Iron Man and me

All of my Flickr pictures are published under a Creative Commons attribution licence. One of the reasons I switched over to using this licence was so that people didn’t have to write and ask me whenever they want to republish one of my photos. But I still get plenty of emails from people asking me if it would be okay to use one of my pictures. I’m very lax at responding to those requests. If and when I do respond, I point out that they don’t really need to ask; as long as they credit me—as either adactio or Jeremy Keith—then they can use my photos wherever and however they want.

Back in March, right before I was setting out for Mix’08 in Vegas and South By Southwest in Austin, I received a typical request:

Is the photo Andy in the VAB your image on flickr? If so can you please contact me with regard to possibly allowing us to use a part of this image in a feature film.

Andy in the VAB

I didn’t respond. I was too busy packing and gearing myself for a big showdown with Microsoft (this was right before they reversed their decision on IE8’s default rendering). I soon received a second email with more details:

The photograph would be cropped in a way where no people would be shown. We are interested in using this image as a background to insert our main characters which would be included as part of a biography film on our main character which is shown at an award ceremony honoring him in the film.

I thought it was an odd picture to be asking about. Let’s face it; it’s not a very good photo. It’s blurry and washed out. I guess it’s somewhat unusual in that it was shot inside the at Cape Canaveral. Usually members of the public aren’t allowed inside. Myself, Andy and Paul were lucky enough to be part of the first open day since 2001. It was all thanks to an invitation from Benny, a bona fide rocket scientist at NASA—thanks again, Benny!

I never got around to responding to the emails. I figured that, whoever it was, if they really wanted to use the picture, they would notice the licence and realise that they didn’t have to ask permission.

I quickly forgot all about it. Other events were foremost in my mind. I got a call from Pete Le Page and Chris Wilson telling me that Internet Explorer 8 was going to render pages as if it were—get this—Internet Explorer 8. Now I was going to Vegas for a celebration instead of a battle.

After a long trip across the Atlantic, I awoke in my hotel on the first morning of the conference, eager to hear the opening keynote. But before I could head downstairs, my mobile phone rang. I answered it and the woman on the other end said, “Hi. I sent you two emails about using a picture of yours…”

“Ah, right!”, I said. I then launched into my usual spiel about Creative Commons licencing. I explained that she was free to use my picture. All she had to do was include a credit somewhere in her little movie.

“Well”, she said, “the thing is, getting your name in the credits usually costs at least $1,500. That’s why we need you sign the license release form I sent.”

“Wait a minute”, I said. “What is this for?”

“It’s for a movie that’s currently in production called Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jnr.”

Holy crap! One of my photos was going to be in Iron Man? That certainly put a new spin on things.

“So I guess you want to use the picture because it’s inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building?” I asked.

“No. We just thought it was a picture of some warehouse or something.”

The woman on the other end of the phone—her name was Ashley—said she could reimburse me for the use of my photo if I signed the form she sent. I thanked her, told her I didn’t need any reimbursement, and said I would print out and sign the form for her. Ashley made it clear that I would need to get the form faxed to her before the end of the day.

There was a printer in my hotel room so I set about getting it connected up to my Macbook. That’s when disaster struck. My Macbook began making the dreaded ticking time bomb noise. Within seconds, my hard drive was dead, broken, kaput. Pining for the fjords, it had shuffled off this mortal coil and was an ex hard drive.

Well aware of the irony of my Apple hardware failing while I was attending a Microsoft conference, I abandoned all hope of printing out the license release form and sat in on the opening keynote. This consisted of a few words from Ray Ozzie, a quick look at IE8 and about a billion hours of Silverlight demos. That’s what it felt like anyway.

The next day, I made my way to Austin for South by Southwest. That turned out to be quite an adventure.

Once I finally made it to Austin, I settled into a comfortable routine of geeking out, having fun and generally over-indulging. As I was making my way to the conference centre one morning, my mobile phone rang. It was Ashley.

“Sorry I didn’t manage to get the form to you”, I said. “My laptop died on me. I know it’s too late now.”

“Actually, there’s still time”, she responded.

“Look”, I said. “Let’s cut out the computers completely. Can you fax the form to my hotel? I can sign it and fax it back to you straight away.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Iron Man was released a few weeks later. I never got ‘round to seeing it in the cinema; I’m not a big fan of the whole cinema-going experience. But some time later I was travelling across the Atlantic yet again and one of the in-flight movie options was Iron Man. I fired it up, wondering if my picture had made it into the final cut and even if it had, whether I’d be able to spot it.

Three minutes into the movie, there was my photo.

Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey Jnr. in Iron Man

It fills the screen. The camera lingers over it while performing its best Ken Burns effect. Not only was Robert Downey Jnr. photoshopped onto the picture, Jeff Bridges was on there too! The Dude!! …On my picture!!!

My Flickr pictures have been used in some pretty strange places but this must surely be the strangest …and the coolest.

Before and after

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