The most common question I recieve about the documentary, and I mean hands-down, is something along the variant of “Are you going / trying to put the documentary on PBS?” It ranges, sometimes with “PBS” being “TechTV/G4″ or “IFC” or “Sundance” or the like. But the general question (asked over a hundred times, at this point) is basically, when am I going to get this on TV.
The weird, non-intuitive answer is I truly have no interest in the documentary being on television. I am not AGAINST it in the strictest sense, but I am not actually interested in wasting the time, energy and swimming upstream through lies to put it on the air.
The documentary very specifically cleaves out a portion of the population so that it is of more use to another portion. If you really don’t care about computers or telecommunications at all, you will not enjoy it as much as, say, Desperate Housewives. I worked very hard to make it so it provides technical explanations where I could, but it is still a difficult ride for, for example, my mom.
Television really does take anything it gets and jams it into the lowest common denominator. Here is what they will have issues with:
- It’s got “computer people” in it.
- The 8 episodes are not the same length.
- There is profanity.
- It is five and a half hours long.
- It is already released as a DVD.
- It is Creative Commons licensed.
Jason Kottke wrote a very complimentary essay about how PBS could take my documentary and put it up and save lots of money, since they’d only have to pay $50 and then they could rebroadcast it. It is complimentary, but it is somewhat naive (and I assume intentionally so). Lawyers who work in television, yes, even PBS, would be as likely to take a CC work and broadcast it without a sheaf of papers from me, signed and notarized, as you might be to eat a human foot.
Not only will they demand a sheaf of papers from me, they will also insist on a ton of sell-out aspects that I’m simply not prepared to do. They will want rebroadcast rights, reselling rights, distribution rights. They will want to clean up my oversights (the occasional boom microphone or the high-end noise in a couple rooms) and that’s fine… and then they will edit out content or demand I make changes, or ask me to get rid of “difficult” sequences that people won’t “get”.
Here’s a little story for you. I was interviewed last year about this documentary by TechTV/G4, for their Pulse news program. I was interviewed by Kevin Pereira, who had been a WWIV sysop in his early days, and absolutely loved BBSes, and was going to do a small story on them and discovered me. After a couple extended phone conversations about how this would go, we got along well, and planned for the crew’s visit to my house (he was going to do a number of interviews that day in the Boston area) and we got it all arranged. Totally as smooth as it could be.
However, they wanted some example footage. In fact, their standard contract basically shared ownership and distribution rights of the example footage. And I had to sign this contract. Kevin was obviously interested in the subject personally, and I could tell it was all this legalistic crap that was out there, making his job that much more difficult, just to show a few clips.
So basically, I sent them examples of footage that were outtakes. Stuff I couldn’t and would never use. And without a doubt, I am technically sharing ownership of that footage with whatever Skeletor’s Castle owns G4. So I took steps to protect myself, but the fact is, I had to sign a few contracts to appear in a news story about a film I was making. Imagine if I was showing the film on G4. It is a nightmare I see no reason to go through at this time.
I could turn this into a rant, but I’ll explain my position this way: I went to school for Mass Communications. I studied television, film, stage, public speaking, radio, and sound mixing. I learned techniques, theory, process, and many different aspects of these industries. Ultimately, as I got to the end of my college career, I started the process of going into “The Industry”…. and I walked away.
It is so bad in “The Industry” that “The Industry” actually makes fun of how bad it is. And the worst part is, they’re being favorable. No, it really is that bad. The amount of people working in a happy, successful life in the industry that aren’t accompanied by drug use, empty nights staring at the moon, or the same level of self-awareness as a shark, is a lot less than you would expect. I have no interest in it, at all.
I am occasionally lectured rather harshly about how I’m “throwing away money” on various principles and stands I’ve taken. Certainly the Creative Commons licensing has gotten that reaction in some (private) quarters. Such it is with the Television/Cable idea, where people think I’m throwing away money if I don’t get the DVD’s contents out there. But they probably don’t know that the television industry has had decades and decades to refine screwing people who “make stuff”, to the present day where they consider it a great favor that they’ve optimized the screwing process to the level they have. And I don’t just mean financially; I mean content wise, controlling copyright, distribution and then suing anyone in their way.
So no, I don’t think I’m throwing away money.
People who make their own movies dream of what I’ve gotten to at this point: a completely-under-my-control DVD set, with the highest quality I could muster, unencumbered with meetings with “the studio” to “fix” the film, and lacking screaming phone converations with no-nothings deep in the bowel of a cable channel. I was able to add everything I could come up with, oversee its creation to my satisfaction, and then sell it (or give it, thanks to CC) directly to people. I don’t have a mountain to scale anymore, I’m on the mountain.
Why would I work hard to jump off that mountain into a garbage pit?
Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled friendly filmmaker historian guy.
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