Open Source Film Making

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Overview by Valentin Spirik at


Valentin Spirik:

There seems to be no clear definition for "open-source movie":

Does it include the script, all the raw footage (video, images, sound and music) and the cut list (e.g. Final Cut Pro project file), all of which would have to be licensed under e.g. a Creative Commons license that would allow for commercial use? Or is allowing only non-commercial use still open-source? And do you really have to provide the cut list (and possibly the dubbing sheets)? Or does it already count as open-source if a finished movie (and no access to the raw footage) can freely be reused without any restrictions...? (The latter would mean that all old public domain movies are in fact open-source movies!)


Open Source and Film

Tomas Rawlings:

"The film and music industries have had a love/hate relationship with the open-source movement for many years. Film executives must have snarled with rage when Jon Lech Johansen, aka 'DVD Jon', released his open-source project, DeCSS: its source code also happened to reveal how DVD encryption could be countered. As a result of this, he was taken to court twice and acquitted twice over the same issue. In contrast, others from the music and film industries are positivity embracing the ideas behind open-source. Brighton based record label, Loca Records, sells its music on CD, vinyl and MP3 as you might expect. But it also releases all of its music under a copyleft license, meaning its listeners have carte-blanche to copy and re-mix their music. Does this mean the label will not be commercially successful? Loca's David Meme responds, "We are doing very well. For any small independent record label in the UK it can be very difficult to get distribution and get the records in the any small label, it is the buzz from constant creativity that makes it all worthwhile, not the boring PR and marketing that eventually sucks away your soul trying to get the bands photograph in a Sunday supplement or something."

Over in Buenos Aires, the ideas behind open-source are brought to the big screen as a feature length animated film: Plumiferos. The tale of Juan the sparrow, Feifi the canary and their adventures; the everyday story of what happens seven feet above our heads. Gustavo Giannini, the films executive producer is in no doubt where the project is aiming to go, "We expect that this project will be profitable, and this is the idea to demonstrate that the open-source software is not only a software for university students, nerds or hackers; is a serious tool to generate industry." This is both a big, and transnational project; it is supported by Intel Argentina, has technical support from programmers in Finland, Canada, Netherlands and Spain plus, Giannini says, that Warner Bros are expressing an interest in distribution.

The rise of open-source media can be seen to mirror wider changes in the industry. In part it heralds the end of the hierarchical, one-way relationship between media producer and audience. People can now really own the means of media production, from DV cameras to photo-mobiles, they have access to a major distribution channel - the Internet; and they intend to use it. Leonard notes, "I first got a sense of this in the mid-90s when writing for Salon and other Web publications, the immediate critiques I received from readers improved my personal process of reporting." This process can be seen as an echo of the self-referential nature of media; cutting, pasting and re-mixing itself. Meme remarks, "We think that it is very important for creativity and sampling to be able to re-use music and so are very happy for others to try to be creative with our catalogue." It is the result of technology that offers a dynamic, fluid, almost living form of media, that may well supersede the static, singular version we have become accustomed to over recent years..." (

Valentin Spirik on the conditions for successfull mass collaboration in film


"While Wikipedia has shown that text based, non-fiction mass collaboration does work, a true (mass) collaborative film making process - specially for fiction works - seems less clear to me: can traditional movies be made this way?

One of the few solutions I can see for this in the short run is when we redefine what a movie is: then, as mentioned in Part 1, we could look at YouTube as a dynamic, interactive movie where everyone can view his own version and/or contribute to the "source footage". And to me this seems not to be so much a democratic process, but more an anarchist-creative collaboration.

If you have ever tried to develop a story with just one other person you know how hard this can be (and how well it can work if you find the right person). But this is even more difficult if a group of people tries to develop a single story... And having dozens or even hundreds of people working on one story - without any limitations (like there being one person who makes a final decision, a limited number of possible choices for character (sub)plots etc.) seems like a very difficult task to me.

A real life example: most of us can vote for a political party of their choice, but it would be very inconvenient if millions of people were to try to write one single version of a national anthem! Democracy, unfortunately, has its limits when it comes to the practical sides of things. This is why we elect people who take (final) decisions.

