Brett Gaylor's most engaging documentary, RiP: A Remix Manifesto, screens at the Mezzanine (444 Jessie Street at Mint) in San Francisco at 7pm this Thursday (July 23) as part of the San Francisco Film Society's (SFFS) SF360 Film+Club series. It will be a fun evening that will also include a live video mashup by London's notorious audio visual remix masters Eclectic Method, plus a DJ set by Adrian and Mysterious D from the popular locally based mashup party Bootie SF. Tickets are $12/SFFS year-round members, and $17/general, available here.
In the new documentary, filmmaker/web-activist Gaylor, who will also be present at Thursday's Mezzanine screening, examines the ever-evolving subject of copyright in this digital age; a hot button topic if ever there were one, and one that has been at the center of many recent high profile lawsuits. For RIP: A Remix Manifesto, which was six years in the making, Gaylor interivews many informed sources from near and far who are all affected somehow by the film's subject matter. Included are Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, Brazil's Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow. But he turns his cameras' main focus to reigning mash-up and sample-king Girl Talk (or Greg Gillis, as they call him at home) to help get to the heart of the issue of sampling without permission, and the changing status of copyright law in this digital/information age.
RIP: A Remix Manifesto is available on DVD and, fittingly, this film, which is distinctly pro file sharing, is also available to download for free or for the "pay what you want to pay" price on its official site. Additionally, Gaylor happily shares the film's raw footage at opensourcecinema.org for anyone to download and remix. "This movie-as-mash-up method," he states, "allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film." I recently caught up with the Montreal-based filmmaker to talk more about RIP: A Remix Manifesto. That dialog follows immediately below the film's trailer.
Amoeblog: What was it that made you compelled to make this movie when you started out, and did you have a strong viewpoint from the very beginning?
Brett Gaylor: My original interest was more focused on peer to peer file sharing, and how this was disrupting existing business models, but as I researched I realized that this was a much bigger story [and] my viewpoint became stronger the longer I stayed with the story.
Amoeblog: How much -- if at all -- did the documentary's agenda or theme change along the way? Six years is a long time in this modern digital age with new simpler/cheaper technology being unveiled everyday.
Brett Gaylor: It became more a story of who can participate in our culture -- how copyright had lost its way. I actually found the closer I got to the essential truths of the story, the more timeless it became. It was less about technology and more about culture.
Amoeblog: How central is Girl Talk to the film, and through interviewing/filming did you uncover new facts or viewpoints on the whole issue of copyright and sampling?
Brett Gaylor: Girl Talk is a central figure in the film, for sure, because he is an artist whose work challenges contemporary copyright law. I appreciated his viewpoint because he isn't a crusader like some other characters in the film, like Lawrence Lessig or Negativland -- he's really just trying to do his thing. And in that way he is a foil for much of what the film is trying to get at. Copyright law is simply out of touch with the ways people are interacting with their culture -- people are no longer content to have a simple one-way, consumer relationship with culture. They want to be cultural agents.
Amoeblog: As a longtime fan of hip-hop I have always been interested in copyright law and the industry's reaction to sampling, cases like the landmark Gilbert O Sullivan Vs Biz Markie case, that certainly altered the sound of hip-hop, and all the recent era ones. But where do you see this going? Will it be a never ending barrage of lawsuits, or will there be two worlds of content: open source/free video/audio/image/text and one that is copyrighted and not available or constantly subject to litigation?
Brett Gaylor: I think (or I hope) that sampling will become more accessible -- that as more people do it, there will be a business case for people being allowed to pay a small fee to sample as much as they like. I think there is a lot more money to be made with that model -- I know someone like Girl Talk would certainly go for that.
Amoeblog: What are your views on people profiting off of others' work, such as the recent Shepard Fairey case where he was sued by AP over the unauthorized use of one of their pics of Barack Obama that was the basis of his famous image?
Brett Gaylor: I think it depends on how transformative the work is, and what is the intention of the artist. The Shepard Fairey case is a good example of someone completely transforming a work. I also think it's hard for AP to argue that the photograph is all that original -- there are thousands of similar Obama photos. Fairey brought his own artistic chops to that work.
Amoeblog: I see that the film is available online for sale, not at a fixed cost, but for whatever price people feel they wish to pay, and that you also encourage people to take and sample parts of your film. But how would you feel if someone screened it in public and charged money and kept all the money at the door?
Brett Gaylor: I'm OK with it, and in fact we encourage people to do that to a certain extent, as we feel that it's to our advantage for more people to know about the film. In some cases we have actual theatrical runs, so we ask people not to dilute the audience pool in those markets.
Amoeblog: A lot of graffiti artists get upset when photographers or t-shirt makers profit off of their street art, even though it is essentially disposable art, claiming that it is their image, although it is not copyrighted. But who owns the sounds in the street? If someone is playing guitar out on Haight Street -- a public space -- is that literally public domain?
Brett Gaylor: Like a lot of copyright, it really depends on who you ask, if there is money changing hands, etc. In a strict interpretation of copyright law, performing someone else's songs in public without their
permission, even if you are busking, is copyright infringement.
Amoeblog: Don't you think that the companies who make the technology are in fact the enablers of copyright infringement, and yet they never seem to get called out -- only the little guys?
Brett Gaylor: Actually, most of the cases that end up in the Supreme Court are with the technology companies -- but there has been a real effort to go after individuals for lots of different reasons. I think the main reason individuals have been hit with law suits is that the recording industry has wanted to make examples out of them.
Amoeblog: WIth that recent case of someone getting a $7 million fine over music downloading, do you think there will there be more of these extreme cases that seem to be making an example of one person's infringement rather than dealing with what is at stake?
Brett Gaylor: You're probably thinking of the $1.92 million decision against Jammie Thomas, who is in the film. The cases do seem to get more and more extreme -- the Pirate Bay trial, the Pirate Party in Sweden. Girl Talk playing bigger and bigger shows... The issue just seems to get bigger and bigger, and I think that's what it'll take before we see change.
Amoeblog: What can people expect at the Mezzanine SF screening and discussion of your film?
Brett Gaylor: Well, Eclectic Method (see their Motown commissioned remix below) are going to be there -- they've done about four shows with the film, each of which have been absolutely amazing. What I love about their shows is that it is a fantastic musical experience created from sampling video, so it's all in perfect sync, and it's kind of an assault on your senses -- particularly your booty.
Eclectic Method - "The Temptations Remixed" (online version)