Is it time to give up on film ratings altogether?

“The reliability and validity of the movie ratings system are problematic, and its usefulness for parents limited,” declared a study published on Monday in which researchers of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that US film ratings barely distinguish between levels of violence depicted in PG-13s and R rated films [1]. Following so swiftly after a separate study last month determined that the level of gun violence in PG-13s exceeds that of films rated R and has tripled since 1985 when MPAA ratings began [2], is it time to stop questioning the efficacy and merits of the rating system and instead consider scrapping or replacing it altogether?

Perhaps it is inevitable that any group dictating age specific censorship will draw criticism, be it the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but studies specifically undermining the classification of films and highlighting deep flaws in the rating process underline an urgent need to reform or replace the current system. Amy Bleakley, the lead author of Monday’s study suggests: “It seems like [the ratings system] is not necessarily doing the job it set out to do in terms of shielding youth from inappropriate content” [3] and it’s hard to argue, but I suppose it all depends on what you consider to be ‘inappropriate content’.

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Hunger Games: Catching Fire epitomises the potent draw of cinema for pre-film advertisers.

There was a time when turning up to a film late guaranteed that you would be fumbling in the dark for a seat. These days, you can whack an extra hour on your parking ticket, because pre-film adverts, trailers and infomercials will extend the screening time by at least another thirty minutes.

Blazing dramatically in to cinemas, in the US alone, The Hunger Games grossed over $161 million on its opening weekend, the highest November box office, and the fourth highest of all time [1]. That’s a lot of bums on seats, and an unrivalled captive audience for advertisers. According to Digital Cinema Media (DCM), research shows that 89% of cinemagoers watch cinema on-screen advertising [2] – an unsurprising figure, given that the entire audience is sat gazing at the screen in expectation for their film to start, the same film that, in all probability, they just paid an extortionate entry fee to view.

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The all new 3D silence: an indication the third dimension has at last been welcomed by audiences, or merely tacit resignation?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, almost every visit to a film site would have you clicking through endless diatribes of the hotly debated views surrounding 3D cinema. Albeit hovering uncertainly in cinemas on and off since the 50s, it was Avatar in 2009 that essentially detonated the 3D explosion, with director James Cameron bragging that the film had been built from the ground up for over a decade with 3D in mind, and heralding new 3D technology to boot. It smashed box office records and wowed audiences the world over, breathing new life in to a cash cow that would soon have industry executives rubbing their hands with glee. But even after the initial hysteria around the new wave of so-called ‘RealD’ technology, the web remained awash with naysayers. In fact, by the end of 2010, following Avatar’s triumphant release only a year earlier, critics and pundits were already harbingering the decline and inexorable doom of 3D [1][2][3][4], and by the fall of 2012, 3D was widely regarded a dying format [5][6][7][8][9]. Yet here we are, at the close of another year replete with 3D releases, and there is an unsettling, ominous silence. The detractors are mute, the fever has subsided – is it resignation or acceptance?

Back in October 2012, a reader poll in SFX found that 42.25% of respondents “hate” 3D, with a further 28% saying that they “can’t see 3D” or it causes them problems. Only 13.75% responded positively [10]. Albeit a very specific sample and a year ago, the response still seems to bear true now:

Continue reading “The all new 3D silence: an indication the third dimension has at last been welcomed by audiences, or merely tacit resignation?”

An interview with Ink’s Jamin Winans

Writer-Director-Jamin-WinanInterview with Jamin Winans about his film, Ink. First published back in April 2011 on Smellofnapalm.com (which has since gone offline). He had a lot of (still relevant) views regarding piracy so I thought I’d reproduce it here for interest. Jamin was really receptive to my questions and as you’ll see, more than happy to give extended, thoughtful answers.

Piracy and torrent downloads reportedly gave Ink massive exposure and you are quoted to have said that you “embraced the piracy” – was that specific to your film, or are you unperturbed by piracy in general? Do you believe it has the potential to be beneficial to film makers?

That’s a really great question and actually one that no one else has asked. There have been some misconceptions about how the piracy happened with Ink. Some have thought we released it ourselves on torrent and that’s not true. It was torrented by someone who bought the disk just a few days after it was released.

Suddenly it blew up on Pirate Bay and we were honestly shocked. However, when we initially released Ink in the States we had absolutely no marketing money. An underground fanbase was developing, but it was at a trickle. When Ink hit the torrent sites our sales shot way up and the exposure was unprecedented. Ink was ranked around #12,000 on IMDB before the piracy and then it shot to #16 in a week and #14 the next week. In regards to exposure it was competing with all the major Hollywood films. Obviously the piracy was a good thing for us and so we embraced it.

