Jared Leto, Shannon Leto, and Tomo Miličević are on a mission to tell the truth for all musicians. The members of Thirty Seconds to Mars share the harsh realities about the modern music business in Artifact, a documentary that chronicles the legal dispute between Leto’s band and record label Virgin/EMI, as they composed songs for their album This Is War.
Opening up their lives for the cameras over several months, Leto and Thirty Seconds give an inside look at how they overcame a legal dispute with the label that nearly cost them all their creative and financial freedom. “I’m excited to share our insight on how this business really works,” Leto says. “We get down to the nitty-gritty. We talk about this business inside and out and reveal quite a few things I think people will be shocked to realize. I think we made the right decision. Sometimes you have to fight in order to be free, and we did exactly that. We fought for what we knew was right, what we knew was fair. We were sued by EMI, but we didn’t let that intimidate us.”
In 2008, the band was sued for $30 million by their label for breach of contract. “That battle was very real,” Leto told The Associated Press in March. “It wasn’t a headline. And not just the fact that we would lose and owe a corporation, but we would have our creative lives stamped out.”
Fast-forward five years: The lawsuit was resolved, and the band continues working with EMI. However, Leto took it upon himself to channel the intimate details of their struggle into a documentary that’s caught the attention of music enthusiasts and artists, winning the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice documentary award. The film will be released through Video on Demand by FilmBuff, making the movie available on iTunes, and several other platforms.
Although Artifact displays the tougher aspects of the industry, Leto and his bandmates have not given up on the power of the recording industry, as the attention falls more to the promotion of singles than albums.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that still like to get albums,” Leto says. “Singles are like chapters in a book, and if you’re an author, to an audience it would be kind of strange to release just chapters. Or as in another comparison to a movie releasing only the best scenes and not some of the others. Oftentimes, the songs that aren’t the singles help to provide a wider scope and a deeper experience. I’m not anti-record company, I’m just anti-greed. I think that record companies and corporations in general can treat audiences and artists fairly and still make a ton of money, which is what they’re designed to do, make money — that’s what corporations are built for — and to service shareholders and stockholders.”
Not only did helming the production of Artifact help Leto as a businessman, it also assisted in fine-tuning his skills as a director. “Artifact was a great learning experience. When you’re working on a documentary, it’s the complete opposite of making a narrative film after you shoot it, rather than writing your film before,” Leto says. “You learn a lot in the edit room, you learn how to tell a story, and certainly everything that I’ve been doing has helped challenge me, educate me, and give me a greater insight and ability to bring a vision to life and tell a story on screen, and I like to do that, whether it’s Thirty Seconds to Mars or Artifact, so we’ll see what the future holds.”
As for his future with acting, following his recent success with Dallas Buyers Club, Leto fans will have to wait until a project grabs his attention. “No, I’m not reading any scripts at the moment. I haven’t read any scripts since Dallas Buyers Club,” Leto says. “I’m in the middle of a tour, we just played London O2, and now we’re in Ireland playing the O2 in Dublin, and we’ll be back in the States really soon. I have another documentary, City of Angels featuring Kanye West and James Franco [that we're working on]. It’s been an incredibly productive and amazing year, and I’m looking forward to sharing Artifact, Dallas Buyers Club, and our album Love, Lust Faith + Dreams with the world.”
Artifact is available now on iTunes.