High point: the boy touching the book as if it were a screen … having the feeling that he never had: smell the book and then is invaded by the magic of the love of books! amazing!
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If no one uses money anymore then why is the cash register monitored? If there are no books or libraries because “no one remembers” books, then why does a corporation have copyrights on all the books and why are those copyrights enforced?
Q. If no one uses money anymore then why is the cash register monitored?
A. The Boy in the film is only ten. By way of comparison, I am in my mid twenties, and I have never written a cheque. Not one, ever. Most of my financial transactions take place using a card; I use coins and notes for odd bits of shopping and when in pubs/cafes etc. But increasingly, coins and notes are discouraged (for example on public transport like London buses). It seems to me perfectly believable that a ten year old today could be completely ignorant about the existence of cheques. But if you go into your local bank and ask for a cheque book, the service still exists. Similarly Ceefax was still available on UK televisions until less than a year ago, but it must be over a decade since any kids regularly used it as a source of information, or even knew it existed. I would suggest that the cash till in the shop (with its retro design making it appear older than it was) was connected to the internet at a time when cash transactions were still common (i.e. roughly now) but that this technology becomes old-fashioned before this film is set. Nevertheless, the till is still connected to the internet, so it is still being “monitored” albeit passively. I imagine that cash transactions from these machines are so rare that GamaZone noticed it quicker than they might have, say, 30 years earlier.
Q. If there are no books or libraries because “no one remembers” books, then why does a corporation have copyrights on all the books and why are those copyrights enforced?
A. Firstly, it is important to think of this film as primarily a work of satire, exploring current arguments about books, rather than as an earnest attempt at predicting the future. The future it depicts is a caricature. The reference within the film to libraries all being shut down is a topical dig at the library closures which the UK has seen in the last few years, especially since all the cutbacks councils have faced, resulting in much cutting of public services. Similarly the disappearance of books within the film is a satirical exploration of current concerns expressed in the media.
But let’s imagine, just for the sake of fun, that there really was a world where books were no longer manufactured and sold – would copyright holders give up their rights? Well, quite simply, no they would not. After all, music producers are pretty damn certain they own the rights to music even if it comes in zeros and ones rather than on vinyl or CD.
An example: recently, I was looking for an obscure 1960s Dirk Bogarde film which I wanted to own on DVD. I discovered that it has never been issued on disc. It was last made commercially available in the 1980s on VHS. The copyright holder is MGM, and I have discovered that they do not consider the film commercially worthwhile releasing. Imagine my delight when I found that some kind soul had serialised their VHS onto YouTube. A short while later the film was removed from YouTube because of copyright violation. I have no idea how I am supposed to watch this film, and yet MGM enforce their rights.
Finally, there is an important distinction between a book and a story. Stories still exist in the world of The Last Bookshop. Narratives are told by GamaZone’s media, characters depicted, films and fictions released. The Boy asks “is it a story?” because he is familiar with stories. They never die – as the narration point out.
GamaZone hold the copyright of all books not for the sake of producing books, but for the sake of the stories, creations and narratives contained within those books – all of which can be exploited in holographic films and the like. The fact that they consider the selling of books (a defunct medium in our film) as a copyright violation seems to me a comparable piece of corporate madness to a film company insisting YouTube take down a film, whilst simultaneously refusing to make that film available elsewhere.
I get (and got) that it is satire. My questions were also satire. I am tired of the doomsday view of life in the future and am satirically pointing out that many of these scenarios are not logically well thought out but are emotional responses to imagined future changes. No, Google or Amazon is not going to own the copyrights to all the books. If authors and publishers can not own the rights then authors and publishers will not exist and there will be no new stories. I also do not believe that all libraries will ever be closed, although they may not exist in the numbers or the same form that they do today.
Just because something exists digitally does not mean that it is “imaginary”, “pretend” or “unreal”. Something does not have to be “manufactured” in order to be “sold” as is clear by the market for ebooks. When you refer to the film that is copyrighted, the owner has every right to remove it from youtube and to refuse to release it as they see fit. They have the right to protect the value of the thing they own and sometimes that means restricting access. An example is the way that Disney releases its film periodically rather than continuously. I find it ironic that you argue against copyrights while pursuing the idea of one corporation owning all book copyrights and restricting access to all of them at once and forever.
I have read extensively about the “end of the book” and I applaud the efforts to explore the implications. However, when it is taken to such extremes as this video, I see it as an attempt to play on the emotions of the viewer rather than to explore a truly possible future. I believe it is far more likely that global warming will destroy “all of the books” (and us along with them) or that a run-away virus or other chemical threat will accomplish it than that the internet, Google, Amazon and e-books will.
