Photo by Sarah Browne

Photo by Sarah Browne

By: Shane Ryan

Twelfth in the series.

Growing up with a film editor as a father, I fell in love with all kinds of cinema at a young age. He taught me how to edit film when I was five, and I’ve been making movies ever since. Despite achieving some success and recognition in my 31 years of filmmaking, online piracy has left me struggling and reeling for ways to protect my work online.

My first major break as an independent filmmaker came in 2007, when I made the exploitation horror film Amateur Pornstar Killer in one night on a $45 budget. It quickly became a smash hit, spawning two sequels and receiving critical acclaim from MTV and the Theater for Living Arts (TLA).

Due to the controversial nature of Amateur Pornstar Killer, it was hard to distribute overseas and many countries banned the film. Consequently, the second film became one of the 25 most-pirated films across all torrent sites for around six years. My film was on the same list as some of Hollywood’s biggest hits, yet I failed to profit from its success. I also learned from a friend who visited China that street vendors were illegally selling my movies as part of a bundle with Academy Award®-winning films. It was even for sale on Blu-ray, even though we never released it on Blu-ray!

With fewer distributors willing to take on edgy and controversial films like mine, pirates are inevitably becoming our main audience. One of the most frustrating things for me as a filmmaker was reading reviews on torrent websites from people who clearly didn’t watch the film in its entirety. Many of the reviews for the second film complained about its lack of nudity, despite it being well known for its graphic ending. Unfortunately, I let this influence how I made the third film. I opened with more graphic scenes, which led my DVD manufacturer to refuse to make the DVDs for my distributor. I let pirates change the way I made my film, and it ended up hurting me as a filmmaker.

Despite Amateur Pornstar Killer’s success and notoriety, I haven’t made a dime from any of my films. The trilogy was the only work I’ve done that earned me a paycheck, but I actually lost money on the films due to advertising and festival costs. On any given day, there is a new, illegal upload of one of my movies on YouTube. It’s disturbingly easy for users to upload stolen copyrighted material. It’s up to copyright owners to alert YouTube of any instances of infringement, but it’s impossible to police the internet when I’m working 15-hour days making movies.

When I completed My Name is ‘A’ by Anonymous in 2014, which took a year to make and four years to find a distributor, I was happy to send a copy to a young film critic for review. When his readers begged him to illegally upload the film, they claimed an “unknown” filmmaker like myself would be happy to receive the buzz. This is simply not true. Studies have shown that the promotional impact of piracy doesn’t outweigh the harms caused by violating copyrights. My new film Faces of Snuff, which is being released in November 2016, is already being advertised on pirate sites in Thailand. What can I do to stop it?

Why is it that people will spend $6 on a latte and wait five minutes for it to be made, but they won’t spend $6 on a movie that takes a cast and crew years to make? It’s simply not right.