Your Roger Corman Future —
OK, let’s begin by establishing some things.
Currently, by the standards of independent (actually independent) filmmaking, I’m fucking Steven Spielberg. I’ve made two films, BBS and GET LAMP, which are not even films – one is a box-set miniseries and the other is actually three documentaries combined with a coin. They’re films++, a reflection of various childhood influences which I will go into shortly. The two films have grossed (versus netted) six figures apiece. I am my own distributor. I am my own agent. I am my own packaging and art director. My subjects are specific and niche and in both cases, the films stand as the defacto baselines of the cinematic meditations on the subject. I am, by most standards, a wild success. Therefore, if I’m saying anything now, I’m saying it within the guise of the guy who has actually succeeded at making independent films.
And let me make clear, independent using the word independent and not the bullshit term Independent which means “we want to be just like Hollywood but Hollywood won’t return our calls so we’ll just be assholes by our own selves and WOO HOO HOLLYWOOD CALLED SEE YOU SUCKERS”. I’m afraid to coin a new term for people who are making films who are not part of some vast Hollywood-wannabe network, because then that will be used. So I’m saying I’m that independent where you are literally just some person with a camera and a computer. And you make a movie or something. That one.
Here, then, are my predictions for the coming years:
- It will be strange to buy physical media for your entertainment by 2013. Strange like buying a CRT TV for your house, or buying vinyl records. You will do it, because you’re of a certain type, but you will be in a fun little minority and it will be an effort to acquire the physical media. Right now, it’s just annoying. Within a few years, it’ll be pretty strange. Eventually it will be totally weird.
- There will be a relatively small number of networks for distributing entertainment media to stuff. Probably not more than a dozen, and #11 and #12 will be like visiting the Mojave Phone Booth.
- These networks, by and large, are going to fuck the media creator, hard. I mean, really, really hard. Left with boxer shorts in mouth up against a dumpster hard.
- To survive, films that are not locked into these networks in some way are going to be even more pathetic and desperate than they are.
Let me quickly jump back to how I make films, which are a very specific way and which either gives me some authority or diminishes it, depending on your point of view.
I make extremely geeky films that take years to craft that attempt to be exhaustive, human-oriented narratives brought out of countless interviews of technically-astute people. Not content to merely assign a bunch of pre-fitted spoken narrative from an announcer over slowly-moving slides, I attempt to bring in the voices and the accompanying material a sense of what caused this event or subject to happen. I leverage current technical limitations to make very large bodies of work, in the multiples of hours in length, and provide them as a finished, massive package which itself is an integration of the values and themes of the subject.
That has the potential to sound like crap to people, but it’s what I’d put at the bottom of some statement when I was required to make a statement. Now let’s rip it apart.
Because I have a strong sense of wanting a range of voices, that means I have to travel and interview those voices, i.e. people. Because I want to integrate all their speaking in a way that makes sense, it ends up being many months of editing (BBS was roughly 10, GET LAMP roughly 9) to get things to just “work” like they do. And because I have some sort of weird attitude about craft, the packaging for these finished works is borderline insane in terms of quality.
When the price of the most recent film, GET LAMP, came out ($40, plus shipping), a wide variety of people responded negatively. I’ve saved a few for your edutainment.
- “45 dollars? What if you just want to see the documentary, not experience it and get all sorts of swag? To someone who is just interested in documentaries about gaming, and not specifically text based adventures and ridiculous swag, this is sort of a slap in the face.”
- “That is great, but what an evil price tag. It is likely to eat me.”
- “it’s a ridiculous price point, basically begging people to pirate it”
- “I have no idea who this dude is – I’d probably give it a shot for 4/5 bucks for an online rental but at $40, I won’t even consider it and will have forgotten it exists by tomorrow, which is a shame”
- “I can appreciate attention to detail but who would want to watch something that long? On a subject like BBSs and Text based games? Guy needs to hire an editor to reign that shit in”
- “$45 = blow me”
- “Ouch. Geez. I was really excited about this, but not really $45 excited. Maybe in a year or so they’ll release a coin-less cheapy edition.”
- “I might be willing to pay a small fee for a downloadable version, but $40 is kind of insane.”
I have to point out these are real, from forums, and every single one was written with absolutely no knowledge of what the final product would be; they came out months before the movie was ever released.
Instead of coming into their homes at night to strangle them (and at least three have double-bolted windows, so what’s the point), I’m mostly bringing up this collection of saucy quotes to point out what’s going on here: the film, the idea of film, is rapidly becoming devalued. Not just devalued; decimated.
A lot of people talk about Netflix like it’s the natural place for this to all end up. If they don’t want a copy of BBS to pay for and watch, they’ll just “wait for it to come out on Netflix”. After watching dozens of people say this, along with accompanying language, I’ve determined a lot of people don’t understand what Netflix is anymore. They think it’s some sort of iTunes. It’s not iTunes. iTunes is a whole different set of problems, but iTunes works by a royalty system – Netflix most certainly does not, unless you’re in such a huge position as a film library that Netflix has nervously sent some people over to your office to negotiate with you. Netflix is not sending anybody over to the TEXTFILES.COM offices to negotiate with me.
