YouTube and Fair Use

YouTube Copyright ClaimAny quick scan of YouTube reveals a dizzyingly inconsistent array of movie and TV show clips. In theory, clips should only be uploaded by the copyright holder, but movie studios and media conglomerates have a range of attitudes on what can and can’t be uploaded by fans under the remit of “Fair Use”.

Fair Use is the legal principle that allows others to quote excerpts from copyrighted work for the purposes of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” Given that “scholarship and research” has never been a prime function of YouTube, in the early days of the site, major movie studios were quite aggressive about getting clips taken down.  However, around 2008, studios realised the power of viral videos and interactive marketing (posting clips for people to comment on) and shifted their position. Martin Anderson explores the ramifications in an in-depth feature over at Shadowlocked.

It was the time of Facebook-for-everyone, the time when ‘viral marketing’ transited from the water-cooler to the company policies of PR sites; a time when it began to occur to the major studios that they might consider the harsh object-lesson learnt by the music companies’ eternal take-down war with the MP3 uploaders – particularly since their own product could not be encapsulated in the 10-minute limits of a YouTube upload (recently extended to 15 minutes for many users, though to little practical difference, in these circumstances).

Young people, people far cooler than they were, the very people whose wallets, purses and general esteem the media giants were desperate to invade, were out there doing work and getting product-coverage that their own marketing departments would have killed to achieve by conventional methods. They weren’t getting a dime for all this work, and to boot they could now be completely controlled by the Content ID architecture.

The ContentID software allows the automated tracking of clips. It scans content and matches it back to a database, so that copyright holders can

* Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely OR partially of their content, and
* Choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found. Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.

Curious, Anderson tried uploading clips from different properties to see what the reaction would be:

NBC Universal’s North American stake on the excellent 2008 black comedy In Bruges meant that my clip upload was blocked in the US, while Lionsgate decided to monetise my uploaded clip of 2003’s The Grudge by adding commercials. NBC Universal banned my uploaded clip of Jurassic Park: The Lost World all over the world, though they seem able to tolerate a 16-second clip.

Anderson also identifies several YouTube users who only post HQ clips from movies during the promotional period of a DVD or theatrical release. Genuine fans or studio sock puppets?

As audiences become more and more resistant to traditional forms of advertising, it seems that media providers have their eye on “user” generated content as a way of getting their message across. The whole ethos of YouTube is ‘Broadcast Yourself’, and it would be a shame if that spirit was lost in a slurry of marketing videos produced by the media institutions who have a stranglehold on all our other channels of communication in the first place.

US Copyright Office on Fair Use
YouTube and the major film studios – Shadowlocked
YouTube’s Content ID

The King’s Cash

The King's SpeechThe Guardian does some number crunching on The King’s Speech’s projected box office take, and wonders aloud where all that money will go.  The film was originally backed by the UK Film Council – which will be wrapped up by April 1st. Over at the UKFC they’re positive about the profit, saying it’s a vindication of the policy of using public funds to back cultural product.

“The irony of the situation has been observed,” admits Tanya Seghatchian, head of the UKFC’s film fund. “But what we’re feeling right now is triumphant. What we have is the most successful independent British film of all time, made as a direct result of public funding. That’s a great validation and a great thing to have at the end of a very difficult eight-month period. Yes, it’s a bittersweet moment. But it’s also an amazing legacy for the UKFC as a whole.”

However, the projected £12 million that may come back (a twelve-fold return on the investment) will just about cover the estimated UKFC wind-up costs which come in at £11 million.

The Guardian’s numbers make for interesting reading, and they point out the difficulty of getting a full share of profits from US distributors, who are notorious for their accounting practices that can present even a wildly successful movie (Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix, anyone?) as being in the red. Studios have a schizophrenic attitude to box office figures, trumpeting the take during a movie’s theatrical run, then minimizing what can be considered actual profit that will be returned to investors or talent.

Never mind the BAFTAs – who will get The King’s Speech riches? – The Guardian
Studio Shame – Deadline Hollywood Daily

Hollywood’s SNAFU: Where are all the women?

For those of us working in the industry, the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women’s numbers come as no surprise. Their annual Television and Film report states that, despite Kathryn Bigelow’s high profile Best Director win at the Oscars last year, the number of women in prominent filmmaking positions has stagnated since 1998. A paltry 16% of key jobs on the top 250 films of 2010 were held by women (no change from 2009, and equivalent to 1998 levels). Just 2% of the movies had a female cinematographer, 7% were directed by women: it seems the male gaze is the only way we get to view things.

