A Hypothetical Question to the Boing Boing Community: the Filmmaker and the Bittorrented Screener

I attended a private screening of a yet-unreleased new movie today, hosted by the director of that movie. At the end of the screening, the filmmaker shared with me that a rough cut of this film had been leaked to BitTorrent, with the screener blurb marking ("PROPERTY OF #### FILMS, DUPLICATION PROHIBITED" or something) clearly placed on every frame. The filmmaker was upset about this and asked what they ought to do, if anything, to try and stem its spread, or deal with whatever unknown damage the leak might cause. Here's the interesting part: their concern mostly stemmed from the fact that this was not the final cut or mix of the film, and the filmmaker didn't consider it a finished work. For them, it wasn't a perfect enough, complete enough, final enough product. And I'm confident this wasn't a faked "leak" designed to drum up publicity. I told them I'd ask someone with expertise, but then thought it might be more interesting to ask all of you. If you were advising this filmmaker, and you knew they wanted to do the right thing by the internet community *and* by the film and all the people who worked on it -- what would you do or not do, say or not say? By the way, the film was amazing.


  1. Obsessing over things beyond your control rarely does anyone any good. As an artist I often prefer to allow people watch me work, they get to see every part of the process and get a better understanding of the piece.

  2. There is nothing the filmmaker can do to control the spread of the movie. He must accept it as undeniable fact that it is out of his hands. The stuff is out in the either and wrangling it back would be like trying to catch a swarm of bees in the sky with your bare hands.

    First, determine the origin of the leak. It is caused by an individual. Find that leak and remove the person from handling any subsequent versions of the material. They can no longer be trusted.

    Second, continue work and finish the movie.

    Third, determine if it is worth the expense to hire services to track the location of these files and shut them down. Often the servers exist outside of US jurisdiction so that becomes functionally impossible to enforce IP laws.

    Fourth, distribute the movie as originally planned. Every major movie out there gets ripped and torrented this way. The big studios have little recourse to stem this and take it as a cost of business. It’s just like software piracy. The moment it hits the shelves, a portion of it goes into unlicensed distribution. Some of that distribution eats into potential profit to the filmmaker, some doesn’t due to a user base that wouldn’t have purchased even if the free option didn’t exist.

    Fifth, curse God and worship me for I only and only I can love you unconditionally.

  3. I’m not someone with expertise, but I guess I’d tell him to relax, maybe have a stiff drink, and then just get on with his life and finish his film. We all know that once the bootleg is out there, there’s no getting it back. If this is a major Hollywood type movie the percentage of people who will see it compared to the paying public is so tiny, and their opinion is so irrelevant, that it will have no effect whatsoever on his movie’s box office success.

    Unless the movie is “Watchmen”. Then he’s screwed.

  4. overall i think the impact would be nil. as i understood, butchered screeners of “there will be blood” were all over the torrents pretty early. If your film is good enough, people will seek out the finished copy.

    i’m also sure the fact that its not a final cut will be talked about in the comments sections of various bit torrent sites. people have their fingers on the pulse of this kind of thing, and if they’re savvy enough to track it down, they’re savvy enough to know the whole story.

  5. Clearly this person cares about how audiences will perceive the film, and what they think. My advice is: invite viewers into the process. Treat it like a test screening: open yourself up to critique, create dialogue, show your hand. In other words, “I thought the ending should be more _____, but what do you think?” Workshop this cut.

    Then document the process and include it on a special edition DVD/Blu-ray print. Also, film the director’s reactions to this thread for BBTV, and include that, too.

    Madeline Ashby, who should just register, already.

  6. use 8mm tape next time. or screen better who works for you.

    irony apart there is not much you can do. if the filmaker feels uncomfortable about the leaked version the best bet is to keep the controversy down, away of the blogs and eventually the torrents will die out. not much seeding for obscure films (took me 7days to download “eat the rich”). feed the media frenzy and people will download just to check it out.

    anyway the damage is done so the only possible positive outcome is to use the leak to create buzz about the film hoping it will go viral. if it’s any good people will buy a theatre ticket for the finished directors cut. or maybe they will just download a telesync if it sucks.

    but p2p is a frankenstein monster, it feeds on curiosity and word of mouth so you cannot really predict how a single file will spread. the only thing that is sure is that the more you fight it the more it propagates.

  7. There’s one drastic, albeit cheap and effective, option available.

    Want to keep people from seeing a leaked rough cut?

    Release a better version via the same channels. Upload a clearly labeled “FINAL CUT” to The Pirate Bay. Bonus points for higher quality video.

    Hell, explaining that you’re the creator of the film, and that you’re trying to do away with the rough cut, will probably only help your cause.

    In fact, we’re still early enough into the whole copyright violation movement that you could get some spectacular free publicity by doing this (much like Radiohead did with In Rainbows). Publicity that may drive you more money in the long run than you would have seen with no leak in the first place.

  8. I agree, the effects of this will probably be negligible. In fact, I would argue that there might be a small gain if the film-maker takes the time and effort to put the word out at the torrent tracker sites that they have an incomplete copy.
    This way, you get essentially free publicity of the film, if someone downloads it and enjoys the sub-standard version, they might feel comfortable enough to seek out the official paid version.
    Putting info on torrent trackers (on the comments of the torrent, for instance) of where you could get the legit copy is a no-brainer, which should work for any film-maker whose work gets leaked.

    Well, at any rate, I hope to hear the name of the film if it was that good, hope this thread helps!

  9. This is really similar to Stephenie Meyer and Midnight Sun. She wrote the Twilight books, and MS is a partially finished (265 pages) manuscript for a fifth book that was leaked by one of her friends. She was angry for exactly the same reason: it’s a work in progress. She responded by posting it on her website so that everyone can read it. Her initial plan was to abandon the project, but she’s reconsidering. I’m pretty sure that, if she finishes it, it will be a huge best-seller because everyone who reads the draft will want to read the final.

