it, of course, but a co-creator of the film he just happily pirated and spread to the world is not who he wishes to talk to at this juncture. What a coward.
The thread then contains the usual technical discussions related with bittorrent and xvid-encoded videos: how to make bittorrent work, determining audio problems, what is the best program for downloading it. Matt Miller responds to a “thanks, mattroid” post with this:
And thanks to those who passed it around via DVD who knows how many times before it finally got into my hands. Why it hadn’t been torrented before, I have no idea. Does that make me the bad seed or the savior?
Peter, naturally, gets heated about this situation and summarizes things perfectly:
Maybe because if the people with effort and time vested in the film torrented it Showtime wouldn’t have wanted to buy the rights to broadcast it for money? And why torrent the screener the week the broadcast is on cable?
I would rather thank all the people who passed it around and did not torrent it. Thank you people – for not torpedoing the efforts to get this movie shown for the first time to the general public, at the very least on cable.
Jessus people at least take this to another thread rather than talk about bootlegging the movie I worked on in the thread I started.
I’m sorry, I am a grump. Eff it.
Now, here’s the thing. Peter gets insulted for this.
What follows is a picture-perfect set of examples of how bad things have gotten. These are messages to the creator of a film about the distribution of that film:
“Re: why torrets.
Because your efforts seem entirely focused on making sure people DON’T see the film. You honestly think Showtime’s (a niche network to begin with) FIVE IN THE GOD-DAMN MORNING schedule is realistic? Sorry I don’t have a DVR. How about YOU pretend I stayed up all fucking night and recorded it on my DVR which doubled as my laptop? I end up with a digital copy either way. Instead of bitching about people downloading a copy of something your crew won’t bother to sell on DVD or show at a sane hour, or release to any theatres – AT ALL?”
“No one was touching it with a 10 foot pole before it was shared. PARTICULARLY THE CREATORS. What makes you think anyone gives a shit now? You can’t blame filesharing like the music industry does when their products suck or are mismanaged into the ground. Let me guess. You’re a chairman of an American automotive company?”
“Believe me NO B O D Y will ever get rich off a movie about arcade games, most people have NO idea who any of these people are nor do they care I am really surprised showtime picked this up instead of PBS. I’ll buy it sure-if they ever release it(their Only chance at making any money) But if I end up owing the DVD I’ll probably only watch it one more time and stick it on a shelf.”
To be sure, there are plenty of voices in there to speak at least some amount of logical sense. This is not a united front:
Peter, I have to say, I’m sympathetic to your complaint. I assume Showtime’s check is in the mail and they presume this film would appear online in some context. This is the risk of 21st century film distribution. I hope you have been well compensated for your digital expertise, it was the highlight of the film; almost like a character in itself.
I’ll be first in line to buy the DVD, once it materializes. In part from a guilty conscience but also because I know the film makers deserve compensation.
To put this thread back on track…Peter, great job on the animation. I’d love to see some of those clips on your site, and maybe a few additional ones if you have some WIP stuff. I too am anxious to buy this on DVD. I actually liked it as much as KOK, and would love to see some of these topics in even more depth. Let’s just hope they can put out a good DVD release with some deleted scenes or other backstory (except for Robert’s “art”).
Let’s talk a little about Robert’s “Art”.
There’s a scene in the original cut where someone pulls out erotic art he’s purchased. It flipped people out at the Sundance screening, and it was cut out of the final mix, because it didn’t need to be there. In other words, a natural and progressive improvement on the movie. This is what editing’s about; it was distracting, changed the tone of the piece unnecessarily, and wasn’t germaine to the final work. But the thread is filled with references to this scene, that is, references on a copy that has a much better version released just a day or two after the torrent is released. A complete, total undercutting of the new work.
The whole thing drives me up a wall, even now, even weeks after I read this.Â It doesn’t help to then see the endless, judgmental reviews of the people seeing the documentary, declaring the people in it losers and worse because of their recounting a hobby from 30 years ago for a film. To watch collectors of arcade games insulting people who were once high score champions on video games is, to anyone even 20 feet away from this subculture, like watching people in fursuits insulting a documentary about people in fursuits who play in a band. It just doesn’t scan, folks.
I found the movie uplifting, inspiring, enjoyable. But I’m me. There’s a scene where two people show how to use masking tape to beat Activision’s Barnstormer for the 2600. I found it amazing. But that’s me.
What have a learned from all this? Don’t let Get Lamp out of my sight until it is completely, utterly polished. Don’t trust a single person with it. Don’t drop it for quality control purposes except in situations of maximum control. Assume the worst.
This is a horrible lesson. I look forward to forgetting it.
But not today. And not this month.
Dude, fuck people.
Categorised as: documentary
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