Internet Content and Power

I had spent all night editing a short video and went to bed around 7:30 am. Less than 15 minutes later the sound of an SMS, just few minutes after another and another. The phone rings. I wanted to throw it against the wall. Anyway, I pick it up: “don’t you know yet?” Please, I’m dead for sleep let me sleep! “Atocha (Madrid’s Train Station) was attacked and thousands are wounded and dead.”

I freeze and jump out of bed. Television on. All channels broadcast live the horrific scenes of most violent and catastrophic terrorist attack in Europe after World War II. I knew and millions of other Spanish did too, that we had started to pay the price for the stupidity of the Aznar government and its support for the Iraq war. They soon get the official version blaming the “other side”: it was ETA (Basque terrorist group). Those who had BBC, CNN or the Internet were able to get the real versions of the facts and relay them via SMS to friends and relatives. At the end of March 11, 2004 throughout the country nobody believed the lies issued from the national media, driven by the Government of Spain (Aznar y cia.).

For who was in Spain during those days, I’m not saying anything new. For those who saw it from outside, I’ll never be able to express what it means to be in a supposedly democratic country where all information was manipulated so that the ruling party would win the elections which were to take place 2 days later.

Without Internet or mobile phones, maybe the official version would have passed as truth (which the terrorists would be from ETA) and the right’s liars who send the country to a war until today unsolved would remain in power.

Atocha (Madrid) and Memorial to the Victims


Mr. Zapatero was the first major beneficiary of the mobilizing power of the Internet and mobile communications. Obama, without taking away his merits, was a minor phenomenon in regard to a total electoral overthrow. A quarter of the Spanish population went to the streets screaming: « Before the vote, we demand the truth”. In proportion, that would mean 75 millions Americans and/or 15 millions French. Obama was elected by just over 69 millions votes.

I remember those days and it made me cringe to see the sad millionaire spectacle that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Spain just sponsor (FICOD 09) where almost 100% of the speakers, shamelessly advocate some form of censorship of Internet content. These gentlemen (government officials) would not be sitting in their chairs without the key role that mobile telecommunications and Internet and played between 11 and 14 March 2004.

There is much to say about the policies of the current government of Spain. For now I will focus on intellectual fiasco (albeit palatial proportions) that just ended in the capital of the Kingdom.

However, do not forget President of Government, the same people that have put him in his chair can remove it. Just to give it away to technocrats even more unable than those currently occupying such positions.

Spanish Minister for (in) Culture, Mozart and Copyright

It’s really amazing to see the quantity of stupidity, arrogance inherent to power can produce in the world. Well, considering that we are all with a fresh memory from the Bush’s era, nothing is absurd anymore and even “leftists” brag their wisdom to the world as if we were all followers, ignorant followers of the leadership.

Last week, the Minister of (in) Culture of Spain, responsible to guard, protect and improve more than 1,000 years of human kind culture stored in the country (to say the least) has declared publicly to the RTVE (State Radio and Broadcasting Corporation) according to the report of the prominent newspaper EL PAIS that Mozart “has lived in financial misery because he didn’t receive copyright’s royalties” and if he had had them, he and his family would have had a better life”. Ms. González-Sinde’s (in) culture is notorious in Spain and wherever she has stepped in to spread her wisdom”. Nevertheless, she has at her disposal advisers to avoid her gaffes.

Mozart wasn’t ever poor. That we all (except her, maybe) know. But yet, he was the precursor of copyright infringement. The article of the respectful and cultivated journalist and commentator Enric González helps us to bring the real facts to light.

Mozart poor home

Mozart's poor birth home

The obsession to defend copyright and repression at any rate the (in) culture Minister has made her oversee the fact that Mozart “pirated” Miserere Dei, Deus from Gregorio Allegri.

In short, the situation was that music piece was only interpreted inside the Vatican and the music’s scores remained property of the Pope and with only two copies more: one in the hands of the King of Portugal and the other with a Franciscan Priest (musician). Sadly enough, a nasty, non-law-abiding 14 year old kid named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the Vatican in 1770 and listened to the oeuvre d’art. His brains functioned with 64 bits processing capacity and back home, he wrote the music scores. A few days later, he returned to the Vatican, listened once again and made the necessary corrections.

Mozart Illegal Downloader

Mozart Nasty Kid

That was copyright infringement Ms. Minister of (in) Culture of Spain. What would you do with that nasty kid if you had the power to do anything at all? Jail him? Order lobotomy? What a great benefit to humanity you would have caused preserving the right, the divine right to preserve that work only for Your Holiness’s ears!!!! Shame on you! Jail the Spanish kids, censor, and cut the country back to the times of dial-up connections as you also already defended. You are the culture; you are the progress of sciences and knowledge for humanity.

“Do what I say but do not do what I do”. That seems to be the conclusion to end up with once we learn that she, her assistants or whoever in the Ministry has copied almost word by word her own biography from from Wikipedia without mentioning it (neither the authors of the wiki). Again: shame on you! And again, do the country a favour: step down!

Certainly there are brilliant kids out there who you call criminals and many of them will make and be part of history, while you will remain a mediocre screenwriter and if lucky something like Antonio Salieri (the envious bloodsucker from “Amadeus”, the film, not reality, pay attention to that once more!!!): but yet portrayed as a vicious, poisonous person defending the industry not the artists.

Online Content Production: the law of silence

While pushing forward the endeavour of gathering information from all sources to follow the series of articles relating to State provided subsidies, I have tumbled against a wall made out of tough steel and concrete: silence. If was my purpose to question policy makers, directors of audiovisual institutions, institutes of cinematography as well as filmmakers, directors, producers, distributors, actors, etc .etc.

The task would not be easy to start; I suspected that already, but with rare exceptions I was rebuffed as if I were a thief or at least a poisonous threat to the status quo of their jobs and life earnings. Without going further naming names, Cultural Authorities of different European States and Latin American countries, after reading (or not) this small blog, simply denied flatly to give any sort of interview by email, phone or whatever means offered. The position is that the law is the law and questioning these laws is unlawful. Waving the flag of the law as if those had no relation whatsoever to the reality and fairness to the people. I have to remind these ladies and gentlemen that once upon a time, slavery was also lawful and it was unlawful to question it. Would anyone dare to do it now?

Few producers came forward (some of them bravely offering to make their names and positions public) but yet, the absolutely majority simply would not discuss the issues of digital distribution, subsidies for online production and the new reality of content production for the Internet (broadband) era. No interest for pretty obvious reasons.

But why all the fear and self imposed law of silence? What evil can be brought upon humanity to talk about what is already reality, a given fact?

In order to clarify the situation, to open a call for all the interested parts to answer questions the society itself is posing and the public authorities and the others refusing to answer, I’ve decided to make public the questions I sent to them. Four simple questions that remain without answers:

1) Considering that the numbers of online viewers of audiovisual contents multiply, at least, ten times the number of movie theatres audiences in each and every country, is it fair to have the State (which should represent the interests of the people) subsidise film productions with a non-negotiable condition that the films shall be presented and released in movie theatres?

2) Why do you insist to impose criteria that are not up-to-date with the public’s interests ignoring their own culture consumption habits?

3) While audiovisual works available for free to all users are ignored by the public authorities and denied subsidies while audiovisual works intended for theatre or TV releases which constitute under all lights the construction of private propriety (copyright and commercial exploitation) with public funds- continues to be hailed by the state cultural authorities as the only valid option. Don’t you plan to revaluate this unfair situation and leverage to the real world situation of the cultural consumers of your respective countries introducing a fair system of public subsidies?

4) The public has the right to decide when, how and which cultural product wish to use. And in fact, they have done it already. Don’t you consider that the public funds spent in cultural production must reflect the public demand? And given that situation, leverage the social players in fairness, namely the creators/authors/producers of online content?

It is absolutely comprehensible that people will ignore reality as far as they see it possible in order to keep their own status and privileges. My question is: until when will possible to remain in denial?

Waiting for “revolution”

After many years of floating adrift in the realm of media producers and other parasites of the kind, many authors have decided to break free from the system and do something with their lives. Many have simply changed profession. My case is a different ball and I cannot and I refuse to give up a lifetime of struggle because shortsighted people are in power in the cultural industry. No, I won’t give in and if I go down, I will go down fighting.

No matter where, and in fact I believe that borders are pretty worthless when we talk about cultural production and distribution, the old traditional media is leaking thru the seams and patches aren’t effective in order to keep the established rules in place.

The European Union has cleared the way to repression of the Internet thru article 138 which basically trashes the justice system to shreds: no need for court orders to punish “bad” citizens who download illegal materials. Sarkozy and other little men will be hands-free to punish. Their ego inflates but reality is quite nasty to show that unless they set up a real repressive system as there is in China and Iran (look to whom the European governments must to look for inspiration!!!) all these efforts will be in vain.  Almost at the same time, the US government has repealed the right-wing initiatives to force Internet control.

I have watched an interview of the Chilean-Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar in <a href=”http://www.radiocable.com/secciones/blog/page/2″>Radio Cable</a> where he said interesting things: a) <em>it is impossible to win against zero</em>! b) <em>the internet appears in the XXI century as the Christians appeared in the beginning of the first millenium as a genuine revolutionary force.</em> c)<em> Internet must the regulated</em> in order to half a dozen filmmakers as himself continue to be able to produce 50 million euros budgeted movies (<em>italic </em>are textual citation from Mr. Amenabar). Quite interesting to see and hear that man defending without any sort of shame or embarrassment the inequity and mostly the absurd “Internet regulation” which he claims to be a necessity for films like  his delirious production which cannot be paid off ever in the European market but which he considers a necessity to the world and a right he has acquired.

So what are we talking about now? Revolution? I thought those small chats were left  after 20 years of the fall of the Berlin wall but it seems that analogies are being made with the ancient Christians overthrow of the Roman Empire!!!! That’s is amazing and revealing light at the same time. Hollywood majors and a bunch of Euro-filmmakers who aspire stardom at any cost have forgotten their historical differences and joined forces with the North-American right-wing, with the Republicans, with the European most autocratic governments, all them in a crusade against the “infidels”, thieves as the authors’ societies in Europe call downloaders.  That only brings to my mind that when all irreconciables enemies join forces it’s because the war is 100% lost.

What happens next then? It seems that all the options are fair when no option is taken. Certainly we are not going to see the end of times (if the end of times come we will be dead anyway and it won’t matter any longer), film and television will continue to exist as theatre and ballet didn’t die because of cinema and later on cinema survived video and DVD. There will be always a public for that media. But the truth of the matter is that currently all the studios are mad as hell and established authors also is not because film is dying. Film is not dying! The DVD market, the home market is terminally ill. No Hollywood blockbusters paid itself with 35mm prints released. Not since the 1970’s! It was all paid by video and later by DVDs rentals and sales. Digital medias, virtually cost-free medias today. So, please ladies and gentlemen! Quit screaming about film (movie theatres) and talk the name of the game: money making. DVD sales. DVD rentals. Digital media. Copyright.

This short video illustrates perfectly the new paradigma the entertainment industry faces.

Empowered kids: a whole new picture

Just a quick look at the new picture in the making in Uruguay since a couple of years and now in full course of action. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative has implemented with the support of the left wing government of Uruguay the first worldwide experience of covering the whole population of children in the public elementary school with one laptop each.

When we consider the effects that this action can produce to the new generation, it is simply mind blowing. First of all, it tears apart the main blockage to equality in a society which is access to information restricted to who can afford it. It makes me curious to check what will be the scores of these students compared with the previous generations and compared also with the kids who have no access to these tools.

Since Mr. Nicholas Negroponte presented the programme, I have to say that my first reaction was pretty cold given the usual lack of initiatives of all governments regarding to education and mainly if these efforts are targeted towards the lower social classes. However, Mr. Vázquez (Uruguay’s President) took it seriously and the country mobilized towards the goal and they have accomplished the first objective: saturation of the young population with ownership of the small, cheap but effective first laptop with total connectivity, built-in multimedia applications, running XO operating system.

This video can give a first impression of the early consequences of these brave and absolutely necessary step towards a truly knowledge based society.

These kids will be able to truly turn the country’s reality upside down in less than a decade. Children are competitive by nature; we all were there once upon a time. Considering that they will be empowered to reach virtually all sorts of information and form themselves (with teachers consequently having to readjust their roles or be surpassed by the pupils), it is not far fetched to foresee these kids forming a massive pool of creation. They are already manipulating photos, making small video clips, forming networks. They become active actors of their own lives and the questioning of power of knowledge will need to be revaluated. How will adults impose criteria over younger generations if they don’t have the same knowledge as they do?

No matter what comes along, the main point is that the tools are given and that is the right sort of subsidy a state has the duty to provide to its people: access to knowledge and freedom to be creative.

Until "revolution" arrives…the paradise of subsidies

As I said clearly before I don’t believe in any revolution let alone in the global kingdom of inflated egos. It is not the nature of the beast to eat its own guts and everybody can rest in peace about it: filmmakers, actors, producers and all the involved in the entertainment business won’t suicide as they see revenues dropping and sinking bellow the red mark, way bellow. At least in all the countries where subsidies are in place, the ball will keeping going. The game is too good to quit and they will fight it fiercely,  with bravery and stop at no ethical limits (the large majority at least) even if that includes censorship.

My intention here is to map as extensively as possible the production of film around the world with a special emphasis over the subsidized countries.  The US has its own set of rules, small state funded incentives, etc.etc. and for the purpose of this series of articles is simply not fun to drag its dirty out yet. Not yet.

BRAZIL

Honoring the country which saw me coming to this world, I shall start with Brazil.  Yeah, I am Brazilian by birth (European National by option). Not equal, nobody in Brazil is born equal to anything (the law? no, specially not equal to the law) … Not easy, in the country easy is seen as weak so everybody poses a nasty attitude to life in general and to their “social-inferior-peers” in particular… AND everybody feels they have the supreme right to have all the benefits in the world, existent and to be invented, on all medias and in the whole universe. To whom is used to the language used in distribution rights contracts, doesn’t it sound terribly familiar?

That said I need to clarify somethings to the newcomers to the “Brazilian kingdom”. The country has a huge media oligopoly in place for the past 44 years called nothing less than GLOBO (globe) which produces an enormous amount of daily soap operas (four hours a day x 4 different shows x 6 days per week) and that is enough to keep an army of combatant soldiers (artists), well paid and living the glory of nationwide fame, happy and smiling all day long. To portrait the whole scenario would take a book and that is not the purpose of these articles so, keeping it short, they can have a mediocre production with some excellent talent but there is a huge fiction-drama production taking place in the country.

The GLOBO organizations (the media empire spreads to cable channels, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, cable networks, music publishing, etc.etc) were raised to a predominant position by the military dictatorship in the 60’s and never declined ever since.  The military regime went down but they kept their stake and pawns over the country, supporting rebrand right-wing politicians in a fake democratic state. Currently they support the center left government of Lula. Even if they say they do not support it, they do. It is their nature: always standing behind the factual powers.  And their dominant position has made that they bred inner-house talent, shaped to their aesthetic standards for generations (not unusual to find three generations of the same family working in the same company’s department) and that has spilled over to several other art forms: the cinema is made by the same actors and a great number of screenwriters and directors; the theatre is dominated by the same actors of the soap-operas; the music heard on the radio waves is the soundtrack of their programming, etc.etc. The “Global Production Standard”  which encompass a standardized mix of key elements such as same lighting, art direction, costume designers, set designers and 99% of poor camera angles composing the lower spectrum of visual (de) effects to keep audiences’ success and with rare exceptions is almost always the certainty of a mediocre product.

To further understand the GLOBO system is necessary to clarify that even the communists and left-wingers were incorporated and assimilated by the predominant standard. Exceptions can be counted within two hands, maximum.

Yet, as an oligopoly there was no need to invest in feature films neither there was a legal obligation to do so, as it is the case in many European countries. When the GLOBO organizations raised Mr. Collor de Mello to the presidency of the nation, he called to an abrupt end of the state funded film organism (Embrafilme) and the small feature film production halted completely. From 1990 to 1994 no long feature film was produced in the country.

The demand for financial instruments able to finance a film industry was always a major drag for the cultural elites and the government had in place an instrument that in fact was quite successful to reach the small goals of those “brilliant minds”: tax exemption for companies investing in film productions. Slowly but surely, the system started to work out.

The basics of it are: a director/writer comes up with a project. Usually they are not alone and have producers attached which will package the project, attach the talent (Globo actors) and register the project with the state organization for clearance (i.e. authorization to raise money). The project is then filed in the Stock Exchange (yeah, never underestimate the capacity for grandeur that the Brazilian elite’s have!) and then out they go for the money hunt. After that, it is all up to the Marketing Manager of big corporations to decide according to their own agenda’s which film to support or not.

BUT, and there is always a big but, the “investing” companies will not invest the so-called “good money”. Nay, nay!!! They will “invest” bad money, rotten money and whatever other disgusting name they come up with in the production of film or theatre or a ballet. It’s the same from the marketing director’s perspective and the money leaves from the same pot: the corporate taxes due to the nation’s Treasure. Needless to say there is no investment whatsoever. They take up to 4% of the corporate due tax and put it in one, two, how many productions they see fit and that amount is levied by the Treasure Department. So, every single production in the country departs fully paid even before pre-production. There is no risk attached to the producers, writers and directors. All salaries paid in full at rates that when compared to the European films are quite high. If a director writes and also produces the film (not unusual at all) the net profit of this “artist” is often 30% of the entire budget. Average budget of Brazilian features? Currently averages US$ 4 million. Some reach 8/10 million US dollars. Basically it’s all ” Global Production Standard” values. Not too different from  watching a soap-opera episode but in the “magical dark room” in a brand new Multiplex Cinemark. Rare exceptions, mediocrity is the standard.

If the film fails flatly in the box office? Who loses it? Nobody. It’s fully paid. Paid by the Brazilian State and ultimately by the Brazilian poor population who does not have health care, nor decent public services let alone the right to complain about another gigantic inequality of the rich up and coming world power player championed by the blue-collar president.

It’s worth to remark that the former Minister of Culture, singer Gilberto Gil, has received also subsidy money shortly after leaving the ministry for more than US$ 200,00 guess for what? To produce his music DVD! If Caetano Veloso wants to make a show with tickets costing US$ 100 per head, he demands subsidies as well. If any problems or complaints arise from the fact that one of the richest singers in the country gets subsidies, he himself will call the seating Minister of Culture and the rules will bend to accomodate his needs.

Is there any strategy in the works regarding the digital “revolution”? Yeah, Walkiria Barbosa, director of Festival do Rio has recently declared that it’s necessary to combine “education + punishment + alternatives”. As an old school Stalinist,  she has it all squared out. She and all the rest! To talk about the real alternatives in Brazil is to cast yourself out of the picture, I know! I’m doing it as I write these pages. Don’t think outside the dark room with a projector running a 35 mm print otherwise you are not cultivated enough at best. If it comes to worst you are a criminal and point period. End of discussion. Someone will find a way to punish you.

AT THE END OF THE DAY, it is an investment, done by a legal entity into another legal entity. If the product is good and has returns, the “investor” will receive the principal plus profits. The taxes the company owed? Forget it, nobody will ever recall that minor detail, for god’s sake!

Woody Allen and Rio

The bad news? It is all reserved to Brazilian nationals but if you are Woody Allen governments will line up to pay for your production. Bastardy is a highly appraised art in the country.

A patient time before revolution

After many years of floating adrift in the realm of media producers and other parasites of the kind, many authors have decided to break free from the system and do something with their lives. Many have simply changed profession. My case is a different ball and I cannot and I refuse to give up a lifetime of struggle because shortsighted people are in power in the cultural industry. No, I won’t give in and if I go down, I will go down fighting.

No matter where, and in fact I believe that borders are pretty worthless when we talk about cultural production and distribution, the old traditional media is leaking thru the seams and patches aren’t effective in order to keep the established rules in place.

The European Union has cleared the way to repression of the Internet thru article 138 which basically trashes the justice system to shreds: no need for court orders to punish “bad” citizens who download illegal materials. Sarkozy and other little men will be hands-free to punish. Their ego inflates but reality is quite nasty to show that unless they set up a real repressive system as there is in China and Iran (look to whom the European governments must to look for inspiration!!!) all these efforts will be in vain.  Almost at the same time, the US government has repealed the right-wing initiatives to force Internet control.

I have watched an interview of the Chilean-Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar in Radio Cable where he said interesting things: a) it is impossible to win against zero! b) the internet appears in the XXI century as the Christians appeared in the beginning of the first millenium as a genuine revolutionary force. c) Internet must the regulated in order to half a dozen filmmakers as himself continue to be able to produce 50 million euros budgeted movies (italic are textual citation from Mr. Amenabar). Quite interesting to see and hear that man defending without any sort of shame or embarrassment the inequity and mostly the absurd “Internet regulation” which he claims to be a necessity for films like  his delirious production which cannot be paid off ever in the European market but which he considers a necessity to the world and a right he has acquired.

So what are we talking about now? Revolution? I thought those small chats were left  after 20 years of the fall of the Berlin wall but it seems that analogies are being made with the ancient Christians overthrow of the Roman Empire!!!! That’s is amazing and revealing light at the same time. Hollywood majors and a bunch of Euro-filmmakers who aspire stardom at any cost have forgotten their historical differences and joined forces with the North-American right-wing, with the Republicans, with the European most autocratic governments, all them in a crusade against the “infidels”, thieves as the authors’ societies in Europe call downloaders.  That only brings to my mind that when all irreconciables enemies join forces it’s because the war is 100% lost.

What happens next then? It seems that all the options are fair when no option is taken. Certainly we are not going to see the end of times (if the end of times come we will be dead anyway and it won’t matter any longer), film and television will continue to exist as theatre and ballet didn’t die because of cinema and later on cinema survived video and DVD. There will be always a public for that media. But the truth of the matter is that currently all the studios are mad as hell and established authors also is not because film is dying. Film is not dying! The DVD market, the home market is terminally ill. No Hollywood blockbusters paid itself with 35mm prints released. Not since the 1970’s! It was all paid by video and later by DVDs rentals and sales. Digital medias, virtually cost-free medias today. So, please ladies and gentlemen! Quit screaming about film (movie theatres) and talk the name of the game: money making. DVD sales. DVD rentals. Digital media. Copyright.

This short video illustrates perfectly the new paradigma the entertainment industry faces.