Should BBS ever end up on Netflix, I will get $40 for each copy they buy, and then I will never see money from it again. That people would think that a $9.99/month fee to Netflix (now less than that for a streaming-only license) is somehow imbued with royalties, that somehow that tenner gets split among the dozens of films you watch that month, strikes to me at the heart of what’s going on – a greater and greater insulation of cost versus value.
I am at this point convinced that a large amount of audience have little or no idea of what it costs to make a film. I’ve encountered folks who literally think the cost is the physical media of printing the DVD and the packaging, and if they download a copy at zero, my costs are therefore zero, and we’re quits. I’ve been informed what my movie should cost and the next set of calculations are based on that should. And I’ve encountered a lot of strange ideas over what exactly constitutes a fair price – and the crime I am committing not holding to it.
And can you blame people, when movies are available for $2 or a game goes on sale for $1 or entire albums are handed away for free? It’s nice and all, and the buffet is delicious, but the result is that an actual piece of work that represents years of effort ends up providing a ball-smack-level of sticker shock.
So the two solutions are obvious. Make no profit, or make shittier movies.
Here’s a good place as any to give you this letter. It was sent to me; not written as a “open letter” or as a thinly-veiled reference to me or on some message board deep out of site behind a registration-only wall. This was written specifically to me as the filmmaker.
Just thought I would shoot you an email letting you know in my opinion 45 dollars is way too much money. You know this will be up on TPB with high rez scans of all the feelies and crystal clear copies of the films within the month. You even have an account on there, so you know it will happen. I love Infocom games, and I love text adventures, and this documentary sounds amazing. Yet being a young kid on my way off to college I have no way to justify buying this product for 45 dollars. I’m really sorry, but I felt since I cannot afford to monetarily reimburse you, I would express my appreciation and thanks at you creating such a labor of love. Hopefully one day I will see it (it hasnt been seeded just yet) but until then, thank you very much and hopefully there are more deep pocketed IF fans out there than cheap college bound kids. My recommendation is that you make just the film a free download, provided you donate at least 5/10 dollars through paypal, and then leave the “deluxe elven quality” package at 45 dollars (one in which no grues were harmed in the process of filming of course). I, being as cheap as I am, would even donate and I feel that a lot more people would too. Look around for articles about your film and the comments invariably say that 45 bucks is too much. For a documentary about a genre of gaming in which the only simple and complete way to get copies, of more than the most mainstream of titles and in modern day formats, is through pirating the Unofficial IF collection you must know most of your audience today will be familiar with torrenting. I really hope you make some money off this and I really cant wait to see it, but for $45 dollars I will wait. Best of luck and sorry to chew your ear off!
You’ve got to really put this one up on the lift and root around under it to see where it is coming from and where it’s trying to take me. Again, this was sent directly to me, an education from someone half my age explaining how the world works; he felt I needed to understand this, this idea of what things really “cost”. His business model, a sort of begging freemium, is well established and predates him by a while, but his interest in me going that way is by explaining to me, in no uncertain terms, that not only should I do it this way, that if I don’t, I will be pirated. (As a side note, a high-res scan of the gold coin is not yet as good as the gold coin, but he seems to think otherwise.)
I am less specifically interested in the kid himself than what he represents – an idea that things are inevitable, that films of a specific quality just happen, that they should all go to a $5/$10 optional payment, and it will all work out, like a game of Super Mario Brothers. That in a world where you “will” end up on The Pirate Bay, that people will gravitate towards payment regardless, and not just consider your work a part of the background, another thing to play for 15 minutes until moving onto the next shiny button. I think he’s right that I am going to encounter more and more of his type, who do not just consider these works to be side-effects of the ecosystem of technology, but not, in the greater sense, worth any more than anything else. A movie as ringtone; a song as system beep; a book as forum post.
We did this already. His name was Roger Corman.
Roger Corman made (and makes) shit films. They are shit. They are truly, honestly, shit. That they occasionally are not shit is mostly a result of several factors not related to the making of the movie. Any aspects in which they are not shit, such as the director or the actors or crew, quickly abscond to greener, non-shit pastures as soon as is feasible. He was/is a leg up into a tough industry, but a could-die-anytime car is a leg up into moving to a new city, and not what you want to be driving around once you’re in that city. So again… shit.
But what they also were are cheap. Super cheap. Cheap cheeeeaaapppppp, re-use paper plates and wash plastic cutlery cheap. Films shot in 2-3 days. Shot for less than fifty thousand dollars. One of my favorite Corman tricks is to place a camera in an open space and film four scenes, one after another, by turning the camera 90 degrees between takes. You end up, inevitably, with four different backgrounds and the setup time is trivial. You get things done in 12 hours that used to take five days.
This is an environment where great stuff can happen, to be sure, but it is also a place where you are guaranteed a lot of excruciatingly awful stuff will happen. But goddamn, that stuff is cheap. Sell that for five bucks a head and you’ll not lose a dime.
What I’m saying is, if you degrade the meaning of media to the point that you expect, nay feel the need to write the filmmaker should he decide to charge for his work, you will get Roger Corman. You will not get me. If you get someone like me, you will get one film out of them, one that cost them a lot of money but which they are very proud of. But they won’t be able to go another round – there’s no money to do it with.
