Movie magic – moving forward

September 2011

Making movies has always been a complex, innovative and creative undertaking. From its beginnings in the late 19th century, the movie industry has morphed, adapted and grown in line with technological possibilities. Today, this multibillion dollar global industry and those who work in it face new challenges as the transition to digital progresses. Digital technologies are overturning established ways of producing creative content and of delivering it to audiences around the world. While this means we have greater choice in terms of when, where and how we view these creative works, it also presents risks and opportunities for those making movie magic. In July 2011, WIPO invited Spanish film star Javier Bardem, Indian film producer and director Bobby Bedi, Egyptian movie icon and film producer Esaad Younis and British film producer Iain Smith, to share their views on the challenges facing what the German philosopher Hegel described as the “seventh art”.

Making movies

Moviemaking is a collective endeavor involving many brilliant creative talents: writers, directors and actors, cameramen, designers, choreographers, editors, makeup artists, hair stylists and illustrators, and the list goes on. It is a costly and risky undertaking. Economic success depends on “matching ideas with talent, obtaining relevant intellectual property (IP) rights and using them to attract finance from commercial film distributers”1 and, of course, capturing the imagination of audiences.

British film producer Iain Smith; Egyptian movie icon and film producer Esaad Younis; Indian film producer and director Bobby Bedi; and Spanish film star Javier Bardem.
(Photos: WIPO/Emmanuel Berrod)

A producer’s perspective:

“Movies are magic in people’s lives,” according to British film producer Iain Smith, “but it all costs money … it takes time, is risky and expensive.” Intellectual property, he said, is “the legal bedrock of everything we do in the film business.” He pointed out that “any system that brings together investors with creators has to somehow exploit intellectual property,” adding that “without a system that invests in “risk and innovation,” “scale and quality,” “movies will simply disappear.”

“Audience demand is clearly for magic,” he noted, “and magic in film certainly comes at a price… There has to be a contract between money and art … between investment and creation in order to bring the consumer choice.”

The challenge is to build “IP for a future that digital technology is allowing us … whereby there can be proper compensation for risk and for talent and innovation, at the same time allowing consumers to enjoy full diversity of choice.”

“We have to change the system that we have at the moment, holding on to the better qualities of it and move it towards something that will allow us to exploit digital technology in the fullest possible way,” he said. This is particularly important for “emerging economies, growing their own creative industries, and finding their own voice in the digital world,” he noted.

An actor’s perspective:

Spanish film star Javier Bardem made the case for strengthening the rights of actors whose unique skills and creativity breathe life into movie characters. Actors are a key element of any film, “no audiovisual work of fiction can be made without … a whole cast of actors … without whose contribution the collective project would not see the light of day,” he said. Speaking for the 90 percent of actors who struggle to make ends meet, he noted that “behind every actor there is an individual, a worker, a creator and a family with the same worries, problems, concerns and needs as any other citizen.” Beneath all the glamour, he noted, there is a great deal of work, effort, sacrifice and risk.

In spite of their “decisive” contribution to the production of works, actors are the only group of creators for whom an international treaty – specifically to protect rights in their audiovisual performances – has not yet been established. Mr. Bardem called on policymakers to strengthen actors’ rights and to ensure that they share in a film’s commercial success, both in cinemas and the online environment. The majority of the world’s actors “are making a very, very small living out of what they do so … it is important to think about those thousands of families [who] really need that money to pay the bills.” An industry that “does not adequately protect its workers,” he affirmed, “is doomed to failure.”

International negotiations at WIPO

WIPO member states are currently negotiating an international agreement on the protection of performers in their audiovisual performances within the context of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR).


Going digital: opportunities

Digital technology is responsible for a “cataclysmic change” in the film industry, Iain Smith observed. “Digital lets us play with new storytelling toys like CGI (computer-generated images) and 3D; it also gives us digital projection, digital distribution, cloud technology, format shifting and digital cinemas – all good.” He noted that “for the first time [it] gives us and the consumers the possibility of expressing [our]selves using images in a way that [we] could never do before.”

“What we are looking at is a much, much more vibrant cross-cultural energy,” Mr. Smith explained. “The concern we have … is that we must make sure that in every aspect – industrial, legal, political – everything can be done to maximize the full benefit of digital technology, not just for the consumer but also for the creator, so that we are not just dealing with a kind of lowish level … type of activity but also the higher end.” “Digital technology,” he believes, “is more positive than negative.”

Indian film producer and director Bobby Bedi is even more optimistic about the digital future. “I think that digital technology is going to be the big thing for our industry,” he noted. “I think we are going to be able to survive, develop and grow both artistically and commercially because of this technology.”

