Artifact, A film directed by ‘Bartholomew Cubbins’, Jared Letos’ alter ego, started life as a documentary about the recording of his band 30 Seconds To Mars third studio album This Is War. However it eventually spiralled into an eye-opening, gritty battle between the band and their record label and the decline of the record industry due to the growth of illegal downloads.
This is a film not just for the band’s fans but for anyone involved in the music industry. It was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and claimed the Blackberry People’s Choice award, a surprise to everyone. It has since gone on to win awards at Gotham Independent Film Awards, and be shown at SXSW 24 Beats Per Seconds, Doc NYC Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival.
The outcome of the documentary was the band’s album This Is War, the album that the band took upon themselves to finance, building a studio in a basement and placing themselves in all but financial ruin in the process. This reflects the documentary perfectly, with the legal battle going on behind the scenes, produced by the legendary Flood. In the middle of renegotiating the band’s record contact, EMI slammed them with a $30 million law suit for not meeting the terms in their original contract, 3 albums over 10 years. The band decide to counter sue. Whilst their previous two albums had sold a combined 6 million copies the band still found themselves thousands of $ in debt to EMI/Virgin. The lawsuit dragged on for over 200 days with EMI calling all the shots. The stress put upon Jared, Shannon Leto (drummer) and Tomo Miličević (guitarist), is clearly visible as the film progresses, during which they are still trying to make a brand new album, with the label still having the power to prevent it’s eventual release.
Not only does this production document their lawsuit but it also shows the appalling state the music industry, in general is in at the moment; the warped accounting structures and decisions driven by heads of labels with no prior knowledge of the industry are only succeeding in speeding up the rate of its decline. There is very little profit to be made since downloads became available, and what profit there is being taken back by the labels for every possible reason they can think of – including breakage cover on digital downloads. This documentary also covers the well publicised sale of EMI to Terra Firma, a private equity firm with no prior experience in the record industry, who thought they could fix everything by getting rid of the staff that had been there for 10-20 years and replacing them with people new to the industry.
The documentary is not however all one-sided and features a number of interviews with industry insiders and fellow musicians. Ex-employees of EMI/Virgin, record producers and artists, including Serj Tankian of System Of A Down and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park share their exasperation at the state of the industry, eloquently detailing the reasons as to how this industry seems to be set on a path of self-destruction and how bad working relationships were at the label at the time of the lawsuit.
What clearly stands out is Jared’s genuine passion for what he does, and the sheer amount of time and dedication that he puts into his music. Together with his brother Shannon and guitarist Tomo, Jared isn’t just another actor trying to make it as a musician, he is a genuinely talented musician in his own right.
After much wrangling, lasting nearly a year, the lawsuit is eventually dropped and a new, more favourable deal signed with the same label, but including a clause allowing the release of Artifact – the project EMI so wanted to put an end to.
This film, whilst phenomenal piece of work highlighting the wrongs of the music industry, is not all nitty gritty, with a number of personal touching insights and comic moments such as ‘christmas tree shopping with the Leto’s’ which will have you crying with laughter.
This is a film not just for the fans of 30 Seconds to Mars – or the ’Echelon’ as they are commonly known, and deserves to be seen by anyone who is a fan of music, has been to a concert, or have ever bought or downloaded a CD or single, especially the under 21’s who have grown up seeing illegally downloading music as a normal thing to do.
Artifact is one of the most honest pieces of work about the industry to ever to have been made. It is a real credit to everyone involved and that shared their opinions, views and insights. It deserves to win far more awards in the future and get the recognition it truly deserves.
Written by: Samantha Stott