As part of promoting ALGORITHM I’ve been posting this journal to my website. It’s strange to read my earlier posts and realize that they were written by me. I’ve changed a lot in the past nearly three years. It’s not just learning more about making movies either. I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learned that I can withstand far more suffering, that I can create much better art than I thought possible.
That revelation makes me dream bigger, be even more ambitious. It makes me feel like I can change the world. The really interesting thing is, it turns out I have changed the world. I’ll get into that in a moment.
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I talked with Phil and Joe, I’ve talked with Chris and Gio and everyone agrees that ALGORITHM is amazing and we’re really proud of it. What’s just as amazing to me is that they’re all more interested in getting it out than they are in making money. We’ve all accepted that it probably won’t ever pay us any money, but that it may lead to future money. Of course, if the money ever comes, it will be shared among everyone.
That lack-of-concern for money, and the fact that there aren’t any investors, gives me enormous freedom to experiment with various distribution methods with ALGORITHM. We could have tried for a traditional distribution, but it would have taken so long that ALGORITHM would have become a period piece because of the old technology. Also, it would mean our progress would be that much more delayed. And, that’s to say nothing of the fans who already want it.
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On the week of December 7th, actually the previous week, I had a huge revelation. I blogged about it on my website. Rather than write the whole thing down again, I’m just going to copy/paste it here. It’s probably the biggest idea and paradigm shift in thinking I’ve ever had. Here it is:
“Piracy is not going to stop nor should it. It’s a good thing!
Piracy stems from the idea that information should be free: no cost. When information is free it flows freely; people make better decisions and we all end up getting better stuff. That’s not a guess. That’s a fact. When people freely share ideas we get renaissances, cultural surges that inevitably lead to radical social and technological advancements.
We shouldn’t be using the word “piracy”. We should call it what it is: sharing. Sharing is the free flow of ideas and stuff. The people who have a vested interest in maintaining the current model call sharing piracy in order to demonize it and make it distasteful to society as a whole. The fact is sharing is a better model.
Stay with me here because it’s about to get fun.
There is no money in Star Trek. There are no poor. There are no hungry. There is no such thing as economic equality. In Star Trek everything is free. The replicator can make anything anyone wants, for free, leaving everyone with the time to pursue whatever intrigues them.
That may seem like a distant future but it’s not. It’s happening now! Sharing is the start of it.
It started when the idea of scarcity began to fade.
Computers made that possible. Among the first files shared were scientific ideas. That’s where the Internet started, a collection of university computers that were connected to each other to share ideas. That slowly transitioned into sharing software. The next easiest thing to digitize were books. Computers store text. Books are texts. And thus, books were the first copyrighted material to be easily copied and distributed digitally.
As computing power increased, larger things began to be digitized. And, next on the commerce block was music. A song is a small file, and it was one of the early things to go digital. With that shift, the music industry changed. That shift was called Napster.
Now, it’s movies. That’s what I do for a living. I made a movie called ALGORITHM. I released ALGORITHM for free for 24 hours. Within a week, my website had 232,000 hits. ALGORITHM is now up on the various torrent sites and it’s being freely shared.
I was mad when it first happened because all those views only translated to about $2,500, which is next to nothing for a movie. I was mad when my tech-savvy friends were stealing my movie and not paying for it. I was mad that I constantly heard about people who had seen the movie all around the world, but that I still couldn’t afford to even pay myself back for what I’d spent making ALGORITHM.
Then I finally just sucked it up and realized that piracy isn’t going to stop. It’s going to keep going. People are going to keep sharing my movie.
I decided to adapt, to continue the lessons I had heard about in The Lean Startup. I chose to fail fast and iterate.
Youtube gives me the most coverage across the world with the smallest upfront cost to me. It also allows me to make money with ads while still, technically, giving my movie away for free.
I still need money, for now.
