As you probably know by now, I’m a limey Brit scumbag, delivering my posts from across the Atlantic and occasionally the odd bit of slang slips in from these fair shores. We Brits seem to have a capacity for linguistic creativity that puts other anglophone nations to shame. We did invent if after all. If you really want to know what creativity is put down your DSLR and come hang out in South East London for a couple of days. Language is a bit like anti-viral medication, use it too much and it loses its power. The C word is nowhere near as offensive as it used to be now, simply because we hear it so much more. Slang exists because regular language just won’t do, but because its effect is derived from power above and beyond the meaning, it is quickly exhausted and must find new paths elsewhere. Fortunately, anything can be slang and we’re in no danger of there ever being a shortage of words to pervert into new and bizarre meanings. ‘Don’t mug me off…’ – it’s an English slang expression meaning ‘Are you deliberately insulting me?’

WARNING: the above clip contains some seriously bad language. Really bad language.

Despite what you might think, this is not a post about writing dialogue. This is actually a post about ill-conceived marketing. Bear with me.

Enter stage left a titan of the DSLR community, a man whose films have consistently left people gasping for air over the last two years: Mr Tom Lowe, 2010 Astronomy Photographer of the Year. Little snippets from the TimeScapes film have been trickling down to us with visions of galactic awesomeness all captured robotically on custom built rigs. Pretty stuff. I’ll be honest, it’s not really my cup of tea, I’m a narrative guy but I can appreciate the artistry. You’ll be pleased to know the TimeScapes film is due to be released soon and you can pre-order it now. Actually that’s not fair. You can order one of nine versions of the same film. Nine versions. Let’s dig deeper.

There’s a DVD (standard edition), Blu-ray (standard edition), HD download (standard edition) – so far so good, but I think  charging the same for a download as a hard copy is pretty rough.

Next we have this:

Yes, for an extra $15 you get a behind the scenes video and your name in the ‘thank you’ section of the credits! For an extra $30 over the normal blu-ray price you get a blu-ray with a behind the scenes film and your name in the ‘thank you’ section of the credits! The download is even better value, retailing at just $39.95 for a digital file with your name in an easy-to-find section at the end of the film!

But wait, timelapse tommies, my hyperspeed nature-loving chums, there’s more! What? More ways to splosh dosh on tosh? Yes! I couldn’t believe it either!

Waltzing onto the red carpet in a blinged out hyperwagon limo, bespoke tux reflecting the flashbulb glitter of at least tens of adoring fans, meet the Platinum Edition:

‘As a special limited time offer for our biggest fans, your pre-order package includes:

An ‘Associate producer’ credit on the movie, and your name in the IMDB.’

Say what? Of course I’m doing Tom a disservice, you do get exclusive behind the scenes footage (wait didn’t we get that with the special edition…?) and an extra feature: Tom’s guide to shooting Timelapse (which needs a capital T by the way, never forget that). And would you believe it the whole package is only $299.95 and the BluRay, DVD and downloads are all the same price, so there’s absolutely no dilemma about which one to pick!

Don’t mug me off, mate. Seriously, don’t mug me off.

There’s so much to dislike about this whole business I’m kind of struggling to know where to begin. I understand that this is a niche product. I understand that pricing should reflect that. But this is a joke. A behind the scenes featurette is standard on DVDs, asking for $20 extra to have it on blu-ray, plus a miserable little thank you on the credits, well, that’s a bit much. Imagine the scene, ‘Hey look, I’m in the credits, no seriously, there I am!’, ‘Ooh, amazing!’ ‘But wait let’s watch the behind the scenes, oh yes, they’re sitting around doing nothing while the camera does the work’ ‘Awesome!’.

But the Special Edition still vaguely makes sense to me. The Platinum Edition boggles the mind. For $300 I should get every version of the film, and a sit down meal with the director. It’s the ‘Associate Producer’ credit on the film that really bugs me. This is like buying a knighthood. There’s already a credit for those who contribute financially to movies, Executive Producer. Associate Producer is another kind of slightly BS title, implying someone who supports the producer, sort of. Giving someone an Associate Producer credit is kind of saying, well you’re not really that important, but, you know, well done (now go away). It’s a timelapse film for god’s sake. If it were a major piece of drama, then maybe I might buy the concept, but I’ll say it again: Don’t mug me off. If I’m going to fork out $299 for the Platinum edition then you’re going to have to seriously kiss my ass.

