As a director working across the feature, doc and commercial mediums, and as head of the Directors Guild of America, it’s understandable that Michael Apted bristles at the mention of illegal downloading and the prevalence of peer-to-peer websites. The entertainment business seems to be divided into two camps: those who view downloading as welcome opportunity for works to reach a larger audience, and those who see it as destructive to the industry. Apted is distinctly in the latter.
During promotions for Married in America 2 – his look at couples in (and out of) wedded bliss – at IDFA in November, Apted drew a comparison between the downloading of films to that of music, noting there’s no money to be made in cds anymore – it now comes from concert ticket sales. Illegal downloads, he says bluntly, ‘decimated the whole cd business because the music industry was so stupid.’ Since the retail price point of CDs didn’t drop to a level competitive to piracy after the emergence of peer-to-peer sites, he continues, ‘kids were bound to download them.’
He believes the film business has taken a smarter approach, offering affordable downloads of shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives for $1.99, which is why he is puzzled that consumers still download illegally. ‘Why are [financial backers] going to invest in films if they get stolen – especially since the outlay on making a film or television program or documentary is thousands of times more than making a piece of music? How can [consumers] expect to have any future for the business if they steal what they get? It seems so shortsighted and juvenile.’
Film fans need to grasp a basic business principle, says Apted: ‘If [filmmakers] make product, they have to sell product to make the money to make the films. I don’t understand why it’s brain surgery to understand that, and why people say peer-to-peer downloading is okay.’
Apted believes there must be a fee for downloading films online, and that companies need to get more aggressive about piracy. ‘I think they are going to step up, but they have to offer an alternative, which is what I think they’re doing. There are so many delivery systems becoming available – downloading, pay-per-view – that there are going to be opportunities so that stuff doesn’t have to be pirated. Because if piracy’s the future, then the business is over – it’s gone.’
With the emergence of these new delivery systems, Apted says a major concern for the Guild is protecting its members’ creative rights and financial interests. ‘How is our work going to be protected on iPods, on websites, and what is our financial interest in the reuse?’ he asks.
While new media is a hot topic, he wonders where traditional media fits into today’s entertainment landscape: ‘Is old media still very much alive and well? Is the television in the corner of the room still going to be the main delivery system?’ He believes TV supported by advertising remains relevant, stating, ‘Last year $62 billion was spent on ad-supported television. That’s not going to go away all of a sudden, and the amount of money that the studios and networks are making from ad-supported television opposed to the new media is laughable. It’s hugely more valuable.’ This being said, Apted questions the point at which the Guild should get aggressive about the new media, and ‘how much are we trying to protect the old media?’
Between dealing with these weighty issues and maintaining his own filmmaking career, it’s no wonder Apted likes to unwind by watching the news or sports at home. ‘Football,’ he says, ‘goes deep into my life.’ Also a baseball fan, Apted says sports ‘get me out of the rigors and focus and anxieties of my work – that’s why I project them onto the game.’