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Queen of Indie: Jane Clark talks Piracy in the Indie Film Market

Actress turned producer, Jane Clark knows the indie film market inside and out and how crippling piracy can be to independent filmmakers. Clark’s films have been played in over 50 international film festivals and have won multitudes of awards. She’s the co-owner of Film McQueen and through her experience in making films, knows exactly the damages piracy poses to an indie filmmaker.

Her film, ‘Crazy Bitches’, earned the distinctive title of being one of the top illegally downloaded films in its opening weekend which left her in disbelief. Piracy has impacted every step of her filmmaking process, from producing to distributing. Her experience has made her passionate about the fight against piracy and bringing awareness to how damaging it can be.

Hi Jane! Thanks for sitting down with us. You’re clearly a very experienced filmmaker and know the industry inside-out.  Could you tell me what inspired you to get into filmmaking and your experience in the industry?

I was an actor originally. I loved it and had a little bit of luck, but found the process frustrating and vaguely unsatisfying. I got it into my head that I wanted to try directing, and my husband said, “go for it.” He wrote a very sweet short script about our dog being stolen. It turned out that not only did I really love the whole process of filmmaking, I was actually good at it.

‘Crazy Bitches’ earned the distinction of being one of the top 10 illegally downloaded films in its opening weekend. When you first found out of this, how did it feel?

Every filmmaker wants people to want to see their film. But the overwhelming feeling was one of nausea. And helplessness. And I think I cried when I finally saw the scale of the problem.

Some people think that piracy is some sort of free publicity – what are your thoughts on this?

If I had wanted free publicity I would have released it on YouTube. I could have then at least added an ad and monetized the film a little. The “free publicity” from our piracy didn’t gain me more legit viewers. It just drove more people to find it for free and watch it. There was no value in it as far as I can tell.

With such a range of experience in the film industry, how do you think piracy has impacted the film industry? Do you think the industry is doing enough to raise awareness and stamp it out?

I think the industry for too long has had that ‘free publicity’ idea in their minds. When I asked my distributor what I should do to protect against it, they said nothing. They told me just that – to think of it as free publicity that can help awareness of the film. But they were wrong. And we paid for it. It hurts indie filmmakers especially. Studios can absorb some of the losses and make ever more technical films that demand the big screen. Indies can’t do that and, as a result of losing their sole profitable revenue stream, we go out of business. It’s happening all over the industry, but we don’t see it so much because they are small, independent companies and people who are not terribly well-known. As a result, we don’t hear about it. But piracy is running independent filmmakers out of the business.


Do you have any personal stories you’d like to share about how piracy has impacted you and Film McQueen?

We funded a good portion of Crazy Bitches ourselves. We will never see that money back. We’re not rich people and that is a huge hit. So while the torrent sites were making money on ads and people were watching our film for free, each illegal download pushed us back financially. I think there is this notion that all films come from large studios that the public feels can absorb the hit. Actually, even studios can’t really, which is reflected in all the rehashed, tried and true, homogenous films you see being made by them. But many indie films are self-funded or funded by investors who really need to make their money back – if people don’t buy the film, no one makes a return and people are less likely to invest again.

“The investor pulled his phone out and said “How do you stop it? I just go to this app on my phone and your film along with every other film I want to see, will be there for free.” So yes, I think mobile piracy needs to be addressed and sooner rather than later.”

And there’s another way I’ve been impacted by piracy. I am now trying to fund Crazy Bitches 2. The project was meant to be a trilogy and we felt we could build a successful franchise. That, however, is reliant on finding investors. And no matter how much a potential investor loves the first film, thinks the script to the second film is funny and likes the project as a whole, they will eventually ask, “what was your return on investment on the first one?” And I have to say we don’t have an ROI on the first one. Because we were pirated and didn’t know it until it was too late to contain the damage. At which point the investor walks away. So I’m struggling to make a sequel to a film that was very popular and whose fans would enjoy the second round if it came out.

 

Netflix and Amazon Prime have been influential in shifting the conversation around piracy. Recently Amazon, Netflix and Hulu have signed on to be part of a giant global group to fight online piracy. Do you have thoughts on VOD’s role in the piracy debate?

I think it will take giants with ridiculous amounts of money, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, to have a real impact. So I am relieved that they are finally getting into the fray. I don’t think we can think about film, TV, streaming, subscription TV, etc as different entities with different objectives. We are all getting pirated, we are all losing money, and it is all happening basically the same way.

Our Global Piracy Insights Report 2017 points to piracy becoming more mobile. With the increase of smartphones and better internet connection, audiences are finding their piracy fix on their mobiles. Have you had any experience with this? Do you believe more attention should be directed to mobile piracy?

I was in a meeting with a potential investor for “Crazy Bitches 2.” I was explaining that while I couldn’t stop piracy I now know how to control access enough to redirect some of the viewers and the money back to the film. And that if the sequel is as popular as the original film, we would see a profit. The investor pulled his phone out and said “How do you stop it? I just go to this app on my phone and your film along with every other film I want to see will be there for free.” So yes, I think mobile piracy needs to be addressed and sooner rather than later.

There were 43 billion visits to film piracy sites in 2016, which is still a massive audience. In your opinion what more could be done to help people understand the threat of piracy?

It’s great to have the Netflix and Amazon Prime voices out there, and studios are trying to tackle the issues, but each one of us has to tell people how their piracy impacts human beings. Many filmmakers I know are nervous about speaking out. They are afraid that if they criticize the people who pirate their films they will lose fans. But my feeling is a fan that doesn’t pay is not worth much to me. I can’t go to the grocery store and buy groceries with love from a piracy fan. And I certainly can’t get my next film funded on it. So I think it’s about the volume of dissent. If you look at the impact so far on women’s equality in the film industry, you’ll see in the past year or so that there is a real effort underway to create parity. That’s because a year and a half ago women started speaking up en masse, getting mad and demanding equal opportunity and equal pay. If you don’t make noise, no one will know how bad the problem is.

If word gets out that you have something cool, even if you watermark it all over the place and pay attention to who is handling it through post, it will be pirated. And once it is pirated, you will lose if you don’t budget to get those URLs stripped down.

One final question! The film industry is tough. Do you have any quick tips for an inspiring filmmaker?

Don’t take anything for granted – too many times I’ve seen talented filmmakers make mediocre films because they have rushed to get it into production without all their money or without having a really well-developed script, or they hired average actors, or don’t pay attention to the details of production design, wardrobe, effects. Every aspect of the process requires the same pursuit of excellence if you are to have a shot at a good movie.

If you are a low-budget film and you don’t get into Sundance and win a significant distributor, the marketing will either be down to you or it won’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen, no one will see your movie because no one will know it’s out there. Except perhaps the 100 friends who get the post about it on Facebook. (and even then you can’t count on all 100 to actually buy it!) So make sure you have a line item in your budget for marketing.

Hire MUSO before the film rolls out – be proactive about protection! Seriously! Take piracy seriously, no matter how small of a film you have and particularly if you have a film that falls into a genre. If word gets out that you have something cool, even if you watermark it all over the place and pay attention to who is handling it through post, it will be pirated. And once it is pirated, you will lose if you don’t budget to get those URLs stripped down.

To find out more about MUSO’s suite of piracy solutions, please visit Products.

Interview