NOTE: This post is link heavy, but I didn't want the font color to distract from the content. Hover over a word to see if there is a related link.
NPR ran an interesting piece yesterday. It's got a few notable angles.
The Lord of the Rings franchise has been wildly successful. Fans came from every demographic, flocking to theaters, to the web, and to the DVDs in their various iterations. It's been five and a half years since The Return of the King, the last of the trilogy, was released, and it's still a touchstone the industry tries to replicate (some with more taste than some [many] others).
Enter The Hunt for Gollum. The 40 minute featurette was written, directed, acted, and filmed by volunteer fans. Every aspect of pre-production, production, and post-production was coordinated and executed by people who simply loved Middle-earth and wanted to see another LOTR movie.
Fan fiction is notoriously...bad. There is a reason writers and filmmakers get paid to do what they do. They're very good at it. The average joe with his home video camera and PC (historically speaking) isn't. Even noble efforts lack the resources to put together high production value.
But The Hunt for Gollum crew seems to be a dedicated team. They took their time (two years) and scrapped together an impressive group of talent.
And from the looks of it, they deliver.
True, it's not indiscernible from the Hollywood hits. But you can be sure many fans of the series, myself included, will be checking this out when it's released on May 3 (in HD, no less).
Such an impressive feat, using widely recognized media, begs the question:
Is this legal? Doesn't this constitute piracy? Aren't there copyright issues at play here? Intellectual property? brand hijacking? Wholesale theft!?
The lawyers can (and likely will) argue both ways.
An apologist might say, "It's fair use, nobody is making money!"
The prosecution may answer, "It's copyright infringement that devalues a developing property!"
New Line is far from done with the Ring series. Why stop when it's still making money? The Lord of the Rings' prequel The Hobbit is being adapted for a 2012 release, directed by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth fame. Expect ticket sales to be big.
This kind of conflict has been, and will continue to be, a growing problem. Intellectual Property laws are in bad need of reform, but more than that, business modelers need to understand the new paradigm that cheap technology presents.
Technology is cheap. No, really. You may think it's pricey to get the latest and the greatest gear, but compared to only a few years ago, when that gear didn't exist, it's cheap.
Anybody can get the tools to create media. Good tools. An HD camera and a computer with video editing software doesn't cost that much. In fact, I'm planning on purchasing some this week.
What that means is there is no barrier to entry. Anyone can do this (probably very poorly) for very little cash.
Take a look at YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, etc. Everybody is a writer, videographer, and artist. Everyone is a celebrity.
And nothing (short of a time machine) can change that.
With that reality in mind, media producers need to leverage the anxious crowd. User-Generated Content will be vitally important to most media outlets if they want to survive (and thrive) in coming years. Some early adopters are already putting that strategy to play, and making a hefty profit.
It even works for established brands. One American film maker has directed only six feature films since 1971, but his properties have become so popular, copied, and parodied, that his net worth is $3.9 billion (with a b). His name is George Lucas.
So, what do we say? Sue The Hunt for Gollum crew? I don't know why. They're drawing more eyes to a valuable franchise, keeping interest alive till the next installment is released (as if the viewers of The hunt for Gollum won't also go see The Hobbit opening weekend). The makers don't have any money; they're not making any money. But if producers play their cards right, the crew will make money for the studios.
I don't think honey bees ever stop to realize who ultimately reaps the harvest, but it's never far from the beekeeper's mind.
Or maybe it's just a matter of perspective.
What if we are all just pawns in corn's clever strategy game to rule the Earth? Author Michael Pollan asks us to see the world from a plant's-eye view.