“If you have 5 million people downloading your album for free, that’s still 5 million people you’ve touched and there’s a value to me far greater than money.” -Flood
In 2008, Thirty Seconds to Mars was sued by EMI, their record company, for 30 million dollars for breach of contract. There is a law regarding contracts that they cannot last longer than seven years. Thirty Seconds to Mars was going on year nine of their contract and had had enough.
Thirty Seconds to Mars second album, A Beautiful Lie, had sold 3.5 million copies and the band toured for two years in support of it. The problem is that they were in debt to the tune of 2.7 million dollars. The contract they signed with EMI was crap. They wanted to be free of the contract and EMI. This starts a battle that lasts 209 days. Complicating matters, EMI was bought and taken over by the firm Terra Firma who are not in the music business. Jared Leto discusses at length the drama that this creates and the turnover rate at EMI.
Artifact is the documentary directed by Bartholomew Cubbins (Jared Leto’s pseudonym) that tells the story of the lawsuit and also the band’s quest to record their new album, This Is War, during this tumultuous time.
As a fan of the band, I was going to see this film regardless, but not everyone enjoys alternative music, Thirty Seconds to Mars, or even Jared Leto. If you take the band out of the equation, this is still an excellent and eye-opening documentary of how the record business works and how bands get paid or do not get paid as we come to find out.
Starting from Day 1 of the lawsuit all the way until the lawsuit is put to rest and the band finishes the new album, Artifact is an all access look at what Jared Leto, Shannon Leto, and Tomo Milicevic went through from 2008-2009. Meetings with lawyers and managers, phone calls with EMI reps, the beginning stages of a song, finishing an album, and the constant up and downs and mood swings while dealing with two stressful situations at once; those are all unflinchingly shown in detail. The film also profiles each band member, which is more for the fans than anything.
While the subjects at hand are serious, the film does have its moments of hilarity. Whether from just being cooped up for too long or just too stressed, the trio does have fun. Jared Leto provides most of the laughs.
The film itself is really quite good. If you have seen any of Bartholomew Cubbins’ other works, like the video for “Kings and Queens,” this is not an amateur filmmaker. Jared Leto had the forethought to document the lawsuit process and make it into a documentary. This is not a trivial documentary. While Jared Leto and Thirty Seconds to Mars did not end up where they wanted to be in the end, it was the lesser of two evils. The doc is an eye opener for those not clued in to how little money, if any, bands make from their album deals and the profits of selling those albums. The digital download market and the illegal downloads of music has changed the music business, but record companies have not changed much in return making them an antiquated element. While Jared Leto wants out of EMI, he concedes that he cannot self-release This Is War because the promotion and marketing take up too much time. That is a paradox that stuck out. Apparently, record companies are still needed for something.
While Thirty Seconds to Mars has grown to a massive fan base, this reviewer was a fan before the first self-titled album was released. Artifact is a treat to see after missing it at SXSW. The last few minutes of Artifact made me want to get in my car and drive to their next concert. This is a film that fans will want to see, but is certainly not a film made only for fans. If you remove Thirty Seconds to Mars’ music from it, it is still a documentary that is worth seeing if you are a connoisseur of music. It truly shows what it takes to become a successful band, one that is in debt and still is.
P.S. For the fans, you can hear an acoustic version of “City of Angels” being played by Jared Leto during the film. That is their current single off of their newest album, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams.
I give Artifact 4 “triads” out of 5.
Artifact is now available on VOD and on iTunes from FilmBuff.
by Sarah Ksiazek