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Wiley Wiggins

Open Culture

Wiley Wiggins has starred in the films Dazed and Confused, Waking Life (on which he also worked as an animator), and Frontier. Wiggins was a contributing editor to the late, great FringeWare Review. His collection of short Stories, Solarcon-6, is available for free under a Creative Commons license from his website (also licensed!).

We caught up with him recently to talk about his projects, his use of Creative Commons licenses, and where he thinks the digital rights debate is headed.

Creative Commons: Most people probably know you for your starring roles in Dazed and Confused and Waking Life, but I have a feeling from reading your website that you do quite a bit more than just film acting. What other things do you spend time doing, and what do you consider to be your main passion?

Wiley Wiggins: Acting has been the most visible creative outlet I’ve worked in, but that’s pretty deceptive, since I don’t pursue an acting career or consider myself an actor. I actually suffer from almost paralytic performance anxiety and can only really enjoy myself acting with friends (which is one of the reasons I work in mostly local, independent films). I actually spend most of my time writing and working with imaging and video on the computer. Waking Life was an excellent project for me because it brought everything I do together, as an actor, writer, computer animator, and all around film-fan.

CC: You’ve chosen to license things on your website under a Creative Commons license. Why?

Creative Commons licenses are so much more flexible and powerful than the very limited and draconian traditional copyright license, especially for what I do. I love the idea of being able to bounce ideas back and forth collaboratively with a group, or to be able to disseminate work freely and still have protection from having someone else simply take credit for it. Copying isn’t theft when it comes to an idea; [theft] is someone else trying to take credit for or make a profit from your idea. The more people copy and disseminate my work, the more talented people I can reach out to and hopefully collaborate with one day.

CC: You’ve been in a few big Hollywood movies, but you’re also active in Austin’s EFF chapter and carry Creative Commons licenses on your site. How do you reconcile the discrepancy between Hollywood’s way of doing business (where control is supreme) and, say, the EFF’s and Creative Commons’? Do you fit in with one world more easily than the other?

I think the Hollywood model for filmmaking is inherently flawed in so many ways. (That’s one of the reasons I live in Austin, and make movies kind of in the margins here.) And I think their stale method of dealing with talent and information as “property” is one of the reasons they seem to make the same movie with the same actors over and over again. Perpetual ownership of rights to works that should be public domain; “ownership” of characters and stories and concepts — [the way] that studios will buy the rights to a script and decide to never make it, making it impossible for anyone to do so; making media technology proprietary to the extent that movies cannot be copied or backed up for personal use (this is especially bad now that it has been revealed that many DVD’s have a very limited life span, and that this may have been intentional, so that people would have to buy multiple copies) — all these things may make perfect sense in a creative community where every one is a crook, but it does not make sense to me or to the way that I make art.

My main issue with Hollywood is actually the machinery of distribution. Waking Life was difficult to find distribution for, even though it got great reviews at Sundance, because it didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s pie-chart view of moviegoers. This happens a lot with independent cinema. In a bad economy, none of these large commercial entities are willing to take risks on things they have a hard time hawking to a “focus group.” It’s very frustrating when you have work you want to share with the world, but you have to rely on these outmoded, money-obsessed dinosaurs in order to do so. Creative Commons is a very powerful tool in the journey to live without these entities, and to share art and information without the approval of cabals of advertising executives.

CC: What do you see in the future for the digital rights management (DRM) being used by Hollywood’s movie and music companies? Do you think DRM will help fill consumer and corporate needs, or is there more promise in freer works like those under Creative Commons licenses?

Well, for all the flack it might get on Slashdot, I think Apple’s Music store is a pretty open and moderate use of DRM that keeps both nervous companies and users fairly happy. I’ll support it in the hopes that the music selection grows, and because I think Apple has one of the more benevolent attitudes towards sharing information of the big media/computer conglomerates — except for their own intellectual properties anyway, watch out! I can only hope that these technologies are used more in this style, as opposed to silly, broken formats that won’t let you burn CDs or copy music off more than one computer. Unlimited [burns of] CDs and [use in] iPods is a step in the right direction.

CC: Right now you’re licensing your website under a Creative Commons license. Do you think you’ll license movies, artwork, writings, or other work in the future?

I’m planning on directing two animated shorts in the next year that I think may work well under a CC license. A film created with festivals in mind is an interesting creature. Because you don’t really intend to sell the film itself, just get it seen in order to get interest and funding for larger projects, you don’t need to secure the rights to music you use (if you intend to sell the short later you generally have to re-edit it with music you own the rights to) and you don’t want to be too strict about copyrights on the film either, since you want as many people to see it as possible. I would like to create high-res Quicktime versions of the finished films that I could share via P2P and on my website. I think it’s simply the best way to distribute an underground or independent short film.

CC: With the advent of powerful computers and digital video at consumer prices, where do you see independent film headed? Will we be inundated with boring home movies, or is the next Citizen Kane going to be encoded as Quicktime?

I think that what it takes to make a large-scale film is always going to be prohibitively expensive. High Definition is exciting, but it is still mostly out of reach for independent projects — and beyond just media, there are tons of other costs involved in a large film. The new technology does free people who are doing small scale projects, however — the ability to shoot, edit, and make DVDs or streaming movies of small projects is in the hands of consumers. Yes, this does mean that a lot of crap gets made (let’s do Star Wars parodies until our eyes fall out of our heads!). But it also means I can make my movie, I can show it to people, and maybe I can try my hand at working with a larger group of people on a larger project. So, in a way I think it’s both a training path and an end to itself. It’s perfect for some projects — Waking Life was all shot on DV before being animated for instance — and not for others (Can you imagine Lawrence of Arabia, shot on DV?). In the end, DV, film, super-8, cave paintings — they’re all just tools, and each is appropriate at different times. What we need to pay close attention to is the means of distribution, the legality of different types of sharing, and making sure the voices of a broad spectrum of artists are heard.

Posted 01 October 2005