A few weeks back, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow to online video when they ruled that the Proposition 8 court case in California could not be broadcast on YouTube. I was disappointed. And it seems like I wasn't the only one.
Two Los Angeles-based filmmakers are taking the matter into their own hands through an elaborate recreation of the trial, which they are posting to YouTube for all the world to see.
John Ainsworth and John Ireland, a pair of filmmakers that were upset with the Supreme Court ruling, decided to create a 12-part series on YouTube that would show the progress of the case in a dramatic retelling.
When the ruling came down, the pair put their heads together on a plan to bring the trial to YouTube anyway, albeit in a slightly different fashion. They're compiling information from a variety of sources such as court transcripts and reporters who are inside the court room, and using that to write their scripts. Each episode will detail an entire day's worth of proceedings in the case (which means they will have wildly varying run-times).
They held auditions for actors, and over 500 people responded. There were even some recognizable names among those auditioning, including Tess Harper (who has been nominated for an Oscar) and Adrienne Barbeau (who has a huge list of film credits, most notably for The Fog, Swamp Thing, and Escape From New York).
The first episodes ("Day 1") —are available on YouTube right now and last several hours long. There's one in the works that is over nine hours long. You can view their YouTube Channel page here. Here is a promotional trailer:
While it's important to point out that both Ireland and Ainsworth have strong opinions in favor of same-sex marriage—and that Ireland himself married his partner prior to California's ban on same-sex marriage—I wouldn't look for these reenactments to have any particular bent on the overall issue of gay marriage. Say the filmmakers:
"We're not trying to have it be a social commentary. We're literally just trying to get the information out there.”
This is interesting on a whole lot of levels. First, the trial itself is the subject of national debate, as was the decision on whether or not to air the trial on YouTube. The Supreme Court decided that witnesses in the trial might face harassment or retribution if their likeness and testimony were made public. And that's a fair enough point. I, myself, was hoping to see the trial on YouTube because of what it might mean for online video's legitimacy as well as the transparency of the court system.
Ainsworth and Ireland seem to be motivated mostly by just getting the substance of the trial out into the public in some way. And that is also interesting from an online video perspective. (It's equally fascinating that they grabbed the attention of legitimate Hollywood talent for their production, which seems to suggest that distribution or the profile of a film project can be a secondary concern for actors who are passionate about a script or, in this case, a cause).
How many years away can we actually be from seeing a film released online that stars major actors? There are an awful lot of details that can bog down the process of getting a movie made, including production costs, royalties, marketing, and distribution headaches. I can see a near future where a frustrated filmmaker simply skips the traditional system and goes straight to YouTube for distribution. I'm not sure the movie-going public is ready to abandon the multiplex just yet, but YouTube is clearly rewriting the rules for the entertainment world, and this reenactment project is but one more baby step in a new direction.
Sadly, these reenactment videos have yet to garner much in the way of views. It's possible that the originally-planned live broadcast would have had similarly low audience numbers—how many people want to sit through nine hours of objections, motions, and testimony? Or, maybe the views are low because of the fact that this is a dramatic reenactment, as opposed to the real thing? In a way, though, the number of views might be far less important than the awareness generated by their endeavor. In addition to the LA Times article linked above, the project has garnered national media attention from several outlets. These films might well be judged for success on criteria that have nothing to do with views.
If anything, you have to admire the sheer amount of effort that's going into this production. It's a pretty nifty end-around on the Supreme Court's ruling, and one that will likely pave the way for similar films to be made in the future.