    As to the film, I had the opportunity to see the rough cut of Elvira’s Haunted Hills because she brought it out to Palm Springs Gay Pride and showed it publicly. There was no music, no visual correction, partially inaudible dialog and no final editing. Everyone knew that it was a rough cut. It didn’t stop us from enjoying the rough cut or from seeing the final film.

    Artists are notoriously sensitive about people seeing their works in unfinished form, but does anybody think less of DaVinci’s works because we can now see his sketchbooks?

  10. Well, big distinction here: are we talking hyped Hollywood film (IE, Watchmen, have some have jokingly guessed) or smallish indy film without a lot of prehype?

    Indy film: since there’s no pre-hype, the liklihood of people actively seeking this cut out on the Torrents is pretty small. Maybe seed your own hi-quality trailer, to give a taste of what the rough cut was lacking. Then move on with the real business of finishing your film.

    Hotly anticipated Hollywood film: choke it down, and think about distraction: maybe now’s the time to launch that interactive promo game site for the film? Maybe seed some high-quality ‘Exclusive Scenes’ and hope to drown out the dross. And, yes, find the leak and squash it. Don’t go apeshit on the lawsuits, just analyze your production chain.

    Ultimately, you have to view it as a strange compliment; someone digs your work, so take what benefit from it you can, and move on. If you’re doing your job right, people will still pay to see your film the correct, intended way.

  11. Here’s a crazy thought: Director records a video message explaining that the thing that’s being torrented is a rough cut, an imperfect vision, not respectful of all the hard work so many people are still putting into it, etc. But also acknowledge that there’s nothing they can really do to stop the torrent; show an understanding of the internet age and media, etc.

    Or, if he’s feeling snarky, just make a video listing all the scenes that aren’t in the cut: The ninja raid on the pirate ship, the battle between sharks with lasers and cowboys on dinosaurs, the love scene that explains Zombie Nixon’s role better. Crazy, completely obtuse scenes.

    Then upload that video as a torrent itself, matching whatever filenames are being used but adding “DirectorsMessage” or something, so people searching for the movie will get his video in the results.

  12. It Doesn’t Matter. Trust me on this. For example:
    Hank? Hank? Are you out there? (Boris Karloff accent: “A big bowl of garbanzzzo beans”) It won’t make one nickel of difference on the box office and if anyone made a poor deal – live with it. And Ben?
    Money to you now is just keeping score, you’re young, don’t wake up old and stupid. (loved your Ivan,Chris)

  13. Personally I’d hire Christian Bale to release a public statement about how he feels about the incident.

  14. @lucifer

    ” determine if it is worth the expense to hire services to track the location of these files and shut them down. Often the servers exist outside of US jurisdiction so that becomes functionally impossible to enforce IP laws”

    LOL yeah. hire the internet scheriff if you have cash to blow on useless gimmicks. torrents have no location to speak of and IP laws or US jurisdiction mean nothing to the normal (as in non retarded) world (tho’ i admit it makes for great movie quotes). the pirate bay case should be enough of a lesson to demented american lobby tactics. not everyone jails people for nothing.

    if it gets out it stays there like it or not.

  15. I agree with the “stiff drink” comment above. Not much to be done now. In the long run, it won’t matter much. Once the final cut is released, this rough version will only be interesting to folks if the film is super successful, and then only as a kind of oddity or fan-boy extra. Personally– the last thing I want to see is an unmixed uncorrected and un-finalized cut of a film. Ugh.

    Many of the films i’ve worked on that are trying to keep rough cuts off the internet make the “Property Of…” burn in include the initials of the person who the DVD is going to. It’s a pain to do if you have tons of copies going out, but it insures that folks are very careful with their screener copies (as they’ll be held responsible if their version leaks).


    If the movie is on Youtube, it’s relatively easy to get it pulled off for copyright infringement. The same can be said of a number of server-based sources. There are law firms that can research and issue contacts with the administrators to minimize the impact insofar as those places are concerned. It’s not such a far fetched process to go through a round of cease and desists.

    It’s spelled “sheriff.”

  17. They should address the community as soon as possible, with genuine emotion but no hysterics. Unless they feel confident of their poise, I recommend text rather than voice, as long as it is revised for spelling, grammar, and raw sentiments that are less than helpful.

    Acknowledge the interest of people who might be curious enough to watch the pirated copy. Be grateful for it. These are the people who are paying close attention. Don’t alienate them.

    Thank these people for their interest. Tell them you’re delighted that they would take the time to watch the film, but explain that the torrent is not the film you’d hoped to show them. Admit that you cannot stop them from downloading the pirated copy but ask them if they might please give you a little more time to finish it before they watch.

  18. Once copies of the film have been released into the wild there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You’re going to have to accept that and move on.

    However, what you can still do is give people a compelling reason to see the finished film, despite the fact that the rough cut has been leaked. There may be several ways to do this, depending where you are in post-production and what the film’s finances are.

    In a way, you’re lucky it was the rough cut that was leaked and not a finished screener prior to the premiere. You still control the final product and you can change it in ways that would make it a substantially different film than the rough cut and minimize the impact of the leak. There could be ways to alter the storyline through editing or you might even be able to shoot an alternate ending, if budget permits. Changing the final product could make people who have seen the rough cut curious enough about the release to want to pay to see it. Just my two cents.

  19. How about: Ask a friend who writes for a well-known blog to advertise that the file is incomplete.

    Why? The best attack on piracy is to offer quality and value. IMO, spending the time/disk space downloading the incomplete film offers neither.

    I doubt the director really needs unsolicited comments from the piracy crowd, but it’s an interesting idea.

  20. I like what #5 says: offer some way for people who actually view this rough cut to comment on it, and especially encourage constructive criticism.

