BitTorrent is often heralded as the greatest thing since sliced bread for large content distribution. According to this article, BitTorrent usage accounts for about 53% of all peer-to-peer traffic. But is it any good for small filmmakers?

BitTorrent is the brain child of Bram Cohen. He originally devised BitTorrent as a clever way to distribute large files, like 700MB .iso files of a Linux distribution. The principle idea of BitTorrent is that every downloader is an uploader too. The download is chopped into chunks, and every downloader keeps track of whatever chunks he has. Instead of downloading every chunk from one central server, the downloaders will download chunks from each other. As long as the whole file to download is somewhere in this ad-hoc peer-to-peer network, the download stays alive.

You need to do three things to make a movie available via BitTorrent:

  1. You need to find a tracker. The tracker keeps track of all downloaders, and gives new downloaders a list of peers. This tracker will be contacted by every downloader periodically, so it needs to be on a public machine with enough processing power and bandwidth. You don’t need to run your own tracker, you can use public service trackers instead. Most public trackers require you to upload the .torrent file but it’s not strictly necessary.
  2. You need to create a .torrent file from your original movie. This small file contains checksums for every chunk of the file, and the address of the tracker. The torrent file is on the one your visitors will initially download, so it’s the one that needs to be on your website.
  3. You start seeding the torrent, presumably from your own computer. Create a directory with the original movie and the .torrent file you created in step two. You point your bittorrent client to the .torrent file and start “downloading” it. This may sound contra-intu├»tive, but what actually happens is that your client starts uploading chunks from the original movie to every other downloader that asks for it. This is how your movie enters the network of downloaders.

Your visitor downloads the .torrent file, fires up his BitTorrent client and starts downloading your movie. The more people downloading your movie, the faster it goes, and aside from multiple downloads of the .small torrent file, your webserver won’t see any load at all.

Sounds like a great way to distribute movies, isn’t it? Well, it is, and it isn’t. People quickly found out that BitTorrent is ideal for sharing TV shows, Hollywood movies, anime, porn and other big files, but you won’t see many small independent movie makers using BitTorrent. Most have their own website and use traditional means of spreading their movies, mostly http downloads.

The problem is that while BitTorrent as a protocol is perfectly suited towards small movie distribution, the official (and other) implementations are not. Creating and distributing a torrent file is not a problem, but running a tracker is and seeding the torrent is.

The tracker poses a problem because you can not run one a shared webhost and because it is open to anyone. Anyone can use a tracker to spread whatever material they have, and because it’s not easy to set up a tracker, they will have to. This means that a) public trackers are easily overloaded and b) your movie is thrown into heap of crap ranging from pirated Hollywood movies to porn and other shady material. Hollywood doesn’t really like seeing its movies all over internet, so they let the MPAA shut down quite a few trackers (although technically they do not distribute a single byte of the infringing material). So, trackers are not exactly reliable, and you won’t be setting one up soon because you can not control what passes through it. (note).

Seeding is another problem. A torrent without a single seed is dead. You yourself must keep a connection to the tracker for as long as you want your movie to be available. Obviously this is not a problem when you just want to spread the latest hit movie. That torrent will stay alive long enough by itself, and when it’s dead another hit movie will be there. But if you want to keep your movies available forever, you will need to find a way to keep seeding the torrent forever.

What is needed for BitTorrent to be usefull for me (and presumably other content distributors) is a way to install the server software on a shared server, upload your movie and .torrent file, and be done with it. The software should seed the torrent automatically and the tracker should be restricted to the torrents I feed it with. And this should have been done from the beginning.

Open semi-anonymous trackers might have been a wonderfull technical idea, but it opened the floodgates for all kinds of piracy and gave BitTorrent an unnecessary bad name. Compare it to SMTP: open mail relays are still causing us problems.

I just hope somebody finds the incentive to create a neat BitTorrent package that does what I described above, or starts a similar simple BitTorrent hosting service. Right now the best way to use BitTorrent for distributing movies might be a dedicated server running a restricted tracker and a seeder.

In all fairness, the current official BitTorrent distribution allows you to restrict the tracker to local torrents only. Most PHP-based trackers require you to upload the torrent file first and can easily be restricted to certain torrents. But the damage is done: my webhost forbids anything remote looking like a tracker (even restricted ones) because the risk of copyright infringment is too big for them.

The shooting is almost done but Peter Jackson’s King Kong production diary is still worth looking at.

The scale of the production is pretty incredible. My head starts to explode when I think about the amount of coordination necessary when you have an A crew, a B crew, a miniature departement and an animation departement working together on the same scenes almost at the same time.

I guess that about 99% of the movie has been filmed in a studio or open air set. Pretty interesting how the pendulum swings from street to stage and back again, over and over, in the history of film. The 50′s highly stylized movies where countered by the neurotic realism of the late 60′s and early 70′s. The 90′s saw Dogma 95 (and a lot of movies inspired by it) but today almost every movie is fantastic in the literal sense of the word. It may be based on a comic book, mythology or strange thoughts of a strange writer, but it’s all fantasy. (There are off course exceptions.)

I don’t know how long this is going to last. Some people seem to get tired of it, other can’t have enough. But the recent attention and praise towards various documentaries seems like a writing on the wall. Although one can ask himself if it’s the subject of the documentary that captures the interest of the public or the newborn hero making it. After all, who’s going to be a teenager’s role model now: the friendy neighbourhood nerd or the man who uses his camera as a gun?

There are some days where everything works without effort. The day we recorded Degoutant (Disgusting) was one of them. We shot this movie on a June 2004 sunday afternoon in school. I cut the movie the same evening.

Engross yourself.

Millenniums Live is a demo video for the Millenniums, a Booty Shakin’ Big Band born in Belgium on January 1st, 2001.

The video started out as a straight concert registration but I spiced things up with shots of the musicians in their natural environment. Camera work was done by me, Roeland Vandebriel and Werner Matheus. Werner used an old Sony Hi8 camera, Roeland used his old MiniDV camera with a faulty pixel and I borrowed a MiniDV camera because mine was being repaired. This is no budget filmmaking after all. To be honest, the image quality suffers a lot but the bands energy makes up for it.

I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do. Be warned, this a 20 minute long movie and thus a big download.

No 1No 1 is the first movie I ever made. It was made in the summer of 2003 on a very hot weekend at the end of July.

I had a hard time editing this movie. I did have some experience directing people, but I didn’t have any directing the camera. The end result was: a lot of takes but not enough shots and surely not enough angles. Afterwards I decided to go to a filmschool.

Enjoy!

I had some trouble with the performance of this blog. The culprit was gettext. Turning off the internationalisation feature of WordPress brought the performance back to normal levels. gettext slowed this blog down by more than 500%.

De site wordt genereerd door middel van WordPress, een open source blogging pakket.

Ik kende het systeem niet alvorens er een hele hoop heisa rond verkocht werd.

Op dit moment lijkt het systeem mij nogal traag. De layout van de website heb ik volledig aangepast, maar het zou best kunnen dat je hier en daar nog een hoop engelse termen tegenkomt.

(2005-04-06) Ik heb alles terug op Engels gezet omdat de blog veel te traag werd in het Nederlands

Zoals je ziet voel ik mij niet te beroerd om aan netvervuiling te doen.

De bedoeling van deze log is dat ik hier aankondig wanneer er iets nieuws te zien is op deze site (echt waar).

Verwacht je in de komende weken, maanden of jaren aan een aantal filmpjes, een theaterstuk en wat willekeurige gedachten.