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Harvey Weinstein slams piracy in LFF keynote

US film producer Harvey Weinstein singled out Apple and Google in an attack on piracy as part of his keynote speech at the 56th BFI London Film Festival.

Speaking at London’s BFI Southbank, Weinstein said filmmakers were “being done a tremendous disservice” by video-sharing sites such as YouTube “under the guise of free internet”.

“When you’re a $500m corporation like Google or a $600m corporation like Apple somebody is getting paid but it sure isn’t the writers, actors, directors and producers,” he said.

“It’s like going into a clothing store and saying: “I’m taking these three shirts because I believe in free shirts.” It’s a nonsensical idea.”

Emulate “tough” French laws

The co-founder of Miramax and Oscar-winning producer pointed to France as the model of how to deal with internet piracy, which he said has “the toughest anti-piracy law in the world”.

“If an internet company steals from someone who produces content, they shut them down. Then they try them. My kind of justice. Like in the old movie, “Hang ‘em first, talk about it later.”

“There’s no charity needed for Apple France or Yahoo France or Google France or any of the super French companies. They’re doing just fine. The internet grows and grows exponentially and at the same time what happened was – now you can’t get it for free – people are renting DVDs, people are buying DVDs, people are downloading properly without stealing.”

Consolidation

Weinstein went on to highlight the threat of consolidation and loss of “mavericks” in broadcast television.

“I am worried about the regulators not being smart enough to deal with these issues and it’s time for us as independent filmmakers to come together and find our own voice – some sort of lobbying effort that is strong,” he said.

“Where is the maverick television owner?,” added Weinstein.

“Today, giant corporations control these networks and as a result everybody has to play it safe. There is no such thing as the mavericks anymore. It’s just snuffed out by bigger and bigger companies. The mavericks are always the ones that lead us and I think lead us in a better way.”

Film heritage

Weinstein rounded off his speech with a rallying cry to “preserve our film heritage”, recalling a meeting with young executives earlier this year.

“About six months ago, I was in a meeting in Hollywood and we were talking about a film and there were six young executives in the room,” he recalled.

“I said: “That reminds me of John Ford’s movie, They Were Expendable.” I looked at these glazed faces as not one had seen They Were Expendable. I began to wonder if any had seen any John Ford movies. I even began to wonder if they’d even heard of John Ford.

“Then I began to think that one of the greatest threats to our industry is the threat against the heritage of cinema. No longer do people feel like they have to mine our rich industry.”

He illustrated the importance of how old movies influence contemporary films by showing a series of clips, including one from City Girl that inspired Oscar-winning film The Artist and a scene from documentary Let There Be Light that is mirrored in recent release The Master.

Harvey Weinstein speech

Every day I think about Anthony Minghella. I have had two great professional relationships in my life - Anthony and Quentin Tarantino – and he is sorely missed. He is a loss to worldwide cinema.

He taught me so much as a filmmaker but taught me way more as a citizen. He was one of the most human of humans. He had the heart and time for everyone and everything and he is somewhere watching movies and still guiding those people around him.

**

I saw The 400 Blows when I was 14 years old. I went to the Mayfield Movie Theatre and took six of my friends. We thought it was a porno. We walked and walked to find this remote theatre.

So my brother and I and our four buddies went and saw the film. Obviously, it was a film about adolescence. It was a sad, tragic, brilliant film that spoke to us – but spoke to us through English subtitles and my four buddies were out of there within 15 minutes.

We found out that was the theatre where they showed the Fellini’s, the Bergman’s and - just like the boy in Cinema Paradiso – every week I haunted that movie theatre. If the movies were rated too high, I’d get my dad – who worked so hard Monday through Fridays and Saturdays too – to take me, and he’d sleep in the theatre while I watched the movie.

It was a great education and a wonderful place.

Today I want to talk about movies that I saw this year and some that I revisited, some that are new, some that have influenced me and I also want to talk about some of the problems facing our industry.

**

One of the great problems that our industry faces is piracy and piracy on the internet.

We as filmmakers – the writers, the producers, the actors, the people who make movies – we are being done a tremendous disservice by these internet companies. We need to have a summit meeting. Because what has happened is that you can watch nine clips of a movie. You can watch Chicago on YouTube.  So the writers, directors, artists and dancers are not getting paid at all and it’s under the guise of free internet.

Well, when you’re a $500m corporation like Google or a $600m corporation like Apple somebody is getting paid but it sure isn’t the writers, actors, directors and producers of those movies. It goes beyond any studio. It’s for all of us.

It’s like going into a clothing store and saying: “I’m taking these three shirts because I believe in free shirts.” It’s a nonsensical idea.

The fact that the internet companies, when we talk about piracy in the United States, can shut down our country. Wikipedia went out of business for a day. They showed “us” what happens when you protest the freedom of the internet.  But no one has yet understood the economics.

I think, after the election, there will be a greater forum about that. I think we need to rally filmmakers around the world, content providers around the world and musicians around the world, and as long these companies are the wealthiest companies around the world under the guise of free internet, I think we’re making a gigantic economic mistake.

One country corrected it and that country is France. Sarkozy, whatever you think of him, passed the toughest anti-piracy law in the world. If an internet company steals from someone who produces content, they shut them down. Then they try them. My kind of justice. Like in the old movie, “Hang ‘em first, talk about it later.” Especially those guys.

There’s no charity needed for Apple France or Yahoo France or Google France or any of the super French companies. They’re doing just fine. The internet grows and grows exponentially and at the same time what happened was – now you can’t get it for free – people are renting DVDs, people are buying DVDs, people are downloading properly without stealing.

