Alex Winter, who started his career as half of the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure tandem before transitioning to director of commercials and TV shows, is finally helming a movie about the formation of controversial music file-sharing service Napster. The surprise is that after 10 years of trying to make a narrative feature, Winter’s shooting it as a documentary backed by VH1, the same division that made 2008’s Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Winter originally made his deal with Paramount’s MTV Films and wrote a script, only to watch that division crater and see his birth of a technological revolution storyline drive The Social Network, which even had early Napster pioneer Shawn Parker in a key role. Rather than scrap Napster, Winter is going back to all the sources for his script, armed with a camera.
“The rise and fall of Napster and the birth of peer-to-peer file-sharing technology created by Shawn Fanning when he was a college student, changed music to movies, and made possible everything from Julian Assange, WikiLeaks to the iPod and Facebook,” Winter told me. “It became an expression of youth revolt, and contributed to a complete shift in how information, media and governments work. And it is a fascinating human story, where this 18-year-old kid invents a peer-to-peer file-sharing system, and brings it to the world six months later.”
Technological Luddites like myself equate Napster with the rampant piracy that hobbled the music industry and killed the album, forcing bands to tour if they want to make money. Winter said a documentary format allows voices on both sides do some venting, but he maintains that Fanning’s intention was a pay system similar to what Apple’s iTunes became. “Nobody wanted to deal with this college kid and the music industry took a hard stance and focused on shutting him down,” Winter said. “It’s a gray area. I can understand Fanning’s side, but I can also empathize with the horror that Metallica’s Lars Ulrich felt when a single that wasn’t even finished ended up on the radio.”
Winter said that Napster’s Fanning and Parker are participating, as well as a group of label heads and musical artists he’s still pulling together. The film’s being produced by Maggie Malina, an exec at MTV Films when Winter first pitched the pic. As for the question Winter inevitably is asked in any interview, he said that he and Keanu Reeves have a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure sequel script by original scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. He realizes they’d better get moving to avoid it being a geriatric adventure, but said “it’s early days on that project.”