Re: Entry Fee Rereredux, Exploitation, Hobbies

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Mar 12 2006 - 14:09:01 PST

Jack Sargeant wrote:
>> I have more than once learned that articles I have written have been
>> distributed to students in college classes, in some cases the same
>> article being used semester after semester. My response when I first
>> heard this about one article was to put it on my Web site for free,
>> and I've put many more there since. But still, in the on-paper
>> distribution cases, the instructor gets paid, the photocopy store and
>> copier company get paid, the textbook companies and authors get paid
>> because typically there are also textbooks required in such classes,
>> the students pay plenty, and the writer of the distributed articles
>> gets nothing. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times an
>> instructor has written me asking permission to distribute articles.
> oh come on.
> this is absurd.
> i've written a bunch of books on film, my books are taught as standard
> texts in some colleges (and have been taught by people on this list)
> and sure i get the odd cheque from ACPS and yes I get book royalties
> (but most colleges buy a couple of copies and leave them in the library
> for repeated readers, i only get paid once: when they buy them), but I
> also write pieces for small journals and books and get NO money, and
> sometimes that's ok too, and yes they are given to students and I get
> nothing financial in return, but i get the satisfaction that people are
> reading my words and thinking about what i am saying (even if they hate
> it). if i wanted to make lots of money i'd be writing books and articles
> about some crap sports personalities and not underground filmmakers and
> so on.
> i think that this moaning is nonsense. now, if somebody else published
> your work in a bootleg, or sold copies of it without paying you, i'd
> agree, but a handful of students reading one or two articles, give me a
> break.
> also, if they like your work they may track down other pieces in books
> that they do pay for.
> also, all this bitchin' about entry fees is equally dull, I've been to
> Brisbane International Film Festival, Chicago Underground, New York
> Underground, and Melbourne Underground, in each case I was curating
> retrospectives and didn't have to pay to get work in there, but I did
> pay for my hotels and flights and so on (not every time) and i did it
> because i enjoy it, because i get to meet people, because i get to watch
> movies. NOBODY at these festivals is rich, they work hard, they look
> after people, they organize a festival, so get off their backs. if you
> don't like it, don't submit your work, it's not rocket science.
> Jack
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

My posts yesterday apparently were confusing, sorry. First, I was not
intending that my arguments about the importance of artists and my
generalizations about people who seem to be devaluing them to me to
appear to be a reply to Kevin, whose informational post I had no
disagreement with. Indeed, his post made me realize I'd made a mistake
in griping about photocopying at all: what's probably happening is that
the journals I wrote for in the pre-1989 copyright law era are getting
the minuscule payments, and keeping them. And yes, I made my writing
available for free on my site because I did want it to be available for
free. The ideas and the films I am advocating for are important to me,
and the Web seemed a great way to make writing available. When I first
made my own Web site, in 1998, I started with a main page to help people
find me and then wondered what one article I could put up first, and I
realized I had some program notes on Brakhage's "Arabics" -- one of my
very favorite films of all time -- in my computer, notes that would have
been seen by very few people, and that was the first article I posted.
When I opened the ftp program that I used to post them, and saw the
process of simply dragging the file from one pane (representing my hard
drive) to the other (representing my Web site) take only a few seconds,
I thought back to all those hours I had spent at the mimeo machine in
the 60s producing program notes for a film society that would be seen
mostly only by the people there that night, and realized that the Web
was one example of the world -- which seems to me in many ways getting
worse -- getting better. My original gripe was about people reproducing
articles that I have not put on my site, but as I say when Kevin
reminded me of how formalized the photocopying process is now, my guess
is that royalties are being paid somewhere, and it's not the professors'
fault if I'm not getting any. I doubt very much money is involved either.

I continue to think that it's of interest that the other two people who
replied to me did so only to my personal gripe, not my larger point, and
replied with what were arguably personal attacks, though not severe
ones. That's been one of the problems here for a while. A months-ago
post of mine about certain negative trends in recent filmmaking elicited
the claim from Jack Sargent, one of my two responders ("attackers"?) in
this thread, that I wasn't seeing new work and should be. This is false.
I see and write about new work all the time. Sometimes I even like it.
Sometimes I like it a lot. My Web site has some long reviews of new work
from the past decade. Occasionally I even "curate" shows of new work,
write on the shows, and introduce them personally. See and for two examples from last
year. Several of these works were from artists in their early 20s.

