To many people the movie piracy Scene is something mythical or at least hard to comprehend. Who are these people who are the source for the majority of the pirated movies online? In a rare conversation, We had the chance to pick the brain of a former member of one of the world’s largest movie piracy groups, who speaks out about pride, ego, money and the changes that the Scene has gone through in recent years.
If you had the chance to ask a question to someone who has been a member of the movie piracy Scene for half a decade, what would it be?
Every day, millions of people download the latest blockbusters through file-sharing applications, and the majority of those come from so-called Scene groups. Despite the major impact the Scene has on modern day society, very little is known about the people who are part of it. After today, we might know a tiny bit more.
We had the chance to ask a few questions to a former member of a well-known Scene group. Our source (let’s call him SC) is a self-proclaimed expert at busting the watermaking techniques of the MPAA, and between 2003 and 2009 he was a member and supplier of a group responsible for hundreds of pirated movie releases online.
We got in contact with the former Scene member through Reddit, where he has been answering many questions about his ‘profession’ this week. As always, the true identity of SC will remain a mystery, but judging from the answers that were given and the knowledge the person has we can be fairly certain that he is indeed who he claims to be.
In his introduction, SC says that during his time in the Scene six close associates get arrested, 2 served prison time, 2 became informants and one killed himself. The latter case refers to Geremi Adam aka maVen, one of the best known movie pirates who died of a morphine overdose after he was released from prison.
Below, you can read the Q and A session we had with SC, which tells us a bit more about the Scene and the motivations and connections of the people in it. Those who want to ask something of their own, or who want to read more questions that were answered by SC, can do so on Reddit.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the movie piracy world?
SC: I got into movie piracy after being an avid downloader. I distinctly remember in fact, getting a hold of my first movie over a 4 day leech on a 56k line. It was wicked. I loved it, and quickly realized there was some sort of underground in control of all of this. It piqued my interest, and I was determined to get to the top of it. Seemed a little far fetched at the time, and I cant really fathom still how far it snowballed, but its pretty cool none-the-less.”
Q: You mentioned your connection to maVen, can you say anything about other groups you’ve worked with?
SC: I dont think it’s fair on my part to say to be honest. It would be foolish and unnecessary – but lets just say I worked with most during my time. Any that dealt with theater rips/prints at least. I mentioned maVen because the police would have a hard time getting information from a dead individual.
Q: What was the main motivation for you to join the movie piracy Scene? What about the others?
SC: Pride and ego was my main motivation. Most sceners are male, between 18-30, generally white and well educated. Most are middle/upper middle class, students and young professionals.. Pride and Ego fuels almost 90% of their motivations. You are able to achieve a level of status online that you probably could never in the real world; you are respected and feared, and the mystique of it all helps. Sounds foolish now; but at the time it didnt seem so.
Q: Over the years, have you noticed any significant changes in how groups and suppliers operate?
SC: Massive significant changes. At some point maybe 10 years ago, I knew of major groups who had public IRC channels! at a time all of this required some technical wizardy, and you had to be fairly knowledgeable in order to do it. As time went on, with the advances of technology, this changed, bringing it to a much wider audience base, and also with newer distro methods (Torrents, etc). Laws have changed pretty dramatically worldwide also.
Q: Did the increased monitoring and safety measures in theaters change anything? A delay in release time for CAMs perhaps?
SC: I would say the changing technologies and the learning curve are more to do with any delays. Some releases can take far more time then others.
Q: Could you tell a bit more about the process that’s involved from the theater to a pre-ready release?
SC: A cammer will go to a theater and retrieve a print. Ideally, he is wanting to see the whole frame of the film – cropping can be done afterwards. Ideally he is sitting centered, mid level/back level, with an unobstructed view. Another very important factor is the camera doesnt move – ideally sitting stationary 100% of the release.
The next process is removing the watermarks. Ideally this is done by several individuals looking over the print, tagging the dots, and checking with each other. After a few good guys look it over you can be pretty sure you got most of them.
Next step is the encoding/uploading. Depending on time restraints, source restraints, or a number of other factors, the release can be encoded directly on the suppliers box (slight hassles) or have the source uploaded directly to a remote box (bandwidth permitting).
Beyond this you are setting up the final encode – this is where the dots get cut and the filter processes are run. This can take anywhere from 2-12 hours depending on the amount of filters, length of movie, size of encode, so on so forth.
Syncing is done at some point. This is done by condensing cut pieces of the line to match those of the cam track. This can be difficult due to the fact that not all projectors run the same – if one is speeding up/slowing down constantly through play, it can cause the syncer hours and hours more work!
Once the final release is encoded, the watermarks are removed, the audio is done, its packed/checked and spread to affiliates. Some short time later, its pre’d, and released upon the world.
Q: What kind of precautionary measures did you take so you never got caught?
SC: Secrets to not getting caught… those might possibly get me caught! Lets just say, seeing the bigger picture, watching your tongue and understanding the way people are connected helps dramatically.
Q: You say that you were both a supplier to, and a member of, a group. Is this common?
SC: Yes. Very Common. Since its quite possible you will never meet members, you are all colluding to commit crimes together. A great way to ‘keep it in the family’ is to essentially make the guy next to you just as guilty. In this case I’ve seen members take on many many roles, it also helps with the breakdown of the group and the overall structure. I would say its common among the top echelon.
Q: Have you seen any changes in the Scene in recent years?
SC: The scene has changed dramatically since I first entered it. There was a time saying the wrong thing would immediately make you lose your access and become an outcast; if you were not contributing, you were a nobody. this mentality has changed dramatically; its not so hush hush, or technically proficient as it has been in past years. The ease of it all has also made it a more risky hobby.
Q: Are there any commercial interests linked to groups that you’ve been connected to or heard from?
SC: Yes. Absolutely. Money and those accusations have gone on for years. I can attest with certainty that I know groups that have sold – but to sit here and spout their names endangers them and is just slander. Its unecessary for me to publically shame them all. Except maVen. He’s no longer here; and his motivation was money almost 100% of the time.
Q: What do you think the future holds for movie release groups?
SC: Nothing good. Cam/telesync/high quality theater rips are dead pretty much. Retail DVD video is impossible to track; that shit will be here forever.
Last year, SC decided to leave the Scene he had been part of for such a long time. We did of course ask him why he made this decision, but SC told us that it was “the eternal question.”
SC continued his life outside the Scene and doesn’t contact his former group members and associates anymore, although they are not out of sight completely.
“I can find them and they can find me,” SC said. “But I think everyone prefers a bit of an arm’s length approach at some point.”