If I sound like the cantankerous old guy in this entry, I’m sorry. I go out of my way to be upbeat about the whole thing, about all the good stuff done and when amazing things happen and when I see brilliant work out there. I’ll bring you news of cool stuff where the cost is free to you; just go watch this short documentary film. It’s great! It’s beautiful! And it’s free!
But it’s 8 minutes long. It has one person talking. It brings in absolutely no money for the creators, and it may or may not ever have a follow-up. It certainly has little chance of ever seeing a DVD, or getting subtitles, or bonus features provided for you.
But it’s free.
Welcome to the future.
Categorised as: documentary | jason his own self
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What about selling a digital copy of the movie it self for like 10 dollars? No “voluntary donation gets you a free movie”, but rather “Pay me 10 dollars via payPal, and you’ll get a AVI of the movie and nothing else”. Do you think that this is something that might a) help you finance your second movie and b) give a cheaper alternative to those who want to see your movie, but can’t spring for 45 dollars?
a) No. b) Well, yes, $10 dollars is cheaper than $45.
I wrote a long comment. It was stupid. I think in 2013 you will still be doing your thing. I think in 2023 you will still be doing your thing. You won’t have compromised on what you truly believe is important, but nor will you be producing the same thing you produced before.
Looking back at the previous paragraph, my summary comment is stupid too, but I’ll post it anyway.
1) I wonder what would happen if technology could 100% prevent piracy. Would more people be willing to purchase at full value?
2) Are there other ways to make money from the movie other than the movie?
3) I don’t think we will necessarily consolidate distributors again like we have before. Look at your stuff, Animusic, even “The Secret.” The Internet makes distributors obsolete, I hope 😉
4) Did documentaries ever make real money? Where they ever popular until recently? I wonder if anything intellectual by nature will ever make money in this country?
Great article though.
“wait for it to come out on Netflix”
I think you missed the part where this has changed to mean “Netflix streaming – Who the fuck cares about physical discs?”. Are you telling me there’s not some kind of royalty system for when Netflix streams movies across the internet into people’s computers and Xboxes?
“I will be pirated”
Well you know that that’s true. I mean, obviously. I can’t imagine you’re denying that. As for the attitude towards commerce and copyright and quality – Well, we’ll see what happens I guess. The battle for the attitude that could lead to the Corman-climate you describe is already over.
I’ve had the GET LAMP purchase page open in my browser for far too long.
The comments from the ‘bite me’ and ‘evil price tag’ and ‘omg i can’t believe it’s not free’ people piss me off. Everyone is entitled, aren’t they? What else they did, however, was remind me that I actually WANT to give you money for what you’ve created.
You have my $45 and I’ll have my gold coin.
Thank you, Jason.
I think that the problem isn’t that it’s too expensive; it’s that it’s not expensive enough. Price signals quality, and if people aren’t noticing that $45 means that more went into it than a $2 hollywood razmataz production, maybe it should cost $100. (And if you lose half your audience you still come out ahead.)
I’m sure that there’s a balance between “wanting to record history” vs “showing history to as many people as possible”, but you produce such specific, seemingly-definitive stuff that I think people would pay for it to support its existence. I, for one, am not especially price sensitive to things that I want to know about, and I’m sure that for the people that pre ordered this, or the BBS Doc, or contributed to the kickstarter campaign, they would still be interested in the quality stuff that is produced.
My experience in the consulting business is that the cheapest clients are the most difficult in general, even not factoring in the profits. And so cutting them out actually makes life better in most ways. I’m not sure how that really translates to retail but…
Wow, so many possible directions to go with this.
First of all, i think you are right when you say the general public directly associates the physical production costs with the price of the finished product. I get this all the time in regards to my books. Anyone can go to Lulu, enter a few variables and see what it costs me to print my books, which has resulted in a few potential customers accusing me over overcharging. What those people never factor in is the year of labor I put into my first book. When I do the math and divide my profits by the hours I put into Commodork, it’s slightly less than minimum wage.
I can see how someone skimming your blog might get the idea you are overcharging for your movies based off the statement in your first paragraph that Lamp has grossed six-figures. Based on previous blogs and tweets, you have mentioned several times the quality and cost of the coins, and I see that a lot of people think a “coinless copy” of Lamp would be cheaper (I’m sure they are right). (For what it’s worth, I think the people wanting feelie-free copies never owned an original Infocom game back in the day, but I digress.) You mentioned the months of editing, but I think people might find the price of admission easier to swallow if you mentioned something like, “I flew 200 times and stayed in 200 hotels for these interviews” (just an example). I don’t think most people consider those costs that were incurred while obtaining the footage you used.
As for the Netflix shift, well, yeah. Here we are? Half the forum responses I type these days are met with comments of “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) — we’re talking anything over a couple hundred words. I don’t know that “kids” (anyone under 25, hah!) want to “own” physical collections of things like we do/did. When I was a kid, you were a bad ass if you had a drawer full of Atari cartridges or a disk box full of floppy disks (or a shed full of arcade cabinets …). To my kid, there is no correlation between “physical stuff” and “media”. His iPod doesn’t physically get any larger the more music he stores on it. His gaming prowess is measured in digital downloads and virtual trophies, not shelves full of games on display. I have roughly 2,000 DVDs on shelves in my home; I think the younger generation calls this “clutter”. When everything is available everywhere instantly, there ceases to be a need to own anythng. These kids have done what I want to do, and cannot — they have seperated the physical medium from the content. They don’t want the coin, the packaging, or the discs. They want it to be available (can’t believe I’m about to use this phrase) “in the cloud”, viewable on demand. Their storage shelves are not in Information Cubes in someone’s backyard, but in the ether.