My feelings about piracy of other films are mixed. I don’t see any reason why people in the States need to pirate films when there are services like Netflix that are very inexpensive, extremely convenient, and have every movie you can imagine. But the Hollywood model for the rest of the world seems to be antiquated. Frequently films don’t come out for months if not years after their release in the States and when they do come out they’re often overpriced for a lot of people in other areas of the world.

I’m not saying I condone the piracy as ethical, but I certainly understand why most piracy comes from outside the States. We’ve lived in Bulgaria for a few months and there piracy is just a way of life. There are no video stores anywhere and the only way to get a movie is to download it illegally for free or rent it on iTunes for $3.99. For a Bulgarian that it would be like spending $10-$15 to watch a movie when you can get it for free.

I would think Hollywood would be wise to start making their films available everywhere instantly for a very affordable price and do it as soon as possible. Otherwise they’re fighting a losing battle because there doesn’t seem to be a good way to inforce anti-piracy in the States let alone worldwide.

How piracy might help other filmmakers I don’t know. I think it helped Ink enormously because we had a good deal of word of mouth in advance while no one could see it. Ink is also a film that fit the piratebay demographic more than a lot of indie films so I wonder how successful a torrent release would be for most indie films. Above all else I think indie filmmakers need to make their films available any way possible because their greatest threat isn’t piracy, but obscurity.

You may be unwilling to state outright, but viewers the world over will no doubt be as curious as I am…who is Liev? (And is it deliberately “Veil” backwards?”

Wow, another thoughtful question. And I know what you’re getting at, but that’s actually one question I’m going to leave open simply because I hate to alter someone else’s experience by adding my own commentary.

What was the most difficult aspect of bringing your vision for Ink to the screen? For example, for a picture of Ink’s size and scope you were working within a relatively minuscule budget, was that incredibly limiting?

The budget was a huge challenge, but it also gave us tremendous freedom. The more money a film takes to make, the more restrictions you have. Our tiny budget let us make the movie we wanted to make. That said, we all almost died making it. It was the most exhausting and emotionally draining experience I have every been through. It was a marathon shoot that lasted 83 days and we were always way under-crewed, under-paid, and overworked. But hey, we were making a movie, what room do we have to complain? We owe an enormous amount of gratitude to our very small crew who shouldered an enormous amount of our budgetary limitations. To some degree the budget forced us to be a lot more creative. We were making decisions we wouldn’t normally make if we could just throw money at a problem. And to a large degree I think the film benefits from it. It’s just a shame it took a couple years off my life.

What was your main inspiration behind the film?

As a kid I grew up having lucid nightmares about the witch from Snow White trying to kidnap me while I was sleeping. Yes, terrifying I know. And by “kid” I mean 25. That image stuck with me a long time and one day I started writing a story around who that “witch” was. Ultimately the witch turned into Ink and a whole story about redemption came out. Probably my way of reaching peace and trying to understand my captor. Funny how things start. Oddly, Ink still looks a lot like the witch from Snow White.

Which film makers did you draw influence from; it seems to me to contain elements of David Lynch and Tarsem Singh?

Amen. Yes, huge Lynch fan, but I think you’re one of the only people who’s made that connection so kudos. Also a big Tarsem fan though I don’t know he’s as big an influence on this particular film. I grew up with a Terry Gilliam doll who was my only friend. Okay, not quite, I didn’t have any friends but Terry Gilliam was clearly a major influence. I have a lot of other influences that aren’t as obvious. I would stalk Michael Mann if I had more time and maybe ask him to adopt me, I’m an avid fan of Barry Levenson, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Frank Capra and blah, blah, blah. I’m just a huge fan of anyone making “cinema” and not just movies. I love working in the mindbending and sci-fi/fantasy genres, but I love all genres.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the pipeline?

We do. We have a sci-fi/fantasy in the works that we’ll likely shoot this year, but that will depend how quickly we get it setup. It’s very hush-hush at the moment, but we’re really excited about it. We’ll probably start posting more details on Facebook in a couple months so if your readers want to know more, just search Ink on Facebook and we’ll harass you with the latest.

Thanks for your time.

By all means. Thank you for the great questions and watching the film so thoughtfully. We’re thrilled to have the exposure.

Camera men required – feature film

One or two camera men needed.

The role: shooting first camera (DSLR 5D/ 7D) on an ultra low budget, indie feature film.
The dates: must be available 24 June – 8 July.
The deal: Travel and accommodation paid for. This is an ideal, short term summer project for a film graduate/ young filmmaker.

