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Low Budget Legends

Nina Paley Interview Part 3

Nina Paley is one of our heroes. We met her at a theater in the town of Apt, in southern France, during the Avignon film festival. After seeing “Sita Sings the Blues” that night in that beautiful mountain town, we realized were in the presence of the Jimi Hendrix of modern animators – a truly talented virtuoso.

It has been our privilege to talk and hang with Nina over the last two years. We finally prevailed upon her to share her thoughts with us and the world on low-budget filmmaking, free culture and the system.

Visit her truly awesome website to see more of her work and her menagerie of cool ideas and causes: http://www.ninapaley.com

Enjoy!

13BIT:
I like that. I like that. So what do you think about distribution for indies and low-budget films?
NINA PALEY:
Sita has conventional distributors. Or not conventional. But Sita has, you know, regular film distributors. People that distributed on 35 millimeter film. And they do have a monopoly on their own prints. I call it a natural monopoly. I mean, there’s only so many prints that exist. They’re a scarce good. And these distributors control those prints as they are entitled do and should do. And I’m really glad that they do it. That’s why Sita can be in theatres. It’s hard work distributing a physical print of a film and they do that.

They were both open-minded enough to — this the domestic — so there are two domestic distributors of Sita. One is east of the Mississippi, one is west of the Mississippi. And they were both open-minded enough to try this experiment of distributing a film that does not have a monopoly on the content.

And they’re both doing fine. I mean, it’s performing just fine as an independent film. They’re independent, you know, they’re very small distributors. So it’s not, like, it has a giant distributor behind it. But it’s behaving well. And the whole fact that it’s — the content itself is free has only helped it. I know at least one of the distributors has actually said, you know, they wrote me a thing saying, “Well, we were worried about it. And we thought this was hurting. But then actually it picked up. And now we think it’s helping.” So yeah.

13BIT:
You were —
NINA PALEY:
But that’s just one kind of distribution. There’s so many
13BIT:
Would you ever distribute something on the web?
NINA PALEY:
Yeah, well, I have. The short films that I make. Those are primary designed for the web. I’d love it if people see them other ways. I should just say there’s no better way to experience a film than in a theatre with other people on a big screen. That is lovely. Sometimes it can be breathtakingly great, that experience. Just that feeling of community that happens around a piece of art. So I do love that. And when I put my short films online, I also put them on archive.org to get high resolution with the hopes that somebody will download it at high resolution and screen it at high resolution the way it’s supposed to be seen.
13BIT:
Can you give us a URL where people could see your short stuff online?
NINA PALEY:
Well, they’re at QuestionCopyRight.org/MinuteMemes.
13BIT:
Well, how about all your work? Is it NinaPaley.com?
NINA PALEY:
Yeah, but they’re actually not. I need to — I mean, I should just embed them like everybody else. Yeah, there should be an easier way.
13BIT:
— QuestionCopyRight.org/MinuteMemes?
NINA PALEY:
Yeah, they’re called Minute Memes. But I’ll show them to you at the end. I mean, you can also just go to YouTube and look up — do a search on Nina Paley and they’ll all come up. Although I don’t want to be pushing YouTube over other things. Archive.org is the best.
13BIT:
So you —
NINA PALEY:
Oh and, by the way, I should say that the advantage of sharing them online — it’s not because it’s a great cinematic experience. It’s just it’s the most efficient means for it to spread. So I love the idea of people seeing it by any means possible and sharing it very easily. And then having special occasions where it’s shown as God intended.
13BIT:
Communally.
NINA PALEY:
Yeah.
13BIT:
In a dark room.
NINA PALEY:
Yeah. On a big screen at high resolution.
13BIT:
So you mentioned earlier film festivals being a racket. Are film festivals relevant or useful? Or —
NINA PALEY:
They’re very relevant and they’re very useful. And it’s true that that aspect of it is kind of a racket. But that’s kind of a mean thing to say. Film festivals have become what cinemas used to be. So cinemas now are these corporate-owned chains of things that basically are controlled by these giant media conglomerates.

Film festivals have assumed the role of, you know, interesting movies, art movies. They’ve, you know, they’re the place where some sort of community can form around the movies. So they’re incredibly important. And I see them as theatrical — they are a kind of theatrical — they are the theatrical outlet for most films. Initially I was wondering why there was this proliferation of film festivals. And now I realize that it’s just that they’re meeting this need that cinemas aren’t meeting because they’re all chains now.
13BIT:
I’d agree with that too.
NINA PALEY:
Most festivals, you know, they do charge festival fees. Not all of them. And this is not a big revenue source for filmmakers. But then neither are regular cinemas. They’re not revenue sources either. And in fact, in many ways you’ll lose more money if you try to set up theatrical releases of your film because of all the advertising you have to spend on to have a theatrical relate.

At least the film festival does all the stuff for you. Although, at the really big film festivals, you’re supposed to have your own PR person. The promotion side of film is just insane. Which bring me to a saying — give me a second. “Attention is scarce, information is not, do the math.” So most films pay — how can I say it? The amount of money that people spend trying to get attention, which is actually a scarce resource, is much more than what you can charge for the actual information. And that’s one of the reasons that most films lose money at the box office –because the cost of advertising. The cost of buying people’s attention is more than the cost of the information, which I guess is represented in the cost of tickets.

But, in fact, information is actually not scarce at all. So, nobody should be paying for information. People should be paying for attention. And they are. It’s actually borne out in reality. So anyway, film festivals do take care of attracting much of that attention.
13BIT:
That equation might vary depending on where you are though, what culture. You know, or —
NINA PALEY:
Well, no. It’s only true if you’re in a situation where information is not scarce. We’re living in that situation for the first time because everybody has a computer. That’s why information isn’t scarce. But if you’re in, like, the age of printing or something, then information is a lot more scarce because it’s tied to a scarce — it’s tied to the physical book which is scarce. But zeros and ones, pure information is not scarce.
13BIT:
For half the world, yeah.
NINA PALEY:
Yeah and, well, more all the time.
13BIT:
That’s true. Interesting. I agree with that too actually. I was thinking in the Great Depression, I was thinking it might be reversed. There was a lot of attention and less information.
NINA PALEY:
Well, that’s interesting. Because I think — and there wasn’t less information. There was more.
13BIT:
You think?
NINA PALEY:
Yeah. I mean, it was a great time for films, right?
13BIT:
Right.
NINA PALEY:
Why was it a great time for films? Because there was all this attention available. Think about the problem that we have as filmmakers today where there’s so many more films competing for attention. That is the big problem facing any filmmaker is how do you get attention? How do you get people to look at your film? We’re — it’s kind of good that so many people are unemployed right now because that does mean there’s more attention to go around. But there are so many more films now that the amount of increased attention is not keeping up with the increase of information.

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