    Maybe try and release a slightly better-quality version of this rough cut (but the same rough cut, just captured better, and compressed using better tools, etc.) along with a commentary track that points out some of the things the director wants to make better, etc.

    If the difference in quality is significant enough, it may cause more people to download it instead of the leak, giving the filmmaker in question a better opportunity get his message across.

    Handled properly, this could make for a huge amount of publicity, at a very low cost.

    I’m fairly sure everyone here agrees that Pandora’s box has been opened, and it’s too late to try to close it up again. Might as well take advantage of the ensuing chaos.

  21. it will have zero impact on the final release. rough cuts [work prints] of films are not uncommon. usually those who bother to d/l a workprint will also bother to d/l the final cut. don’t kid yourself that the final won’t be out there eventually either.

    what it will do is serve as an interesting reference for fans of films and film-making who will appreciate being able to compare and contrast the two versions.

  22. Don’t worry about giving the wrong impression. Your viewers aren’t stupid, those of whom’re pirates are less so. There’s still a giant watermark on the thing. They’re going to understand that it’s not the final version. If you’re really worried about that, in the future don’t bother with NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION – that’s obvious already – but instead blurb ROUGH DRAFT or UNFINISHED or something similar.

  23. @Lucifer:

    Cease and desist letters won’t stop a bittorrent from spreading. They aren’t hosted in one place and there’s never an address to send them to. It would involve suing John Does and then subpoenaing ISPs to get real names. Even then, the process takes so long that by the time you get rid of the people distributing it now, more are already doing it.

  24. These are fascinating replies! I’m emailing the filmmaker, suggeting they read them. I guess I shouldn’t have written “hypothetical” in the post title, but my point was, what would you guys do?

  25. @lucifer

    you will agree with me that youtube or other streaming or server based distribution services are not a pirate haven since like 1998. what you are looking at here is a global, decentralized system that has no use or respect for US law.

    anyway sheriff or scheriff my comment was meant to be ironic not a personal attack. just saying that legal action is useless.

    1. Elvira (Cassandra Petersen) is amazing. She’s incredibly nice, extremely funny and looks fantastic. Because she treats her fans like family, it’s perfectly natural for her to share a work in progress and even listen to what people have to say. Opening up one’s creative process can strengthen a fan-base. If you don’t want to see a rough cut, you don’t have to watch it, but those who do feel like they’re part of the family.

  26. This person has been given a rare opportunity – their market has been given a version of a product that doesn’t match up with the version coming out soon. If I were them, I would release a notice saying that the film has been made available early and illegally, and explain why they are disappointed. This isn’t their finest work. They can do better, and they will. The next version, that you have to pay for, will be bigger and better than ever.

    Parallels are Dr. Horrible and Apple.

    Dr. Horrible was made available online for free, but people (myself included) still paid to buy it on iTunes for its higher quality and to watch it again once it was removed from the site.

    Apple releases a product that’s smaller, bigger, faster, stronger and better than ever every few months. Every product they release is essentially a teaser for the next one.

    Your filmmaker friend can take the position of the detail-oriented artist here, one who doesn’t focus on the profits, but instead on the product. That’s a great position to be in.

  27. Don’t anger Lucifer, you guys. He’s been polite and patience and helpful, a rare mood for him, so let’s keep him happy or he’ll bring George W back.

  28. Every bound galley that goes out to book reviewers has a notice on the front saying that this is uncorrected nonfinal text, so please don’t quote from it.

    If your friend is really worried about it, he should release the full version of the story of the leak, with an official copy of the preliminary version of the film, plus any relevant production materials, to a small number of highfalutin’, more-exquisitely-discriminating-than-thou online reviewers.

    That way, if anyone starts to talk about the torrented preliminary version as though it were the finished movie, he or she will get mercilessly one-upped by one of the reviewers. The recipients will pass this joy along to others. Soon, you won’t be able to talk about that copy without having someone pop up and tell you that it’s just a rough preliminary version.

  29. The Filmmaker should make lemonade out of lemons and make a 700k .avi final release of the film and explain on camera in a clip at the start why he released the movie on bittorent and he will gain a world of publicity he could even get Ad revenue by using a watermark on every frame from an prominent advertiser on the Bittorent release of the movie .

    Xeni please suggest that he watch Piracy is Good by Mark Pesce for context .



  30. I agree with post #8 — seed a nice version of the final cut and the torrent for the rough cut should die off. It might help also if the video quality for the final cut torrent is better than the video in the rough cut leak.

  31. Troof, lets keep him happy or he’ll bring George Lucas back.
    The eternal reduxer; he couldn’t even let it go when it had been released.

  32. what would i do?

    if i was limited by legal mumbo jumbo and had little freedom to invent i would just let it die. i would not talk about the leak, i would not bitch about it and i would most definately not post about the situation or the name of the movie on boing boing. that’s a recipe for a torrent hit. security through obscurity would be my best bet.

    on the other hand if i could choose i would just try to create buzz about my film. unfinished or not it’s better to be on the radar than to be ignored, unless you make 4hour long black and white films in french. in that case being ignored is the point.

    i would not go as far as to personally comment on torrent sites. it’s not like the average piratebay user reads the comments and even if he does the attention span is pretty short. fancy or heartbreaking stories would not produce much effect in my opinion.

    a rough copy does not hurt much or at least hurts less than a totally ignored film. if it is any good it will attract fans that eventually will generate income. if the film becomes a hit the leaked rough copy will be just a fanboy treasure or a dvd extra. fo example i do have leaked demos and unreleased tracks of some of my favourite bands but i do buy their albums too. the obscure stuff is for collectionists and for bragging rights.