The push of “virtual content” (if you will) will continue, and I think your prediction of 2013 is right (I predict that the next generation of gaming consoles will be largely based around downloadable content). The DRM makes the content harder to pirate and easier for content owners to control. The profit margin is so small (at least in the book field) that I make literally nothing from iTunes sales. These digital warehouses are great for consumers, but not so good for independent content creators.
Personally I think I’ll always be buying physical media, although I highly doubt it’ll be DVD or BluRay. Now give me a USB key with that crap on, DRM free that I can slurp in to my media system and we’re cooking with gas. Kind of like the Beatles digital collection sort of thing. The USB key is both the medium and the feelie you put on a shelf to admire.
Is Get Lamp worth $40+ though? Maybe, maybe not. I was never really in to the whole IF thing (late to the party as per normal) so whilst I’m curious about its history… I’m not $40 curious with my level of disposable income. *shrug* But no, if it were offered for $10 to download just the video I’d probably skip it. I want that feelie damn it! The whole package is important to me. So for me it’s a ‘worth it’ but if I were 5 – 10 years younger and had never seen Leather Goddess on the shelves when I was a kid… no, I don’t think I’d ever be interested.
Frankly though, having seen/heard Jason’s talks, watch the BBS docu and such I’d rather hand him $40 for something I know is going to be well produced, well executed and well packaged than I would $20 for Hollywood’s ‘G. I. Joe 2’ or similar shovelware that MIGHT be good (if I squint and turn my brain off).
But that’s me and to quote the meme: Haters gonna hate. No matter what you do.
The consumer is cheap. Always has been, always will be.
Take airline service for example. Once upon a time, you had a decent amount of room, you got free drinks and food, and quality service.
(You also didn’t get your choice of getting irradiated or molested prior to boarding, but that’s an entirely different issue.)
However, people being people, said “hey, this costs too much. Why should I pay 25% more to airline A when airline B will get me just as there for less?”
This results in a race to the bottom, where we find cattle-car accommodations, check-yourself-in kiosks, extra fees for checked baggage, and not a live person within miles to help you.
Maybe $45 is too much. I know right now it is more than I can afford. But hey, instead of complaining about it, my response is to just do without it. I don’t deserve access to your hard work for less than you want to sell it for.
You are not marketing to people who don’t have $45 they can spend on something like this. Your market is people who do have $45 and might be willing to spend it.
Sort of like how I’m not in BMW’s market, no matter how much I might enjoy one of their cars. And no matter what opinions I might have of BMW’s products, I’m not in their market, and they quite rightly ignore me.
I’m glad that someone like you had the interest and passion to put something like this together, and I really hope that when I can afford it, you’ll still be selling.
Although when I think about it, it’s a little messed up that people are willing to subsidize your work for a year, but won’t cough up $45 for something tangible.
I think 2013 is too soon. The big problem with Internet video content is the bandwidth. There are too many carriers that have bandwidth caps to make moving entirely to the cloud for video feasible. Granted, this will change over time, but I still think 3 years is too soon.
For me, while I’m willing to go to iTunes for music, I’m not willing to give up my blu-ray player which has lossless audio and high bandwidth video. Streaming from iTunes, Amazon, and even Netflix does not have the same quality of video as an actual HD disc does. Could the cloud be an alternative to DVDs? Possibly, depending on how the video is compressed. This isn’t to say that I won’t stream an HD video from iTunes or Netflix. I don’t care about the quality with some movies or for the instant-on gratification. But for the majority of films, I prefer the high quality.
As for the price, it’s all economics. I feel like I got an incredible value for $45. This isn’t a Hollywood film that is going to have millions of it’s DVD sold. One of the reason traditional films are priced as they are ($20-30) is because the market is huge for them.
I’ve bought both of Jason’s documentaries, and they are both incredible. Thanks, Jason. Keep up the good work. I look forward to your next one.
@Steve, yes, DRM has value and that’s why video game publishers and studios keep spending on it. You don’t even need 100% protection — often a month or so is great. I know because I work in that industry.
The real target of DRM is those people who would buy it in the first month of release if it wasn’t easily available free. No one else matters. If you can keep those people as customers, you’ve done your job as a DRM author. You don’t want the other people as customers because, as Jason points out, they don’t value the work and tend to be troublesome (“I’ll help a potential customer pirate it if you don’t sell it to me for $10”).
This has always been the case since the first copy protection schemes on the Apple II. You can bet the schemes that took weeks or months to crack resulted in some increased sales. The question of whether the cost of adding the protection is less than the additional revenue is very market and time-specific though, so that’s harder to answer without careful study.
The key thing is, you don’t know for sure exactly who the people are who would buy it if there was no free copy, even when talking about yourself. Until you plunk down the cash, you’re fooling yourself with hypotheticals about “sure I’d purchase it for $38 but not $45” or whatever. It’s like prediction markets — when people put real money on an outcome, they think about it more carefully than when asked a hypothetical question.