Message me if you’re interested: ben@alienoptics.com

 

Why piracy is still the most attractive option available to consumers (…in most cases…)

Why piracy is still the most attractive option, even for those who actively WANT and are HAPPY to pay for the content on offer. In each scenario, I give the honest, law-abiding version, and the ‘dishonest/ illegal’ version. See which you find more appealing:

CINEMA

You pay to go to the cinema.

PROS: You get to see the film on the day of it’s release in the country of release. The film is (hopefully) good visual quality and on the big screen. If you have a rare, attentive and quiet audience, it’s enjoyable to share the ‘big screen experience’ with other people.

CONS: You have to pay. You are bombarded with anti-piracy adverts, ordinary adverts and trailers for films you may or may not want to see – some of which, if you pay to go to the cinema regularly, you will have already seen several times before. You face extraordinary prices for mundane things, and I’m talking a mark up of often several 100% over normal street prices. You are usually faced with an annoying, talking, rustling, popcorn munching audience with whom there is nothing enjoyable about sharing the ‘big screen experience’. The film may be already released over seas whilst it is still unwatchable in your country so you could be waiting an agonising amount of time whilst others are already reviewing, blogging and posting spoilers about it elsewhere in the world.

You pirate the movie.

PROS: It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans, watch it with whoever you want with food that you’ve purchased yourself at reasonable prices, in a sociable environment if you so choose…

CONS: A smaller screen. Potentially fractionally lower quality, both audio and video – if you download a ‘cam’ then you’re looking at substantially lower quality, although why anyone would debase film like that in this day and age is a mystery to me…

BLU-RAY and DVD

You buy a DVD or Blu ray disc.

PROS: The best quality available. You can watch it at your leisure. It’s neatly boxed and packaged. You can lend the disc to a friend and they can watch it.

CONS: You have to pay. You are forcibly bombarded with anti-piracy adverts. These screens are nine times out of ten unskippable and frustratingly delay your viewing. Occasionally you have to put up with ordinary adverts too, despite having paid. You have to wait until the film is released on DVD/ Blu-ray, usually several weeks or months after it has been released in cinemas. As with cinema releases, discs are released at different times around the world, so others can be buying the film abroad whilst you’re still waiting. Studios release and re-release and re-re-release discs again and again in the hope of sponging more money from you. You might think you have the ‘Uncut’ version, but what about the ‘Directors Cut’ and the ‘Collectors Edition’ and the ‘Super Directors Uncut Collectors Edition’? A prime example of this was the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition blu-rays which were calculatedly released months after the theatrical version blu-rays. It’s not usually equipped with a digital copy, so you can only watch it with the right auxilliary hardware (ie. a blu ray/ dvd player).

You pirate the movie.

PROS: As before… It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans

CONS: Potentially substantially lower quality, both audio and video.

BOOKS

You buy an eBook

PROS: Assuming you read it on the device it was purchased for; good quality, legitamate (so customer services to solve any quality issues) You can read it right away as soon as it’s downloaded.

CONS: You have to pay, and often pay exorbitantly given that there are no distribution costs (printing, transport etc.) If you lose the digital copy (considerably easier to do than losing a book) then you may have to buy another. It is incompatible with other e-readers other than the device it was purchased for (eg. Amazon – Kindle, Kobo store – Kobo reader etc.)

You pirate an eBook.

PROS: It is free. It is DRM-free. You can read it on any device (once converted to the appropriate file format). You can share it with whoever you like and redownload it as many times as you like.

CONS: It may need to be converted for your e-reader, athough usually it doesn’t need to. As a result of this, it may have formatting issues. If DRM-free content is detected on your device, some companies can and will remote wipe your device (including books you have legally purchased) – Amazon, I’m looking at you.

What is especially frustrating in the example of books, is that if you own a book, if it is on your shelf at home (ie. after you have paid good, hard earned cash for it), then you can trade it, share it, sell it on, give it away to charity, whatever you like. It’s yours. If you buy the eBook, despite paying the same amount (or in some instances more), you are bound by DRM and obstructed from sharing it, reading it on multiple devices, deleting and redownloading it. You are effectively paying to BORROW a book. That sucks. It shouldn’t even be legal, that’s what libraries are for.

SO HERE’S THE THING

When all of the PROS of honest, legal consumerism far outweigh the CONS, then you can expect a decline in piracy. Right now, in the two industries above (film and books) it seems nobody is making any effort to rectify the unbalance. Whilst that’s the case, why should the consumer go out of their way, to be inconvenienced and charged for an inferior product than they can get elsewhere for free?

