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Open Culture

Although we took a little break in our “Featured Commoner” series over the holidays, we are back in action with many more stories and interviews for the new year. First up in 2008 is Hugh Hancock, Artistic Director ad Co-Founder of Strange Company, the “world’s oldest pro ‘Machinima‘ production company” and producers of acclaimed full-length machinima BloodSpell. We’ve talked about the film before, but further enlightenment was due.

What’s BloodSpell/Strange Company all about? What’s its history? How did it come about? Who’s involved?

Strange Company is the world’s oldest professional Machinima (real-time 3D filmmaking using computer game engines or similar tools – basically puppetry on a computer) production company – we’ve been around since 1997, when I quit pursuing a computer science degree to go play with this new “Quake Movies” thing. It turned out to be a better idea than it looked – we’ve been making films for 10 years now and havve been praised by Pulitzer winner Roger Ebert, worked for some of the most respected companies in the world (like the BBC and BAFTA), and have’ve produced some fantastic films.

BloodSpell is a feature-length Machinima film, one of the few that have ever been made. It’s what we’re calling a “punk fantasy” – an epic fantasy film about a world where people are infected with magic in their blood, but without all of the pompousness, “Olde Worlde” feel and posh English accents that most fantasy films feel they have to have.

BloodSpell happened because we’d been spending a while trying to develop a really huge film project, and we’d kinda lost sight of what makes Machinima great – the fact that it’s fast and cheap enough to make a Machinima film that you can just do it. A collaborator of mine pointed out, in his inimitable way, that we had “lost the punk edge”. So we promptly turned around and decided to put together a fast, cheap film.

Of course, then mission creep set in. But four years later, we’re very proud of the result, and the response we’ve had – praise from major newspapers (The Guardian and USA Today), top interweb/storytelling types (like Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow), and great reviews all across the world.

How are you using CC licenses with BloodSpell? Which CC licenses are you using and why?

BloodSpell is released under a CC BY-NC-SA license. Essentially, we chose CC for brutally commercial reasons – we weren’t going to make money with BloodSpell (it’s basically the world’s largest market research project), we knew that basically every first feature film doesn’t make its creator money, no matter how it’s licensed, and we wanted to make sure that as many people as possible got to see it. From that standpoint, CC was a no-brainer. Likewise, there was no reason to limit the uses people make of our work – I’d love to see BloodSpell fan-fiction, for all that I probably can’t read it myself for legal reasons.

Can you talk about any interesting instances of reuse that have arisen from your choice of CC licensing? What benefits have you seen from using CC licenses?

Actually, we’ve not seen a lot of reuse and remixing, although a couple of people have done some very cool fan-art and remixed trailers. The major benefit we’ve seen is simply that people know they’re free to watch and give away BloodSpell, and that’s made us very popular – to the extent that we’re currently the second most watched Scottish feature film this year, on a budget that’s more than 100 times lower than the next most watched film!

What’s next for BloodSpell/Strange Company?

We’ll be releasing a BloodSpell DVD pretty soon – also under CC – and we’re going to be working on developing tools and technology for our next productions.

The other thing I’m likely to be doing is helming a CC cookery show called “Kamikaze Cookery”, teaching people to cook using modern, molecular gastronomy techniques, but that’s a different story…

Posted 07 January 2008