Former journalist and open-source advocate Matt Mason is finally convincing the entertainment industry that BitTorrent’s file-sharing technology is more than a way to illegally download content. This year his company distributed two feature films of its own, including a David Cross comedy called HITS, resulting in 1.5 million downloads. And many music and film companies are enthusiastic about BitTorrent’s Bundle technology, which lets creators control the price, formatting, and marketing of their work. BitTorrent, says Mason, is “a legit channel for a lot of people to make a lot of money.”
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
For me, it’s getting myself outside of my comfort zone. It’s doing things or exposing myself to stuff that I don’t necessarily have any interest in, seeing if I could find something interesting there. A lot of people do that, like going to a conference so you can hear a speech from an industry that’s not yours. But for me, one of the things that I like to try and do if I’m getting on a flight, I’ll buy a magazine that I have absolutely no interest in at all. So I’ll go buy a fishing magazine and just see exactly what’s in here. What’s in there and what’s cool? And you find weird things. You’ll read a story about something that you thought you had no interest in and suddenly your mind will start fizzing in a way, like synapses will start firing, like, oh my God, you can apply that to this, and I’m emotionally or physically or spiritually challenged in some way. Another good example is when I agreed to have a boxing match on behalf of BitTorrent with a film producer at a film festival in September. It was all very much in good spirits. We had a debate and then a boxing match about the role of BitTorrent in film.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I get up at about five or six every single morning and I try and work on something creative that’s completely has nothing to do with my job. I don’t check my email. I don’t look at all the text messages. I get up before my girlfriend, I give her a kiss, and then I go into the living room, and what I have been doing for most of this year working on a novel in the mornings. I get up and I try and write like five pages of this sci-fi novel that I’m working on. So, I’m not exactly sure I’m going to do it, but working on that is using that part of my brain, and helps me use the strategic business part of my brain better through the rest of the day.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
I think it might surprise people that BitTorrent as a company is just as scared of the entertainment industry as the entertainment industry is of BitTorrent. And I think actually that’s true of Silicon Valley as a whole. It’s like there are two different tribes, but down south, everybody thinks, oh, the tech industry, they’re all crazy. They’re taking all of our people who used to watch all of our movies and now they’re checking their Facebook pages. And then we think the entertainment people are crazy and they’re all going to try and rip us all off with giant, crazy content deals that don’t make any sense. But actually, if you can get them in a room together, they’re much more similar than they think and they’re all good people and they all share interests and they’re all trying to do the same things. Half of my job is being this peacekeeper between these two tribes and trying to help them find common ground.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
The Fat Jew (Josh Ostrovsky). He’s so politically incorrect and the things he posts are just so funny and grotesque and tragic and awesome. There’s something really interesting about the rise of the social media star, whether it’s Instagram, Vine, YouTube. All these kids have figured out the thing that Hollywood didn’t figure out and that’s how to do really cheap, low-risk, incremental development of an entertainment franchise. You can start a Twitter account or an Instagram account and just see if something works. And, you know, it’s been really interesting seeing what some of the studios are doing and how they’re working with YouTube stars and bringing them into their films. And how people are actually developing really cool, low-budget stuff and trying to do a lot more of that on BitTorrent.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?
I do something else. Just stop, go and meditate, go and hit a punching bag. I just moved to L.A., so going for a run on the beach is becoming a really nice habit. Just stop. Just go and do something else. I used to edit a magazine and I’ve edited books, and if I’m too in the weeds of editing an article or a chapter of a book, there’s no way I’m going to figure out the right thing to cut or the right thing to suggest. And I found that with every strategic business problem I’ve ever had, if it’s all in your head too much, you just stop thinking about it and give it a rest and go and do something else, and when you come back to it, the answer somehow is just there.