  33. i also agree with #5. put it out and get comments/criticisms on the web. that’ll get more hype generated for the film, and make you ( and by association your studio) look above the-“we’re gonna sue evry student and grandmother for torrenting”-MPAA goons. i also believe it would be a studio first, and therefore “news” worthy. why not get the fan base more involved ( at least FEEL more involved) in the actual process? then give out a couple free tix or movie swag to some of those who participated. not only will that get some out to the box office who might ordinarily be hunched over their laptops, but purchase the dvd, buy the merch, download the ringtones, etc… take the highroad and embrace the technology! lawsuits will do you not-a-bit-of-good, and a good stiff drink couldn’t hurt. of course, find the leak and plug it, 1st priority. if u don’t, then every cut from here out will end up on pyrat bay! and never underestimate the importance of comfortable shoes. THEY COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!

  34. One issue to consider is that the audience may prefer the rough cut over the final cut.

    Look at what happened with Blade Runner and the studio release vs. the rough cut vs. the directors’ cut vs. the final edition.

    What’s the harm in multiple versions existing? It also worked well enough for Brazil.

    Not to mention that people will also *gasp* remix movies, or make fan edits… like with the new Star Wars.

    The director must come to understand that the only control he’s lost is control he never really had to begin with.

  35. He needs to hope like hell it makes it to the Top 100 of Pirate Bay, and stays there.

    If he is really thinking, he’ll actively engage as many early viewers as possible, and not only make use of their feedback in the final edit, but CONVINCE them, he is making use of their comments. Co-opt them, make them feel like it is partly theirs. Thousands of them become his online street team.

    There’s more he could do with online video tech, but this, at the minimum, is obviously his best course of action.

  36. Wasn’t “complete enough” to be out of his control. Maybe he should release the “Focus Group” cut. That would be all right, I assume.

    The Director is a tool, let him get over it. As many have said, out of his hands, and really of no consequence.

  37. what if you spent months crafting an awesome surprise birthday party extravaganza, and then some chatty little bastard goes and spoils the damn thing by spilling the beans?

    months. months we worked on this surprise. and it was going to be perfect!

    i’d resist the urge to slap the bastard that leaked it, and have the party anyway. i don’t know if i would ever quite get over the disappointment of the leak, but i’d do my best and move one.

    the next party, there will be *no* leaks.

    and the chatty bastard? never invited to participate again. nor will any of my friends invite that person again. shun, big time.

  38. Shut down production, and spend all your time taking every legal action you can until you have recovered every single screener torrent. Don’t release your film until they have all been secured.

    Only when the tabla is again rasa, can you safely release your film. Do not risk doing so prematurely.

  39. well if the film is anything like blade runner, brazil or star wars i don’t think that there is much to fear anyway. a good film or a film that can somehow create a solid fan base will survive any amount of piracy. it’s films that have an expiration date that suffer the most. star wars is a cash cow franchise, scary movie style films are dead even as torrents after a couple of months. so the danger exists only for mediocre products.

    kubrik and hitchcock movies sell well on dvd even though the directors are dead and despite the fact you can find the films on bitorrent. actually having your film torrented after a couple of years of it’s official release is a success per se.

  40. Allow/encourage the unfinished movie to be remixed Creative Commons style.

    This will generate many different versions and fans.

    Release the completed version.

    Remixers and fans new and old can now watch and explore the various versions.

    Groundbreaking (especially if it’s a Hollywood/big budget thing) and pushes forward the blah blah on piracy, sharing, torrents, industry and so forth.

    Creates a big following.

    Turns a weakness into strength.

  41. ummm, maybe they would have served that purpose to the best feasible extent simply by putting in that notice (the one that was impressed on every frame) “You’re watching an inferior and poorly edited version. Please support the final version when it becomes available in theatres.”

    Why not?

  42. btw i don’t agree with the “co-opt the community in the creative process” mentality. a film is a work of art to be created by the director and not by a random mob. a rough copy should be a teaser for the movie not a call for advice on how to make it

  43. The filmmaker obviously has too much time on his hands. He needs to focus on the marketing campaign for the actual commercial release. Any impact this leak might have is a rounding error, not only financially, but artistically — only a tiny fraction of the intended audience will ever bother to view the leaked roughcut. The few that do seek it out will mostly be people who would really benefit from having it to compare to the released version — film students, etc. If it’s really nagging at him, release the film, and if it does well enough to warrant a special-edition DVD release, put a roughcut with commentary on the disc. Soon enough that version, if the film is successful enough, will be posted and will crowd out the bogus one.

  44. We learn more when things go wrong.
    Unfortunately, we pay for that knowledge, but it builds into wisdom.
    Dude, get on with your life.
    (Was there an octopus in this string?)

  45. I recall that Tool (the band) dislikes music sharing partly because it means the artistic control leaves their hands. I also recall that they were not willing to license music for rhythm games until the Guitar Hero people said they could have a say in the design of the game graphics for their songs.

    I guess if you’re going to complain about it, that’s at least a different take on the “OH MY GOSH IT’S MORALLY WRONG AND IT MAKES US LOSE MONEY” argument.

  46. I also agree with #8: release a better, official version on TPB within the near future to supplant the old one and hype your reaction to the situation on the blogosphere. Although I understand the sentiment behind not wanting to release an unfinished work, now that it’s done there’s nothing you can do about it.

    The pirate denizens of the internet go for a decent balance of quality and accessibility – people who are interested enough to download a shitty cam version the day a movie releases are interested enough to download a 1.6GB HD version the day the dvd releases, and are also likely interested enough to go out and pay for a Collector’s Edition DVD. If you can’t beat ’em (and you can’t), join ’em.

  47. Downsides of the leak:

    Artistic control not complete yet.

    Might theoretically reduce people seeing it in theater.

    Upsides of the leak:

    Might increase buzz about the film.