Here’s why: the way I make a living has shifted to the Star Trek model, my need to pay for food and to pay rent hasn’t. The rest of the world has yet to catch up. But it will. I’m going to help it. I am making ALGORITHM easily accessible to the world on Sunday December 7, 2014, at 12:01am Pacific time. I will redirect my website www.thehackermovie.com so it points to the movie. I’m making it very easy to find.
The shift from the present to the Star Trek future is happening now. It’s not going to stop with movies. The next shift is in making small physical objects. It’s 3D printing. That technology is just beginning. In this early stage we can print statues, houses, cars, food, even medical devices. It’s not going to be long before every physical thing is free.
And that’s a future I want. I want to be a part of that future. I'm going to help make it a reality.
When everything is free there won’t be any poor. There won’t be any wealth inequalities. There won’t be people starving because anyone can just print food. People won’t go into debt for the rest of their life to go to college because we’ll have equal access to information and art. There will be no tricking the ignorant because people won’t be ignorant because information will be free.
I’m crazy enough to believe I can help change the world. And the world I want is when the future is free!”
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The real profundity of that change, which is something I’m going to send to Indiewire to see if they’ll post it, is the shift from survival to hope. For my entire career, I’d been thinking about myself. I’d been focussing on what I want and how I can survive in a sustainable way as an artist.
The post quoted above is a radically different perspective. Rather than focussing merely on my own survival, which is ultimately a rather selfish perspective, I’m focusing on the future of the human race. See what I mean about changing the world?
Yesterday, on Twitter, I shared that post with someone. It got picked up by the Pirate Parties of Spain (@PPInternational), which have a single unified Twitter account. They shared it, which meant it got shared by a lot of their followers. The quote PPI focused on is “We shouldn’t be using the word piracy. We should call it what it is: sharing.”
This morning, I was reading my Twitter feed and I saw someone echo that idea, that we need to rebrand piracy. The best part about it was that he wasn’t crediting me. It took ownership of the idea. He made it his own. It became personal and now he’s spreading the message. That’s how the world gets changed, people owning ideas that they didn’t come up with. People are way more passionate about those kinds of thoughts than simply regurgitating messages they’ve been told.
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ALGORITHM’s initial premiere was on July 14, 2014. On that single day, it got watched 17,100 times on my site alone.
I posted ALGORITHM to YouTube on December 7, 2014. By December 24, just 17 days later, the YouTube post had gotten 17,000 views. Today, 3 days later, it’s almost at 22,000 views. That doesn’t seem like a lot of views on Youtube. Compared to the most-watched videos, it’s just a drop in the bucket. But that’s really the wrong way to look at it. The right way is to compare it to other movies.
A typical movie theater might have has many as 250 seats. So 22,000 views is the same as 88 completely sold-out movie theaters, in just over 3 weeks. For an independent movie that doesn’t have a major distributor, where there is no money spent on advertising and promotion, to get those kinds of numbers that quickly, without any famous people attached the movie, that’s unheard of. It’s insane. It’s record-breaking and has never really been done, ever! That’s another way I’ve changed the world.
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The real shift, the major thing that changed with the above post is also a change in the way I think about doing business. The hacker credo, which gets said a few times in ALGORITHM is “Information should be free.” I had to adopt that ideal to understand hackers, but it was always partitioned in my mind as a place I had to go but also a place I knew I wasn’t going to stay. It was very similar to the way an actor takes on a role.
When I accepted that sharing is going to continue, I essentially adopted the hacker credo as my own. I fully embraced it. The only problem was that I needed a business model that allows me to continue to eat while still creating art.
Here’s the business model: I’m going to give my art to the people while extracting money from the capitalists through advertising. It’s not a new model. Most social media websites and platforms are built on that, though I doubt that the C.E.O.s have conceptualized what they’re doing in the same way I have. It’s simply a way to make money in a time when people aren’t paying for things.
I see the model as something much bigger. It’s a segue from capitalism to the free model. It’s a way to give things away while still sustaining myself and my cast/crew. It’s a beta-test of a revolution. And, with the views ALGORITHM has gotten in just 3 weeks, there’s a good possibility that it will work.