My larger point, of course, is that there has been a gradual power shift
over the last four decades in avant-garde film and video from
individuals to institutions. A chaotic, anarchistic,
off-the-cultural-map non-movement had some of its principal artists
advocating for better payment for artists four decades ago, and the
coops were founded in part in the idealistic hope of fostering that.
Today the "power" to determine what gets exhibited and who gets paid and
how has largely shifted to colleges and universities, art museums, and
film festivals. There are some stand-alone not for profits (Chicago
Filmmakers is the long running example in my city) that do great work,
and in Chicago there's also the recently founded "Experimental Film
Club," which has presented some wonderful programs, and also hosts the
Onion City Film Festival, which seems to be one of the better ones. It's
part of the University of Chicago but is student run (full disclosure:
they've paid me to do programs, further demonstrating their fabulous
taste). I wish there were more groups like the last two.

Since people here seem to have trouble with shades of gray, let me be
clear that I think there are plenty of film professors, museum curators,
and festival programmers who do great work in bringing difficult "art"
to public view. I am not against all film festivals. If the fees are
reasonable, the programming is intelligent, the projection is good, and
the overall presentation is OK, festivals can be an important part of
the process of helping work get seen and get better known. When the fees
are so high that more is collected in fees than given out in prizes,
such festivals still may provide benefits, but they *also* are serving
as a wealth transfer mechanism from the many impoverished filmmakers to
the few, via a few judges. This seems like a practice worth questioning.
Those film festivals that fund their prizes separately, with grants or
even door admissions, are closer to the "cooperative" model mentioned by

My own tastes and preferences would like to see added to this mix more
screenings not connected to institutions, in which the programming is
done because the programmers really believe in what they are showing,
and that have more one-person shows that make it possible to see many
works by single artists.

I will continue to object to any institution, and particularly any that
collects money from its attendees, whether low ticket prices at public
screenings or the astronomically high ticket prices at today's colleges,
thinking that they can use the work of artists for free. I have yet to
see a defense of this reprehensible practice that makes any sense to me.

Similarly, without going back over the emails of an old thread in which
David Tetzlaff and Kevin Hamilton replied to me, as I just don't have
the heart to do so, but to finally post some sort of reply to it now (or
probably I never will), it seems to me that they answered with a lot of
postmodern stuff about copies and the like, but never explained why a
filmmaker like Peter Kubelka should be filtered through that way of
thinking. Unlike many older filmmakers and critics, I do like some
"pomo" filmmaking, and want to honor the differences between different
types of art. If an artist declares his work doesn't survive video, how
can you justify showing it on video? This would be like renting a silent
Brakhage film, advertising it *as* a Brakhage film, and then showing it
with music. This has been done many times, without everyone in the
audience understanding that Brakhage himself has said that while he
didn't want to stop people from adding music, they should be clear that
what they are showing is not a Brakhage film. (See for more on this.)

About "art" versus "hobby," this can get really complicated. The term
"art" can mean so many different things. I don't want to call something
not art, in light of the whole history of art in the past century; I'd
much rather call it bad art. And lots of outsiders with no training and
perhaps no feeling they were even making "art" have made really great
things. Bill Traylor (a google image search:
) is one of many amazing examples. But, um, David, have you actually
seen Grandma Moses paintings? I'm sorry, but I think they're dreadful. I
wouldn't say they were not art, though. Just bad art, by my lights. Very
bad art. And about Cornell, Stan Brakhage recognized him as a great
artist in a high art tradition a little earlier than you seemed to have,
around 1955.

But when we start to talk about the "art" of fly fishing, well, there's
an "art" to anything, but if we start to talk about the "art" of fly
fishing as a reason for not paying rentals to Kubelka or Brakhage,
filmmakers who have almost literally put their lives on the line to make
a world-embracing cinema whose vision has the potential to radically
change the way people think and see -- which was their hope -- then I
get off that bus. Just listen to the way the average American talks
about his favorite "hobby," and read some of the writings of any of the
major avant-garde filmmakers, and you'll see a certain, uh, difference
in aspirations there.

David Tetzlaff wrote:

"Serious modernist composers have labored long in their 'I have to do
it' passions and produced a lot of dross, along with some gems. And four
guys who just wanted to be in a band to get the attention of some
neighborhood girls, and learned three chords (kind of) make some of the
most affecting and lasting art of the 20th Century."

Uh-oh. Now I'm starting to see the source of the problem you and I have
had communicating, David. I assume you mean the Beatles? Well, sorry,
they rank as a near-zero with me -- pretty, bland, musically empty
songs. I guess we just come from different aesthetics entirely. I'll
take Charles Ives, Anton von Webern, Olivier Messaein, Milton Babbitt,
Robert Johnson, Buddy Holly or (even) Brian Wilson any day.

Fred Camper

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.