Issue 17: BOOTLEGGING IN THE HOOD
OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
COURT RULING: EEOC CAN PURSUE LANDMARK RACIAL SUIT AGAINST UNIVERSAL PICTURES
BOOTLEGGING IN THE HOOD: BLACK ON BLACK CRIME?
In one area of Baltimore, Maryland, instead of heading to Blockbuster for a movie rental, some locals head straight to "Donnie" (not his real name) to purchase just-out-films. You can usually spot him on the corner of North Avenue and Fulton. And, Donnie always has a steady stream of customers.
When asked about the legitimacy of his wares, he takes offense. "These are not bootlegs. I deal in legit merchandise," he proclaims. "Everything is correct here." Except there were no bar codes on any of the DVD jewel boxes. However, when pressed a bit to see if he thought DVDs had a negative impact on the dwindling customer base at the cineplex, Donnie offered: "I have been hustling in one form or another, all of my life and the movie business is just another hustle...People have stopped going to the movies...for a variety of reasons, but two that come to mind are ticket prices, and safety. It almost costs a family of three nearly a $100--between buying tickets and the concession stand--to go to the movies. On top of that, the young teenagers going to the movies are way out of control...no one wants to both pay crazy money to see a movie with their family, and then be concerned about their safety. So that's why they come and see me. They can watch the latest joints in the comfort of their living room. I've been doing this for almost five years now, and each year, business gets better and better."
Better for some, but not others. "It has been my experience that independents, such as myself, are hit the hardest by our own people," says industry veteran Tim Reid, creator of New Millennium Studios and Tim Reid Productions. "The street hustlers take pride in getting a picture out on DVD before the official release. They take their small digital cameras to the festivals and pre-screening and rip you off. Just about every one of my films were available in the street before I could finish the packaging and ship to the video stores. It has a major impact on the bottom line."
So is Urban bootlegging, black on black crime? Reid seems to think so. "I guess it makes us feel that we are sticking it to the 'man.' However, in this case, I am the man and it pisses me off," says Reid. Black filmmakers like Reid, though probably affected more, of course aren't the only ones who are victims of piracy.
According to the talk of the recent ShoWest, one of the causes of the drop in box office numbers in piracy. While The A-List considers other factors, such as mono-pricing and mediocre movies (see Issue #14), as culprits as well, we wanted to explore the piracy issue deeper--particularly as to why it is so popular in Urban communities. And while the industry keeps coming up with new ways to battle the problem, from special instructional websites--www.fightfilmtheft.org--to having theater employees donning night vision goggles to spot camcorders in the dark, the bootleggers get smarter and smarter. "As fast as tech people come up with encryption some geek finds a way to around the process," notes Reid. "Movies are going the way of the music business, which means that fewer artists will be able to survive and create new product."
But Jeff Friday, President and CEO, Film Life, Inc., and Co-Founder the American Black Film Festival, feels that the more information is shared, the fewer bootlegs. "As video-on-demand and other video downloading technologies become more accessible and more cost effective to consumers, the volume of piracy will be reduced," says Friday. Dr. Todd Boyd, Professor, USC School of Cinema-Television and author of Young Black Rich and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, The Hip Hop Invasion and the Transformation of American Culture, agrees. "In fact, if the buzz on the street is good for a movie then more people might actually go to the theatre," says Boyd. "Hip hop figured out this marketing strategy out long ago--mixtapes on the streets lead to major buzz and street credibility resulting in more record sales. If something is out in the public, it's a good thing."
Though many think it is the man on the street doing all the thieving, according to studies, some comes from within the industry. Most pirate copies of movies circulated online are from leaks by industry insiders rather than home or cinema copying, found a study by AT&T Laboratories and the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, 77 percent of films uploaded were created during production or distribution. Because of the piracy numbers all-round the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) says it is constantly working on new ways to prevent piracy, including community outreach.
