Film Freedom Project(Proposal)

Terry Hancock

This is a static temporary site to aid in discussion of the best way to proceed with this project -- presumably we'll want a data-driven site for production use.

Film Freedom is a new initiative to create a guide and host resources to support a thriving community of filmmakers using free software to create their films and/or using free culture licenses and business models to release and support them. So far, this site is an essay on the concept -- an attempt to clarify what sort of site we need to create to best serve this goal.

Creating a Pattern to Follow

Filmmaking is full of black magic. No one's ever been quite sure how this business manages to survive as a business, because there are so many factors and it is so unpredictable. For this reason, producers generally take an incrementalist approach: we talk about tweaking business models that have been known to work in the past, whether they are blockbuster action films, independent film documentaries, or animated television series. We very rarely try to conceive of the whole business model from start to finish, because that would be such a huge task that it's probably not worth it for a single production.

But that's exactly what choosing a free-culture business model for your project currently requires us to do. There are so many assumptions about copyright, licensing, and sales built into commercial producers models for developing, producing, and distributing films, that it is very hard to simply graft a free-culture based model onto a proprietary production. Instead, it makes more sense to start from first principles -- to work from the ground up, figuring out how to do everything in this new landscape with its new assumptions.

Probably no one person and no one project can figure all of this out for themselves. And we don't. Those of us currently working on free-culture film projects spend a lot of time looking at each other's projects trying to see what works and what doesn't. We also spend time looking at the proprietary industry, trying to figure out what can be adapted to our projects -- what we can salvage from the old models of filmmaking in creating our new one.

We -- that is to say, Terry Hancock and Rosalyn Hunter of Anansi Spaceworks -- think that this community needs some kind of "watering hole" or "magazine" or "guide book" or "archive" to collect this kind of tacit and specific knowledge about producing free-culture films and about using free-software to create them. This way when new producers come along, they'll have a better starting position and will be able to accomplish more. Someday, even, they may be able to convince investors to back their projects before they are completed, the way commercial films are normally made.

Blender Foundation and Blender Cloud

There is already one major "platform" for Free Film, which is the Blender Foundation's "Blender Cloud", which provides a number of studio-like features for films closely bound to the Blender software platform. This has been very successful, and no discussion of Free Film would be complete without acknowledging it:

Elephants Dream

2006 - 11 min

Big Buck Bunny

2008 - 10 min

Sintel

2010 - 15 min

Tears of Steel

2012 - 12 min

Cosmos Laundromat

1 Ep. 2015 - 12 min

Monkaa

2015 - 6 min

Glass Half

1 Ep. 2015 - 3 min

Caminandes

3 Ep. 2016 - 6.5 min total

These projects were all made with Blender. Some used the "Blender Internal" renderer and some used "Cycles". And they all used the Visual Sequence Editor and Compositor built into Blender. Gimp has generally been used for textures. The audio production has not been as free -- I haven't been able to track down all of the information on that, but for example, the sound design on "Elephants Dream" used the evidently-proprietary "INA GRM" filter pack for effects. I haven't been able to determine what audio tools were used for mixing sound. And the soundtrack music has generally been under a Creative Commons "NonCommercial" license, despite the films being "Attribution-Only".

Clearly, this is not something to compete with, but rather something to complement.

However, as good as this is, you can see that the range of films is somewhat limited to similar styles, many of the same people on the teams, and of course they are limited to all-Blender productions (it's a "Blender Cloud", not a "Free Film Cloud"). Also, although the original pitch for the Gooseberry project was to make a feature-length film, that has morphed into a series concept, which will apparently be made as a series of shorts, of which just one has been made.

So there are a lot of assumptions and a shared corporate culture with these films, making them much like films produced by a single studio, even if there are actually multiple studios involved. Making a single "platform" administered under a particular foundation as the "One True Way" to make free/open movie projects has this effect.

Herding Cats: The Problem with Platforms

Artists are a difficult-to-organize group of people by nature. I have been closely watching several projects and filmmakers over the last few years (mostly for my own education), and I have seen that they rarely make the same choices about tools. Let's consider a sample of independent free-culture films, the software they have used for production, and their means of financial support:

Wires for Empathy

Development/Production

Producers:
Bassam Kurdali
Fateh Slavitskaya

Style:
 3D Animation / Photoreal

Format: ~10 min Short

Objectives:

  • Independent Open-Movie
  • Crowd-funded
  • Student training
  • Develop scripts for Blender

Collaboration:
Remote via Internet

Visual Production:
Blender/Cycles, Gimp

Audio Production:
Audacity?

Editing:
Blender VSE

Workflow:
Filesystem, Git, Sparkleshare, Helga

License:
CC By-SA 4.0

Pre-Production Funding:
Kickstarter - $40,233

Sustaining Funds:
PayPal Donations

Post-Release:
?

