Alex Winter uploads his thoughts on ‘Downloaded’
With his new documentary “Downloaded” having it’s Hot Docs debut tonight, Alex Winter has finally graduated from being Bill from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” into a seriously talented documentarian with a sharp eye for story and humor. The film is a rousing crowd pleaser and one of the most sought after tickets from this year’s fest. I got to sit down with Mr. Winter for a brief Q&A about the film.
Movie Junkie TO (MJ) -Thanks for taking some timeout to speak with me today Alex. I got to see the film the other day and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I was working in a music store when the Napster thing exploded so I had a very personal relationship to what I was seeing. What was your introduction to the story and how did you get involved in telling this story?
Alex Winter (AW) – Thanks, I guess we all have a way to relate with the Napster story. I was really interested in the early day s of the net, back in the early 90’s I was fascinated by the idea of the internet being this potential repository for global community. I got online in the early 90s, checking out the internet BBS (Bulletin Board systems for the younger crowd) groups and newsgroups, and was really fascinated in where that was going potentially. Of course it was all very cumbersome to use the internet in those ways back in the early days but we did it anyway because it allowed us to communicate with people all over the world. Then sure enough Napster appeared in 1999 and blew everyone away because during the clunky and slow dial up era here was this really robust, speedy and very versatile global community that had showed up. Frankly that was my entry into it, well that and being a big Napster user myself.
(MJ) – I think everyone was at one point in time especially considering how revolutionary it was. So this is the first feature length documentary you’ve directed, what was the big difference between directing doc and fiction for you?
(AW) – I originally wrote the movie as a narrative, I was originally going to do it as a dramatic feature, then realised that after toying with it for a while it worked better as a documentary. I wasn’t overly concerned with changing it, I know docs very well as I have done a lot of documentary oriented advertising in the commercial work I’ve done. And I think Napster lends itself very much to that style of storytelling cause there are many fascinating details and so many cool ways to come at the story that were fact based. It also has a very clear cut beginning middle and end; we know what happened to Napster (laughs). So I didn’t feel I was going to get lost at sea with the story.
(MJ) – The access you had to the Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning is pretty all encompassing, history in many cases has been pretty brutal to the pair, even outright vilifying them at times, but you manage to portray them more humanely than most. How were you able to achieve such access with the pair?
(AW) –Well I have known them for ten years, I had originally met them a decade ago to tell their story, so certainly the benefit of time helped. They knew me well enough to know I was interested in telling a story that was a well-rounded examination of events, something that wouldn’t be one sided for or against them, and I was going to try and look at all sides and get as clear a picture as possible. That was really my agenda, they knew that going in, and that I knew the story really well. I guess there is certain level of trust there, though it probably wasn’t until the SXSW premiere that they realized exactly what I was doing. It was a big relief to show them the movie there and get that question out of the way.
(MJ) – Considering the film is very much about music and the evolution of it, can you talk about the music for the film and did you have music that gave you any trouble getting clearance rights for?
(AW) – Well all the music is cleared; the movie is done and coming out soon. Most of the music is score, an original score by DJ spooky, that makes 99% of the music in the movie ours anyways, so it’s a lot easier to clear your own music.
(MJ) – (laughs) Yes I imagine that would make the whole process a bit easier. So now that the film is finished what are the plans for the film going forward?
(AW) – We’re going to do a small theatrical run, though most of our energy is focused on the digital release. In the summer we’re going to start a rollout over several months with theatrical, I Tunes and other digital streaming. We have some really interesting plans for the digital side of things because that’s really where this film lives. I can’t go into too much detail about that because they aren’t announced yet but it’s really cool there a lot of interesting ways to release movies now using new technology.
(MJ) – Absolutely, and I’m sure with all their history and their new internet endeavours that Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning might be able to provide some fun marketing ideas of their own.
(AW) – (laughs) I’ m Sure they would. They have stayed comfortably out of this whole process. It’s been fun for them to watch from a distance and not have to suffer through any more Napster related grief ever again.
(MJ) – So what’s up next for you? What do you have in the works on either the directing or even the acting side?
(AW) – Well I stopped acting professionally 20 years ago and put all my energy in to writing and directing, that’s where my focus goes. I act very rarely but I did jump into a movie that a really great Spanish director was doing with Elijah Wood and John Cusack recently (research shows that film is “Grand Piano”) that’s coming out later this year. But normally most of my work these days is in the writing/directing space. I’m currently writing 2 different televisions shows for cable and I’m prepping my next film. I’m going make another documentary, not technology or music related though; it’s definitely related to a very topical and somewhat provocative American story. So I am focusing on getting that going right now
(MJ) – I’m assuming that’s all we’re going to get out of you about that right now?
(AW) – (Laughs) For now, yeah.
(MJ) – Thanks again for your time today Alex.
(AW) – No, thank you. I’m really glad you enjoyed the movie and happy you got a chance to check it out.
Screening times for Downloaded