Hope this sheds some light. I’ve seen both sides of copy protection for 25 years now.
There’s lots I could say, but I’m pressed for time, so tl:dw.
There is this, though: the internet needs something similar to PPV. I don’t feel an urge to own Get Lamp. I would like to watch it at least once, on the other hand, and $5-$10 seems like a fair price for a single viewing. Then, if I do like it enough to own it, $45 seems like a fair price for ownership. But internet PPV does not exist, so I’m stuck with paying for perpetual viewing rights, which I don’t want, or saying “fuck it” and stealing it, hurting everyone.
Just writing in on behalf of the Mojave Phone Booth to say that it’s nice to be remembered (although I ended up reading the entire article and finding it thought-provoking, so thanks for that, too).
When has media ever meant anything?
Jason, you and I and all the other people who are legitimately interested in your work know and care about what makes film a wonderful thing. We are in the minority. A very, very, very small minority. The attitude of the masses is not changing; they’ve always been just as apathetic as they are now.
And yet film has survived, in spite of all of the technological changes that harmed it at first. The introduction of sound made filmmakers stop giving a shit about cinematography for about 15 years, for example. More recently, 3D is being horribly misused. Television, which is perhaps the best analogy to today’s streaming crisis, was terrible at first but now boasts better storytelling than most mainstream films.
But despite that, yes, truly independent filmmaking is difficult and dismal now. And yet it’s so much less impossible than it ever has been. Would you have been able to even consider making BBS and Get Lamp 25 years ago? (I mean besides the fact that some of the things they’d be about hadn’t happened yet)
The average masses have always been unwilling to pay $45 for culture; any case in which they do has been, in the grand scheme of things, a fluke. People who truly appreciate the hard work of a craftsman have always been a small, small niche. A niche kind of like the sort of people who’ll be buying physical media in 2013.
Things aren’t getting worse. They’re just changing without getting any better. It feels to me like they actually are improving, that more people are joining that cultured niche, but the rate at which it’s happening is near-imperceptibly slow. But maybe they don’t have to. Media has come this far without ever really having a “meaning” in the eyes of most people, and it’s not going away.
That is, of course, on the grand scale. Anonymous-kid-lecturing-you-about-how-the-world-works is kind of right that films of a certain quality are inevitable — someone will always get it done. The question is whether that someone can be you. I say it can; you, Jason, have the right idea of finding and connecting with a devoted audience, and we’ve carried you this far. As long as we can continue doing that, fuck everyone else. Haters gonna hate.
A frequently repeated mantra on macsb (a mailing list for shareware developers) is: if nobody is complaining about the price, you’re charging too little. I charge $9.99 for an iPhone app and constantly hear it from people telling me how crazy expensive that is and what I should be charging. The worst part of it is that it’s insulting on several levels: it insults the value of your work and your own intelligence, as if you picked a number from thin air. And it’s coming from someone who is ignorant of your effort and has likely never produced anything of value themselves.
But you have to have a thick skin and ignore these people. That young kid on his way to college, who has never had a job, who can’t justify paying $45 for your film, who will turn around and pay that much for an Xbox game, will just have to fucking deal with it.
(From the little I know of you, “thin-skinned” is the last thing that comes to mind, but I think that just speaks to how deeply insulting this whining is.)
Ironically, it is your story that gives me hope. I live in New York City among many aspiring comedy writers and actors who are looking for someone to give them their big break; you are an example (in a different genre, to be fair) that in this day and age it isn’t totally necessary to wait for anybody to “give” you anything.
Thank you for another great post. As someone who supported Get Lamp from the beginning by donating to the Kickstarter project, I was well aware what sort of effort was going into the making of the film. Being a big fan of the BBS documentary, textfiles.com, and your posts in general, I knew I could depend on a certain level of quality concerning Get Lamp.
All things considered, I knew that a relatively higher price for Get Lamp be necessary to offset the costs involved, as well as to continue to help support your endeavors.
While other artists such as Trent Reznor have been experimenting with the “begging fremium” model which you speak of, I believe it is a convenience only afforded by people who already have a sizeable amount of cash/following with which to work with in the first place.
By paying the $45 for Get Lamp, I knew that it wasn’t just going towards the raw cost of duplicating and delivering the material. Instead, I knew that it was helping to continue to support something that interests me a great deal as well as simply pay for an honest amount of effort.
Looking forward to the next documentaries 🙂
Just wanted to hop in a moment and say that comment #5’s “Are you telling me there’s not some kind of royalty system for when Netflix streams movies across the internet into people’s computers and Xboxes?” in the face of me saying EXACTLY that in EXACTLY that way was… amusing?
I know there are a lot of freeloaders out there but there are good people too, the reason I’m more than happy to pay $45 for GET LAMP isn’t because of the coin, the artwork and the physical media (though they’re all lovely to have) – it’s because it’s worth it. The way I look the price is not that I’m paying $45 for a bunch of stuff – I’m paying $45 to pay for the documentary to exist in the first place.
