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OPINION: Piracy shows indie potential

By Morris Ruskin -- Video Business, 4/21/2008

Morris Ruskin, Shoreline Entertainment

APRIL 21 | I never expected the day when I would have a conversation with a director who was actually excited that his movie was being pirated.

But Amir Mann, the director of The Fifth Patient, was ecstatic when his film—a thriller that stars Nick Chinlund, Marley Shelton, Isaach De Bankole, Henry Czerny, Brendan Fehr and Peter Bogdanovich—recently jumped 18,000% on IMDb to sit in the Top 100 most-viewed IMDb pages. His friends list grew on MySpace as well—all before The Fifth Patient has been released anywhere.

If you do a search on Google for The Fifth Patient, the majority of the first five pages of search results are for digital rips of the film on Web sites like NewTorrents.info, TorrentPortal.com and FullDLs.com. On these sites, it’s as easy to download as the next movie (which usually happens to be porn).

Mann calls it impressive that with no advertising and only a great trailer, a small film can get massive attention.

Obviously, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword for us. While it’s certainly exciting to know that the films are finding an audience, it is also unfortunate that it’s happening without the filmmakers getting the compensation they deserve.

Mann noted that if half a million people paid just a dollar each to download or rent a film, at almost 100% net margin, it can give a major lift to the finances of many indie productions.

The demand for The Fifth Patient does illustrate the potential future for digital distribution. Systems like iTunes are already providing this exact, legitimate service. But there is still work to be done to make downloads easily accessible to the majority of consumers.

Although it is still grappling with the huge issue of piracy, the music industry recognizes that the Internet will be the way of the future for all the entertainment mediums, and TV has made that jump as well. It took the writers’ strike to settle exactly how creative compensation for TV online would work, and now that that has been settled, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more promotion of network Web sites and free online downloads for the fall season. With these industries changing and evolving to accommodate these new systems, film is the logical next step to follow.

Video-on-demand has not yet solved the cost issue, and most movie downloads are still too expensive to take the place of easier, albeit riskier, illegal free downloads. Bringing that price down will be a big part of convincing the audience to stop piracy and switch over to official avenues.

I think once those systems are fully in place, it will present a tremendous opportunity for independent filmmakers to reach a much wider audience and demographic than the traditional theatrical or direct-to-DVD market allows.

Morris Ruskin is CEO of Shoreline Entertainment and producer of The Fifth Patient, for which Shoreline is seeking distribution.

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