The film, available in multiple resolutions and DRM-free, is a beautiful, Malickian meditation on nature and the American Southwest. It is, in a word, striking. But his note struck a chord in the web community and his film gained the attention of Reddit and other communities where it was hailed as a refreshingly calm and reasoned approach to piracy. I wanted to know more.
I tracked Tom down in Las Vegas and asked him a few questions about piracy, filmmaking, and what it takes to be an artist in a time of digital downloads.
TC: Why did you comment? Were you upset? Did you just find the torrent?
Tom: 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.
TC: How long did it take you to make the film?
Tom: Two years. I essentially shot the film out of my Toyota Tundra pickup truck, sleeping outside on cots under the stars for hundreds of nights.
TC: What do you feel about piracy in general? Do you see it as a hindrance to art?
Tom: I just see piracy as a reality. I don’t really see it as good or bad. Artists need to accept that this is reality now, and adapt their business models around reality.
How many copies did you sell? Did things improve after the attention?
Tom: We made the entire movie for about $300K, and we have sold about $200K from our own website in downloads, so we are doing pretty well.
We’re hoping to break even in the coming months. If we happen to get a TV deal with Nat Geo or BBC or Science Channel or whatever, that would instantly put us into the black. But there is also overseas TV, which I think our film would be great for
TC: What can people do to support artists besides buying films? What could you use?
Tom: You know, we had pre-orders of “TimeScapes” and the public funded us with about $120K. That really helped. In exchange we offered to put their names in the credits, along with other small incentives, which people seem to enjoy.
TC: Are you angry at the Internet?
Tom: Only when it’s slow. Of course not. My entire film “TimeScapes” was born of the Internet. I met the film’s producer and financial backer over the Internet. In fact, having only ever chatted on email a few times, he sent me $100,000 and a $50,000 Red MX digital cinema camera from New Zealand. It would be at least a year later that I actually met him in California.
TC: As a filmmaker, how has piracy helped you? Hurt you?
Tom: I don’t think it’s possible for me to say yet. What if some kid downloads my film, and his father turns out to be head of distribution at the Discovery Channel or something? Who knows.
TC: If you were to sit down with a pirate right now, what would you tell him or her? How would you explain your position?
Tom: 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.
TC: What needs to change in the industry to make piracy not worth the cost or risk?
Tom: 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. Why not? And stop raping me for $5.50 for a coke. People don’t like to be raped.
TC: Is there any way to make purchases or rentals more appealing than piracy?
Tom: Make it cheap, easy, and fast.
TC: What kind of response did you get from your comment and reddit post?
Tom: The response seems very positive. My entire career and film have been based on the support I get on the internet. I didn’t plan any of this. I just wrote what I felt like writing at the Pirate Bay spontaneously, to let people know there is a real human being behind the download.