They know that if you steal content and are a 16 year-old kid, you’re shut down. They just take your internet away. I love it. You have to fight to get it back. It’s not that you have to go to trial and hire some fancy lawyer in, say, five years. They just shut you down and then you hire the fancy lawyer so it really gets expensive and you’re losing while you’re fighting the case so people are disincentivised to steal.

What’s happened as a result of it? The French film industry – and I’m certainly a beneficiary –The Artist, a movie that wouldn’t get financed in a million years. A black and white, €14m movie, silent film get financed by the French sector. The Intouchables becomes one of the biggest in the history of the movie business, perhaps the biggest grossing comedy of all time with $400m worldwide and counting. You have a robust local French cinema that turns out many local hits. 260 French movies were made last year because the threat of stealing the content was no longer there.

This is something we need to emulate in England and we need to emulate it in the US and quite frankly we need to emulate it around the world. Our business is much more robust than we’re feeling right now but the people who are profiting are not the people who add content.

I love when these internet guys say: “We’re just content neutral.” Yeah, dude. Me too, man, whatever. And I’m going to San Francisco, wear my tie-dye t-shirt and sit in a mansion in Silicon Valley. Well, the day of reckoning will come after the US election.

I think this is something we have to keep our eye on and it’s something that certainly worries me.

The other threat, I think, to our industry is consolidation.

More and more we see these giant companies buying other TV companies. This company buys that company and that company, and when you think there’s a 500 channel universe, you realise it’ll be six companies that will own all 500 channels. What good does that do?

Where there was once a diversity to buy your movie or television show, it’s now like the central bureau. You go to the central bureau and they buy it for six networks. They buy it for one network and get the right to show it on six other networks. The world will get smaller and smaller and smaller because smart guys, probably the guys who do Mitt Romney’s taxes… How can he pay 14%? Come on. Why won’t he give up the 10 years? You can just imagine what’s in those 10 years, no wonder he’s not showing them. His father was the one who said you should show at least 10 years of taxes. He doesn’t even respect his dad.

So the idea that you have these corporations just consolidating and consolidating, here is how the consolidation works. They say, “Okay, we have six networks. We’ll put one president in charge of one buyer,” and then fire five buyers and five presidents and make it more economical.

Who ends up paying? We the filmmakers because we get less – the actors, musicians, composers, etc.  So I’d love to say: “Oh well, it’s just a great ol’ free market economy. Let everybody do what they want.” But as we found in 2007 and 2008, George Bush deregulated the banking industry, left it on the honour system and guess what those honourable bankers did? They bankrupted the world.

I am worried about the regulators not being smart enough to deal with these issues and it’s time for us as independent filmmakers to come together and find our own voice – some sort of lobbying effort that’s strong. I know that Senator Dowd is a strong voice in the United States but we need a global voice. We need to band together globally and deal with these issues. But there is, thank god, a shining situation in France that is a model to show the internet companies that they can win and we can win at the same time. There is a bi-partisan harmony in that.

The other thing that consolidation has done is, where is the maverick television owner? I remember being a kid and William Caley. You’d hear about him, CBS and Frank Staton. It would be what was called the Tiffany network. A solid voice. You would hear Edward R Murrow go against Joe McCarthy in the witchhunts. You would hear about Walter Kronkite being against the war in Vietnam.

Today, giant corporations control these networks and as a result everybody has to play it safe. There is no such thing as the mavericks anymore. It’s just snuffed out by bigger and bigger companies. The mavericks are always the ones that lead us and I think lead us in a better way.

The last threat. About six months ago, I was in a meeting in Hollywood and we were talking about a film and there were six young executives in the room. I said: “That reminds me of John Ford’s movie, They Were Expendable.” I looked at these glazed faces as not one had seen They Were Expendable. I began to wonder if any had seen any John Ford movies. I even began to wonder if they’d even heard of John Ford. Then I began to think that one of the greatest threats to our industry is the threat against the heritage of cinema. No longer do people feel like they have to mine our rich industry.

When we made Gangs of New York in Italy, two things were clear. One: Martin Scorsese made us watch 80 movies in preparation. I watched so many Sicilian westerns. You’d look at the credits and see Frederico Fellini as one of the screenwriters.

We also met with the Italian crews and said: “Okay guys, we’ll be there at 6am.” Marty and I would come in at 6am and the crews would come in at 11am.

“What’s wrong with you guys?” That’s what they said to us before saying: “We had such a great night last night. Who wants to come in at six o’clock in the morning?”

I looked at Marty and said: “We’re going to be here for a looong time.” We certainly were and I loved every minute of it.

If you’re going to go over budget… I’ve had one great explosion in my life and that was Gangs of New York. But if you’re going to do it, do it in Italy because we had the greatest time ever.

There was a restaurant next door called the Cantina. Cameron Diaz was in the movie and they would stay up until whenever she left. When Marty, Leo, Daniel and me were on the movie, they would close at 9pm. I’d say we were working till 11pm but they didn’t give a shit. But when Cameron was working until three in the morning, 20 waiters would stay. I remember the day that she left, she gave each one of them a little flower in their lapels. They stood at attention, they serenaded here. This is Italy, they have good taste in Italy.

So I thought about John Ford and sharing some movies I saw this year, reminding us that we have to put some of our own time in to remind us of what we love about the movies.

When I did The Artist, I’d seen Murnau’s Sunrise and Nosferatu but I’d never seen a movie called City Girl. Michel Hazanavicius said I should watch it as it was one of the key influences.

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