How Torrents Could Kill Independent Movie Making

Wyrmwood postapocalyptic zombie film

Wyrmwood, a postapocalyptic Australian mix of “Mad Max” and “Dawn of the Dead” is on the list of the most-torrented-movies of this year. This means: Wyrmwood is one of this year´s most pirated movies. What sounds like an interesting side note at first is a symptom of what could kill independent and guerilla movie making in the long run. Leaving those who watch and download films with films not even worth downloading. Check out this teaser which is from Wyrmwood’s crowdfunding campaign:

Don´t get me wrong. I love many of the mainstream movies. What´s better than watching The Rock fighting a horde of undead as Hercules or Vin Diesel sitting in a Porsche delivering a one-liner with his bear-voice? But the studio movies work in a different economic system and it would be too much trying to pack that into this post, so I will focus on indepedent and guerilla movies.

The difference between independent movies and guerilla films:

Independent movies are movies that are produced without the financial aid of a big studio such as 20th Century Fox or Universal Studios. Most movies from John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween, The Fog) are independent movies. Being independent gives the filmmaker more control over his cinematic vision and often therefore results in themes and movies that are way more daring than a studio could allow to be. Just imagine Michael Myers running around without a knife, because the movie needed a PG-13 rating if it was a studio film.

And guerilla filmmaking is characterized by low budgets, small crews, selfmade props, stunts and blood effects and using whatever is available. Guerilla filmmakers often invade locations without the owners’ permission (because they don´t have the money for that), shoot their scenes fast and get away before the police arrives. Examples for guerilla films are: Spike Lee´s She´s gotta have it, El Mariachi from Robert Rodriguez, Pi by Darren Aronofsky – among many others. Guerilla filmmakers are the underdogs of filmmaking, mostly driven by passion than by the wish to get rich.

So how did Wyrmwood get made?

Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, the makers of Wyrmwood – Road of the Dead, had planned to spend $30,000 on their debut movie. They ended up spending $150,000. They were able to get together $37,275 USD from a crowdfunding campaign, the rest came out of their own pockets and from their friends and family. So they invested their private money to produce their movie. Of course, $150,000 is not enough to produce a decent film with real actors, crew, face blood, vehicle stunts, modified vehiles, more fake blood, eating, gasoline… oh, and have I mentioned the fake blood yet? So what you do as a filmmaker is: You promise those who believe in you, those who follow you on this road full of long shoots and bad meals, uncomfortable nights in sleeping bags (in short: your crew) that you will share the money you earn from the movie with them. That is called deferred payment.

The reality of living on the set

Shooting an independent movie usually takes between three and five weeks, depending on the kind of shoots the film needs and the relation of indoor and outdoor shoots. So those people who are helping the film to get made are not getting paid while they do so – or they get close to nothing. Could you afford to take a five week break from your job to work for free? Who will pay for your apartment, who will pay for your insurance and food while you are not getting paid? But this is what  indie filmmakers and especially guerilla filmmakers very often do. They do it out of pure love for cinema. And, yes… this is stupid. …and they do it for you.

Now let´s get back to the makers of Wyrmwood, the brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner: They spent $150,000 and they still “owe” their crew $1,000,000 in deferred payments.

Wyrmwood made $125,000 in the box office. Then Wyrmwood got into torrents and from there on made nearly no money. The Roache-Turner brothers hope that the will at least get to the break even point (I guess they mean recouping the $ 150,000 that had been spent), but it is not very likely that the crew will get paid if things don´t change.

What does this mean for them as filmmakers… as artists?

They probably won´t be able to make more movies if things don´t change.

An artist needs success in order to be able to make his art (Picasso).

If a filmmaker is not able to pay back those who lent him money and is not able to pay his crew so they can pay their bills and buy food to put in the refrigerator, then he won´t stay in the business for very long. People won´t believe in him anymore, they won´t lent him their money for the next film, nor will they be runnig around for sixteen hours dragging cables on the next shoot. And therefore this filmmaker very probably won´t do other films anymore.

Ok, get to the point, what does this mean?