You’ll notice that music is not one of the industries listed above. That’s because the music industry has slowly but surely tackled their piracy problem, at least to some degree. How? Through online shopping, streaming, and music on demand services, and through stripping tracks of Digital Rights Management (DRM) ie. DRM-free.

Almost all of the music I own these days is bought and paid for legitamately, through iTunes, or Google Play or Amazon MP3. I have spent more money on music since these online, music on demand services have launched than I ever did at any time in my life before that. Music in the cloud means that I can listen across all of my devices. It means if I lose a song I can redownload it. Most importantly, it means that once I have paid for a tune, it belongs to me. People are willing to pay for content, it just has to be worth paying for.

So here is the message, and hell, how it’s heart felt:

Studios, distributors, publishers – if you fuck with the consumer, the consumer will fuck you right back. Instead of attacking consumers, labelling them as criminals, trying to frighten and intimidate them through legal tactics and law suits, how about you just offer a fucking service that people are happy to pay for?

UPDATE: Royal Mail – One foot in the grave?

Minutes after posting my last blog venting my fury at Royal Mail’s disgraceful service, I sent a formal complaint to them via the ‘customer services’ page of their website. This is the auto-response I received:

I am livid. Not only are their staff incapable of independent thought, and their policies riddled with inconsistencies, their customer services email address – provided via a form on their webpage – doesn’t even deliver emails! They are an embarrassment.

Royal Mail – “We know all our customers by name”

Today I had an unpleasant encounter with Royal Mail, so I sent them the following letter:

My brother sent me train tickets to go and visit him in France. I was left a red collection card. I went to my local sorting office (Cambridge Heath) to collect the tickets this morning and was told that despite having proof of my address, and a photo ID displaying proof of my surname, I could not pick up the tickets because it was my brothers name on the envelope and I would need his ID. I explained that he lived in France, that it was an actual impossibility for me to display his ID and it wouldn’t prove anything anyway, since I had already shown my driving license as proof of my own identity. Your employee said he was abiding by policy and didn’t care what the circumstances were, he could only arrange for redelivery tomorrow. I pointed out that if the tickets failed to arrive promptly I would miss my entire trip to France and would demand compensation. I also pointed out that if they were redelivered to my address absolutely anyone in my house could sign for them, so it made no sense that I couldn’t sign now, with proof of who I am! Additionally, there is the option on the red collection card to leave it with a neighbour and a sign in the post office that says “If we cannot deliver to you, wherever possible we will leave your item with a neighbour”. So you’ll deliver to a total stranger but won’t allow collection by a proven family member? Anyway, I was forced to leave empty handed despite a lengthy conversation in which I pointed out the ludicrousy of all of the above. If I miss my trip to France as a result of this I will be pressing for compensation. Lastly, I want to know who is accountable for this: is it your employee at the sorting office failing to use any form of common sense, common decency and discretion, or is it truthfully a severely flawed Royal Mail policy?

What is a ‘Proto-feminist’? I thought you’d never ask…

Here’s an annoying article which will attempt to piss all over your enjoyment of the BBC’s modernisation of classic Conan Doyle: Sherlock: Is Sherlock Sexist?

If you can be bothered to read the whole lot (hopefully you’ll be as irritated as I was) then feel free to continue commentary below – the Guardian saw fit to close their comments section already.

Anyway, I object to the article on a number of levels, none of which I can be bothered to explain in detail – perhaps ironically for a blogger? – but expressed most simply, it’s because I think Sherlock is a cracking good show. Jane Clare Jones is apparently not such a fan, and here is a provocative quote of hers I’ll leave you with which jumped out at me for it’s flagrant arrogance and self-rectitude. It’s a lovely, accurate, unbiased definition of a woman with her views:

…a “proto-feminist”, a woman of great intellect and formidable agency…

Hmmm…discuss?

Review: Terry – a fly on the wall peak at London’s street culture

Writer/ director/ actor Nick Nevern has definitely found a platform to show himself off: playing the role of London yob Terry in this faux-documentary drama about a dodgy london geezer and his ‘friendship group’ cum clan. They are hooligans and this is a close up and dirty portrayal of yob culture; street thugs with knives, drugs and attitudes. The film is essentially a gritty fly on the wall peak at Terry’s chaotic life and it’s an absolute masterclass on how to make a film on budget, shot on a camcorder and with a budget of less than £500! It could be perceived as a “happy-slap” flick, but honestly, it is much more than that.