Another great hindrance for story mass collaboration is the human ego: I somehow can imagine that if a large group of Buddhist monks was to develop a screenplay that this could actually work. But for most other people I think it would be very hard to reduce their egos to a level where mass collaborate on one single story (with no character/plot limitations, no one who takes a final decision) is possible.

Still there are examples where mass collaboration for fiction did - and does - work well: fairy tales, folk songs, urban legends or jokes. The Grimm Brothers only collected (or "stole"?) stories that had been told, developed and retold by many people over time. I think this was a true creative open-source process, maybe even more open-source than it could be today: some of these stories were only told to one another - the source was as free as it could possibly be and over time the best version of a story was developed! (There really is an internal logic to every story - at first it might seem that there is an infinite number of possible outcomes for a particular event, but once you start working on a story the number of possible solutions becomes smaller and smaller...)

So these seem to be the conditions why the Grimm's Fairy tales could be developed:

• the source was completely free - often it was not even written down and you could participate just by listening/retelling it

• it seems like no one claimed a copyright to a particular story

• the process was not ego-driven (but you could still have "your" version)

• time was no problem (no deadline)

• but in the end someone collected it, (re)wrote it (took decisions) and "branded" it ("Grimm's Fairy Tales")

So it looks like that good conditions for true mass collaboration on fiction works are similar to those we find all around us in nature: evolution!" (

The Catalog

(If you think your project should be mentioned here please feel free to comment, link and describe it.)

TheWeblogProject is "the first open-source movie documentary about blogs and bloggers".

The Echo Chamber Project is "an open source, investigative documentary about how the television news media became an uncritical echo chamber to the Executive Branch leading up to the war in Iraq".

Maybe even more interesting in the context of this blog entry: "By developing collaborative techniques for producing this film, then this project can potentially provide some solutions for incorporating a broader range of voices and perspectives into the mainstream media."

Elephants Dream is "the world’s first open movie, made entirely with open source graphics software such as Blender, and with all production files freely available to use however you please, under a Creative Commons license".

The Mozilla Project is an open source documentary that will focus on the origins of

Route 66, some say that this is the first open-source feature film.

Boy Who Never Slept is "one of the world’s first full-length open source movies".

Digital Tipping Point project claims to create "the world's first open source feature film-length documentary".

The unedited footage can be downloaded via the The Digital Tipping Point page on the Internet Archive.

• A Swarm of Angels - Remixing Cinema "reinvents the Hollywood model of filmmaking to create cult cinema for the Internet era".

For more examples see the follow up article by Valentin Spirik at

Re-editable Movies

There is also an increasing number of (commercial) movies/shows that either can be re-edited/remixed (under different licenses) or where some or all the source footage can be downloaded, three examples:

BBS: The Documentary is "a mini-series of 8 episodes about the history of the BBS".

The unedited footage can be downloaded via the BBS Documentaries page on the Internet Archive.

OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

Outfoxed: Interview Footage can be downloaded via the Internet Archive.

NerdTV is "a one-hour interview show with a single guest from the world of technology". (In this case the show is the raw footage...)

Worth mentioning seems also 'The War Tapes': Making movies the Web 2.0 way (

And also mentioned should be this new how-to Wiki project:

the Workbook Project (from the about page): "I’ve been working on a DIY book and I’ve decided to make it a free online resource. The concept is part of a “social opensource experiment” called the workbook project. It’s a simple concept, the workbook is meant to be spread and edited. Meaning that content creators can add their own info, war stories, advice etc. We’re hoping that the workbook can grow as a resource. We’re building it with an opensource “client side” wiki called tiddlywiki that can be saved to the desktop, edited and then uploaded again."

More Information

Can open source methodology make a movie? ( looks closer at Digital Tipping Point project

Feel free to update our own entries with up to date information about these projects:

Weblog Project ; Echo Chamber Project ; Elephants Dream ; Route 66 ; Boy Who Never Slept ; Digital Tipping Point ; Swarm of Angels ; BBS ; Outfoxed ; War Tapes

More open film projects are listed here at

You can upload and download Open Source Movies at the Internet Archive collection, here at