The form has become the content

19 Mar

At the first annual Copyright Summit in Brussels hosted by CISAC (The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers), Alfonso Cuarón spoke to the journalist Emmanuel Legrand to introduce the debate, “Can creators and technology/service providers find a common ground?” (31 May 2007)

EL: How does a young filmmaker fit into today’s digital environment… Where do you think you fit as a creator in today’s environment, in the 21st century? Do you think you are doing the same as say, your father, your grandfather, if they were filmmakers?

AC: Definitely not, I think I fit in a sandwich generation. Definitely technology has changed so much in the last few years and that has obviously had an effect on the creative work. For young filmmakers nowadays – the young generation, the generation that’s behind me – I think the most important thing that happened is that: for my generation, cinema was this white elephant that was inaccessible. You know, you needed a lot of money to do a film; you needed a lot of connections; you needed to go up through the ladder. In my case, I went up the ladder doing different jobs. Now, teenagers, they know how to do films. They grew up with video cameras, with editing systems, watching, making documentaries about other films. For them, cinema has become second nature. Now, it’s for my generation, we have- I have to say I didn’t have a computer until this year, and until last year I was still writing in napkins and then transferring that into a computer. When I did Harry Potter I didn’t know how to use a computer, I didn’t know how a visual effect would be created. And now, definitely, the form in a way has become in many instances the content. So, it’s a completely different world and that world is reflected also in the way in which these films are distributed. You can see young filmmakers – really young filmmakers – posting their films in the internet. That is opening new questions about how films are going to be distributed in the future.

EL: You’re talking about distribution. One of the major changes that is happening in the film industry these days is what happened in the music industry five to seven years ago; is that through digitization, access to movies can be through a click on your computer, and you download a whole movie if you have broadband. Are you afraid by the kind of the perspective, what it means, that a lot of people will have access to a lot of material without paying for it?

AC: Well, I think we’ve had a conversation about this before and maybe what I’m going to say is not very popular here. The biggest regret I have with pirates is the low quality of the product. When friends of mine, they call me from Cambodia and tell me, “Hey, we saw your Mexican film there in a pirate copy,” I’m very happy about it. But my first question is, “How’s the quality?” and usually it’s very bad. By the same token, I will be the first one that would be very pissed off when my cheque is incomplete. But I think that, for me, fighting piracy is like fighting terrorism. It’s a stupid battle. You can put as many locks(?) as you want in airport and if somebody wants to do something they will do something. I think that it would be more interesting trying to sort ways in which we can deal in a more pragmatic way with that aspect. And I think it has to be with an opening up the scope in which the dialogue that we’ve been having, both with the big industries – the big corporations that distribute films – but also with the entities that we perceive as piracy. Some of these entities are just teenagers trying to download materials they don’t have access to otherwise.

EL: And some of them might be triads in China or organised crime in Italy or in Latin America.

AC: That is exactly it. Unfortunately that is the reality of what piracy is about. But maybe it’s about being able to offer a good product for a lesser price, I don’t know.

EL: You are with two of your colleagues, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Iñárritu, the origin of a new project. You are trying to raise money in Hollywood – about a hundred million dollars – to produce five movies, two of which are going to be in Spanish if I understand well and three in English. The interesting part of that is that once your get the financing and you produce the movies you retain the right to the movies. What brought you to that idea that you had to reclaim that ownership?

AL: It goes together with ownership and creative control. I think that part of the great things that are happening with new technologies and with the way in which financing has been diversified is that if you’re a creator, that you can develop your own material and you are able to attract talent. In a way, the conventional studio process is irrelevant. And some studios are understanding that as well. For me, I use/exemplify Kodak in the 70s when they were telling them that digital technology was coming and they refused to listen. What happened is that pretty much the companies that embraced digital technology went up and Kodak went down. I think that the same thing is going to happen with the studios in which the ones that understand that creators – independent creators – they have the possibility of putting together their own products. That doesn’t mean that you stop having a relationship with the studios because at the end the studios are great distributors of our material. But the important thing was two things; it was two-fold: one was about the creative control of our product, and the other thing was about the ownership of the material. Obviously that’s very important for us.

EL: There’s another thing you mention, there is a sense of solidarity among your fellow friends and filmmakers from Mexico and the idea of grouping together. It’s strength in numbers, I guess also, and the fact that you enjoy each other’s company even though you might not always enjoy each other’s movies.

AC: I think that that’s the most important thing that has been happening with the filmmakers that they are having an impact outside of Mexico, is that there is a strong sense of solidarity. And by the way it’s not only Mexican because I can say that filmmakers like Walter Salles and Fernando Meirelles from Brazil, they are part of this group that I’m talking about. In a way, probably it, in the big scheme of things, is way more important: that message of solidarity than our films themselves. We are living in a world that is so fragmented, that societies like these societies I think are important when they can present a front with the same philosophy. And I think that is something that is happening with these Mexican creators and I feel blessed to have this support group and also being able to support newer generations that -they understand that, unfortunately, in our countries like Mexico in which financing is very limited for cinema. The old fashioned attitude was a cannibalistic attitude. It was fighting. It was actually very well structured by a system, so creators will fight between each other for the big prize of making a film. And right now that is changing and actually I think that these creators are presenting a front that is unbreakable. And I think that message is as important as the films themselves.

EL: My last question is, that I heard around here is, that you might play a bigger role – some role – within CISAC in the coming days or so, is that correct? And if so, what gave you the will to get more involved?

AC: Well, I’m very thankful for the invitation today and I find that I’m very excited about the possibility of really exploring the function of authors in this century. I think that we’re living in a time in which definitions are changing and I think that the role of the author is a very important role in this world right now. I think that it’s very important to preserve the essence of certain definitions but at the same time I am very intrigued about what is the function and responsibility of authors in this fragmented world.

The full video for this Q&A and the following debate between Benjamin Bejbaum (DailyMotion, France), Alex Callier (Hooverphonic, Belgium), Henk Hofstede (The Nits, Netherlands), and Bendik Hofseth (Norway), moderated by Yves Bigot (RTBF, Belgium) can be viewed here if you scroll down to the bottom.

“Technology/service provider executives dialogue with a panel of authors, artists and creative industry executives about the changes in their environment and how they can benefit from each other’s vision. Beyond the hype, where do technology/service providers fit in the creative value chain? Is technology at the service of artists or the other way around? As technology changes the worlds of music and film, can the concept of all-free access to creative works and the notion of copyright be reconciled? Have new digital services transformed the relationship between artists and their audience to a point that they can bypass the middle man? What else can we expect from the likes of Apple, Google, MySpace and YouTube? Can they nurture new talent and the true expression of cultural diversity? Is there a need for a new set of rules between the various players in the food chain?”


Incoming and outgoing CISAC Vice Presidents: Alfonso Cuarón and
Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda (Mexican playwright and SOGEM Chairman)
Copyright Summit – Brussels, 31 May 2007 © GVW/CISAC 2007

CISAC has archived the video from the 2007 conference here. As fansites do, I am no doubt (ironically) violating some copyrights by reproducing some of the conference material here. Please contact me if would like me to remove it or modify the citations.

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