Oscar Winner Juan Jose Campanella Talks AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire' and Fighting Piracy

 AP Photo/Matt Sayles

BUENOS AIRES -- Earlier this month, foreign language Oscar-winner for The Secret in Their Eyes and Twitter aficionado Juan Jose Campanella posted a comment in which he denounced new online streaming app Popcorn Time for piracy.

"Congratulations, 'Sebastian,' creator of Popcorn Time. You're yet another one in the long list of Argentine thieves," he tweeted. The post was the start of a long rampage against online and DVD piracy, which triggered an even longer heated debate on the social network.

"I've never received so many attacks on Twitter as when I've addressed the piracy issue. Never. Out of all the things I've said on Twitter, none has touched such a sensitive spot," he told The Hollywood Reporter in Miami, where he premiered his animated 3D movie Foosball, which holds the record for best opening in Argentine history and is scheduled for U.S. release on August 27.

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Coincidentally or not, a few days after the Twitter debate, Popcorn Time was brought down from Kim Dotcom's Mega, with a potential MPAA suit as a mentioned yet never confirmed cause. "Popcorn Time and countless similar applications show where the road ends for Hollywood. Ultimately it's a cat-and-mouse game Hollywood can't win by force but only with smarter Internet offerings," Dotcom said later to TorrentFreak.

Yet Campanella's tweeting spree focused on another form of illegal film-watching: pirate DVDs and its market. "The worst thing about all this is to believe that this is not stealing, that it has become so natural that people believe it's not stealing. And it is stealing. Of course, it's a small-time crime. But if you walk by a house where the owners are gone, and the technology of an open lock allows you to walk inside the house and take anything, wouldn't it be stealing?"

Still, the Argentine filmmaker recognizes he's not especially hurt by piracy. "You can't find a pirate version of Foosball. The one that's going around was recorded in a theater, and it looks terrible. Small art-house distributors are the ones closing up because of piracy. People don't go to the theaters to watch these films, because they watch them on pirate copies. That's the cinema that suffered the most with piracy. In the case of Hollywood films, piracy just makes a dent but doesn't put them out of business. The smaller you are, the fastest you get pushed out of business."

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Shortly after the Twitter debate, Campanella revealed that the Argentine Academy of Film Arts and Sciences -- over which he presides -- has been working for some time on developing an online platform to legally screen Latin American films.

"The notion behind it is, 'How can we reach viewers in the cheapest possible way?' " he says. "Technology allows you to avoid many of the overloads the final price has, but certain parts of that chain are still tricky, such as taxes. Pirate DVDs don't pay taxes." He has set on a crusade against film piracy, especially targeting illegal DVDs, since according to him "online consumption of films in Latin America still represents 8 percent of the total film-viewing stats, whereas 92 percent is still DVD, whether legal or pirate."

The landscape is complex, and Campanella says there are lots of variables that still need to be analyzed. "We need to sit down and think. The issue is control. Suppose I'm the absolute owner of the film. A French distributor wants it for France. Great. But then I say to him, 'I only give you theatrical rights, because I'm keeping online rights for a LatAm website.' Of course he won't be interested. So what? I don't screen it in theaters? And this prompts a deeper, more depressing question: Do I want to make films that will only be seen on laptop screens? I'd rather do TV. We need to find a way so you can, for example, say to that French distributor, 'I can sell the film to you so you get whatever IP addresses from your country to pay to watch it.' I don't know, some way to have that control and keep it cheap and legal."

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There's still no price defined for the films in the platform, which would need high-profile projects -- harder to negotiate for online streaming -- to get traction into the website. "The idea is that directors would put their one price, without the Academy (a nonprofit organization) charging anything", says Campanella. "This way, everything would go straight to those who made it. It's complicated; online paying services in Argentina have a minimum charge, let's say 1.50 pesos ($0.15) for each transaction, and that's already 20 percent of the prize we would like people to pay for a film! So, maybe we should try to get a special deal or maybe a subscription like Netflix. But the question is: Is there an audience large enough that would subscribe to a 'Latin American Netflix?' "

As he tries to keep pace with the changes in the industry, Campanella nevertheless feels the kind of cinema he fell in love with no longer exists. "Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather. That doesn't exist anymore. Now Hollywood is all about The Avengers. And that will keep existing -- theater went from being the most popular form of entertainment to a niche. On the other hand, there's the current phenomenon, which I'm part of, of dramatic quality migrating to TV. That has already happened in the U.S., not in the rest of the world, where TV is still much inferior than its respective cinemas. American TV is far better than cinema in terms of dramatic quality."

Campanella is set to direct AMC's upcoming Halt and Catch Fire, produced by Gran Via's Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein (Breaking Bad) and scheduled to open this summer. ("Not sure yet if it's going on the slot of Mad Men or Breaking Bad.") The show, starring Lee Pace, is set in the 1980s and focuses on the early years of the personal computer. Whether it's one time slot or the other, the show will have some big shoes to fill, and he's quite aware of it.

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"I personally believe Breaking Bad broke a mold in TV," he says. "It's a novel, not a series. It's not about a character who undergoes different situations in each chapter but an evolution of a character that's related to the format of a novel. I don't understand how people were able to watch the show every week for 6 years. I waited until it was over and saw the whole thing in a month and a half! I think it's the closest thing to [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky that TV has ever been. You really see the process of a person changing. It's so unique. So how does one pick up after that? You don't think about it."

He added, "Our show is very different, so that helps us in not thinking we're following up on Breaking Bad. The style, the period -- they are all different. There's no violence, because it's more of a corporate thriller. There's no blood."

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