By most estimates, fake VHS and DVD copies of films cost the industry about $30bn annually. And, digital copies distributed online result in around $3bn a year in lost profits. "Filming off the screening is just one of the illegal activities," says Warrington Hudlin, president, Black Filmmaker Foundation and founder/chief, DV Republic.org (www.dvrepublic.org). "Theft from the Lab and the projection booth is also a problem and results in a higher quality copy." Still, in-theatre filming is the major problem. "Most pirated movies originate from camcording in movie theaters. In fact, 90% of initial releases that are pirated are camcorded and then sold to people overseas to replicate and then sell on the streets. They also sell them to top-site Internet groups which distribute them to lots of illegal sites where people swap movies entirely free, including many peer to peer sites that are set up to facilitate such illegal movie trading," says Dan Glickman, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, Inc.
Boyd, however, sees the whole piracy issues as a smokescreen. "The industry is not losing money because of piracy...it's the way they are doing business [that causes the loses]. And it is easier to blame the problem on piracy than to admit there's something wrong with the way they are doing things," notes Boyd, who also disagrees that bootlegs directly decreases the income of filmmakers and actors. "In the movie business there are so many layers and methods that people make money, a DVD being sold on the street doesn't really [change] the money they make." Except, says Reid, for independent filmmakers and distributors who directly depend on the sales to stay in business. And many African Americans in the industry may fall into this category.
Still this begs the question, why do Urban communities seem to buy bootlegs in overwhelming numbers. Hudlin says the bootleg buys come down to money for the consumer. "The primary consumer motivation is the price of the copy versus the admission price to the cinema," he points out. Boyd agrees. "People who buy bootleg DVDs aren't concerned about imagery and quality. They just want to be entertained. But they don't want to waste their money on something that's not good. If they buy a cheap [bootleg] DVD and don't like the film, they don't feel like they've been cheated," notes Boyd. Also, adds Boyd, "There has long been the aspect in the culture the notion of the hookup. If you can get something cheaper than the mainstream price [then it's more attractive]." But the urban hookup, is something the MPAA is fighting against. "It is true that urban communities have more people selling illegal materials on the streets," adds Glickman. "Because cities are more populated, it is harder to catch these movie thieves."
So again, it's the price point that drives the bootlegging issue--as well as the movie theatre exodus. Still, many in the industry don't grasp the appeal of bootlegs, the majority of which are poor quality, and disagree that black consumers are trying to save a couple of bucks. "It's part of the 'hip-hop' mind set. I even know folks who are millionaires who love the idea that they have a bootleg copy of the latest 'urban' film. It makes them feel they are on the leading edge," says Reid. Friday feels it may come down to not wanting to go to the theater to pay for films that don't reflect oneself. "At the end of the day, people go to see movies based on their interest, their background, and experiences," he points out. "The types of films that studios distribute often times are limited and don’t really excite us; they don’t tell our stories. But when there are films available that depict the images we want to see, that is when we support them."
Bootlegging is not only a trend in Urban communities, of course. "Make no mistake, piracy is happening all over. For instance, many suburban flea markets have DVD stands that sell pirated movies and music. Piracy is a lucrative business and in many cases supports other illegal activity such as the sale of narcotics or illegal firearms," says Glickman. In fact, Friday doesn't see Urban communities as being more saturated with bootlegs. "I don’t think piracy is more prevalent in Urban communities," he explains. "I think to a large extent, international piracy, outside the United States such as in countries like China, is a larger problem," he says.
For those who connect piracy to shrinking profits, Urban films are equally effected as mainstream movies when piracy happens. "All forms of piracy affect all films the same," says Hudlin. "Piracy is color blind," agrees Glickman. "It is also blind to independent, major studio or any other kind of movie release. If there is demand for a movie, pirates acquire it and either sell it illegally on the streets or load it onto the Internet for illegal taking by millions of people. That is why it is so crucial that all filmmakers work together to educate people about the ramifications of piracy to our industry and also the consequences of committing copyright theft."
For Reid, it's a bigger issue--a lack of respect for black filmmakers by the black community. "Apparently black folks don't care how many heads are in the frame, they like the idea of seeing a bootleg film," says Reid. "Oscar Micheaux must be rolling in his grave."