Times have changed. We can´t keep on just taking care of ourselves without looking to the right or the left. You have the choice. If people download independent movies those same movie makers won´t be able to make another movie and you won´t get to see any cool indie films from them any more. Pirating movies it is not some sign of rebeling against the establishment. It doesn´t hit the big studio bosses – those know how to make their cut. It hits the ground workers, the make up ladies, the drivers, those who carry the cables …and the indie filmmakers. Show that you care for independent films – if you want to watch it, just rent it on iTunes, Netflix.. or get the DVD or BlueRay. Or when was the last time your boss or your customer said the following to you: 🙂

I want you to work for free this month.

By the way, you can find Wyrmwood on iTunes here. (I´m not getting paid for this nor did I have anything to do with this film. I just think that this is a really entertaining postapocalyptic-zombie-gore-flick.)

Show that you care about independent movie making and please share this blog post. 🙂

7 responses to “How Torrents Could Kill Independent Movie Making

  1. Hum… there’s a problem with the distribution industry (my guess is that it’s the distribution that’s driving the problem all along).

    We all read about the good and old days, when nickles paid a movie session… kids would be willing to sneak into the movie theaters and whatch a movie.. once… twice… or even a whole of times like I remember myself doing (when not so much of my teenager friends had the money to do it).
    Off course, when parents do not give 15 bucks to their kids willingly, their kids won’t be able to go see 2 movies and often think… ‘well, a movie is 1.5 h of entertainment, while a game is 30 bucks and will last me for this whole Summer’… you wee where I’m going with it?

    It’s not the technology of ‘sharing’ that is wrong, it’s the motivations that drive people to do it that must be thought over instead of puting people for years sentences and quite big sums of money, while people that actually brought the economy (world one) to a halt are praised in magnificent XXI elite’s ball rooms. (Was an ex-Goldman Sachs that went to Treasury to ‘advice’ the people to bailout… some banks?)

    You see… many people wouldn’t mind spending a buck or two on a movie theater to see whatever they would like, over and over… while we cannot say for certain the same about spending 15 bucks (and the prices do range into those figures)… so to make 150 000 USD, you need 10 000 people spending 15 bucks (I know there’s more to the cost then fluffy paper)… perhaps you could have 1 million USD if you just asked 1 USD and got 2 million persons going to see it…

    Is it that excentric to think like this? I believe our reality is quite unconfortable. We live in a fairy tale without the magic… we pretend to be rich Western countries while a big chunk of our population is being hammered below poverty by the big machine, the the guys driving the machine are smiling and pointing fingers to those crappy pirates over there… because… piracy happened in the 30’s as well as it happened in the XVI century in merchant routes. Yet we allways found a way around through newer and inovative ‘economic models’.

    I do wonder who actually is the biggest ‘culprit’ in our current days.


    • I mean, I don’t aprove… but I do think we should not focus so much in what I believe to be a consequence of current economic hardness… and hammer those that do want to continue to participate in culture but cannot aford 15 bucks…
      It’s not just about the price of the ticket. The subject is big…


    • Nuno, my friend, you are right. 15 USD is too much for a movie ticket. And the cost will rise to 50 USD and up – due to movie piracy.
      I´m not hammering people who can´t afford to go to the cinema. I myself always wait patently untill the DVDs are more affordable (let´s say 7,99 € or 5,55€ instead of their initial price which is usually 13,99 here in Austria.)
      One of the main reasons why the cost of movie tickets exploded that much is because the DVD sales broke down 15 years ago as a result of movie piracy. DVD sales made the half of the profits of the movie industry. With 50% less income the studios did not know how to “calculate” which movies get greelighted and which not, because they could not make estimations about their profit margins. The result is what we see in current mainstream cinema:

      1.) Franchises of blockbusters, like Fast an Furious 7 and all the Marvel titles. Simply because these titles are “proven concepts” with an already established “awarness” and built-in-fanbase.
      2.) producing more for the interantional markets while using internationally known stars – always the same stars which are bankable.