That may sound weird since if it didn’t exist I couldn’t buy it but it’s actually the way the money works from the filmmaker’s perspective, Jason lays out the cash to make the documentary and then we pay him back afterwards. It’s like a loan from the future and quite a gamble when it comes down to it – most of the people complaining wouldn’t be happy to go to work every day for a year-or-two on the basis that they might get paid what they’re owed at some point in the future and even then, spread out over a few years.
If you’re still sceptical about this argument, I’ll put it another way – one of the reasons I bought the BBS Documentary was to ensure the GET LAMP was made – even though GET LAMP hadn’t been announced at the time. By rewarding people for producing great content it ensures that they’ll carry on being able to do so and if that’s something you value (which oddly, many of the freeloaders seem to) then you’ve gotta put your hands in your pockets and pony-up the cash.
P.S. Jason – I loved both BBSDoc and GET LAMP, the focus on people is what makes them both truly beautiful films. That might seem like an odd word to use given the subject matter but there’s something quite special about watching people describe a time in their lives full of excitement and discovery.
Apologies for my apparent inability to read – You definitely mentioned Streaming. That being said, I don’t think that Netflix purchasing a disc for $45 would entitle them to stream your film over the internet, legally speaking. I’m not saying that they’re even interested in talking to you about whatever sort of deal they have with The Studios in order to stream most films (because, after all, independent filmmakers get majorly screwed in every mannerp possible), but I am sure that without some kind of deal your films won’t actually appear on Netflix at all. Right?
first of all i loved your BBS documentary and your Defcon Talk and Im sure GET LAMP is made with a lot of passion and perfectionism in mind as well (allthough im no target of it, I was born roughly 5-10 years too late to be into IF).
Generally I think you are a cool guy. Keep it on!
But please, dont blame people for what capitalism made out of this world. That may sound like im your money-hating communist (which I am not, i understand that money is a needed resource) but the fact that many people aren’t willing to spend 45 bucks on your movie just has to do with what other movies cost (or the fact that its a lot easier to download a movie for free these days). The truth is no one not in the industry can judge if that price is justified or not, they only see the price of other movies which is not as high and feel ripped off. That is todays capitalism.
Im quite sure you do what you do because you like to do it, not because anyone forced you to. I think its quite naive to believe that enough people share your passion for the topics your movies are about to make the business side of it work. Because you are an adult and can foresee the consequences of your doing it is therefore your fault if it doesnt. You have every right to be disappointed or even angry at those who dont want to pay up (if they see the pirated version of the movie or dont see it at all – it is financially no difference to you) but please dont think it will change anything about the underlying facts. The facts being that the target audience of your topics is not big enough to (financially) make up for all the effort you put into the making of it.
You can rise the price per copy and get even less customers, you can lower it and get some more… there will be a point which is the best balance between price and the amount of customers and generates the most revenue possible (no idea if its at 45$, tho) but I wouldnt be surprised if even that is not enough to cover the production costs.
I guess the bottom line here is:
If you put in all this effort because you thought people will appreciate it enough to make it financially worth your time you or even work as a full-time-job substitution you (obviously) failed.
If you put in all this effort because you want this movie to exist and because you want the warm feedback (and money) of the people who DO appreciate it you did everything right. But If thats the case, why write this rant? To justify the price-tag? You don’t have to, you DID make a great movie.
It is your idea, your money, your time and ultimately your fault if it doesnt work out as you expected because you misjudged the system, the people, the world, whatever.
Also, as stated many times above, the physical media is a trend going to die. And I also think that this is good.
Pure digital distribution saves resources and is better for the environment (and it saves money too, btw.). I think that this is FAR more important than anybody having nostalgic feelings or a bigger ego over their shelves full of DVDs, VHS, floppy disks, you name it.
You may (of course) oppose my opinion but please don’t feel attacked. I think the world needs more Jason Scotts, not only to document the history of computing. Just don’t get angry over things you can not change, not only does it create front lines and as thus not needed enemies but also because you will, in the long run, feel better without doing so. Put the energy into finding solutions, instead.
Please excuse any grammatical or spelling errors, I’m not a native speaker and this little box doesnt make it exactly easy to spot them all ;).
You know, I missed posts like this.
I’ve been following you for a while, and one may easily call me a ‘fan’ of your work. I believe in what you do, because I come from a similar place (I think I mentioned it in private mail some time ago); I’m quite fond of Interactive Fiction because text adventures were the first electronic games I really enjoyed when I was younger.
So when I say that I don’t think that $40/45 dollars for GET LAMP is expensive, considering all the work you put into it, I’m not speaking as a fan of Jason Scott or as a fan of the documentary’s subject. I’m speaking as another independent author who respects other people’s work and understands what’s behind a price tag (the proverbial blood, sweat and tears). I’m not a film-maker, I’m a writer and freelance translator, and I’m constantly trying to make people understand that translating is hard work, that I set certain fees because I know I can offer quality work. It’s a constant struggle against cheapskates who believe that I’m living the easy life, working from home, typing stuff at the computer… Nah, it can’t be “serious work” so, according to them, it should be (under)paid accordingly. As with your situation, they really don’t have a clue of what’s behind a product (in your case) or a service (in my case).
With everything going the immaterial way, it’s getting more and more difficult to have people understand, recognise the real value of certain work. Paying $45 is a way to show respect and support for a truly independent author like yourself.
