Tom Lowe has garnered a tremendous amount of respect and praise for his experimental film TimeScapes, which recently became available for purchase on his site. Tom chose a slightly different distribution plan than many other independent filmmakers. In addition to iTunes, he is offering the film for purchase in Blu-Ray/DVD form, as well as in the form of DRM-free downloads in SD resolutions all the way up to a USB stick with a 4K file of the finished film (the first to offer a film in that resolution). As with any good work, people want to share the film online for free with each other -- something Hollywood has fought fiercely. When TimeScapes appeared on The Pirate Bay, Tom responded.
First, here's the trailer for TimeScapes if you haven't already seen it:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/timescapes/rapture4k
Here is Tom's response to the film appearing on the torrent site The Pirate Bay:
Greetings. I am Tom Lowe, the person who spent two years of his life living out of a Toyota pickup truck to make this film. If you enjoy it, please consider buying a copy from our website at TimeScapes.org or at iTunes, or maybe giving it as a gift to a friend, so we can recover the money we invested in the film, and then make some more films for your enjoyment. :)
Tom's response and his distribution strategy are completely outside the realm of Hollywood, where suing downloaders is the first option they consider. He recently had an interview with TechCrunch, where he talked about his thoughts on the film and his ideas on piracy. Here is Tom on his feelings about the torrent appearing online:
I wasn’t upset about the torrents. I knew it was going to happen. I am a member at Demonoid and other torrent sites, so I was checking every couple of days to see when it would hit torrents. When I saw the torrent, I felt like letting downloaders know that this was a small, self-financed film, and there are not any Hollywood fatcats in the revenue stream. We have also gone out of our way to offer like 15 different types of paid downloads, from standard-def resolution up to 2560×1440, for those with 2560×1600 monitors, which we believe is a first. If you want reduce file sharing, I think you should offer fast, secure, relatively inexpensive, DRM-free downloads in as many flavors as possible. The only people DRM hurts are your actual, paying customers.
Tom on how he would explain his position to a pirate:
I can just look in the mirror and have that conversation. This will piss off some of my friends who are artists, but I download movies and music. Usually, if I like something, I will get on Amazon and send a copy to a friend or a girlfriend, or a family member. Do I always do that 100% of the time? No. But I do try to make a point of it.
Lastly, his advice on fixing the piracy epidemic:
I think providing very cheap, very fast downloads directly will help. I do not have complete control over pricing of my film, as I have financial backers who need to be paid back. But generally speaking I think film downloads should be cheaper and faster, with no DRM. As far as music goes, I think artists should rely more on live shows and merchandise and such to make a living. And in terms of films, I think theaters should be bigger, with higher resolution, better seats, better sound, to create an experience that you simply cannot get at home. I would also like to be able to drink a beer at the movies.
If a film company is spending $100-$200 million dollars on a movie, it's going to be a lot harder to recoup that investment when the movie is available for $3-$5 online, which is one of the many reasons cheap downloads don't already exist. Bringing the cost of movies down is an entirely different conversation for a different day, however.
The theater experience should be much better than it is, and the reality is that it's still a huge source of a movie's income. For independent filmmakers, the options to distribute your film are growing, and in some cases shrinking, but the discussion is the same. Building an audience is hard without money, and some have even resorted to giving away their films, in the hopes of reaching a far wider audience that will offer donations in exchange for liking the film. This has worked well for the web series Pionner One, which ran a Kickstarter and then proceeded to give away the episodes using Vodo, with the option for donations that would give access to special behind-the-scenes features.
The DRM-free downloads have worked well for people like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari, and they are also working for Tom Lowe. TimeScapes, with a budget of $300,000, has made back $200,000 of that money in downloads from his site alone. Though the film is also available on iTunes, it's important if you're a filmmaker to look at as many options as possible for distribution. The DRM-free option is one way to respect the paying community who want to watch the film anywhere and on any device they want.
What do you guys think about piracy, in Hollywood and in the independent film world? What should we do about it, if anything? If we are honest with the community, can DRM-free downloads work for smaller films? Is it time to give away our smaller films for free to gain a wider audience, and hope donations and other sales sustain us?
Let us know what you think below.