    Ability to control the leak post-facto:


    A number of years ago, I went to a Pixar very early (in some parts, voices to hand-drawn unanimated storyboard, in some cases full animated, in some cases pre-viz level animation) version of The Incredibles, which they were test screening locally. I knew what I was getting in to with the quality level. Someone might have been able to video and release that to the net. I think Pixar wanted the feedback enough to be ok with that risk. I went to see the finished movie in theaters and bought the DVD subsequently. I hear that they do that with all their films (go to the right places in Emeryville at the right time and a free pass walks up and presses itself into your hand…).

    Joss Whedon did a lot of prescreening with Serenity. Worked great with the fan base. Unfortunately failed to ignite wider audiences. But that was the film’s fault (not that I didn’t like it), not the prescreenings’ fault.

    What was that old prayer, “…the serenity to accept things I cannot change, …”?

  48. Anything the person tried to do to “stem the spread” would just be publicity, and create increased curiosity.

  49. Once the final cut is released, I would spend a day preparing a director’s commentary to the rough cut that got leaked, and release that on the same BitTorrent sites.

    Assuming the movie is actually a one I found enjoyable and thought-provoking, I would be fascinated by that – watching the leaked rough cut, with an mp3 playing in sync where the director explains why this scene got cut, why a different shooting of that scene was used, the decisions behind these scenes being in this order in the rough cut, what made him think better of it by the final release…

  50. Its the Watchmen. I did a quick search on google for Watchmen leak torrent and links galore for a ‘screening’ version of the movie with notes ‘this is an incomplete version.’

    If something you make isn’t finished and sucks, the last thing you want to do is increase the odds that someone will go looking for it. Don’t do what Valve did with the Half Life 2 leak.

    I’d follow the advice of the others above and simply release the complete movie on schedule and try to not make it suck.

  51. I’d say the best thing he could do is try to make it very clear in every possible way to the max number of people that the movie is not finished yet and any screener that people might find is just a rough cut that won`t do justice to the finished piece.
    But, of course, apparently he already started something like that, at least through you and BB.

  52. #60

    “This doesn’t work. You don’t understand filmmakers, like any artists, require a work to be perfect before it is shown for public consumption. It’s like the Mona Lisa being half-drawn, da Vinci wouldn’t want it shown to anyone until it was done.”

    Uh, have you seen most movies that are released? The majority of them fit well within Sturgeon’s Law.


    They’re mostly hacks, not artists.

    Anyway, the clear answer to the problem is to wait until after the box office returns on the movie are known. If the beat expectations, claim that the release of the footage acted to gain interest in the movie and claim it was a brilliant strategy. If the movie underperforms, bitch about the leaked footage, saying it would have made more money otherwise.

  53. Who cares. Has anyone actually watched a screener, much less one with the nagging text on it? The video quality is bad, the sound worse, and there’s text all over it.

    No one watches these things. It’s more just the pride of having it, knowing that it was obtained. The quality will be so bad, you would be upset even if it were the finished product.

    When the final cut comes out, that will be the one people download and watch. So just concentrate on making the final cut what you want and relax.

  54. @61. i doubt the creator would take the time to find the irc channels to ask the admins of topsites to nuke the release (if he could find it at any rate or they would give a shit about his request if he could).

  55. This, like all things in life, is something that can be made to work for you. If you want to turn it into a disaster, then you can easily make it so – it doesn’t need to be though.

    Piracy isn’t theft, it’s advertising. Treat it as such.

    Anyone who thinks they can put any kind of a dent into piracy through the courts is deluding themselves. The hydra will just grow a new head.

    As for the workprint, his security is obviously at fault. A filmmaker cannot control what happens once the film is handed over to highly porous 3rd parties, but their own house is a different story.

  56. @62

    Its the Watchmen. I did a quick search on google for Watchmen leak torrent and links galore for a ‘screening’ version of the movie with notes ‘this is an incomplete version.’

    Haha. I did a search for “watchmen leaks torrent” and got links galore for the Wired article titled, “Who’s Leaking Fake Watchmen Torrents? Probably Not aXXo”

  57. In the future add “this is not the final version of the film, it’s a work in progress” to the do not distribute tag. People who like the inferior version will talk up the final version.

    Works in the game software world (demo = incomplete game).

    Whether or not there is any way to stop the torrents, or even if this is a worthwhile endeavour, my interest would be in giving a sound slap across the back of the head to the leaker. This person was in the proverbial ‘position of trust’ and abused it completely.

    In a spy novel I once read (Ian Fleming I think) there was an ongoing leak of government documents with a small pool of suspects, all of whom were trusted people. The answer was to release more genuine documents to the pool, with a small change in the wording in each document, different for each suspect. When the leaked copy of that document was seen, it would be obvious who leaked. They named this a ‘canary trap’ (guess the derivation),

    For a film, a small change would be easy enough… how about a difference in the frame count in a particular scene? Version one runs one minute, version two runs one minute plus three frames, version three plus six frames etc. If credits are included, you could add a fictitious actor with differently spelled name in each version. There are lots of possibilities.

    A large lawsuit would follow.

    Is all this worth it? It might be locking the barn door after the horse is gone, but it will certainly slow down that person who deliberately let your favourite Arabian out (and keep them from doing it again).

    If it was me, I would be angry enough with the betrayal to do SOMETHING.

  59. I can’t believe movie studios haven’t figured out a way to uniquely mark screeners so that they can identify leaks. Every year, almost all of the Oscar nominations are leaked in DVD quality. I’m not a video or steganography expert but surely it’s trivial to dupe a random frame or introduce some audio artifact that remains after encoding. I’ve never seen a physical screener disc but I suppose they are silvers so this might complicate things, but there’s no reason why they can’t be individually recorded dyed discs, they are not meant to be archive quality.
    As to this specific case, there’s nothing you can do. The only way to stop people watching the unfinished version is to release your own PROPER (or more effectively, send a respected scene release group the PROPER).

