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WILL THE REAL PIRATES PLEASE STAND UP?

A young relative of mine -- who shall remain anonymous -- has argued with me about online piracy since he was a first grader. Every time I found out he had downloaded a movie on the web (like all of mine for example) I gave him the usual: "Do you steal bread from the baker as well?" speech. 

Today he's a young man and he still downloads movies. What has changed is that I don't argue with him anymore.

See, this kid is wicked smart and he's way too informed to be fooled by the baker/bread line. I stopped using it when he replied with: "if we're talking about a real baker who still gets up at 3AM and hand-kneads a dough made of honest ingredients...no, I wouldn't steal from him. But if we're talking about a massive industrial chain who put all the honest bakers out of business, because they lobbied the government for permission to produce fast food trash that can hardly be described as bread...yeah, I totally steal from them.

That was the first point he scored and it was only the beginning.

Online pirates don't have a bad conscience about downloading movies and TV shows for free because what they know about Hollywood directors and show creators is basically this: http://www.celebritynetworth.com/list/top-50-directors/

As a result Hollywood decided to make it about the poor crew members who won't be able to feed their families if online piracy continues. A move that clearly portrays how little Big Hollywood thinks of today's mighty pirates. See, the kids you're trying to guilt trip are not stupid. They've been on the internet since before they could walk, do you honestly think they haven't witnessed how little Hollywood cares about the crew? Like when all the VFX artists lost their livelihood because the studios started shipping millions of dollars of digital work outside the US? Or when famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler starts a campaign for the well-being of film crews called 12on12off, which advocates for three simple things:

#1) No more than 12 hours of work

#2) No less than 12 hours of turnaround

#3) No more than 6 hours between meals

You'd think that even requesting these things, which clearly fall into the category of common human decency, would cause outrage and concern for crew members by our Hollywood elite.  But no, 12on12off has not been approved, on the contrary Mr.Wexler has faced opposition from almost every organization in Hollywood, including his own union: http://www.deadline.com/2014/02/haskell-wexler-sarah-jones-midnight-rider-oscars-safety-iatse/

As my young pirate friend says: "Your hypocrisy is as obvious as a Nigerian phishing scam".

As a director/writer who's clearly enjoyed the upside of residuals, why am I writing about this? Because the hypocrisy spreads to another arena in our wonderful industry that affects me very much.

I get a little upset when I hear how hard my industry jumps into action, sparing neither time, manpower or resources, as soon as someone even hints at potential loss to the crown estate.

You know what statistics are bullshit?  The ones stated by the MPAA about losses due to piracy: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2008/10/dodgy-digits-behind-the-war-on-piracy/

You know what statistics aren't bullshit? The abysmal number of people getting hired in Hollywood who are not white males: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/hollywood-failing-to-keep-up-with-250007

Now you might say "you can't compare these two statistics, one is about financial loss and the other is about fairness". Uh, no. You may wish that to be true, especially if you're an inadequate, lucky, white guy who can't possibly admit that the game you've been winning has been rigged for years, but that won't make it true. Read the above UCLA study again, note statements like:

"The underrepresentation is especially noteworthy because the study found that greater diversity in TV and film productions actually increases viewers, resulting in higher profits for studios and networks."

I don't think I need to quote anymore facts about the ticket buying audience (predominantly Latinos and African-Americans) and how on average female lead movies outperformed male lead movies http://www.themarysue.com/women-led-film-gross-2013/ and how the rest of the world, in almost every single industry, has realized that increasing gender equality and cultural diversity always has a positive effects on the bottom line.

If at this point you're thinking "well, then diversity and female filmmakers just have to step it up so they have the qualifications to make some big movies" ... you are delusional.

Remember back when you were a kid and you went to a local playground for a pick up game of ..... (soccer in my case), the two best kids would get to choose their teams and some unlucky kid was always the last one standing? That's a system I believe in.

Not a lot of girls played soccer in Germany back when I was a kid, so every time I went to a new playground where kids didn't know me, I was the last one picked, guaranteed. But I only had to play one game to become a first round pick from then on. It was also the only social situation that completely erased the divide between the German and the Turkish kids. Not sure how it is now, but back then there was a definite us and them going on. But on the playground, during a pick-up game, a German kid would pick a Turkish kid over his best friend every time if the Turkish kid was a better soccer player (which they usually were).  Why?

Well duh? You wanted to win.

You're great at something, you get picked. You suck, you're out. Now all you have to do is find something you're great at. Voilá.

But that's not how Hollywood works at all. Ask the head of Warner to pick a team, doesn't matter for what, filmmaking, Cricket, Rugby, synchronized swimming...the roster will always be: Snyder, Nolan, Affleck, Phillips, McG, Singer, Edwards ("wait, who? Can he even play on such a big stage?" "Don't know, but he looks just like Snyder or McG, so it's safe to assume he can").

And this brings me back to piracy and something a lot of people have noticed over the past few years. Here an excerpt from a Forbes article by Paul Tassi on Piracy:

It’s just not accurate to claim the piracy is significantly hurting industry profits as the metric being used is not a fair or reasonable guess at sales lost from illegal downloads. You know what IS hurting industry profits?