Now, at first it seemed a bit odd to The A-List that such a blend was actually concocted. And yes, we did hear just a few grumblings from the audience that the ending was a bit odd and that the choreography was not as spicy as expected, but overall Hot Feet seems to be a resounding breath of fresh air on Broadway, creatively blending elements that might otherwise seem quite strange! Not to mention the ingenious business move by the R&B supergroup's leader Maurice White to implement this project as part of a large expansion of E,W& F branding!
From the moment Hot Feet kicks off--pun intended--it is engaging. The direction is strong, and sound, sets and lights fairly impeccable. Costume design really hits the mark as well, perhaps with the exception of the closing ballet.
This is a well-acted, well-crafted work that while featuring a multicultural troop, showcases strong Black and Latino leads including Vivian Nixon as Kalimba. A mere straw of a woman whose delicate beauty is equal to her command of dance. Keith David mixes it up as a sinister character who even busts out a tune! While Michael Balderrama and Wyonna Smith deliciously support. Allen Hildalgo is a stand-out. And although Ann Duquesnay's solos can be a bit overdone, her strong presence provides a nice foundation to the piece.
Hot Feet is a testament to what can be done when creative talent is pulled together. And God bless whoever financed this play. It's amusing, clever, and provides a joy in that it attracts a truly multicultural audience whooping it up in their seats! If in New York City, don't miss it at The Hilton Theater.
Story by Heru Ptah. Producer: Rudy Durand. Director/Choreographer: Maurice Hines.
TRIBECA FILM FEST LOG
So everyone, we've come to the end of the road for TFF at least for us, while The A-List packs its bags and heads to Cannes for just a couple of special days of reporting.
We're gonna miss the buzzing around, Beth and Gretchen at Rubenstein, the vibe, the films, the news, the observations. But hey, entertainment life has to go on, right? Well, May 4th brought the Tribeca All-Access closing party that was held at Churrascaria Tribeca. Due to edit sessions, we were not able to make it but certainly can't say enough good things about this part of the institute, and if you missed our coverage on it in the midst of all the information, we will run it again.
We did, however, get a chance to check out an indie Black British flick earlier in the day entitled Shoot the Messenger. Part of what is being called "the new wave of Black British Cinema Artists," Shoot the Messenger is a somewhat slow moving yet interesting art type of film which debuted at TFF and centers on a character, Joe Pascale, who actually starts out on a mission only to end up in the bizarre world of madness and self-hatred. Produced by the BBC, this controversial flick addresses the larger issues of Black accountability and issues so very key to the progress of the Black British community. It is directed by award-winning filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah and written by Sharon Foster, recipient of the 2004 Dennis Potter Screenwriters Award. (This film was also selected by "The Village Voices" top 40 picks of the Tribeca Film Festival among tons of other international press which particularly the lead actor, David Oyelowo has received.) Shoot the Messenger, vibing in that kinda cool British style that only they can cook up, is intriguing because it is a look at something that is perhaps often understood but never discussed and that is dealing with the maddening struggle of being Black and locked out--not because you have no talent--but because your color isn't of mainstream flavor. Should think good things are in store for these folks.
Not to be outdone, however, was a special screening and event presented by Getty Images and Friends of the Global Fight. The film was Adrian Belic's documentary Beyond the Call, which kicked off an evening where Richard Gere honored the filmmaker who dares to show the humanitarian adventures of members of Knightsbridge International as they work to raise funds for relief, deliver clothing, food, encouragement, and more over a three year period!! This film is about what perseverance and dedication of spirit can do to overcome any and all obstacles. No joke.
Directly after the screening was a chill reception with music provided by DJ Spooky, which provided the backdrop to the unveiling of the "Change Me" photo exhibit-- a powerful look at how imagery can create change via touching photos of children in "so-called" Third World countries suffering from AIDS, etc but yet still smiling! Held at the Tribeca Cinemas Gallery (we didn't even know this was within the building now after its brand-new expansion!), the evening, from what we hear, was quite nice!
And on that note, we bring to conclusion our coverage of TFF. We had a great time, and hope you did too as you traveled with The A-List on its adventures and discoveries.
Shout out to all the members, volunteers, sponsors, attendees and all who help pull off this massive coup. It's really quite impressive and only just a baby.