Timelapse filmmaking is a relatively cost-effective exercise. Compare the mountains that need moving for drama and shooting some moving mountains really doesn’t stand the comparison. This pricing is ill-conceived, it’s wrong and, worst of all, it feels like a cynical attempt to milk the goodwill of a community. I don’t agree with that. I’m not a fan, but I know many many are and for them Tom’s work is inspiring and astonishing. I’m sure I’ve upset a few people by even daring to question the great man, but this, to me, is another example of power over meaning, like our friend slang. I’ve always felt the DSLR craze had a bit of the slang about it, incredibly powerful for a while but then slowly losing its impact. Same with timelapse photography… where next? I’m all for filmmakers being innovative, I’ve crowdfunded my own project but you have to be incredibly respectful of your audience and you have to be generous. This demonstrates neither of those two qualities.


Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • J G Harding

    Chargin’ a carpet for loada poncey postcards? It knackers me strawberry. They’re ‘avin a giraffe. On the babble and no mistake.

    The standard prices are cool, but you’d have to be a barking time-lapse pervert to buy the ‘Platinum’ disc, or have some serious scratch. I’ve bought similar things before, they just kinda sit on my shelf though. As beautiful as it is — and it really is from what I can see — I can’t imagine watching an hour of time-lapse. I suppose it’d be good in the background of dinner party. But fuckin’ dinner parties? What kind of merchant d’you think I am? Jamie fuckin’ Oliver? Cunt.

  • Niles Harrison

    I fully disagree with you here El Skid. It sounds to me like Tom is merely trying to raise some funds to finish his film and I don’t understand why this would even warrant whole blog post about how insulted you are that he is asking for money in exchange for his work.

    With the current state of digital media, he stands almost no chance of making any money on a theatrical release, nobody wants to buy a practically obsolete DVD and Blu-Ray isn’t really worth the extra dough for something else that will be obsolete in a few years. To me a digital download is the most appealing option there, but it will most certainly be available on bittorrent on the day it is released.

    As for BTS, I’m actually more interested in that than the actual film. I want to know exactly where he was and what gear and settings he was using. I have never really enjoyed hearing a director blabber on for an hour about rewriting a script or casting the lead.

    I also disagree with you about time-lapse filmmaking being cost effective. The typical shooting schedule of a narrative feature film production is around 6 weeks. He has been working on this for what 2 years now? You don’t just leave your RED camera rolling in the desert and go back to the hotel, you have to stay right beside it until the shot is done and if the weather doesn’t cooperate you might not get any shot at all.

    Films like Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi changed the way I thought about filmmaking and I’m looking forward to seeing a modern film in this style. If it has hundreds of Associate Producer credits that’s not really going to detract from the work. It might be the only way to avoid ending up with nothing but a huge credit card debt to show for your work.

  • J G Harding

    On your last point: Koyaanisqatsi is one of my favorites and I’m looking forward to seeing a modern film in that style too, but trying to match it would be a tough task. It’s a very human piece, and exceedingly narrative for just music and imagery. In the soundtrack, Phillip Glass’s use of human voices to juxtapose mechanical arpeggiations with ancient Hopi chants tells you everything you need to know even before you watch the imagery unfold: the conflict between modern social systems and our tribal origins throws life our of balance. Some of the most powerful moments are the simplest and grittiest, and certainly aren’t limited to a single photographic technique: the people in the street staring to camera with blank expressions while the the world moves around them, or the transition from satellite shots of cities to almost identical patterns in silicone pathways, the latter example being one of the most chilling moments in cinema, for me.

    Timescapes may well be like that for all I know, but if so the trailer isn’t right, because it doesn’t show it. The trailer for this piece shows a lot of beautiful and well accomplished photography alongside some empty and OTT epic-drum reverb-fest music, of a kind we’re all desensitised to. I didn’t feel a thing watching it, it was like I was watching a documentary or a lot of pretty, moving postcards. Like wonderful, museum-friendly chocolate-box video.  I haven’t seen Timescapes yet. So I could be wrong. It could just be ‘trailer syndrome’. But proof of how hard it is to pull-off narrative in this manner also comes in the form of Koyaanisqatsi’s sequels, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi, which lacked the same impact as the first entry by a long shot. Still, I might give it a watch. But not the $300 version.

  • Dave (Ewan) Thomas

    I’m with Niles on this one mate. Personally Timelapse films bore me silly, don’t see the point in them. Pretty and pointless. But! 

