Most creative people probably don't spend much of their day thinking about their personal copyright issues. That's because American copyright laws, which were vastly revised and improved in the mid-1970s, made it very easy for artists, musicians, authors and others. Put simply, the moment you create "a thing" — a poem, a novel, a song, a painting, a silly little doodle, whatever — you're copyright protection is immediate and inherent. Put more simply, the act of creation is all that's needed to cover you under U.S. copyright law.
Now it didn't used to be this way. Prior to 1976, whenever you created "a thing," you had to register said thing with the U.S. Copyright Office. It was an enormous amount of work, bureaucracy and bother. Plus, there were some dangerous loopholes. Your protection only lasted 28 years, and if you forgot to re-register your work THREE DECADES after you created, well, then you no longer owned the copyright. Needless to say, if you were a prolific artist, or just one who's been working for a long time and has amassed a large body of work, then trying to stay abreast of your registrations would be a nightmare. But all that changed in 1976 and it's worked well ever since.
So why does the Copyright Office, certain Internet-based corporations like Google and elements in Congress want to change it?
Well, they'll tell you it's because how we produce and deliver art has changed radically since the 1970s, with most of us now using electronic means to do so. As such, they argue, it's time for a re-think. But really it's about money. Entities like Google, Facebook, etc. have been trying for a while to co-opt our creations through their privacy and terms of service agreements. But if there's not inherent copyright protection for anyone — whether you earn your living as an artist or not — then anything you put out there can be essentially legally stolen and resold. Imagine Facebook running its own stock image business using photos pilfered from their users. How messed up is that?
The last time these changes were attempted was in 2008 and it failed miserably due to the massive defense mounted by artists of all kinds from all over the country. It's time to do that again.
And don't be fooled. This effects all of us. If you create anything, you could lose your rights to that "thing" if these new rules pass. Toward that end, I'm encouraging you to join the defense. I've added some links below to where you can learn more and where you should send letters rejecting any changes to the existing copyright laws. If you want to learn more, watch the attached podcast for details from illustrators Will Terry and Brad Holland. But hurry, the next deadline for comments is July 23, 2015.
Teen filmmaker in action. My friend Jake Kreager is only seventeen but he's already a veteran filmmaker. He and his cousin cranked out this suspense film in two days without a script or even a cameraman. You can follow Jake on YouTube here.
Even though I've been doing it since I was nine-years-old, I haven't written much about filmmaking on this website. It's an unfortunate oversight, because I feel we're in a very exciting time for filmmakers of all levels. The ease, affordability and prevalence of digital cameras, editing software and video-sharing websites has given a whole generation the chance to flex their filmmaking muscles. And though this has also given us way too many videos of kittens riding Roombas to the screaming chords of "Eye of the Tiger," the chance to express, create and share with each other is unprecedented.
So filmmakers, indulge me while I tell you how young people once made movies before all this technology made it so darn easy...
My interest in filmmaking began in the mid-1970s when my grandfather gave me an 8mm camera which, even for the time, was a primitive device. It looked primitive — a black metal box with a pebbly surface and a small lens. There was a trigger to expose the film and a large silver lever to operate the zoom. You had to focus manually and though filming in color wasn't an issue, there wasn't any sound. Fresh film was always in short supply. A reel cost about $10 — half of my monthly allowance — and there were still trading cards and that copy of Starlog magazine I needed to purchase, too! Needless to say, my early works had a certain "economy" to them. A typical film was three minutes, an epic would grow to nine. Everything had to be filmed on the first take.
The first film I ever made was entitled "The Horror of the Desert" and starred me, my sister, and the three kids who lived next door. We were all between the ages of 11 and 15. The plot was simple enough. I put on a bright blue papier-mâché monster mask, draped myself in an old blanket and menaced the other four for a total of six minutes. Granted, "The Horror of the Desert" wasn't a long on plot but at least there was lots of running and screaming. (Okay, there wasn't any screaming because, as I just mentioned, the camera had no sound.) Instead, in the true tradition of silent film, there was plenty of melodramatic pantomime. Finally, one of the neighbor girls drives a wooden stake through my monstrous heart, a technique which apparently works as well on aggressive space aliens as it does on vampires. The film was a huge hit, the least among the other neighborhood kids who immediately lined up to be in my next production.