  60. @71: I can tell you why there’s no real effort to identify leaks: because deep down, and in spite of what they tell us, studios and directors are scared sh*tless that nobody will watch their crap. Leaks build hype- hype that simple advertising dollars cannot buy. That’s what trailers are for, of course- but it’s well-known that screeners and other types of leaked copies build even more hype in an audience than trailers do. Here’s a fact: everyone who is going to watch a movie (say, Watchmen, for example), is already determined, statistically speaking. A few more will go to see it based on their friends’ recommendations; a few will decide not to watch in theatres because of friends’ recommendations; and some of those who torrented the screener will pay to watch it anyhow. Those who watch the screener and decide it’s not worth paying to see? You never had a chance at their money anyhow. When I go to a theatre to watch a new movie, I will walk out once I have decided it sucks- and it rarely takes more than fifteen minutes to tell if it sucks. I go out, get my refund, and leave. Now I have my money back, *and* I can tell all my friends the film blew goats, don’t waste your cash.

    The studios know that leaking copies only improves box-office numbers on big-ticket films. That’s why nobody wants to spend the effort tracking down the leaks. How do I know this, you might ask? Because my very close friends have a relative who’s an Academy screener, and they get their leaked copies from him/her. He as much as told us outright it was considered good for business to spread the screeners around a bit.

  61. I would tell him to read “the Starfish and the Spider.” Then develop a plan…But don’t do anything until he understands what he’s up against…

    Additionally, has anyone ever thought of simply asking nicely? Post a message in the forums describing the issue and ask that people only download but not distribute this version of the work…so the finished product has a chance at distribution.

  62. my observation is not so much that the producers/directors are afraid no will watch their stuff, but rather they will be unmasked as unworthy.

  63. this happened to Skinny Puppy’s second-last album; an unfinished mix of it got leaked. Personally I think the finished mix wasn’t all that different, but still I understood their frustration was due to the unpolished nature of the product, not the fact that they weren’t going to see any money out of it. Thankfully their good version was released soon after that and people forgot all about the pre-release version. The same will probably happen for dude’s film.

  64. As a filmmaker, if my early cut leaked, I’d ask the people what they thought, and what should be changed. As a previous commenter noted, it’s a little late to worry about it at this point. Why not benefit from it?

    This is a great opportunity for early feedback from a diverse community. Before bad reviews show up on Rotten Tomatoes, fix the problems the audience has with the cut. Going back and re-filming scenes is likely not possible, but a lot of directors get very limited early feedback. Unless you’re Steven Spielberg and can make Oscar films with your eyes closed, having this kind of feedback at a point where you can actually benefit from it would be, I imagine, helpful.

  65. “Letting it die” I think only works in this context: We don’t know what film this is and announcing it’s title (or the director’s name) would likely cause people to go try to find it.

    But once it becomes widely known (or perhaps just prior), ie, if you see the torrent numbers starting to grow exponentially and some press coverage of the leak, then it will probably make sense for the director to make an official statement about it not being complete.

    Let’s remember that, contrary to claims by Lawyers, people WANT to go to the movies and see a movie in a movie theater, with the good picture and sound. Oh, and so there are no domestic distrubances. If it’s a good film, and people know it isn’t complete, I’d bet more people elect to wait for the official release than to try to go grab some crappy ripped version.

  66. The problem with the whole watermarking discs thing is, what if it’s the guy making the discs? Or the courier delivering them?

  67. I think it extraordinary that the consensus is ‘get over it, it’s out there’.

    If this is a full-length film, the director (whether deemed an auteur or a ‘hack’) has spent huge amounts of time, litres of sweat and potentially pints of blood making sure that what winds up on screen is as good as he can get it.

    #43 – ‘control he never had’? That’s the point of being a director (the clue is in the name). You’re meant to be in control.

    Professionally developed content costs money, and time. Minority of one here, but I think that piracy _is_ questionable, when it’s piracy. By all means, if a filmmaker wants to release cuts, chat to audience, troll for feedback – fine. But when that decision is made for you…

  68. Good point Gilbert, Xeni points that out in the NPR link. After some thinking, and if my logic is correct, with two leaked copies one could determine if a watermark exists and then, supposing the watermarks are not disjoint, obfuscate it by averaging every pair of frames between the two copies.

  69. The entire finished product should be made free on the net, and then people who wouldn’t otherwise have bothered paying for it will get to enjoy it. And they’ll tell their friends and the friends will go pay to see it. Or they’ll rent it. Because we all know that giving away something for free is a great way to market music and books. So why not moives? At least I think that’s how it works now.

  70. Dougall’s idea of using a Canary Trap scenario to tag the leaker is a fine idea–but only if that’s what the filmmaker cares to do, which I don’t think it is by your posting.

    Others’ ideas of releasing a short video from the director explaining the leaked version is unfinished, noting missing scenes, etc, is a fine response. I mean, the director has a right to be disappointed and even annoyed, but he/she also must realize people are watching that unfinished version because they’re excited about his/her work and want to see the thing, so he/she can’t really alienate them.

    Finally, the message printed on frames of most rough cuts (“PROPERTY OF #### FILMS, DUPLICATION PROHIBITED”) is pointless and has no effect (obviously) on people. If the message was something to the effect of “You are watching a rough, unfinished version of this film”, then the director would be sure that anyone seeing that leaked version would know immediately it was not finished. I think that speaks more to the issue this director seems to be having.

    Of course, I know that doesn’t help in this case, but it would help in any future releases for this director.

    PS–Thanks for asking for our input, Xeni. Hope it’s helpful.