Context: I came here through someone who shared this post. I don’t really know your work; I think I may had heard of Lamp before, but didn’t pay much attention at the time. But I do like supporting artists and buying my media as physical items (especially “collectibles”).
One think you haven’t really explored in your analysis is quantity. A big-studio blockbuster can afford to be watched by $2 because millions of people will see it; you have to recover a higher amount per viewer. But for the typical viewer both films offer approximately the same amount of entertainment, so it makes sense to go for the big cheap movie.
As your costs to make the film were constant, you could also afford to reduce the cost of a copy if your viewership increases: if (ignoring manufacturing costs) you made a digital copy available for $5 and ten times as many people bought it than will buy the $45 DVD, you’d be making more money in the end. I honestly don’t know whether such a ten-fold increase would happen. There’s a sweet spot somewhere, but I have no idea where it is.
If movies have so little value to the public now, how many of the people who are buying the DVD do you think would opt for the download instead? My guess is that it’s not many: $45 is a high enough price that only fans and collectors are buying it, and these people would buy the “deluxe version” anyway. Regular viewers will not invest that much in your movie if they’re not sure it is worth it. In this aspect, offering a download version may even increase your DVD sales, as viewers who watch it may like it enough to want to have the shiny physical copy (and even if you don’t, hopefully you’ll get some conversions from the illegal torrents).
There are other reasons why a cheaper copy may or may not be worth it to you: you may want to get your art to anyone who’s minimally interested in it, or you may value it at a certain level and prefer to have fewer viewers who also value it enough. That’s your choice as creator.
Tim, RE: Netflix – You must be new here. Otherwise, you might have read that Mr. Scott has actually, you know, looked into the Netflix thing. He probably knows what’s up.
I don’t think it’s that they would order a DVD set for $45 like any plain Joe and start streaming it. No, I think it’s that they require an independent filmmaker to beg them to do so and like it.
I bought it without hesitation as soon as I discovered it, $45 is not a drop in the ocean to me, I felt the purchase, but I also felt that if someone (That’d be Jason) is willing to go to the effort to make something like this then I’m damn sure that I’m willing to go to the effort to give some money to say thank you.
I dont think that people who grew up AV (after vinyl) will ever understand this.
Jason’s documentaries are worth every penny that he charged for them, and I gladly would have paid more to own them.
How dare you?
You would besmirch the shining reputation of the producer of such epics as “Sharktopus”, “Dinocroc vs. Supergator” and “Scorpius Gigantus”? Their quality is undeniable, and you, sir, should be ashamed of yourself!
As somebody who has both contributed to the completion of Get Lamp and bought the DVD, I’d like to say that I’m deeply sorry that I did. Not because of the work, but because this post has finally convinced me that Mr. Scott is an incredible asshole with views that make Gates’s infamous letter from 35 years ago look progressive. Thanks for your attention.
As somebody who has both contributed to the completion of Get Lamp and bought the DVD, I’d like to be an incredible drama queen for no adequately explained or explored reason. CHA CHA DANCE PARTY DRAMA :D/-<
Quick dip-in again from the author.
I just wanted to make clear, as I’d hoped the beginning of the entry had done, that I myself am doing quite fine, “Steven Spielberg of independent” and all that – the first movie did fantastically well and the second movie did fantastically well. They paid for themselves and a little bit towards me besides. Life is a-OK. The final works were something I’m very proud of and they continue to educate and entertain people by the thousands.
Oh, and they’re creative commons-licensed and quite freely available, all by my choice. So yeah, doing good.
This is mostly me looking out on the landscape and finding that things are not going to be as easy to bring out that aren’t quick-n-dirty jobs, maybe looking good but with razor-thin margins and tiny production times. Good by luck, not always by design. Like Corman’s films.
I’m not in trouble. I just don’t think things are going to get better for some kinds of films, including what I make.
Also: “Incredible” asshole is inaccurate. You meant “World-Class” asshole.
ok I stand corrected on my financial assumptions about GET LAMP. Good.
Still i think my other points are valid: its up to everybody to define the worth of the (or any other) movie for themselves: for some its worth far more than 45, for most of the others its less. Its not for you to decide for them and you just have to accept it. That of course doesnt mean you dont have the right to bitch back when they get all bitchy over it, tho.
“..for some its worth far more than 45, for most of the others its less. Its not for you to decide for them and you just have to accept it.”
I have decided that $500 is a fair price for a brand new Corvette. Its not for General Motors to decide, and they’re just going to have to accept it.
@Chris: GM has accepted that for you $500 is a fair price for a Corvette. They’ve used that information to decide they don’t want to sell to you. Have a nice day.
Roger Corman has embraced the future: he’s got a website http://www.newhorizonspictures.com/
Arguing with the market seems like a funny place to expend your typing energy.
People will value your product differently than you do. The vast majority of humans will value it at exactly $0, and not buy it. Some will value it at the price point you’re selling it for, and will actually buy it.
A few will value it for more than $0, but less than $45. That’s (potentially) lost revenue. No point getting angry at them for if they helpfully share that useful data. At least, no point getting angry at the polite ones who communicate with you in good faith, such as the email you re-posted in full. They aren’t making a statement about you or your movie, they’re making a statement about their own interests and finances.
