The Free Film Project

Last night I was adding Coil monetization to Culture Pledge and testing the YouTube monetization and I had an idea.

If I’m reading this correctly:

Since January 1, 2019, there is no copyright on films 95 years old or older. (There are also quite a few newer films in the public domain as well.)

We could publish these films in their entirety accompanied by a blog post as part of the Culture Pledge ‘Free Film Project’.

The more unique part that ties in deeper with monetization is that we also create very short edits (5-15 min cuts) of each film for paid subscribers.

These would be similar to this edit I did (years ago but published recently) of the film Rounders (w/o copyright. sue me.):

However it’d hopefully be done via Culture Pledge and not YouTube.

The reason I think it’s an idea with significant cultural value is that it’s impossible for people today to go back and experience all past classic films in their entirety. A short cut can still get across the narrative, showcase the true feeling and best moments/shots in the film, and open up a conversation. And of course the full length film is right there too, so in a way the paid edited version acts like a teaser.

Traffic on this would grow slow and steady as the collection grew. Quite a few good films were released in the 1925-1930 era featuring Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks, Joan Crawford, etc. so it could be something worthwhile to start now.

[EDIT: How could I forget Charlie Chaplin!?]

My feeling is we’d need to hire a film buff who’s a good editor. I’ll ask around. Do you know anyone?


I love this idea. Great to see all these old films enter the public domain. I’m interested from a remixing perspective - not only a shorter cut of a film, but as a resource that people can use to incorporate parts of these films into larger mixes / video essays / documentaries.

I imagine these films are hosted on sites like Internet Archive. I wonder where people find the original sources – would be good to get

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Great feedback. Thanks maboa :sunglasses:

I love this idea of encouraging the remixing of old film content. I could imagine remixing Charlie Chaplin yielding some interesting results! We could then provide a great venue for creators to share the content. I suppose user-generated content could be free or paid, up to the discretion of the creator? We’re adding complexity but it’s worth a thought experiment!

I’ll start working on this. Let’s keep chatting!

Here are my action items right now:

  • secure copies of appropriate public domains film
  • upload films to Culture Pledge
  • tag the films / alt text / write excerpts / track down a few photos and factoids for each
  • decide on which film(s) to prioritize and either find editor or start editing myself

I’ll post my progress here and anybody please feel free to chime in or DM.

I just posted some potentially related ideas here:

We need to think about simplification now and reconcile all the ideas as best we can.

What do you think of the name Free Film Project? Open Film Initiative? Maybe something that shows how we’re seeing it anew? Renewal? I was also imagining an old Drive-in Theatre and thought of calling it something like a Surf-in Theatre? (Kinda weird but I do feel something fun is better.)

Sites with initiatives similar to what I’m proposing here are indeed leveraging the Internet Archive copies of the films. That might be the best way to start off despite it not being a benefit to anyone in terms of redundancy. Maybe in longer term we take control of a copy of each file to be ported to the permanent web.

The films live here:

This idea takes you down a rabbit hole re: how can you take “free” content, add value, and monetize that value in the best way possible. There’s so much more free content of all kinds available for republishing, restoring, discussing, remixing, etc.

Hey sal - been away from the screen a little but just wanted to say that your ideas sound interesting and I think overlap a little with features we’re proposing for the next version of Hyperaudio – specifically we want to recognise all contributors to anything that’s produced on the platforms, from background music creators to remixes (more on that here

Thanks for the link to Internet Archive - I feel like transcribing a few of those old films to see how easy it would be to remix them :slight_smile:

I just read your article and it blew my mind. I think we’re both aiming at inspiring massive creativity and coming at similar problems from different angles.

Also, nice work on this other one you co-wrote:

How do you feel about “digital scarcity” in arts/media, NFTs, “crypto art”, etc…?

It’s certainly a trend right now but I have an aversion to it. I want digital media to be accessible to everyone cheaply. I don’t quite appreciate this idea of hoarding something like an image, which could so easily be copied and shared with everyone. That’s why I think the best monetization and price discovery mechanism for digital art/media might be crowdfunding.

Being paid upfront removes risk for artists and thus allows them to focus better on their work. It’s a better model for the arts economy imo. And if a digital art/media project is in advance aiming to attempt to turn a profit later (like a business would, and as opposed to simply aiming to release their work to the world for free-ish) then it could be subsidized via equity crowdfunding (theoretically), ie. turning the crowd into micro-investors. (Doing that isn’t legal yet.)

One of the deliverables I put in my Culture Pledge grant proposal was simply coming up with a mission statement. I keep having the feeling that there’s a better more fundamental approach to what I’m trying to do that I’m just not seeing yet. I like the Free Film idea because it’s about building a repository of timeless content that can be remixed and made relevant again. The timeless nature of the content would ensure the site has decent long tail traffic to serve as a solid backbone for other content projects.

Thanks Sal - glad you like the articles! I’m not sure about creating artificial scarcity – doesn’t quite sit right with me for arts/media – like I think yours, my instinct is to open things up to as many people as possible. I do think content creators are entitled to be compensated but I think we will stop short from enforcing pay to view on the new Hyperaudio Platform.

Since popularity is not the best indicator of quality we too want to encourage certain types of content creators by subsidising with up front payments. I think we’re going to try and avoid that whole thing of popular content rising to the top in favour of type of devolved curation. Although our initial grant application is based around discussing and experimenting with these mechanisms with potential communities.