I’ll show you:

Green Lantern – Net Loss : $105M

The Big Year - Net Loss: $33M

Trespass - Net Loss: $29M

Mars Needs Moms – Net Loss: $136M

And that’s just from 2011. I would argue that releasing crappy movies has a far greater effect on the film industry bottom line than piracy ever could. Similar things happen when a hyped TV show bombs or an anticipated game is a letdown. Companies don’t rise and fall due to piracy, but they do based on the quality of the products they release.

So, let's sum it up:

- Lack of diversity has been proven to hurt box-office bottom line.

- Money spent by Hollywood to remedy lack of diversity: $0

- Piracy has NOT been proven to hurt box-office numbers, on the contrary, several studies say it may have boosted the bottom line.

-Money spent by Hollywood to fight piracy:  Hundreds of Millions of dollars. (It's almost impossible to find out the exact numbers, but given they spent 91 Million dollars lobbying for SOPA in one year alone, we can all assume what the total comes out to.)

Oh and PS: Hollywood is Republican now: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304071004579407254151830912

Here is another fascinating fact: The head of the MPAA is no other than former Senator Chris Dodd, yes, the Dodd in "Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" which Obama signed into law a couple of years ago. This act includes the very interesting Section 342:

Central to Section 342’s goal of promoting diversity is its requirement that each of the nine financial agencies create an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (“OMWI”). Each OMWI has the task of developing procedures to ensure "the fair inclusion and utilization of minorities in the agency’s workforce”, and to monitor “increased participation of minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the agency’s contracts”. Upon a finding that a contractor failed to comply with Section 342, the penalties can be significant. The Director of the OMWI may recommend to the agency administrator that the contract be terminated.

 Oh that's how it works when you really want to change a discriminating industry, huh?

So the dilemma I have is that I'm supposed to be on one side of this battle but I sympathize with the other so much more. Big Hollywood and their Gatekeepers have only thrown obstacles in my way and obviously, there are tons of other amazingly talented writers/filmmakers/actors who feel the same way. Some even have the balls to speak out about it: http://www.bet.com/news/celebrities/2014/03/26/john-singleton-on-hollywood-they-ain-t-letting-black-people-tell-their-stories.html

Now P2P on the other hand would totally work for me. If I could make all the movies that bloggers and fans endorse me for on social media sites, I'd have the career of my dreams.  

Then there is the fact that my competitiveness hasn't decreased much since the days of playground pick-up games. I still want to be on the winning team. In case you haven't noticed, the game between Hollywood and the world's online pirates looks kind of like this, with Hollywood being in the white jerseys:

How do I know this? Well because, like many people in the film and TV industry, sometimes I find myself in Pirate waters. Because as an expat household, with three paid Amazon Prime memberships for three different countries, a paid Netflix membership, a paid ACORN membership, a ridiculously high DISH bill and an Apple TV box, we still can't watch most programs from back home, even though we're willing to pay good money for it. 

I'll go on the website of a German public TV channel in hopes of catching up on some (objective) news and up pops the message:

Sorry, the copyright for this program does not extend to the country of your current location.

Huh??? Are you going to distribute DVDs of German news programs to the US? Is there such a massive market for German programming in the world, that you must block all viewers outside your borders?

Of course when I'm over there, trying to catch up with a US show sets off even more alarms.

But guess what, for every IP block, DRM and who-knows-what security feature Hollywood spends thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on, some piracy kid will undo it for free and within a couple of minutes.

And this is my favorite part:  I am 100% certain that the hacking of entertainment industry's security features provides better entertainment for these kids than the entertainment we're trying to prevent them from stealing. Let that sink in for a second, then try not to bust up laughing.

But what am I doing here? Endorsing Piracy?

No.

For a second I had this idea about "the enemy of your enemy being your friend" and that these guys, these anarchists, might be the savior for a lot of talent stuck in a rather corrupt and elitist industry.

But the owners of these torrent sites are Pirates, not Robin Hoods. I researched Kimdotcom, even reached out to him, given that he's a German homeboy. But it went nowhere. I watched a couple of documentaries about him and learned that he's got a big house, a lot of luxury cars and all kinds of other toys. When he produces an album, it stars himself, not some struggling cool artist who has been rejected by the mainstream music industry.

This is unfortunate, because in a way it makes him just like the Hollywood elite.

Next I looked into the Pirate Bay guys and I was just about to email them when I read about their connection with Carl Lundström, Wasabröd heir and famous right winger: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/05/07/pirate_bay_accepted_right_wing_money/

So I can't make friends with them either, but I have to give them this, they got the right idea about promoting indie artists: https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-launches-dedicated-promo-bay-to-help-artists-121129/

The conclusion I have come to is that we have Pirates on the one hand and Privateers (Pirates with a license from the King) on the other.

Greed all around.

What we're lacking are good guys, protagonists, an Occupy Hollywood movement.

Those of you out there downloading movies and TV shows, remember that you're giving the finger to "the man" while simultaneously filling the pockets of another "man".

There's a real opportunity for someone to come in and turn our industry into something better: An industry that recognizes and nurtures talent, rather than one that practices favoritism and breeds mediocrity.

Those of us who want authentic art and a smaller gap between the haves and have nots, we are in the majority. Why are we always letting FAT CATS win, even if they rise up through anarchist movements?

I for one am daring to at least reach out to the other side: