Civil Rights X Copyright: Non Negotiable!

Traitor, ungrateful, miserable, bastard, etc. Those were a few names I was called since I decided to make public my positions regarding the on going “battle” between copyright warriors and digital libertarians. I guess many people got it very wrong from the start. The “libertarians” have written a Manifest and I support it without reserves.

What is being played here is something much deeper than a “cat chasing the mouse” fight in a small country like Spain that I guess more than half of humanity ignores where it is and a much larger percentage the history it carries back for more than 2,000 years. Yeah, two millenniums but cutting to the chase: back in 1936 a coup d’etat started a civil war in the country and Europe and the rest of the world turned their backs. It was Spain and it was not their problems. Thirty nine years of bloody dictatorship followed those events. Currently, Spain can and probably will be played as a “game-scenario” for the worst case scenario again. In 1936, Germany and Italy supported the fascists and bombarded the civil population in such bloodshed until then unknown by humankind. When in 1939, Hitler spread the fire through Europe and the world, the main powers already knew what to expect.

Guernica

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

After working many years in the entertainment industry, in many different positions, and also selling my blood for small (independent) companies in an idealistic stupid way, I gathered enough knowledge of all the tricks that can be played by every single player of the game in film and music productions: from the writer to the distributor, passing thru the producer and directors reaching down the secretary of production. I never saw a positive liquidation (final accounts where the remaining “profits” should hypothetically be paid to the producer), never at all! Even if there were cents left, the producing company would still “owe” the distributors. If there were profits, they would fall into expenses accounts and future developments. No profit, no income taxes to be paid. Reset to zero and everybody continued to be friends as always. That’s how the game is played. Producers feed writers and directors with bread crumbs, paying their mortgages, buying groceries and so they are on the leash and “grateful”. Buyers of TV stations are invited by producers to banquets, vacations in the Riviera and receive generous incentives such as loads of champagne boxes as Christmas gifts (totally legal) to allocate their resources to those friendly producers in their circle. The so acclaimed high level employment that the entertainment industry, specially film bring to the economy in general averages 4 to 5 employees (sometimes including the owner of the joint) earning 1,200 Euros per month without legal hours respected (40 hours/week in Spain) They should be “happy” because they are in their way to the glory. That’s their due to be paid to the industry before gaining the right to “really do something”. All the rest, when the subsidies fall in place, and when the TV purchases also combine, out they go hiring. There is literally an army of desperate people out there to get two months salaries (average production time). And they all fly in as mosquitoes in the jungle. It is marvellous to see and sad to realize that they also live out of dreams. That is to be respected, to live by a dream and side line with starvation the remaining half of the year.

Europe

This is Spanish, French, Italian and almost all Europe’s reality, let alone the US where I have friends earning the same since 1991, yes, correct, 18 years ago and the same weekly pay. This is only possible in Europe because there are special “social cushions” where the mass, the people who really make the film, can fall back in the work insurances and not turn into homelessness. This is the truth and I dare anyone to proof me the opposite hiring an independent research firm without conflicting interests in these industries.

So you should be guessing why am I “betraying” my people. What is my interest in that? My answer is: I want to see different people, new talent, new ideas springing and new ways of doing business. The mediocrity is produced by a system which was profitable until the means of reproduction were scarce. I loved to see what Arin Crumley did with “Four Eyed Monster” and hated when 10 days before principal photography my film had to be cancelled because one co-producer decided she was making me a favour co-signing the deal (allowing with that to advance the subsidies) and ordered me to relinquish all my rights to her. It was a brutal, it was stealing and it was a rape but I was strong enough to resist it and send her to hell. My film was not done but I look forward to the future and she looks to the gifts she must to give the local TV station managers these Holidays. I guess I’m better of than she is. Ever and forever! I play for the future and the rest struggle to retain petty privileges.

I guess talent is to be nurtured, embraced, and cared for. Italy had one of the most vibrant filmmaking scenes of the entire world and is reduced to rubble. One Italian actor told me once: “The old ones, as brilliant as they were, didn’t allow space for a new generation and now we have mediocrity or rare exceptions”. That is not the future I want for Spain, for Europe and as a matter of fact for nowhere.

Digital have changed the scenario forever and there is no coming back. They, “artists” have the social cushion where to fall (and some have multimillions in banks and property); let them lay in peace there. It’s not acceptable to even discuss neither negotiate civil rights giving in to the defence of copyright. Let alone when the copyrighted material was paid with public money. The architect charges the project of a bridge, he is paid by the government or whoever, but he doesn’t retain the right to charge everybody who crosses that bridge. Point Period. It’s also a given that nobody can copy the project, construct the same bridge design elsewhere and say it is their own creation. The right to have your credits in the making of a film, music or theatre play are not in discussion. Your merit was to create them and you were paid for it. You screenwriters and directors: how many of you begged producers to give you a chance? How many of you waived salaries? Give me a break! If anyone copy the authorship of my writing and publish it without even naming me, I will sue in the courts of law. If my name is mentioned, please go ahead! You are welcome to reproduce anywhere! Creative Commons, some rights reserved, namely authorship is reserved. Reproduction? Do it yourself with some clicks!

What about music then? Music Companies paid dearly radio stations, TV programmers, etc. to play your music in order to have your music reaching the public. That was also the reality. Just a few years ago. So, let’s drop the masks! Kids would win a luxury car; the multinational would make tonnes of money.

And in the most physical side of the matter: it is not possible to control what you are doing thru your broadband. Simply as that! The USA has developed and distributed sophisticated software which scrambles outgoing and incoming IP address to give away to Iranian people surpass the censorship of the Ayatollah’s. The only way around, and even so, it would be hard as hell, would be a Chinese cyber patrol model.

Civil Rights Movement

NON NEGOTIABLE CIVIL RIGHTS

So, my friends, Sarkozy did whatever he pleased (except place the “Prince” in the EPAD) and people talked but didn’t care too much about the Hadopi. Anyway there is a way around. Good and dearly respected French friends of mine have written that response to me these last days and made me reflect why the Spaniards are so different: because the mere idea of the government censoring our acts is beyond any acceptance. The memoir of the dictatorship is in the DNA perhaps and we cannot trade the civil rights for an obsolete copyright law, flawed from the beginning to the end. Again, Spain is a laboratory of freedom in Europe. Hopefully this time, people will join us and take this task as if it was the defeat of the National Socialism 70 years ago and not turn their backs in indifference. What happens here, if successful, will spread. At least in Europe and Latin America; such a proposal in the USA, well… that is for another book.

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?

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.

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