I also find it ironic in the extreme that this “story” is distributed as a video on the internet.
I think the most striking thing about this comment is that it criticises our film on the basis of being “an attempt to play on the emotions of the viewer rather than to explore a truly possible future.”
As I have said many many times, the purpose of this film is expressly NOT to depict the true future. We are not soothsayers, we don’t know what the future holds. This film is fiction, not documentary. Our aim is not to show the future, but instead to depict, through satirical fantasy, some of the contemporary current concerns and arguments about books and bookshops, and to weave a good story out it – whilst hopefully promoting bookshops at the same time. In other words, this film is about what some people are saying, anticipating and fearing TODAY. It is an imagined future, not the real future.
I understand you being tired of doom-mongering. I have little time for conservative whining about how things only ever get worse. They don’t. Very often things get better. But I propose that if you dig a little deeper into our film, you find more than pessimism. There is a message about how wonderful stories are, how joyous books are, and what it means to be inspired (like the Boy is) by older generations, into making your own stories and creations. Stories will never die out, and that is a vital thread to our film. Yes, if you want to view the film on face value, it has a sad ending. But shrewd viewers have pointed out that the ending implies a new beginning. The Boy has written a new book. The story isn’t over. The Shopkeeper succeeded in keeping the flame alive. Personally speaking (and I am the author) I think of this film as being a positive message disguised as a pessimistic one.
Furthermore, I consider one of the main functions of fiction (perhaps THE main function) to be the stimulation of emotions and thought processes in the minds of the audience. Quite simply, authors aim to make their audience experience emotional responses to events which have never happened, to people who don’t exist. Fiction absolutely is playing with audience emotions, that’s what it’s for.
If you want an emotionally-neutral account of a statistically likely future world (with or without apocalyptic viruses) then I would suggest finding yourself an academic or journalistic article which sets out to do that. This film does not, and never has, set out with that aim in mind.
As for some of the other points you raise… well, I’ve been contemplating blogging my thoughts on some of the critical reactions I have seen the film receive. For example, I am surprised how often people come to the conclusion that the film has an anti-copyright message. Nobody in the production team intended for this to be the case, and I am certainly not in favour of abolition of copyright myself.
However, I am perfectly willing to tell a make-believe story about an evil corporation that steals everyone’s copyright. I don’t believe it’s likely to happen, and I am not anti-copyright myself.
As for the whole thing about this film being distributed for free as a YouTube video – that was always our intention. It seems to me perfectly appropriate that we tell this story through this medium. Frankly, writing this story as a book and selling it (presumably via self-publishing websites) would have been considerably more ironic, and anyway that isn’t what we do.
So, if you want to interpret our film as wrong-headed doom-mongering, inaccurate fortune-telling and ill-thought-out anti-copyright agendas then that’s up to you. But, from the perspective of the author, you’ve taken away completely different messages from what we intended or crafted.
>> But, from the perspective of the author, you’ve taken away completely different messages from what we intended or crafted.
You crafted a story. All authors of fiction craft a story but it is the reader who always does and indeed must interpret it through their own filters and with their own perspective. There is not only a risk, but often an inevitability, that some readers will take away different messages than what is intended. Indeed, the most famous and successful fiction of the past decade, the Harry Potter series, had many religious fundamentalists rejecting it as satanic when the primary message was about the power of love.
If you intended your story to have an optimistic message you did indeed hide it and hide it so well that I think the reader who sees it will be rare indeed. The only optimistic thing is that the boy read and then wrote a story. However, he puts it on the stoop of the closed up bookstore where it presumably will eventually rot away. Everything else is pessimistic including the background as the boy walks around with nothing but closed and deteriorating buildings with nary a person in sight. No bookstores, no libraries, no access to books because a giant corporation has the copyright and a big brother government with the power and will to respond instantly to an infringement are issues so huge that one boy reading and then writing his own story while the last bookstore closes and the owner disappears doesn’t begin to suggest that a reversal is possible.
You produced an excellent story in many ways in the characters, the development of the story and the video execution. I was prior to this discussion, and still am, perfectly willing to accept it as art even though I did not like the message. That is the full extent of my criticism – I, personally, do not like the message. In many of the articles and blog posts that I have read about the future of books I find a great deal of misinformation from people who are frightened of something that they do not understand and in which they have no participation. I would like to see more people educating and moderating the fears than more people stoking the ignorance and fear, that’s all. My perspective comes from my prior experience and my own fatigue with the “the sky is falling!” reactions to these issues and is not by an means a response based solely on your film and your message.
