Elettra Wiedemann, photo by Drew Wiedemann
At the forefront of independent film production, and having distributed over a hundred films, from Dirty Dancing to Mortal Kombat, Ruth Vitale has now created a nonprofit coalition called CreativeFuture.
By Katy Herman
I am the CEO of CreativeFuture, a nonprofit coalition of 525 companies and organizations and over 170,000 creative individuals encompassing film, television, music, book publishing, and photography. I have been at the forefront of independent film production and distribution for more than three decades, including as founder and co-president of Paramount Classics and as president of Fine Line Features. I have made and/or distributed over 100 films, from Dirty Dancing to Mortal Kombat and Don Juan DeMarco and The Centerfold, to smaller films like Shine, Gummo, You Can Count on Me, Virgin Suicides, and Hustle & Flow.
You have worn a lot of different hats throughout your career–producer, CEO, changemaker… How would you describe what you do?
At CreativeFuture, we promote the value of creativity and expanded digital access to legitimate content, and above everything else, we believe that all creatives have the fundamental right–protected by copyright–to control how and where their work is seen, heard, and distributed.
I have witnessed first-hand how piracy has undermined the ability of creatives to get their projects funded. I took this job at CreativeFuture because if piracy cannot be eradicated entirely, then the creative industries must be emboldened by the idea that something can be done. There is no giving up: It’s not an option. We cannot allow the technology sector to ignore the rights of independent creatives.
What CreativeFuture projects are you currently working on?
CreativeFuture has four major initiatives: Mobilize the Creative Community, Follow the Money, Youth Outreach, and #StandCreative.
One aspect of mobilizing the creative community is bringing creatives to Washington, DC, to speak with policymakers about their experiences with piracy. During our visits we meet with members of Congress and their staffers to talk about what we do and our issues.
With our Follow the Money initiative, we are working to take the profit out of piracy. We work with a third-party vendor to monitor pirate sites, showing advertisers and brands where their ads are appearing by giving them screenshots. We reach out to them with the expectation that they’ll do the right thing and take the necessary measures to redirect their advertising dollars elsewhere.
We’ve had great success. When legitimate brands don’t advertise on pirate sites, profits to those domains are cut by a minimum of 25 percent, with some estimates closer to 50 percent. When we are successful, pirate sites end up with ads that better match their own business practices—cheaply made banners advertising products that no one buys. Because too many pirate sites look legitimate when they have legitimate ads, parents can’t tell the difference and therefore can’t guide their children. So, this is an added benefit.
This brings me to the success we’ve had with youth outreach. Kids get it! If they understand that their own creativity has value, not only are they less likely to steal another person’s work online, they feel empowered by their own artistic abilities and excited by the possibility that they too can have a career in the arts.
So, as part of our youth outreach program, we have helped fund a curriculum that teaches ethical behavior and digital citizenship for kids in grade school, K– 12. At the university level, we are working with educational publishers to reach students about what we do and why they should care. And all of this is free to the schools that choose to participate.
Our fourth initiative is #StandCreative, which includes a variety of campaigns, among them our #StandCreative Stories campaign and our Thank You campaign.
The #StandCreative Stories campaign highlights how piracy has affected the lives and careers of creatives. You’ll find stories of filmmakers and musicians who invested significant portions of their time and money to create works that were ultimately stolen from them by pirates. Their careers were derailed, often irreparably, by piracy.
Our Thank You campaign is also our most visible. In partnership with several companies in the creative community, we’ve asked filmmakers to create short spots to be played before their films in the theater. These spots thank audiences for coming to watch the film on the big screen—as it should be experienced. Research has shown that viewers of these spots are more likely to purchase the film legally when it is available for home video and less likely to steal it.
Was there a particular moment when you realized the difference you were making with CreativeFuture? What changes have you seen since you started your work?
It’s been a slow build. And it’s been four years. But I know we’ve succeeded in creating another voice on Capitol Hill—a voice for the creative community to talk about the work we do and why it matters. And slowly, I think, with the help of all the organizations that work on copyright protections, we are making a difference and being heard.
What has been your proudest moment in your career? What do you see as your biggest accomplishment?
When I was making, acquiring, and distributing movies, I didn’t understand the influence I had until one day three college students approached me a few months after I had spoken at their USC class. Each cited certain movies that I had been responsible for bringing to market, and each said that one specific movie had resonated with them and they would never forget how they felt when they first saw it. Interestingly, I had always said that the greatest gift I had received was having a job where I found a beautiful gem of a film and got to share it with the world. But, here it was—three specific instances of three lives I had touched by being able to share something with the world. That made me proud.
Now? I love fighting for creatives! I get up in the morning knowing that I’m 150 percent in the right. When you create, you get to determine how your work is distributed, not others who think nothing of stealing from us!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? And what do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing women in creative industries?
Being too honest. I got that from my mother. She always told the truth, no matter the consequence! I used to ask her if it ever dawned on her that no one wanted to hear the truth. She looked puzzled! I think I’ve inherited the same genetic predisposition.
Hollywood has been a hotbed and a catalyst for discussions of social justice issues recently. What issue are you most passionate about right now?
There are too many issues and there’s too little time for me to start on this. But, suffice it to say, equality for women in all ways is the foundation of everything that is important to me.
Who are some of your favorite creators? What have you been watching, reading, or listening to lately?
I’m a huge fan of the director George Miller. And I have to say that Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher are equally important to my perspective on film: Their movies are multilayered, truly representing the intersection of art and commerce for me. I was a huge fan of HBO’s The Leftovers. Also, FX’s Taboo is simply brilliant! My hat goes off to John Landgraf who is FX’s CEO. The man is such a visionary. I’m currently reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game. Having just finished his Shadow of the Wind, I’m transported!
When you’re not advocating for creatives and for ethics in the digital age, what do you do in your free time?
Think of wolves. Draw wolves. Play with wolves. Think of moving into the forest so I can be closer to wolves. Teach others facts about wolves. Judge others who misrepresent wolves.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My mother always told me that you cannot change anyone, no matter what you think. I think that’s a solid piece of advice. My father told me: You make your own bed and you sleep in it. Also helpful advice!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given someone else? What advice do you have for other women in your industry?
I give advice a lot! And it usually starts with a question: “Is your heart in it?” Because as much as you love something, it’s still work. It’s difficult to make a path for yourself in any field; entertainment isn’t any different. So, know that you need to be single-minded and focused on where you want to get.
My work is difficult. I love it, but it’s difficult. Sometimes my brain hurts. But, I love it. And that’s what people need to know. Love it, work at it, do it.
Who is a Woman of Empowerment in your life that you admire?
Samantha Ramirez-Herrera. Sam is someone I recently met. Sam’s in her 20s, and when I tell you she moved me, it won’t do justice to who this woman is. She is CEO & Founder of Offtharecord.com, a creative content agency and digital magazine run by people of color with a focus on uplifting marginalized voices. She is also the founder of the Kick Ass Girl Pow Wow, a digital platform that celebrates and highlights girls and women who live OUTLOUD. Sam is also a dreamer. She fought hard to get to where she has gotten. She’s amazing, and she inspires me.
How do you define what it means to be a Woman of Empowerment, and in what ways are you one?
I don’t like the word “empowerment.” The definition is: “The authority or power given to someone to do something.” No one should have to give you permission. My parents told me from the earliest time I can remember, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Perhaps that was the only empowerment I needed. I can do anything I set my mind to, and so can anyone else. I’d like to think that others have seen me as someone who set my own course, and so should they.
My mission is…to champion creativity and to protect those who create. Always.