Kludges, Adaptations, and Evolution, Part 2

Kludges, Adaptations, and Evolution, Part 2

Rudders and/or an homage to Georgia O'Keeffe.

(Part 1 here.)

From Kevin Kelley’s Technium, March 4, 2008:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans. [Emphasis added.]

From Tony Comstock’s K?an of Silence, September 12, 2011:

Sometime in the last year I was reading yet another article preaching give-it-away-for-free (the it being your book, your record, your film – your whatever could be digitized) and then sell your true fans the very special limited edition, gold foil wrapped, signed collector’s edition, or if not that, a t-shirt or a stuffed animal or whatever. This approach has been proffered (time and time again) as the solution to a world that does not offer artists who work in easily replicated distribution mediums a way to exchange their work for money with those who wish to pay for it without making it freely available to those who wish to enjoy it but do not wish to pay for it.

As I was reading this it hit me; this is not an especially “low-impact” approach to making a living as an artist.

The low-impact approach would be to make the creative work once, and then distribute it in as small a foot-print form factor as possible, with protectable digital distribution being near ideal.

What is not ideal is turning songs or novels or movies into loss-leader for more crap — t-shirts, collectors edition box sets, and whatnot. Putting “Comstock Films” or “Helvetica” or “NIN” or whatever on a t-shirt and selling it for $19.95 is not value added, and it’s not a real substitute for compensating artists for their investment of time and money.

At best it’s an ugly kludge that ought to be a source of deep shame to anyone who claims to care about the real possibilities that digitized culture offers, and doubly so if you claim to care about leaving a smaller foot print on a planet increasingly strained by the crush of humanity.


Ben and Desiree: Crying Tears of Joy, is a film I shot, edited, that we ultimately decided not to release.

We decided not to release Ben and Desiree  because there’s no way to put a film out on DVD (which lets us leverage Amazon’s marketing reach) without having it show up on a zillion torrent sites.

And we can’t avail ourselves of Apple’s iTunes content protection because Apple “does not accept adult films, films rated NC-17 or higher, or unrated films that could have received those ratings.” (I’m not quite sure what Apple means by “NC-17 or higher”. NC-17 is the top of the MPAA’s content rating system, but whatever…)

But Ben and Desiree is a really sweet and unexpected film (to begin with, Ben and Desiree are republicans,) and it kind of sticks in my guts that it’s sitting in our vault, stuck in the gap between what is and isn’t possible.

Then yesterday I had an idea, an idea for a way to charge for making something free, and with no t-shirts or tote-bags.

More soon(er or later). Right now I’ve got a boat to build.

Kludges, Adaptations, and Evolution, Part 2

A still from "Ben and Desiree: Tears of Joy"


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6 thoughts on “Kludges, Adaptations, and Evolution, Part 2

  1. Make it part of a cruise package.

    I bet you can find some other filmmakers who have stuff sitting in the can somewhere who would be interested in the idea of making private screenings available for some sort of fee.  If you don’t ever make a copy of it, it doesn’t lose any value, and it might gain some if someone knows someone who books a cruise.

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    • Touring, four-walling, special screenings are all ways to get around this current impass. But having thought long and hard about it, I decided it’s not for me. Again, quoting from “Why I don’t make movies…”

      For a while I thought about four-walling. That’s what my hero Bruce Brown did, traveling from town to town, putting up posters, renting out halls, and hoping enough people would come to the show to make it worthwhile. But I’m in my 40s, I have two young children I adore, and the thought of being on the road, touring touring touring, away from my kids, sleeping in hotels instead of sleeping in my own bed with my wife is not especially appealing.

      In short, you really, really have to love the lime-light to do the touring, director’s Q&A, SXSW, TED thing, because there’s not a lot of money in it (as in mostly none). If being on stage doesn’t nourish you, give you something you need to make up for the road-warrior life-style and low wages, it’s not really worth it. (Caveat: Corporate speaking gigs pay well, and all of the above can be a stepping stone to corporate speaking.)

      In other words, it doesn’t work.

      Also keep in mind, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the most popular and expensive independent films there is, commanding the princely sum of $300/screening. If (if) your title could be as in demand as RHPS to net a $100,000 gross, you’d need to have it screening somewhere virtually every night of the year. Every. Night. Of. The. Year.

      Achieving that would be nothing short of a miracle and a full-time job.

      My long-standing calculus for a sole-proprietor is you take the number at the bottom of the non-overhead P&L and multiply by .4 to get a yearly salary  with benefits equivelent; ie, if your after non overhead expenses number is $100,000, that’s going to going to yield a life-style on par with a job that pays $40K/year with health insurance and the other bennies associated with a good middle-class job.

      This is simply not going to happen.

      Maybe (maybe) it would work with a roster of films. But it would still be a full-time job, and you’d be a film distributor, not a filmmaker. (Ah, now I get why distributors get a cut!)

      The magic of LPs, cassettes, DVDs (or iTunes DMR protected files) is that they allow creators to take advantage of pre-existing distributions networks. But what we’ve seen in digital distro (iTunes, Pandora, etc)  is that artists are getting a *smaller* cut of the final sale, not a larger cut.

      No wonder people are making t-shirts.

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  2. 1. Special features.  That adds value to the DVd

    2. Closed captioning.  In this brave new world of all-Internet all-the-time, the requirements to accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing are being left by the way-side.  (Why is it that a piece of film, broadcast over public media, must be CC’ed, but the same piece of film, over the Internet, need not be? [“Leverage” may be the greatest show in the history of the world, but it’s creator doesn’t give a crap about those who need CC, so I will forever revile him.])

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