    My point is I don’t see why you should be on Tom’s case for self-distributing. It’s not easy making or funding your films is it? And how is what he’s doing that different than what you did with SMR? X pounds gets you a DVD, X more an associate producer credit?

    Yeah it’s probably too much money, but if people love his work then they can pay what they want and he can charge what he wants, if he’s done it unfunded which it sounds like he has then he could have given up a massive amount of income and work to fund it, so he deserves to earn something back.

    People will also rip and copy his work. It’s hard making films yourself, regardless of narrative, his kits probably more expensive than most drama kit (which is hired in), travel and accommodation are massively expensive and moreover he’s self-distributing so he’s entitled to sell it for whatever he wants to. He’s probably not expecting to sell thousands of copies otherwise they’d be cheaper, it’s not like DVDs in the shop where they can afford to sell them for £3 cos they’ll sell hundreds of thousands of units. Economies of scale.

    I doubt he’s doing it to make loads of money, lets be honest we’d all work for the public sector or be lawyers if we wanted to get rich. What he’s doing is charging a moderately high price because it won’t ship in high volume and people will pirate it. Which I think is fair enough.

    Plus people don’t have to buy it. There’s worse value for money for things and the people are contributing directly to the individual who made something, doesn’t happen a lot these days does it? And they know they will be supporting a film maker to make another film. Bargain.

    So I’m not rushing out to buy it, but equally I’m not rushing out to bash it neither. I’d hope you were selling dvds on your website one day of your work, and I sure as shit wouldn’t complain that they were too expensive neither. And they should have some bloody postcards too.

    If you want to really complain about the cost of “art” go down your department store gallery, all they do is copy art and charge thousands for the copy. That’s robbery.

  • Goforjared

    I Have to jump in here, not on the fact that Tom is selling a copy of his film for $300, not that he is willing to give AP credits for those who want to support his film, not for anything that he has done really. I will say that selling it as a way to get your name on IMDB is a slap in the face to all of those who have worked hard and really deserve the Credit. Buying your way into that after the film is complete only cheapens the process. We work very hard for that little fleeting moment at the end of a project. To sell it off for a few pennies is simply uncool.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Okay.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Okay.

  • Loren

    I guess there are politics in every profession. To me, his pricing reads like a kickstarter page, and IMDB credits are fairly common there too. To the extent that someone who has no credit anywhere on IMDB can understand your position, I understand your position. But I think the community understands the difference between a “special thanks” or “associate producer” credit and the ones that really matter. 

  • Paul

    I like timelapse films, personally. Baraka in particular. There’s something special I think about just looking at a well composed shot and taking in the way the world changes around it… it’s intrinsic to living in a manner and important to us all. The story of it often can be in how the images are cut together, and much of that story if you will is emotion, left in the mind of the viewer. So, no, I tend not to bash timelapse movies and was interested in perhaps maybe even supporting the artist by buying a copy.

    (That said, I am not saying timelapses are Drama or come close to the effort needed to make a proper dramatic film or even a documentary, but I think they do have some value, much as a photograph can have value.)

    I also don’t have a problem with selling multiple versions as a money-raising strategy. Anyone is certainly entitled to buy or not to buy any of the versions. 

    I do however have a problem with the concept of buying an IMDB credit. I have to go with Jared and Robin here. It’s cheapening the efforts of people who do real work on these films. Sure an “Associate Producer” doesn’t have a lot of weight behind it, but it still has weight. That person still worked in some way on the film, however minor the role. They did something. Buying a credit is just cheap and it insults all the poort AP’s out there who maybe spent their time working on something.

    My suggestion would be to remove the IMDB AP credits.

  • Patrick Lockerman

    For what it’s worth, to me when someone says they are a producer (executive, associate whatever) that tells me they were more about the funding than the creative content. Unless the producer has any sort of director experience or at least camera experience or has single handedly “produced” the film. Producers make investments, if it’s ROI they are looking for, so be it. If they are just wanting the lime light or credit, fair enough – that’ll be three hundred bucks please. 

  • Mitch Gross

    Boy was that rude.

    If you don’t want it, don’t buy it.  If you want to support the filmmaker more and can afford it, then go for it.  Otherwise shut up.

  • Goforjared

    Tom I hope you don’t take this post the wrong way. I have met you and know you have a kind heart. I also believe and respect strongly in the work that you do. I would only ask that you respect the many years I have worked to Build a strong IMDB resume. Credit is all we really ever get once the pay check is long gone for the hard work we put into each and every film that we are a part of. There is no way to put a price on that. I hope you understand our point of view. I have asked Robin to clarify that this is not a personal attack against you or the great contribution you have made to the film community.