He pointed to the massive environmental benefits digital technologies offered in facilitating production and operations. By enabling satellite transmission of films directly to cinemas, and rental and sale of film via cable and the Internet, it is possible to cut the costs of CD and DVD production, transportation and storage. These technologies also support “the creation of the art itself,” he said, making it possible to “take audiences into realms of fantasy defying time and space.”

The downside

While digital technology offers unprecedented opportunities in terms of creativity and access, the downside is rampant criminal piracy and content theft.

The crux of the matter, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry explained, “is that the difference between the cost of production and the cost of reproduction is enormous. If you think of what goes into making a film,” and that with digital technology, “all that can be reproduced with perfect fidelity … and at zero marginal cost, that’s the drama.”

In 2010, “the Hollywood dream became the Hollywood nightmare,” Mr. Smith explained, with box-office hits like Avatar suffering 16.5 million illegal downloads. Such theft cost the American movie industry an estimated 25 billion dollars in lost revenue. “The business can’t continue on that basis,” he said. Piracy is “a huge threat” that “must be dealt with”. It “happens because it can, but just because it can doesn’t mean to say it should.”

In the U.K., film piracy means fewer indigenous movies are being made; in Hollywood, studios are retreating “into fewer, safer, bigger, ‘tent-pole’2 movies, into franchises, sequels, TV spinoffs and remakes,” and generally, cinema attendance is dropping, hitting a 16-year low in 2010.

“The only ways that actors, technicians or workers, producers, directors, all of us can get paid,” Bobby Bedi observed, “is through the money that people pay for a ticket, a CD, a DVD or a download.” While digital technology “makes things easier for us and makes us so much more creative, it does easily permit theft of our property at a very high quality and in a very easy way,” he continued. “Now if our revenues come down then obviously actors will suffer, producers, directors, everyone suffers. Finally, creativity suffers.”

Education, he contended, is an important part of the solution. “We need to disseminate hard and soft information about ethics, law, penalties, etc. over the Net. Dominant players need to be co-opted in this effort … to tell a person that, yes, there is a right and a wrong even in IP theft.” While progress is being made in the area of legislation “there’s not much point in having a law unless you enforce it,” he observed. The digital world, he noted “is bereft of boundaries, so pirates just shift base,” moving to a place where laws are more lenient.

“Educate, legislate and enforce” is his mantra for tackling the movie industry’s IP challenges. “It’s not rocket science,” he said, “but I suspect it’s easier to build rockets than to achieve this, but we must try.”

The need to change perceptions

Egyptian movie icon Esaad Younis, CEO of one of Egypt’s largest film production and distribution companies, Al Arabia Cinema, warned that piracy is threatening the world’s cultural heritage. Ms. Younis underlined the need to educate young people about the risks of piracy. “We have to find another way to reach young people,” she said, to make them understand that films cost money and that what they are doing is illegal. We need to bring these young people on side to “use their talents to improve the industry.” Ms. Younis asserted that governments have a responsibility to raise awareness about the damage caused by piracy. “Each country should inform citizens that they are hurting their history…If they pirate movies, they are killing the industry, and their culture.”

The consequences of piracy are clear for Javier Bardem, who said, “if an actor or a great director makes a movie and he cannot make any other[s] because his movies have been downloaded for free, then we are not going to have that director again. It’s that simple.” He added, “once again, it’s not about that director, that actor, that producer; it’s about the hundreds and hundreds … of people behind those movies,” who without fair compensation will be unemployed.

“What I don’t agree with,” he said, “is the mentality of people [who think] piracy is fine,” and the mindset that just because someone doesn’t have the money for a movie ticket, it’s alright to download [the film] free of charge. “What bothers me the most is that way of thinking.” Far from being about what is “fair”, “it’s about stealing, ” he said.

The future

The transition to digital is an important turning point in the long and rich history of moviemaking. While digital technologies present risks, “the long-term benefits of an active, creative economy are massive, especially for emerging nations,” Mr. Smith noted. The challenge is to move to a different paradigm and a new relationship with content, without losing the better qualities of the current system. By slowly adapting the movie industry’s business model to lower front-end pricing, day and date releasing, cross-format shifting and cloud technology, Mr. Smith said, “what could be achieved would be fantastic for all of us.” After all, he said, “creativity in all its forms is our most powerful asset as human beings. It’s far, far more powerful than our ability to destroy … and it is creativity that will bind us together as we move into this new century.”

by Cathy Jewell

1  Rights, Camera, Action! IP Rights and the Film-Making Process, Creative Industries – Booklet No. 2, WIPO PDF, Rights, Camera, Action! IP Rights and the Film-Making Process</a>.<br />
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2  A major movie or blockbuster that film studios expect will turn a profit very quickly and compensate for less successful releases. The term is derived from the image of a big circus tent held up by large poles and which attracted large crowds.

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