User Lib

2014 - 3 min

Producers:
Bassam Kurdali
Fateh Slavitskaya

Style:
 3D Animation / NPR

Format: 3 min Short

Objectives:

Collaboration:
On-Site and Remote

Script Development:
Piratepad, Gedit, Textplay, Trelby

Visual Production:
Blender/Blender Internal, Krita, TextFX

Audio Production:
Audacity, Blender VSE

Editing:
Blender VSE

Workflow:
Filesystem, Git

License:
CC By-SA 4.0

Funding:
Commission from Free Software Foundation as part of an FSF fundraiser.

The Beautiful Queen Marya Morevna: Underground

Demo 2014 - 6 min

Producer:
Morevna Project
Konstantin Dmitriev

Style:
2D Animation

Format: ~1 hour Anime/OVA

Distribution: Web, ?

Objectives:

  • Anime of Russian Fairytale
  • Demo of Synfig Studio for Animation

Collaboration:
On site & Remote

Visual Production:
Synfig Studio, Blender, Pencil, Krita, Gimp

Audio Production:
Audacity?

Editing:
Blender VSE

Workflow:
Filesystem, MediaWiki, Git

License:
CC By-SA 3.0

Pre-Production Funding
Mostly Self-Funded, Several Small Crowd-Funding cycles

ZeMarmot

Production

Producers:
Studio Girin
Aryeom Han, Jehan Pagés"

Style:
2D Digital Ink & Paint

Format: Feature Released in Parts

Distribution: Web, USB

Objectives:

  • Make a good movie
  • Libre Art
  • Libre business models
  • Free Software development

Collaboration:
On-Site

Visual Production:
GIMP

Audio Production:
Ardour, Audacity, AMMD?

Editing:
Blender VSE

Workflow:
Filesystem, Flyspray, & Offline/Paper

License:
CC By-SA 4.0, License Art Libre

Pre-Production Funding:
IndieGoGo - €14,537, LILA

Sustaining Funding:
Patreon, Donations

Also seeking foundation funding

ZHackers

Development

Producer:
David Jordan

Style:
Live Action with VFX

Format: Episodes

Distribution:
Ubuntu Software Center, Novacut Platform

Objectives:

  • Adapt novellas
  • Free-culture sales
  • Update to Zombie genre horror

Collaboration:
On-Site (Actors)

Visual Production:
Camera shoots, Blender/Cycles (for VFX)

Audio Production
Audacity?

Editing:
Blender VSE, Novacut

License:
CC By-SA 3.0

Production Funding:
Self-funded

Post-Release Sales:
Ubuntu Software Center (like novellas), Novacut platform? (Under development).

Pepper & Carrot

Development

Producer:
David Revoy

Style:
TBD

Format: Short Episodes?

Disribution: Web?

Objectives:

  • Adapt free-culture webcomic
  • Create another free film

Collaboration:
Remote/Internet

Visual Production:
Krita,Blender?

Audio Production: ?

Editing: Blender VSE?

Workflow:
Custom Site Scripts, Filesystem, ?

License:
CC By 4.0

Sustaining Funding:
Patreon.

Funds for Film not specified yet.

Sita Sings the Blues

2009 - 82 min

Producer:
Nina Paley

Style:
2D Animation

Format: Feature Film

Disribution: Web, DVD

Objectives:

  • Fusion of Jazz Music and Ramayana
  • Independent Animated Film Release

Collaboration:
On-Site/None

Visual Production:
Macromedia Flash 8

Audio Production: ?

Editing: Final Cut Pro

Workflow:
Filesystem

License:
CC By-SA 3.0 then Public Domain

Pre-Production Funding:
Self-Funded

Post-Release:
Festival Prizes, Screening Fees (Voluntary), Creator Endorsed DVD Sales, Creator Endorsed Merchandise, Donations

Lunatics!

Development/Production

Producer:
Terry Hancock

Style:
3D Animation / NPR

Format: ~30 min Episodes

Distribution: Web, DVD, Lib-Ray

Objectives:

  • Optimistic, realistic science-fiction
  • Demo anime series format Free-Film
  • Free-culture + open production

Collaboration:
Remote/Internet

Visual Production:
Blender/Blender-Internal, Synfig Studio, Inkscape, Gimp, Krita.

Audio Production:
Audacity (Ardour)

Workflow:
Filesystem, MediaWiki, Resource Space, Subversion/Trac (RenderChan, Bazaar)

Editing:
Kdenlive, (?)

License:
CC By-SA 4.0

Pre-Production Funding:
Kickstarter - $2410
Personal Investment - ~$3000

Production/Sustaining:
Patreon, Subscription

Post Release Sales:
Creator Endorsed, Ancillary Merch.

