Filmmaker Alex Winter recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his new documentary “Downloaded.”
In “Downloaded, which screens 10 p.m. Saturday, June 22 exclusively at the FilmBar, Winter explores the downloading revolution – the kids that created it, the bands and businesses that were affected by it and its impact on the world at large.
Q: Making a documentary takes a lot of time and effort. What was the initial spark that lit your interest in making a movie about this subject and devoting that aforementioned time and effort to it?
A: I was really into Napster when it showed up. I was doing a lot of effects-driven directing work at that time. I still do but, in those days, doing effects-driven directing work meant you were one step beyond two tin cans and a piece of string. It is hard to describe if you were not around or old enough to be online in those days just how slow and unstable it was to do anything online. It was such a revolutionary jump forward. It kind of blew all of us away. I was really absorbed into the global community aspect of it. There had never been a functional global community online. There had never been a way to move media around online quickly and efficiently and discover new bands and discover new artists. So that sort of blew me away. And shortly after being blown away, I thought, “Is this legal?” I really got caught up in the story of this brilliant invention that was absolutely going to contribute to the global changes that occurred around that time and brought us to where we are today – a world that is still very divided and heated around these issues. I think that, in some ways, it is still too soon to tell the Napster story because people are only now getting their heads around the significance of these issues that were raised partly by that company.
Q: You mentioned that the world is still very divided and heated around these issues. Did the complexity of said issues interest you most about this subject or was there something else that you found even more fascinating?
A: I have done an enormous amount of research about the issues, the ethics and the laws. I had been working on this story on and off for about 10 years. I really knew the details of it extremely deeply. But what always interested me, more than anything else, was the human drama of it. You may hate [these young men] for what they did but they were brilliant. And they continue to be brilliant. They have all gone on to do great things because they are really smart. But it was an extremely traumatic and explosive experience for them. They were entering a world that was completely unmapped and uncharted. They had no backup, no precedent and very little support. They still, on some level, have no support. But now they have so much money that they probably do not care so much. But I found them very compelling from a human, emotional standpoint. I was very eager to tell their story. Whether you like Napster or not, it is an extremely interesting rise and fall of a company.
Q: From that emotional standpoint to which you referred, what did you discover that you, as the filmmaker, hope viewers understand after having watched this documentary?
A: These kids really wanted to connect the world via music. That really was their vision. It was not to create a stealing site. Because they were unable to create a monetizable business for their company, they went broke and went out of business. So it was hardly their endgame. I think that there are a lot of correlations between that, WikiLeaks and some of the other things that have gone on recently where people really wanted to do things that are outside of the law or just where things currently stand in our society. And that is creating a lot of confusion and contention.
Q: Finally, it seems that there is so much more to talk about when it comes to this subject. Are you at all interested in re-visiting it with a follow-up film?
A: I do not know right now. If I did, I probably would not do it for about 10 years. I think that we are really knee-deep in a quagmire at the moment and I do not see us not getting out of it soon. I think that it is probably going to take about 5 to 10 years, unfortunately, before we have a properly monetizable system that works with the pre-existing music and movie industries that compensates artists accurately and gives consumers what they want in a high-quality level with an experience that is convenient. I really thought that in 2004, when I really started working on the Napster story in earnest, that all of these issues were going to be long gone by the end of that decade. Now we are getting into the middle of the following decade and it is so much further away from being resolved. And it is getting worse and more fractious every day. I would love to take a look at and examine the digital revolution and the cultural revolution in about 5 to 10 years.