      It was not very different 15 years ago, but it is now becoming the standard way movies are getting made. Lynda Obst, the producer of 80ies movies like “Sleepless on Seatle” talks about that and names it “the new abnormal”.
      The thing is, that the access to cinema as we know it now is going to change drastically. It will become like a visit to the opera with an average post per ticket of 150 (!) USD. Only economically better positioned people will be able to go to the cinema. Also George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Faith Popcorn (trend scientist) predict such things.
      I´m not bashing poor people. It couldn´t be farer away from the truth 🙂
      What I´m saying is that simply taking things and not caring about how it was produced and not considering that there where people involved who also need to make a living of something, who have a family and children – is not the right route. It´s stealing, as simple as that. And this does not end with films, it is the same with music, literature, “cheaply produced” food (chicken factories).

      I am also not saying that everbody must go to the cinema. 15 USD or 12 Euro is really not cheap for a ticket. A rented download costs 4 USD.

      I understand that the golden age of cinema is long gone and it will never come back, I´m totally there with you 🙂
      I just want to point out, that we should consider that (indie) filmmakers also need some kind of income and possibilities to pay back their investors otherwise they won´t be keep on making movies- or we will have a long list of extremely cheap made one-time-only-filmmakers on one side and the mainstream blockbusters on the other side – with nothing in between. It does not mean that everybody has to spent his whole summer´s budget for movies. No, there are far more important things in life than entertainment… and art. But if a ticket or a movie rent is too expensive, how about other possibilities like donating money directly to the filmmakers or something?


      • Heh I would love that the movie industry could figure out it’s own problems and change accordingly. We live a time when no one has the opinion of the big picture, because everyone is specialist in a small part. We lack the master minds that underpin entire systems. Yet we desperatly need them.

        If movies change their delivery on a low cost ‘per use’ basis you’ll have a maximization of earnings. Obviously studios won’t do it because this is a completely new and out of the box way of accounting for costs and earnings. It would require them to be near death to try it.

        Donating is not the way, because there’s too much already to donate for anyway (Haiti, Nepal, forests and who knows what more? a new country for Bangladesh in 10 years?). And you might get into places where you ask for the minimium and get 90% of it… so there might be a generation of 50%-90% crowdfunding projects. However… the (our) billions governments put on their friends’ Banks and Companies would be very good to kickstart entire industries that will gear up the money inside them for decades to come. This actually is the best way to fight poverty (you employ humans and engage them in activities, instead of dropping food from the air). Most people that consume from industries are actually the people that studied them anyway.

        I would bet most of our problem comes from channel fragmentation. Where on Earth will you be able to pay for the whole of Cable Channels on your street? Yeah… yeah… audiences… that’s bullshit. Why should a heavy metal fan only see post-apocalyptic? Makes no sence and there’s no recipie there… by the way… he might actually suddenly change tribe you know? I suppose he’s free to do so… or at least he should be…

        I would say:
        1- change delivery model
        2- improve or create awareness on new channels and industries (I’m talking about advertising, fashion, games, web and elsewere)
        3- cost in a percentual from a ‘basket of goods’ – not country wide but region wide

        If a philanthrope reads this, here is a cool experiment: with 300 millions, one could create a movie with a game, advertise them, and let people watch online for 1USD any time they pleased (each time costed 1USD), payable through paypal, sms or whatever. Earn 1USD + for each theatre screening customer (1 USD after expenses). For 10USD they have the standalone game and movie. For 5 USD per month, access to an account within the game to battle eachother like EVE online.

        If you need to sell your stuff, but times are hard, you need to go outside the paradigm I suppose.

        Did Iron Sky worked well? My problem with crowdfunding is when big people will understand that it’s a gret place to kickstart their suposedly ‘independent’ ideas and you and I will be shaded by their presence in there. How can the little people be able to rise up to the place under the sun?

        independent movies… Well… if you really really really have the urge to tell a story…
        I bet money models won’t stop you. (You boss might heh but that’s another story)

        Anyway… if and when our economic systems turn again to the common folk on the street, this problem ceases.


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