This is clearly a more diverse group of films from a more diverse group of producters, who are generally very secure in their own choices and have no interest in switching in order to conform to the way the others are working. Each has determined what works best for their own project.

This being the case, we feel it would be meaningless to try to promote any particular "platform" for free software filmmaking. Rather, we need to present tools in more of a mix-and-match, create-your-own-solution way. Ideally we'd be able to present the pros and cons of each choice of tool so that new filmmakers could get a better idea of what will work for them.

With this in mind, Film Freedom will not attempt to compete with any of these platform choices, nor to take sides on which works best. Instead, we will simply try to provide a way for people to find out about all of them. Ideally, we'd recruit fans of each software package to tell us about that package's strengths, and get case studies of successful projects.

A similar situation applies to funding, release, distribution, and sales strategies, which are similarly all over the map. A few commonalities do exist: most of the free-software based projects do have some relation to the development teams of the software they use, sometimes contributing directly to development. Both Tube and Morevna project also have some educational connections, and we followed suit on this by accepting media interns from California State University on our "Lunatics!" project, which has been a successful trial.

There are some identifiable gaps in the tool support -- notably in the areas of studio accounting, asset management, version control, and online collaboration. These are generally done with tools that were not really intended for the purpose, and there is some amount of misfit that slows down production. We think these might be the best areas in which to promote new development on this site.

Even Castles in the Sky Need Foundations

Perhaps the most sensitive subject we need to talk about is money: how do we pay for all of the work that goes into film projects. Money makes more of a difference with film production, because most projects are very large and require enormous amounts of time. This doesn't completely rule out amateur productions, but it's a lot more limiting with film.

Crowd funding has been a major boon to free-software and free-culture projects, although it's certainly not always reliable. This is clearly an area where it would be beneficial to share case studies and techniques.

Projects have also found various ways to sell what they produce, even if the works are under free-culture licenses. Nina Paley's 2009 release "Sita Sings the Blues" has been an excellent case study on this, especially with all the help she received from Question Copyright. Her new project, "Sedermasochism" promises to also be useful.

Another example to look at is the Blender Foundation/Blender Institute's "Open Projects", including the films "Elephants Dream", "Big Buck Bunny", "Sintel", "Tears of Steel", and their current, very-ambitious "Cosmos Laundromat" project -- all of which show the advantages of being associated with a well-funded foundation, and of having a development relationship with a popular piece of software.

I'd love to have a more unified and predictable theory of how to raise money for film projects and how to make it after they've been released, more like what can be found for proprietary film. But this will take a lot of work to collect.

Free Software and Free Culture - Intersection and Union

The core of our project will be those film projects that fall on the intersection between films created with free software and films released as free culture, however we do hope our site will be useful for the much broader union of these two interests, meaning, for example, the inclusion of free software made films released.

Software Tools for Filmmakers

Here are some of the tools we'd like to collect resources, guides, and tutorials for:

3D Graphics & Animation

Blender is the clear leader, but there are several other free software 3D modeling and animation tools. It would be nice to document why one might choose to use one of these rather than Blender for certain tasks. There are also a few 3D rendering plug-ins which can be used in place of Blender Internal or Blender Cycles renderers.

Blender MakeHuman Wings3D Seamless3D K-3D
LuxRender YafaRay POVRay

2D Animation (Vector & Bitmap)

Synfig is a very powerful tool for automatically generating in-betweens from vector or bitmap artwork. Tupi opts for an easier-to-learn interface appropriate for flash-like animation. Pencil supports vector art, but was originally more of a bitmap-based flipbook tool for quickly generating animation in the traditional hand-drawn way (but on the computer).

Synfig Tupi Pencil2D

2D Graphics (Vector & Bitmap)

There are several strong free-software graphics programs. Inkscape is probably the best-known and most complete vector graphics tool. Gimp is probably the best known bitmap tool, although Krita has a growing following. Krita is particularly popular for direct-to-digital painting and drawing, while Gimp is mainly used for filtering and processing images. MyPaint is a specialized paint program just for use with graphics tablets.

Inkscape GIMP Krita MyPaint

Audio Mixing and Sync

Most films have some kind of sound, though it can cover a huge range in complexity. Audacity edits destructively, which means it's analogous to a "paint" program, but with sound. Ardour is a live-mixing program which is more demanding on system resources, but can allow for a more complete environment. Papagayo is a special tool for annotating video with spoken dialog for lip sync. Aegisub is a subtitler.