A reader has a very personal reaction to any story. Please do not take mine personally or as a dismissal of your work in any way.
“There is not only a risk, but often an inevitability, that some readers will take away different messages than what is intended.”
I completely agree. In fact I would go further and say that not only does every member of an audience interpret a work in their own unique way, but that in fact audience members are not limited to just one interpretation each. People inevitably generate new interpretations each time they encounter a work. That’s why our feelings about songs, novels, TV programmes, paintings etc. shift over time.
There are more ways of looking at a work than there are people who ever will look at it.
Believe me, I mentally wrestle with this conundrum every time I ever create anything. It was a constant worry when writing The Last Bookshop because there were so many things that I wanted to say, and didn’t want misinterpreted. I was very nervous about unveiling the film to the world, because it would reveal to me how successfully (or not) I had managed to express myself. After all, this is the first short film I have ever written and co-directed.
But now after several months and over 70,000 views, I can breathe a slight sigh of relief. Why? Because, to my satisfaction at least, your statement “I think the reader who sees (a positive message) will be rare indeed” has been largely proven unfounded.
Admittedly, my evidence for saying this is based purely on what is said in comments on the Internet, and so it is a biased sample group. But I can safely say that the majority of those people commenting on YouTube, this blog, external websites and in our inbox *seem* to have taken away something positive from the film.
Don’t get me wrong, one sympathetic interpretation does not rule out the validity of a less sympathetic reading. However, I think the key to unlocking a text is very often aided by looking at context and authorial intentions. And this author’s intentions were very much to create a film that has positive things to say, under the guise of a tragic fairytale dystopia.
All of which leads me to wonder: why then was your own reading so negative? Well, you have already admitted that you are fed up of doom-and-gloom and hysteria, so perhaps you had been “primed” by others into getting irritated by our exaggerated scenario. The world of The Last Bookshop was intended to be amusing and knowing in its excessive depiction of a caricatured worst-case scenario. Perhaps you mistook this for us earnestly saying “this will happen.”
Also, I completely admit that the positive themes (which I assert *are* there) are hidden under a thick layer of satirical tragedy. Perhaps hidden so deeply that many viewers miss them. If that is the case (and it may be) then presumably that is my inexperience as a scriptwriter showing through. Hopefully I can learn from all this how to balance things so that more of my audience get what I’m aiming for.
What I find particularly telling is your description of how you saw the ending: “No bookstores, no libraries, no access to books because a giant corporation has the copyright and a big brother government with the power and will to respond instantly to an infringement are issues so huge that one boy reading and then writing his own story while the last bookstore closes and the owner disappears doesn’t begin to suggest that a reversal is possible.”
Contrast this with some of the responses I have read from other strangers commenting on the internet. Some people have talked about the Boy taking back the shop and growing up to be just like the old man, perhaps helping to topple GamaZone in the process. Other people have talked about the boy becoming an author. One person came up with the lovely image of the boy posting the book through the shop’s letterbox and magically reanimating the shop – which I think is lovely, although stylistically different to my own artistic tendencies.
Myself, I tend to remember the earlier draft of the script, where the Boy walks away, and then the Old man opens the door of the boarded-up shop, finds the book on his step and is overjoyed that he has inspired the boy. That version was very nearly shot, but I just couldn’t help thinking it undermined the finality of the ending, and might have left things feeling like a cliffhanger. Maybe I was wrong, who knows?
The version where the Boy simply puts the book “on the step of the closed up bookstore where it presumably will eventually rot away,” belongs to you, and is a little bit bleak even for my tastes. Although as I type this, I realise it is a completely reasonable interpretation of the scene as presented!
Thanks for all your thoughts Bookish. I think I may well embark on some blog posts about critical interpretation.
The sky is not falling. It is merely overcast. Whether tomorrow will be stormy or turn out sunny, very much depends on how the wind blows…
In many ways such a sad story. I can’t even imagine the world without bookstores. There is nothing like holding a book in your hands and reading!
May it never come to be…
You are 100% correct that I was primed to see the film very negatively. I have been irritated and frustrated by the doom and gloom for a long time and have little patience now. I found your message to be enlightening in that it helped me to see so much that I missed because of my prejudice. Thank you for that.
An idea that I have been wanting to explore and that you might also find interesting is to imagine the doom and gloom reactions of other key turning points in the history of the book – the switches in structures from scrolls to codices and from wood & clasps to softer cases, etc., the switch to printing and the slower change from illumination to printed illustrations, changes in production and distribution, from handmade to mass produced, etc.
I have enjoyed our discussion and I look forward to seeing your next film.
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