Market segmentation isn’t a dishonour. Producing a $5 .avi-only version doesn’t degrade the $45 one.
Unless doing so happens to conflict with some element of your personal code of artistic integrity, in which case by all means don’t, and forsake that revenue. As you’ve chosen to do do (and I think I understand why). Fine. But your protestation against people who might want to pay more than $0 but less than $45 seems a wee tad over the top to me.
Then again, a wee tad over the top is why I come here.
Lot of assumptions in that comment, Hugh. But I like having readers who think.
I’m hesitant as to whether to attempt to post a response as a comment, or just to compose a very similarly themed post to my own blog and then link to it…perhaps I’ll do both. So here comes the hacked out and potentially horribly written first draft:
In addition to being a huge fan of Jason’s work, I am also an aspiring independent (lowercase “i”) filmmaker myself. I’m not a Steven Spielberg, not unless you consider the early part of his career when he was finding his way and becoming strongly influenced (as well as Lucas and others of that “school”) by filmmakers like Roger Corman. I haven’t even gone further than pre-production with any of my own projects yet. What I have at this point is a huge pile of research, an insatiable thirst for gathering hands on experience, and several years sunk passionately into film school and self-taught A/V skills following an early retirement from a successful multifaceted IT career.
I have been following Jason’s adventures for years now with the greatest of interest, because in all my research online I’ve never found another filmmaker who comes as close to doing what I want to do…namely be my own distributor, agent, packaging, and art director (and webmaster, street crew, talking tour, you name it). The fact that his films just happen to also mirror my interests (both the geeky subjects specifically, and the larger concept of shining an inquisitive light on subcultures that you’re never going to see a Ken Burns touching) is just icing on the cake.
While I don’t have independent production experience under my belt yet, I do speak from some relevant authority on these matters because during my life I’ve founded and run fandom conventions, done professional marketing work (including massive public events) for clients as varied as F200 financials and industry-leading videogame publishers, co-managed a movie theater, and “touched” cinema in many other ways tangential to my central career track as an IT nerd. Speaking of IT nerds, a peer whom I greatly respect worked in a senior position at Netflix for some time (and no longer does, infer what you might) and I’ve followed the evolution of Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, etc. with great interest for as long as they’ve been around. I also, through a familial connection, have absorbed a lot of “behind the scenes” domain knowledge from one of the more famous currently-working commercial documentarians out there. In fact it’s been that knowledge, more than any other factor, which has soured me completely on the idea of ever being or even wanting to be an Errol Morris, Ken Burns, or Michael Moore. Do not want.
I don’t want to be a Spielberg of anything, I want to be a Jason Scott. Furthermore, I want to see a lot more Jason Scotts out there, and someday, if I’m fortunate, I’d like to see myself not only making films of my own, but teaching others how to do “this” and creating resources for the future’s aspiring Jason Scotts, in whatever that post-disc, post-media, post-whatever scene looks like (in 2013, 2023, 2033 or beyond).
So all that having been said, do I care if these films cost $45 on a disc (or a thumb drive, or a holocube) even long after independently crafted truly independent projects have become rarer than they are today? HELL NO. In fact, I’d be pretty sad if the killer packaging and omake ever had to fall by the wayside. I’d be fine with paying double that price if it meant that a project could survive on a fan base of half as many people. Why? Because those fans are the true evangelists, and the best hope for keeping this whole fragile ecosystem of truly independent cinema alive in a world full of cable conglomerates and megastudios and HDCP and who knows what.
Do I have a wham bam silver bullet solution for the situation Jason is describing? No, I don’t, and I hope you don’t feel cheated for reading this far expecting me to advance one. My aim, however, is to lend as strong a voice as I can to everything his blog post is saying, because it’s all perfectly reasonable and absolutely true, and if you’re someone interested enough in all this to even be reading his blog let along this ridiculous comment, YOU SHOULD BE CONCERNED about it.
Because right now, the future for those other Jason Scotts I mentioned looks fucking bleak as hell without your patronship. It’s frustratingly ironic too, I mean the hardware costs, software costs, and learning curves are dropping like meteorites these days just as the base media literacy of the average energetic and idealistic teenager is rocketing ever skyward. You would think we’d be on the verge of a million Jason Scotts taking flight on paths just like his. But the fact of the matter is, just as computing power, freedom from celluloid, and the empowerment of social media are coming together to potentially democratize filmmaking like never before, the other side of the equation is poised to revert to the dark ages (and all the potential in the world means nothing if you can’t find your audience, just ask any famous dead painter or musician).
TLDR: Filmmaking, like fire, is a catalyzed process represented by three points of a triangle…namely Production, Distribution, and Presentation. What we’re seeing today is the first two becoming more “free” than ever before while the critical “last mile” is slowly edging towards being more locked down and privilege-demanding than at any point in the history of the moving image. If we’re ever to truly emancipate that third reagent and see twenty-first century independent cinema become all it has the potential to be, we’re all going to need to become more willing to support the renegades out there, as well as climb inside and restructure the industry before the industry restructures us.
Clearly I need to refrain from reading blogs before breakfast…confused this tab containing some old content searches with the one in which I had the front page of the blog open in. Oops!