Our camera man is introduced; given a name, Charlie, and a face – metal studded with a goatee, he looks much rougher than he sounds. He’s a film student making a documentary for his end of year showcase. He never really elaborates on his exact purpose behind filming Terry and crew, but it is implied that it’s kind of a social experiment, “a human study”. His subject: a sturdy, bald bloke with a predilection for cigarettes and the word ‘fuck’. He’s the very definition of streetwise and he doesn’t take any shit.

This is Terry. He’s a waster. He gets up in his dingy apartment, sparks a fag and then brushes his teeth with his finger over the kitchen sink. He drinks 90% of the day, and the other 10% he does coke. When Terry is around, a knife is never out of reach and things can turn sour, from amiable banter to violence, in an instant. He meanders from party to party with no ambition besides a drink and a good time. It’s a different life, a different culture, and it has different rules – specifically: there are none. Spencer is like the damaged chick Terry has taken under his wing. He’s a wannabe playboy who ends up spending most of his dough on prostitutes, and he sticks to Terry like glue. The two are “basically” best friends. Billy Black is a wannabe gangsta thinking he’s a wise guy. He talks the talk but he can’t walk the walk. He pisses Terry off.

These are the three central protagonists, and although we are slowly introduced to the rest of Terry’s posse, these are the three with whom most of the dramatic action takes place. There’s a lot of testosterone motivating these macho characters, and with so much conflict between the main parties things are inevitably going to get out of hand.

Terry walks a fine line that may not even exist, between a raw, brutal drama and a feel-good buddy movie. Yes it’s brutal, it’s savage and it’s totally unapologetic, but it’s never very intense. It retains an almost light-hearted and nonchalant air throughout, which is a relief because in a different light the content could have been too dark to watch. Instead Nevern finds humour in the unlikeliest of places and it’s difficult not to be swept up in the groups good natured jibing, and nonsensical banter. The chances are you’ll find yourself grinning at the most inappropriate times!

Much like Man Bites Dog, the fantastic french faux-doc about a serial killer, Terry approaches it’s subject with no prejudice and no rule book and it encourages the viewer to do likewise. Also similarly to that film, the camera man Charlie starts out determined to remain distanced from his subjects but is inevitably engaged by them, influenced by them at times, which makes for an interesting visualisation of the effects of peer pressure, affecting both the camera man and the viewer totally subconsciously.

As with most films shot in this handheld style, usually ‘found footage’ horror ventures, the shaky camera work is occasionally over-exaggerated to the point of distraction and in an effort to remain realistic, the voices aren’t always clear in the sound mix, particularly in the pubs and clubs they visit in the first part of the film. (This could also be attributable to the aforementioned £500 budget!). However, the real achilles heel of Terry is actually the pacing. When the action kicks off it is extremely gripping and easy to watch, but it’s a long time before anything really grabs your attention. In fact, I think this is a flaw recognised by the film makers as the film begins with an unnecessary and in hindsight, quite jarring false start, presumably with the intention of sparking some interest before a low key first forty minutes.

For a certificate 18, Terry is surprisingly un-graphic and inoffensive. It is littered with almost constant drug abuse, and every other word is a swear word, but there is no gore and practically no sex, although the one sex scene is a grotty threesome. It’s likely the reason it has been donned such a high certificate is the realistic and cavalier attitude of the characters towards drugs and violence. There is no underlying moral about a correct code of conduct here, nothing to indicate whether their behaviour is acceptable or not, and without a negative stance towards these things, the BBFC will always designate certificates harshly, and perhaps quite rightly too.

Terry is a film that could have gone in so many directions, and the final route it ended up taking might not be the best one. To borrow a phrase from Downey Jr., there are vaguely sinister undertones to the beginning of the movie, Terry is described as “not human”, and is often seen apart from the group, introverted. Or in the midst of a lively evening out, we’ll catch a glimpse of him, staring savagely, suddenly possessed by some inner turmoil and rage.

Everybody seems to respect Terry but as the film progresses you realise that the ‘respect’ is actually fear. People are afraid of him, of his irrational mood swings and sudden bouts of aggression. Terry will batter you for looking at him the wrong way and then carry on laughing. Terry’s mental instability seems to escalate throughout, and at times he goes totally haywire. His state of mind could have been an interesting avenue for the film makers to explore – indeed, initially I thought the film was a portrayal of one mans gradual descent in to insanity through a storm of drug and alcohol abuse. But not so. Nevern had other ideas in mind and in the final act, the film seems to veer off at a tangent and resolve itself in a manner quite unexpected.

Terry is out on DVD now.