  71. Having worked in a high-profile post-production house for six years, here’s what I would do.

    Firstly, I’d ensure that the post house I was working with had a bloody good firewall installed. That they blocked or at least MONITORED BitTorrent and other P2P ports (or particular outgoing ports above a certain level that may be considered suspicious).

    I’d also would want to know what the post house’s security policies were like.

    How does data and material get in and out of the post house? What policies do dataops have for handling the material? Do artists and other employers have the ability to attach USB or external hard drives to their workstations?

    I’d also be curious to know if the employees lock their workstations whenever they go to lunch or spend long periods away from their desk. Are machines locked at night (can cleaners view material that they shouldn’t)? Are confidential documents and screenplays put away out of sight when not needed (or overnight)?

    How good is front desk security? Are they any barriers at reception to stop people from simply running/walking in and physically grabbing any laptops/workstations, etc? Some studios will refuse to work with post houses that do not install physical barriers.

    But the big issue in all of this is can you really trust the engineers that put all this security and monitoring in place in the first place? ;)


  72. I suspect the people telling this guy to embrace the chaos, record a commentary track, and solicit feedback from bittorrenters are not artists. (Or even bad artists. Most bad art isn’t bad because its creators were cynical hacks; it’s bad because somebody really really tried, and failed.)

    I draw comics, and as ropey as my finished efforts are I would be painfully embarrassed if a mass audience saw my initial scans with the clumsy inking errors uncorrected. I can take any and all criticism of the finished product–hell, I have plenty of criticisms myself–but the last thing I would ever need would be random, mostly uninformed strangers from all over the internet watching over my shoulder while I was still drawing.

    There’s nothing this guy can do about this situation… but that doesn’t mean he has to feel good about it.

  73. No. 5 here; thanks to everyone who thought my idea was a good one. Speaking of which:

    Wesley, I’m a writer (at least, I try to be) and I workshop my stories just like a lot of people. Many times, they’re right at the 90% mark, just like this film allegedly is. But “finished” does not mean “perfect.” Often when I think I’m “finished” with a story, I’m wrong. Quite a few times, I’ve had loads more work to do. I suspect that, more often than not, even anonymous hordes could notice the seams. That doesn’t mean that I would always follow the mob — part of being any kind of creator is using some measure of wisdom in incorporating criticism. But if multiple users notice the same bug? Yeah, I’m fixing it.

  74. I am reading lots of misunderstanding about bittorrent, and not much help explaining it. If you do take a moment to understand , you will also understand why it’s not feasible to put a stop to bittorrent or track down the source of the distribution of copyrighted material.

    A torrent file is a very small computer text metafile (a file about other files). It’s a couple of kilobytes in size. It’s human-readable, if quite boring. It consists of some identifying information, and then a long list of hash sums — basically multi-digit hexadecimal numbers.

    I create this torrent file by taking source material (a DVD that I ripped, say) as a single continuous stream of data, using software to divide it into an arbitrary number of evenly-sized pieces, computing the MD5 hash for each piece, and storing that hash in the file. The hashes are used for error-correction later.

    There is nothing illegal about doing that, nor can it ever be made illegal under any reasonable legal scheme that doesn’t basically just outlaw mathematics.

    This tiny torrent file gets uploaded to (and later downloaded from) various index sites like The Pirate Bay and IsoHunt. There’s nothing illegal about the web site or the material it contains, nor any of the traffic to/from it.

    Not one single bit of copyrighted material will be found in any of this. If you seize the index site and all of its records, you get no evidence at all of any activity that is explicitly illegal. You have to get into areas like “conspiracy to facilitate” to try to make a crime out of any of it. Even then, there’s no evidence of any specific actions inarguably taken in furtherance of any conspiracy. It’s all inference. “Beyond a reasonable doubt”? Hardly. You are basically relying upon coercion and abuse of the police power. Most appellate courts have trouble with this.

    But the movies DO get shared. How does that happen?

    It happens when I, the individual who created the torrent, transfer pieces of the file directly to the many other individuals (the swarm) who want them. (And yes, THAT is almost certainly illegal.) Then they each transfer the pieces they got from me to each other. They use those precomputed hashes to protect against transmission errors and to prevent alterations.

    This goes on until everybody has all of the pieces. They all continue sharing pieces of the file with new people who have joined the swarm later. Meanwhile, I drop out of the swarm, for the torrent is now self-sustaining.

    (“I” am just one of millions of people doing this via software widely available for it. There’s nothing special about me.)

    People join the swarm, download and upload, eventually get the whole file, seed it for a while to sustain the torrent, and eventually drop out. This continues for months and years.

    The copyrighted material never goes to any central server. It goes directly from my computer to Jane’s computer, my computer to Assan’s, my computer to Sirene’s, Assan’s computer to Wei-chou’s, Jane’s to Diego’s.

    None of it ever goes to the index web site or the tracker web site. (The tracker is the classic original way in which swarm members locate each other. With the advent of DHT, we can now find each other without needing a tracker either.)

    How can this be stopped short of a universal police-state, or individually suing me, Jane, Assan, Sirene, and the billions of people like us? Over the whole world?
    Who are also your customers?
    And also voters?
    How do you do it without also stifling bittorrent itself, which is perfectly legal and used to distribute new releases of Open Office, much open-source software, software updates, and several varieties of Linux?

    Hopefully this clarifies the issues.

  75. Next time instead of putting, the not for duplication tagline in it… put… “Workprint w/ Fake Ending”


  76. I would say absolutely nothing and do nothing. The whole thing is silly. It’s out and it’s out forever. I would hazard a guess that the question posed was a charming and somewhat clumsy way of getting to know you better. So buy this filmmaker a drink and gently suggest that he or she get over it. Some sites stole my Tomb of the Mummy puzzles and I fought them with elaborate phone-home code for a short time until I just ended up enjoying their persistence and letting them keep the damn things. Life’s just better that way.