Audacity Ardour Papagayo Aegisub

Video Editors and Compositors

Video editing is a very challenging application development test, and currently there is a lot of competition among applications. None seems to really be at quite the professional level yet, although some are getting close. Kdenlive is pretty feature-complete and recent build do not crash as often (it also has a very good crash recovery system, so it rarely loses data when it crashes). OpenShot was more stable, but lacked some features in the UI which made frame-exact editing very difficult -- however it has recently been upgraded substantially so I need to review the new version. Cinelerra makes very bold claims, but has always required a lot of hardware resources to run, and can be very slow because of that. There are also three "friendly forks" of Cinelerra, which makes it awkward to keep up with. Pitivi is mainly distinguished by its use of the Gstreamer backend. The others, I know very little about. Blender isn't shown below, but it's also a popular option for video editing, using its "Visual Sequence Editor" view. Natron is a new compositor, mainly for visual F/X work.

Natron

Workflow, Asset Management, & Version Control

As productions get larger, there are more and more digital assets to keep track of, more sub-projects to organize, and more continuity to maintain through version control. This can become a disaster for one person to keep track of without specialized tools, and it's especially difficult when a project group is spread out over a wide area and has to communicate and collaborate over the Internet. Most of the tools are typically adapted from other applications, such as software development or photography.

RenderChan GraphDiff

Collaboration, Communications, & Community Tools

It's also important for project teams to communicate well, both to coordinate on creative goals and to educate newcomers on procedures and skills they need. Again, most of the tools are adapted from some other applications -- PHP BB was originally for Internet interest forums, before social media took ovr; Mumble was primarily a VOIP solution for MMORP gamers; MediaWiki was developed to support the Wikipedia collaborative encyclopedia, and so on. Screencasting tools are essential for creating tutorials.

Mumble PHP BB MediaWiki Wordpress Big Blue Button Kazam VokoScreen OBS

Mastering & Distribution

Finally, a film will need to be put into an appropriate format for broadcasting, viewing, downloading, or selling in a fixed medium.

DVD Styler Lib-Ray K3B

Hosting and Development

Some programs we need do not yet have a home, and some have not yet been built. We are planning to take on two major development projects at Anansi Spaceworks:

Lib-Ray

Lib-Ray

This project was initially funded by a Kickstarter project, although the difficulty level of designing the menu system and sample player was underestimated, and it has been slow going. We intend to divert more resources to it in 2016, and hopefully get this long-awaited project to an initial release. It also lost its hosting when Google Code shut down, so we'll need to host the source code on our own server now. We feel it would be more appropriate to move this project into the Film Freedom umbrella, rather than leaving it on its own -- after all, it really needs to be part of a larger system of services.

GraphDiff

GraphDiff

GraphDiff will be a new project to implement a smart differencing tool for graph-structured data, which includes a lot of multimedia files, but in particular, Blender's ".blend" files would be supported. This would allow for such files to be handled by properly-adapted version control systems as fluidly as text files are currently.

This would include both the development of the basic command line differencing tool, as well as integration into at least one existing version control system, to provide more multimedia-friendly version control capabilities.

Extensions & Packaging

Ubuntu Studio

In addition, there are a number of projects that we are not developing here, but for which we may be able to collect useful resources, such as plugins, scripts, or packaging for Linux distributions, when those services are not already provided by someone else.

The goal is to try to close up the gaps and provide a more complete solution to newcomers to Free Film. We might consider trying to work more closely with an existing multimedia distribution, such as the Ubuntu Studio Linux distribution, which already provides a number of the tools I've listed above. We could take over the package maintainer role for some newer packages.

Free Culture Archives

Another useful resource is keeping track of where free-culture or public domain materials, suitable for inclusion in multimedia or film projects, can be located. I have already published some of my sources in the form of converted bookmarks (Free and PD Art Resource Bookmarks List), but it would be useful to maintain a more permanent reference online (and to periodically update it to keep it accurate). We might also consider hosting content on this site if it's no longer being hosted elsewhere.

Another useful role would be to provide a license-certification process. We could check the license status on a given upstream source, screen-capture the webpage and store it. Possibly we might even use some kind of digital signature process. In this way, participants could witness for each other the status of free-licensed materials to avoid dangers associated with copyfraud and the like.

What Are We Missing?

This page is merely intended to be a starting place for developing a site useful to the community. And of course, we have limited resources to apply to it, so we don't want to get spread too thin (and we might already be considered to be stretched pretty far). On the other hand, one reason to build this site is to help us with our own projects by collecting useful notes and resources.

Some things we might consider creating:

But I'm sure that's not everything, and we'd like to hear your ideas or wishlists for what's missing from your project -- what have not thought of?

And of course, I'd also like to receive corrections if we've reported something wrong about your project in the page above! (This is certainly very likely in the first iteration - I had some trouble finding all of the information I was looking for).

Terry Hancock can be contacted at "digitante at gmail dot com" with questions, ideas, or suggestions. You can also find me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter (Lunatics), Twitter (Personal), Tumblr, and Diaspora.