  • Nigel Stanford

    God forbid we destroy the sanctity of the ‘associate producer’ credit. All those people who toiled for years and years going to associate producer school. Their reputations are now ruined! :)

    Would you be having the same reaction to someone who invested a million dollars in a movie?

  • nigel

    I almost lost my cornflakes reading this… And then I was transported back to my murky past downing pints in pubs like this in Hammersmith. Wankers. Thank f**k I now live in California.

    Tom has always been generous with his knowledge. I’ve always wondered how he would market this film. Would folks pay to see a whole features worth of time lapse? That’s a big gamble but then again all filmmaking is.

    One thing for sure anyone who can bring a film to market deserves respect. So I think selling the IMDB credit might rub folks the wrong way. Mine certainly came at a high cost.

    I would like to see this film because on the surface it seems to represent a whole movement of projects (films?) that are technology centric, the focus is equipment, the cameras, sliders, cranes etc. Often these clips have been followed with heated discussions on the need for story etc. Perhaps now we will have more clarity.



  • J G Harding

    I hope you realise i was playing a bit of a game there with the old rhyming slag, I don’t really talk like an extra from Green Street 3: League Cup Final 😉

  • Niles Harrison

     I’ve put my money where my mouth is. You just got $39.95 from me for the HD download version. My name in the credits will be a novelty. Best of luck on finishing your film. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

  • Mikespins

     Here’s a chance for you to explain your thinking for offering an AP credit in the credit roll and on IMDB. I like your work Tom and think you are at the top of your game. But like Jared and Paul, as a professional myself I take issue at selling credits. You are entitled to do whatever you’d like but don’t be surprised that there are people who disagree with what you are doing.

  • El Skid

     Ooh Patrick, I can hear producers groaning as they read this. There are many levels of producer but I’ve met very few who’ve actually invested their own money in projects. The producer is the single most important person in any production, they’re the people that make it all happen, first in, last out, making it possible for all the creatives to do their jobs. Producers do not make investments, except possibly of their time. In their role as managers they therefore have to pick the right project and that necessitates an understanding of creative issues as well as the complex mechanics of the production machine. I think you do the role a massive disservice when you reduce it to financials. I’m also not sure why you felt the need to put “produced” in inverted commas. 

  • El Skid

    IMDB is the yardstick by which people measure our standing professionally these days. It’s the quickest, easiest way for people to see what you’ve done. Buying a credit bugs me but let people do what they want. 

    Those who buy the film are not investors, they’re funders after the fact. The film is already made. If someone invested $1m in a movie then they would expect to see a return on that investment. The credit is a perk.

  • El Skid

    Good on you for sticking up for Tom and doing that. This post has generated enough debate for me to believe it was a point worth making. Tom’s a wonderful filmmaker and I would never ever dispute that. I knew the article would provoke some strong responses and we always want to hear both sides of the argument. Perversely I think I’ve actually generated sales for Tom!

  • El Skid

     Niles, you’ve actually hit the nail on the head with your first paragraph:

    ‘It sounds to me like…’

    Is Tom in need of funds to finish his film? We don’t know. Had Tom created a page to offer us the chance to fund the completion of his project, with complete transparency as to his intentions, then I would never have written the post. God forbid I would ever condemn anyone for being innovative in the way they fund their projects. I’ve raised money through crowdfunding and offered perks in return for people’s goodwill. But it was completely transparent, you knew exactly what the money was for, and why I was asking for it. 

    The point is, Tom may or may not need funds to complete his project, but if he’d stated that then I’d have applauded him for being canny enough to create an appetite and an audience for his work. All I ask is transparency when it comes to things like flogging credits. It’s a lot of money and it’s a tactic I see again and again from producers who treat everyone from the crew to their funders with the utmost contempt. 

    I’m also going to have to disagree with you about the state of digital media right now: DVD was introduced in 1995, and it’s going nowhere. Blu-ray was introduced in 2006 and, on current product cycles, will be around for a very long time still. CD was introduced in 1982 and is still going strong. To suggest that these formats will be obsolete in a few years is utterly daft. 

    As for standing no chance of making money on the content I would strongly argue the contrary. Tom’s work is utterly unique, there is almost no-one else producing work like this, he’s a genuine specialist in a very niche area. It won’t work as a theatrical release, granted, but if you follow Jon Reiss (and I suggest that you do) you’ll hopefully understand that niche communities are your best friend as an independent filmmaker. So here are some suggestions for Tom to monetise his content.

