“We developed the script, we cast the film, and then we shot the film,” Seidler says. “When all was said and done, it cost close to a quarter of a million dollars.”
They financed the movie the way independent filmmakers do. “I took out a second mortgage, borrowed against my retirement, went into credit card debt,” says Seidler. “Not necessarily smart things, but that’s what we did.”
Though Seidler knew the film would be pirated over peer-to-peer sites like ThePirateBay, she and her distributor considered those methods too geeky for most people. But by spring 2010, when the DVD came out, the plunging costs of data storage had combined with dramatic improvements in streaming technologies to catapult cyberlockers like Megaupload to the fore as the simplest way to see movies for free.
Within 24 hours of release, Seidler began seeing links to pirated copies of Lola on the web. Soon there were thousands. The links were mainly on ad-supported blogs and led to copies stored on commercial cyberlockers. She began emailing DMCA takedown notices — 1,200 in a single weekend in May 2010 — to cyberlockers, blogs, blog hosts (like Google Blogger), and ad networks (like Google AdSense), but it was “like putting up an umbrella under Niagara Falls,” she says. She showed Fortune spreadsheets corroborating that she has had, to date, well over 56,000 links to pirated copies of her film taken down. “It didn’t take me long to realize that this wasn’t about sharing,” Seidler says.
“It was about people making money.” And it wasn’t just pirates who were making money. The ads were often being served by Google (GOOG), adBrite, or other American companies, and, weirdly, the ads themselves were often for legitimate companies, like Deutsche Bank (DB) affiliates and even Netflix, which was one of Seidler’s distributors. Furious, Seidler launched her own site, called popuppirates.com, to “document the connection between piracy and profits” and to show how mainstream companies were profiting from this black market.
“I got to say it galled me to see Google making money off my film, and the pirate-operator making money, and we’re still in debt,” says Seidler. “There’s something wrong with that.” A Google spokesperson did not respond to inquiries seeking comment, except to acknowledge their receipt.
Will Seidler make any more films? “Most people who make art don’t do it to get rich,” she says. “At the same time you have to pay the rent. I’m still working my way out of debt from doing this film. Megan and I worked weekends, nights. I was dragging my kid around on cable cars to get pickup shots. No, I probably won’t.”