  77. Sine he will not be able to stop the film being spread and he presumably doesn’t want the final product to be spread over the conclusion is to do nothing.

  78. Whoops. Should read:
    “…and he presumably doesn’t want the final product to be spread over the Internet…”

  79. @38 suggested watching Piracy is Good by Mark Pesce which is a really smart suggestion if this were about a television program. Unfortunately feature films make money in a very different structure and the piracy of these films by the very fans a filmmaker hopes will buy the film is an, as yet, unaddressed issue.

  80. Kiran:
    The best way to stem the spread would be to create a 700MB file with some junk stuuf, rename it as the film name, and uploading it on all major p2p sites. So, more and more people who try downloading this movie will get a junk instead and won’t be interested in searching for a good copy again.
    What you are basically doing is stemming off the interest in downloading ur movie among the users.

  81. Played!

    Canny filmmaker gets rough cut leaked. Said filmmaker invites boingboing editor to ask the community what to do, swearing her to secrecy.

    Community, being boingboing, figures out that the movie in question is Watchmen. And the buzz builds.

    “By the way, the movie is fantastic”; viral like the common cold!

    I, for one, hope it is! The comic is a favorite. If the final product is good, I’m happy. This kind of marketing move, if that is indeed what it is, is awesome and just indicates that these filmmakers know how to get the message out.

  82. I still think it’s funny when people call the Boinger’s ‘editors’. It’s probably apt, but I think of them as hosts. Like we’re party crashers chatting out on their front porch while they’re inside making more oddities for our amusement.

  83. “The best way to stem the spread would be to create a 700MB file with some junk stuuf, rename it as the film name, and uploading it on all major p2p sites. So, more and more people who try downloading this movie will get a junk instead and won’t be interested in searching for a good copy again.”

    Torrent sites aren’t passive junk heaps where you pick up your files– comments can be made on the torrents, and ones that are bad are removed. It would trick the first few downloaders until the site moderators kill it, nothing more.

  84. I’d tell them to right a note to The Pirate Bay asking them to remove the early version and in exchange upload the final project. The people that will pay to see the movie will still pay, those that won’t pay, won’t pay either way. No lost of income.

  85. People watch screeners. Who are these people? The general pirate community, sure, but also the people buying them for $5 at local flea markets. I used to get screeners, workprints, horribly bad cams, whatever I could get my hands on. Yes, many times it was for the prestige, sometimes it was for actually watching it. Not anymore, but that’s another long, sad story.

    There’s plenty of serial numbers and watermarks out there: 9-dot cigarette burn matrix single frames on films these days. Doesn’t matter: they will help you track it back to the source, sure, but by then, the damage has already far been done, and sometimes it’s not worth the legal hassles and money. Serial numbers can be blurred, watermarked frames can be dropped, and yeah, minutes of B&W video are annoying but not enough to stop me from watching a movie I really want to see. Blacklisting a leaker appears good for the industry but you’re trying to plug a cracked dam with a finger. If anything, encode a watermark Aphex Twin style (any studios tried that yet? SCREEEEEEEEECH!) Fake/junk torrents/copies deter pirates, but will not stop most, and may only make them even more incensed to find (and share) the real thing.

    There really isn’t much you can do: the bigger the production, the bigger possibility of leaks, the bigger the demand (see: Ang Lee’s Incredible Hulk workprint, released weeks (months?) before the movie) The music industry suffers from the same conundrum. Unless the filmmaker artist can handle everything, EVERYTHING, themselves, the possibility exists. I think Axl Rose got it close, but nothing’s perfect. The film piracy scene has been flourishing since around 1997… if the film industry with their deep pockets can’t figure it out after a decade, who could? My suggestion is the same as the others, be understanding, appeal to those who would view the screener to also view, maybe even pay for the final cut. Remember: “if you like the software, support the developers and BUY IT.” And if it’s good, it’s good, and the public will pay for it.

  86. @102, why bother the admins if you can do that? Just upload the final cut, then post a comment on the incomplete upload saying that anybody can get the complete one from (url of your upload).

    Not saying this is a solution, I just don’t see the purpose of trying to get the site admins involved when you don’t need to. Uploading it yourself almost certainly violates all your distribution contracts anyway.

  87. Once it’s out, it’s out.

    The real challenge is identifying individual copies of the screener, so that you can find out who leaked the copy.

    tape copies are fairly easy to individually mark – a character generator can be used to overlay unique text in the video dub.

    DVD is considerably harder, because unique burned-in watermarks require a unique mpeg encode for every copy of the disc – very time-consuming. Subtitles can be turned off or stripped out. Probably the best bet for uniquely ID’ed DVD screeners is again to start with analog source and use some type of overlay generator to put the ID into the video and record it with a DVD recorder.

    You could also just lie, and make a watermark that just says each copy is individually watermarked – the end use would have way of knowing whether this was true or not, and this might really increase the deterrence of the watermark against unauthorized distribution…

  88. #80 – I don’t think anyone would disagree that it sucks to have your material leaked. Problem is that it is out there, and there really is nothing the filmmaker can do about it. And so there are limited options:

    – jump up and down, scream bloody murder, threaten lawsuits and generally look ridiculous
    – ignore the whole thing and hope as few people as possible notice
    – embrace the leak and try to build a marketing campaign around it.

    Personally I’d avoid option 1 ;)

  89. Simple solution: Finish the Film and call the released version the “Directors Cut”. Now everyone will want to see this version over the leaked one.

  90. This might already be posted as an answer but the filmmaker could always take control of the bittorent distribution.

    Just host the torrent on his site, that way people who are going to steal it can get the caveat that it isn’t finished and shouldn’t be flying around, and the stealing people can still steal (because you will never be able to stop them! Nobody EVER will and there will never be anything to stop theft!, so just roll with it!)

    You catch more flies with honey!

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