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The final aspect of the shift is in realizing Google inadvertently built the world’s most powerful distribution model, by far. No one uses YouTube for what it can actually do and there are a couple reasons for that. The primary reason is because anyone good enough to produce quality content gets snatched up by Hollywood.
Hollywood is a business of art. The business aspect is often forgotten by artists, but it’s the truth. Businesses tend to make a lot of money. Some of the really successful YouTube channels have been purchased for as much as $300 million! It would take a special kind of creative to turn down that amount of money when it comes knocking.
No one has so far.
This leads many to the false-perception that all YouTube is good for is immature comedy or cat videos—essentially the crack-cocaine of the Internet. Those kinds of videos generally attract young people, who watch a lot of YouTube videos. However, advertisers want their stuff in front of the young as brand-recognition in future purchase, but they also know that young people don’t have much money.
The real big-money advertising agencies don’t buy ads on YouTube. Last year, YouTube made less than $2 billion in ads. Meanwhile CBS, by itself, made over $9 billion, even though CBS doesn’t get anywhere close to the number of viewers YouTube gets.
That leaves YouTube wide open for someone willing to risk the possibility of failing economically, who will put what the industry calls “premium content” up on YouTube, and with the constitution to say “No” when Hollywood’s money comes knocking. A person willing to do that has the opportunity to revolutionize entertainment, art, maybe even the entire way we think about commerce, segueing to the free future.
Of course, that’s my plan and it has a lot of moving parts. I haven’t described all the parts here. There’s sales and donations. There’s crowdfunding and subsidizing my work with freelance jobs. But, even the YouTube/Ad model has a lot of moving parts to work. Any one of those parts can fail. And There’s the very real possibility that my entire analysis is just wrong. I don’t think it is, but if I did, I’d probably think something else that I also didn’t think was wrong (sorry, that was a bit dizzying).
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I want to end this with one last anecdote. My friend Earl and his girlfriend Jessica threw a Christmas party. I went. I felt something important was going to happen and that it was something I needed to do. Also, I really like hanging out with Earl and my other friends who were going to be there.
Near the end of the party, there were about 10 people left. One of them was a working DP/cameraman/cinematographer. He had seen ALGORITHM on it’s release. He found out about it when Gizmodo promoted it. He was a fan of my work and had a lot of questions about what I think and how I did what I did. It was strange. I had worked as hard as I could at something and as a byproduct I had gained a certain level of fame. Here was this man, who makes a living in Hollywood, and he was a fan. I’m not in the industry. I don’t live in L.A.
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Easily the largest change in me, the thing that most enabled and transformed me about making ALGORITHM is this: to do something you have to believe it’s possible. That’s what gave me the courage to write a script, to show it to friends, to connect with people and go forward with it. It’s what allowed me to release ALGORITHM the way I have and to make the difference and connect with the people around the world that I have. It’s also the driving force behind that free-future model. I believe that better future is possible, that it’s close and that I can help make it happen.
Doubt, fear, despair, hopelessness. Those keep the world the way it is. Those emotions have their place, but when they run without constraint, they allow for tyranny, for cruelty, for injustice. They are the enemies to innovation, to the pursuit of greatness, of making the world what it should be instead of settling for what it is.
I chose to keep and publicize this journal so you can see what it feels like in the middle of creation, and to remember that I’m just a guy who decided to do something. It hurt. It was hard. I cried a lot, truly weeping from frustration and despair. The one thing I didn’t do was quit. I never stopped. I worked as hard as I could and risked the very real possibility that all my work would end in complete failure. I felt that. But I didn’t quit.
Maybe you can do something as great as what I’ve done. Maybe you can do something greater. You don’t know until you try and fail and try and fail and try and…
I’m a man and I have feelings that are common to humanity. We all do. The difference is that some of us don’t let those doubts stop us. This journal is proof. I hope it encourages you to engage in your life. Be an active participant. Make the future better. “Live the way you think the world should be.”
It is possible. I’m here to tell and show you it is possible because I did it.