I like the Free Film idea because it’s about building a repository of timeless content that can be remixed and made relevant again. The timeless nature of the content would ensure the site has decent long tail traffic to serve as a solid backbone for other content projects.

I like this aspect too :slight_smile: BTW - our current linkage to Internet Archive content is broken in our prototype at and so I tried to upload “Night of the Living Dead” to YouTube so I could test it on our platform - despite assumed copyright expiry this was automatically removed in line with their terms and conditions. :confused:

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A couple thoughts:

  1. Monitizing video available in other places for free is a bit tricky. Really need to add some value to make it work.

  2. One way to add value would be to use modern AI techniques to take low-res video and up the resolution to 4k. There are some impressive demos out there with reasonable hardware requirements.

  3. Audio would be another way to improve value. Add in open source music or even have actors record audio and edit together. More value created.

  4. Work with a film archivist who has access to original media and share the profits with them. Good PR and great access to resources you would never get on your own.


Hi BlueBox. Certainly the video I’m seeing seems to be pretty low quality and audio quality varies too.

Love the idea of improving the quality - maybe film archivists have access to those precious originals! :slight_smile:

@sal I managed to import “The Little Shop of Horrors” into ( – found some captions which I converted into a interactive transcript – all ready for mixing bu dragging from the left-pane and dropping in the right. Note the first time you play your mix there may be buffering issues (ie delays between clips being played) – we’re confident we can solve this in the new version by some sort of optimistic buffering.

Thanks @BlueBox ! Great ideas there for the future. I’ve seen impressive restorations of video from 100+ years ago on youtube and that stuff is popular. We should do more research.

@maboa I’m trying Hyperaudio. It’s awesome but it’d be tough to edit down a feature film. You can’t grab clips when there’s no talking. Maybe I’ll try an edit on traditional video editing software first and then use Hyperaudio to fine tune talking parts later.

Remixing (esp podcasts/documentaries/news reports) seems like a super solid use case. Works even if they are video because the silent parts aren’t relevant here like they are in films. We could ask the community to remix new popular (properly licensed) content. Smart 5-30 min cuts of longer podcasts and other content would probably be useful.

One revenue model could be streaming ~80-99% of revenue directly to the creators on the platform (with the balance going to the site). We have to get them set up with the right “wallet” solution. I’m a bit out of my depth here but I suppose we’d leverage Coil and one of the Web Monetization funds custodians? It’s getting complicated on the KYC side but ideally from a UX perspective creators would sign up for just the one thing (the remix platform) and then gain access to the benefits of the whole WM ecosystem.

I’m trying to think on how you build a remixer community or “collective”. I think that’s in line with you’re thinking about devolved curation too. It’s not about creating a “hit” it’s about the long game of building up a huge content repository through providing direction and motivation to our group of creatives. A strong core community will also bootstrap whatever comes after.

I grabbed the domain (I just think “Hyper Remix” sounds really cool :nerd_face:), just thinking out loud in case you/we do something niche here that requires brand differentiation.

Has anyone used Hyperaudio with music? We could license karaoke tracks and ask users to add in their own audio or use the karaoke track behind the FreeFilm public domain films in their (weirder) remixes? IDK, there are a zillion potential use cases but I think we need something specific with a clear message to take to market. A strong use case I see now is editing down long podcasts (“coles notes”-ing them), and perhaps creating longer programs that are a series of these edited versions back to back, eg. “the top 5 crypto podcasts this week”. We take 5+ hours of content and deliver something way more concise (maybe 15 - 60 mins total time). Perhaps we wouldn’t need to pay the podcasts for the rights but instead they’d pay us for the marketing.

@sal - is really just at the working prototype stage. We built it back in 2013 and it shows! Originally we had text alignment so people could type in their transcripts and convert them to “Hypertranscripts” - we could not continue to pay for the alignment service unfortunately which is why you currently need to rely on the converter to get transcripts in there. All of that said It has been a great way to user test and get people’s opinions and the reception has been very positive.

In our application we posited the idea that we’d take no percentage at all of web monetization revenue paid for viewing content, choosing instead to use WM to incentivise content creation and through that community building, we’re going to look at “re-assigning” some of the proceeds to people creating the sort of content we think it’s important is surfaced, so we’re not stuck with a pure popularity contest - in fact we probably won’t take popularity into account at all when surfacing content, choosing instead to curate “featured” content or as you say devolve that curation to community level. But we’ll see - we applied for the mid-tier funding so we could validate a number of assumptions and before we start work on building the next platform proper.

Yes! I always imagined podcast digests to be a great use case, speaking of which we plan to achieve sustainability by selling a editing tool based on Hyperaudio technology which people can use to edit podcasts, vlogs and similar.

And yes music is a big part of our plans - in the current version of hyperaudio you can add background music and we see this as an opportunity to reward music creators as well as remixers - we’ve also figured out how to transcribe music and other non spoken audio which is kinda cool. That way you can more easily select parts of the video or audio that don’t feature speech.

It’s great to hear that we’re thinking along the same lines Sal - I’m not sure what form collaboration could take but everything we build will be open sourced and so in theory could be used for more niche things such as :smiley:

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