Editing of my 8 mm creations was done by hand. I had a cheap, manually-cranked machine through which you could watch your footage on a tiny screen, slicing out the unwanted bits and reordering sequences by taping the strips of film back together. The basic concepts behind editing haven't changed with the newer technology, but the results and rapidity of the process have improved exponentially. What I can now edit by computer in thirty minutes might've taken an entire day in 1979.
By junior high, I was dabbling in stop-motion animation and practical special effects. The latter usually involved creating elaborate miniatures complete with painted backdrops and then setting them on fire in my backyard. By the end of college, I had several "co-producers" assisting me and troupes of amateur actors to do my bidding. And by the mid-90s, I was constructing elaborate parodies of science fiction and fantasy films under the name "Aneurysm Theater."
Technology advanced as well. Eight mm film gave way to videotape and finally digital media. But the real boon didn't come until the home computing giants, Apple in particular, created video editing software which more people could afford and understand.
All this was fun, but it had yet to become a serious venture.
In reality, filmmaking didn't become part of my profession until the early 2000s when I was tasked with creating law enforcement training films in Arizona. I produced six videos in all and that experience paved the way for my current work with the Oregon Coast Aquarium's Oceanscape Network, a web-based project which is extremely video-intensive.
So why am I telling you all this, young filmmakers? Because whether you hope to make film your profession, or it's just a fun hobby, you have tools at your fingertips I couldn't even imagine when I was starting out. And as with the publishing world, the internet and associated technology now allows you the opportunity to reach an audience without having to go through the traditional "gatekeepers" of those industries. Take advantage of it. If the past is any indication, this field's just going to get better and better.
RELATED: For examples of my filmmaking, visit my profile on Stage 32.
I'd heard of Ashland, Oregon, long before I visited it. Its Shakespeare festival, which runs February through November, has a international reputation and is often mentioned in the same breath as Stratford-on-Avon, where the plays originated. I can't say I'm a devotee of The Bard's work, but I have seen and enjoyed enough of his plays to jump at the chance to visit Ashland at the height of the festival. It was road trip time, down through the winding hills and thick forests of Oregon to just a few miles north of the California border. My anticipation was high, but my expectations of finding costumed denizens and live jousting ala a Renaissance Faire turned out to be very different from my experience.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is a celebration of live theater. But a word of caution about this... If you intend to see Shakespeare performed in the classical Elizabethan style, read the play descriptions carefully or you may be disappointed. Some of plays reengineer Shakespeare, placing them in times and places far removed from what the playwright had imagined. The performance I attended of Romeo and Juliet was an excellent example. Set in 1840's Alta California (a Spanish colonial province which is today the combined area of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah), the performance suffered from a unique case of split personality disorder. I'm still trying to wrap my head around actors delivering their Elizabethan lines in thick Mexican accents; or punctuating an impactful monologue with the occasional Spanish word as if only to reinforce how this version of Romeo and Juliet was so very different. Judging by the recurring snickers from the audience, I wasn't the only one who found this, well, ineffective.
Fear not. If altered Shakespeare isn't your cup of tea, the OSF and Ashland provide plenty of other live theater choices. In fact, we had twelve different options ranging from other Shakespeare titles to off-Broadway productions. The selection reinforced Ashland's catchphrase: "Come for four days, see four plays." With performances running continually in a lavish complex of both indoor and outdoor theaters, you could actually see more than four if you had the inclination and the money.
When I tired of Shakespeare, I strolled the downtown area which, in many ways, reminded me of Sedona in Arizona's Verde Valley. Most of the businesses were upscale boutiques, creekside cafés and art galleries with a strong hippie vibe. The penchant for live performances spilled out onto the sidewalks, where everyone from teenaged crooners to stringed quartets to transients with broken ukuleles vied for attention and tips. The heart of the downtown area is Lithia Park. Dating from early twentieth century, the park was designed as a tranquil refuge where urban dwellers could enjoy the arts, explore nature and ponder their existence. It was also the most visible expression of the Chautauqua educational movement, which strived to bring culture and beauty to America's more rural areas. A century later, Ashland still embraces Chautauqua and it was gratifying to see such large crowds (and so many children and teenagers) attending the plays, hiking the nature paths or listening to music. In the era of Jersey Shore and Twilight, it seems like America needs a good dose of Chautauqua. Kudos to Ashland for providing it!
For more on Ashland and the chautauqua movement, see my articles on the Oceanscape Network.