    1. Tour the film around the country with pop-up film events. Team up with a band and create a unique live experience, like Pink Floyd providing the soundtrack to the moon landings. Charge $15 a ticket. Q & A afterwards. 

    2. Serialise the content and distribute it on or even YouTube

    3. Parcel up the best shots into a mobile content package and sell it to handset manufacturers as a pre-load

    4. Sell it to the BBC, or the Discovery Channel. The archive value of the footage should be substantial

    As for the ‘cost-effective’ nature of shooting timelapse films I’m again going to have to strongly disagree with you. A small team filming periodically over a two year period comes nowhere near the cost of a full feature film, seeing a project through pre-prod, principal photography, and editing. I’m pretty shocked that you think the two even come close. A much better comparison would be a documentary shoot but even then I would argue the post production on documentaries would be far more protracted than that on a timelapse film.

    Like I said before, don’t mug me off.

  • El Skid

     Loren, you’re absolutely right, it reads like a kickstarter page, but that’s not what it is at all. I’ve covered this in my answer to Niles, all it needed was a little more transparency, if indeed that’s what’s going on. 

  • El Skid

     Hey Dave, nice to see you on WOC! I’ve kind of already covered this on my reply to Niles but for me it’s really just the way it was presented. It boils down to transparency. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been mugged off by producers to the point that I will do everything myself now. With SMR we were very transparent about what we were doing. If Tom needs funds to complete his film then let him say so. Packaging up a meaningless credit that devalues genuine credits on IMDB (for whatever that’s worth) rubbed a bunch of us up the wrong way. 

  • El Skid

    If you take the time to read the comments I hope you’ll see that this was actually a debate worth having. I was also not having any kind of a go at Tom as a filmmaker, I was questioning the pre-sales strategy and the implications of it. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the craftsmanship.

  • Dave (Ewan) Thomas

    I’ve read a few articles here now mate!

    I still don’t agree with you! I don’t think transparency matters one little bit, he’s an artist, he’s selling his work, it’s reasonably priced and he can sell it for whatever he wants. I don’t think he needs to be transparent, we’ve not seen a budget but I’d bargain he’s spent a lot of his own money and time making this which almost certainly won’t have been paid for. Then there’s the RED kit, the tracking kit, the lenses, the hard drives, the transcoding, the cutting, the score composition, the grading, the HDR processing etc etc I reckon you’d be staggered how long it takes to do timelapse and get it so right. So I think he can charge what he wants because it’s worth a lot of money. If the Beeb or Discovery had done it the budget would have been hundreds of thousands of pounds if not more.

    If you’re only method of being paid or making income is from your work you can charge whatever you want for it and if people are willing to pay that then that’s great. He’s had millions of views on Vimeo for good reason he’s work is the best.

    As for IMDB I don’t think it in anyway devalues geniune credits. Everyone knows that an Associate Producer isn’t the same as a Producer and I’m not sure that anyone holds IMDB  as gospel, it’s far too easy to make up credits, or title or films. There’s no substitute for someone’s own website, reel and CV. So I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal. My name has been used about a dozen times on IMDB for people that aren’t me. The actual me that is credited on there has credits for work I didn’t even do. So I’ve had to go by a different name for writer directing now to distinguish myself.

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve got mugged off by producers it’s happened to me as well, there’s nothing worse than having your time and effort wasted but I don’t know what that has to do with Tom and his film. It seems to me to be a very honest endeavor by an extremely talented film maker.
    I’m not surprised by the level of debate and I’m sure that people will buy his film, it looks great and is well priced for what it is. 

  • Jordan

    Straight up, I appreciate both Tom and Jared’s contributions to the film community … this is built on respect.  Respect has been an integral part of our industry since it began, and it speaks volumes!

    This is just my vibe, but I’m not sure that writing this blog post was the best way to address this … perhaps an email or phone call would have been a better option.  

    Just my thoughts,


    “Actions speak louder than words, but sometimes words …”

  • Nigel Stanford

    If we were talking about a credit like ‘director’, ‘writer’, or ‘producer’, I would completely agree with you.

    The difference is that ‘associate producer’ is not an actual job, but basically a high powered thank you credit. It’s the kind of thing given to someone who helped put you in touch with a powerful actor, found a great screenplay, or dare I say it, invested money in the film. 

  • Rossbently

    I think your right On point with this!!!