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Suggest some public domain sci-fi movies for a public showing

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Mark Suszko
Suggest some public domain sci-fi movies for a public showing
on Dec 31, 2012 at 8:29:48 pm

I'm working on "curating" a screening of great public domain/free videos and shorts available off youtube and vimeo and the like, for a "Nerd's Night Out" happening later this year. I need links to suggested shorts. These can't be pirated uploads of protected works: I can only accept links to real public domain works, or works with the appropriate Creative Commons permissions.

We're taking over a locally-owned theater for the day/evening this summer, with a video projector on the stage upstairs, and various RPG, tabletop, and electronic gaming in the downstairs lounge. I'm looking for stuff the theater owner can run without contracts, legal hassles or fees, both classic (old B&W stuff that's public domain) and also new stuff, maybe things like Branit's "World Builder" sci-fi short, as an example of something cool I'd like to screen...though that might not be P.D., it shows the level of coolness I aspire to acquire from a download or DVD. These could be animation or compositing demos, as long as they tell a story well. They need not be exclusively American, though foreign titles would need at least an English caption option.

If you know of a cool sci-fi short that we could obtain for a free showing, I'd love a link to it somewhere in this thread. I make no promises: this is an info-gathering effort to get links together, which I will then dive deeper into, offline, in terms of getting permissions/clearances sorted out.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Suggest some public domain sci-fi movies for a public showing
on Dec 31, 2012 at 11:13:10 pm

I knew a guy in high school who collected public domain movies on 8mm film, back when 8mm film was considered cutting edge. LOL He had a ton of stuff, and remarkably enough to me, a lot of movies and shorts that I'd actually heard of -- Laurel & Hardy, Little Rascals, a ton of silent stuff... That's what set off my interest in these things...although not to the extent that I ever tracked one down myself. LOL

I know of one company, Festival Films, that, remarkably enough, specializes in tracking down public domain films for festivals! They make copies of 'em for you on tape and disk, starting at around $30 for full-length features, less for shorts. Here's their page of Sci-fi movies, but they have all kinds of categories, including some TV.

They even include a provenance of the stuff, so that you'll understand why and how it's public domain.

Anybody even generally interested in movies is going to be blown away by this site. I highly recommend clicking around.

Likewise, a company called FilmChest. Here's their Sci-Fi collection. Pick your movies, pay 'em a very reasonable fee to make a copy for you.

Click around the website, starting (after the sci-fi list) with the home page. You'll be blown away by what's out there.

Filmchest also has a couple of channels at Hulu, only available via Hulu Plus, but at $7.99/mo, worth dipping into. Also worth noting: many public domain films are available at Hulu for free, and are often of high-enough quality that you'd be fine playing them straight off your laptop into a projector.

There are other internet resources of course. My favorite is the Internet Archive. They're famous for The Wayback Machine, but they also have an amazing amount of public domain music (lots and lots of concert recordings -- I've found some of my all-time favorite things here), text and video -- including some great cartoons -- all in the public domain. Just a quick peek at the front page will give you an idea.

Now, it happens that there are plenty of people even more obsessive than I am on the internet...although I'm relatively obsessive about tracking them down. There happens to be a guy who has created a list of over 100 public domain sci-fi titles and their reference pages at IMDb! AND all of them are available in the Internet Archive!

Once again, a stupefying list, and as before, anyone with a passing interest in sci-fi movies will be blown away.

Amazon also sells DVD versions of public domain movies, typically for less than the commercial services I mentioned. For both here and Hulu, you'll probably save time by using one of the lists above to get a head start.

While noting that any film from before 1923 (I think -- you're not counting on me for anything resembling precision are you?) is in the public domain by default, a good many since then have bounced into it for goofy reasons. For example, the holder of His Girl Friday just didn't file a renewal, so there you go: Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell: yours for the taking. A short-ish but very, very interesting list that you should definitely check out at Wikipedia.

And while you're at it, check out the story of It's A Wonderful Life for some idea of how complicated movies and the public domain can get. You might think you know...but you don't. :=)


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Mark Suszko
Re: Suggest some public domain sci-fi movies for a public showing
on Jan 1, 2013 at 11:43:08 pm

This list of resources is a genius start to my little project: thanks a lot!

Those sources should have me covered for "old" stuff.

There are a number of great demo reel shorts out there I would love to get permission to show. Red Giant's "Tempo", for example, would be perfect for this project. Anyone know of similar demo's or shorts like this, that are just as entertaining?


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Stephen Smith
Re: Suggest some public domain sci-fi movies for a public showing
on Jan 2, 2013 at 6:41:34 pm

I agree that Tempo sounds perfect for your showing. I think Seth Worley and Aharon Rabinowitz are an amazing team. Aharon Rabinowitz is still at the top of the Top 25 COW library Authors, not to mention he is probably the funniest tutorial presenter. The guy is a genius. Any ways, if you haven't already be sure to check out Plot Device: and Form 17: Seth Worley also made a fun series called The Time Closet: I think they would be very open to letting you show their great videos. I've never met Seth but Aharon is great to work with.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Vimeo page


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