As the list of this year’s Oscar nominees attests (as usual, women are nominated in barely anything but ‘actress’ categories), Hollywood is run by and for men. Women are actively discouraged from even pitching for big-budget projects, according to director Catherine Hardwicke in The Wrap, who thought she might have had a shot at directing The Fighter.

“”I couldn’t get an interview even though my last movie made $400 million…I was told it had to be directed by a man — am I crazy?…It’s about action, it’s about boxing, so a man has to direct it … But they’ll let a man direct Sex in the City or any girly movie you’ve ever heard of.”

This has huge implications – and not just on the aspirations of female creatives trying to break in. Says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the SDSU Center:

“I don’t think people know when they walk into a theater that nine out of 10 times they’ll see a film by a male director…It’s not just an employment issue for women, it’s a cultural one for all of us. Movies make a difference in how we see the world and how we see certain groups of people. These are the architects of our culture.”

Melissa Silverstein, co-founder of the Athena Film Festival adds:

“If this were a Fortune 500 company and they looked at these statistics, they would have a diversity committee working on this immediately… How could you have a company in the 21st century and less than 10% of its leaders are women?”

A diversity committee that could impose a quota system on Hollywood studios, not just to ensure fair representation of women (53% of the US population, never forget), but minorities across the board? Now there’s an appealing thought…

Center for the study of Women in Film and Television
Women still a rarity in top film jobs – LA Times
Despite Bigelow’s Oscar, Celluloid Ceiling Higher Than Ever for Women– The Wrap
Women In Film – let’s make that change

‘Global Box Office Worth More Than Domestic’ Shocker

On the day when Oscar nominations reinforced, once again, that Hollywood is a white man’s party, a strange report: ‘overseas’ box office can be worth more than domestic. Who’da thunk that the rest of the world combined could throw more box office dollars at a movie than Americans at their local multiplexes? Hollywood studios are geared to pronouncing a movie a success or failure based on its first weekend of domestic box office. Perhaps that attitude should change, based on some of the numbers quoted?

There is no better example than the box-office trajectory of the “Ice Age” series. The franchise has largely remained constant in the U.S.–with each of the three films making between $176 and $197 million–while the films have exploded around the globe, with the first film making $207 million overseas, the second one $457 million and the third one a whopping $690 million.

The LA Times frames the story around the assumption that global audiences are dumb enough to fall for gimmicks like 3D, but ignores the implication that US dramas, focused on the malaise of the hegemonic white guy, lack broad appeal, and should probably be put out to pasture.

The strange trajectory of Hollywood movies: Fizzling in US but skyrocketing overseas – LA Times

What does a movie producer actually do?

It’s awards season, which means that producer credits for the big movies of the year are coming under scrutiny.  These are always contentious, as the job title “producer” is a nebulous one.  An actor acts, a writer writes, a director directs – these are all active, specific verbs – but it’s often unclear what a producer does and how many are needed to get a film into theaters.  It can take twelve years (as with this season’s favourite, BLACK SWAN) to transform a movie from a script to a hit, and a lot of people need to take on producer duties en route, first developing the screenplay, putting together attachments, financing, and then overseeing physical production before finally shepherding the finished product in front of audiences.  The Producers Guild of America is very wary of studio bosses inserting their name into the credits (no one’s going to say no) at the last minute, and has strict criteria that must be met by those claiming the title producer.  They also only allow three people to share the honours, which, when it comes to giving out gold statuettes, often leaves some very disgruntled players sitting in the auditorium rather than bounding onstage, speech in hand.

The LA Times has the full story on this year’s diss: Ryan Kavanaugh.

LA Times

“We’re gonna pass on that…”

Will SmithLeonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt top the A-list partly because they have well-established and efficient production companies of their own (Appian Way and Plan B respectively).  This means they have a permanent team whose job it is to find, review and develop screenplays with the sole purpose of generating a suitable lead role for Brad or Leo.  This is the best way to ensure that your star vehicles take you to the top.

Other actors aren’t so lucky, or ambitious, and have a much more scattershot approach to selecting their next project.  It’s a well known truth that no one in Hollywood reads anything.  They usually get other people to do it.  Supposedly an actor’s manager or agent reads screenplays, but they usually devolve the job to an assistant, or even an unpaid intern.  There are a gazillion unproduced screenplays out there to wade through.  No one likes to be made to look an idiot, and say something is good when others might not agree. So the usual answer is “No: reject”.

However, the greatest creative triumphs come from taking the greatest risks.  And this list from Yahoo! Movies, of the ‘Great Roles Actors Turned Down’ proves that “Who Dares Wins”. Will Smith could have been Neo. Think about it.

Great Roles Actors Turned Down