Monday, April 13, 2009

Statusphere and Filmmakers

I have become obsessed with the future of newspapers these days. Everywhere you turn, there's another story about their death, or their new ideas to generate revenue or their senseless attacks on new directions. I barely have time to keep up, what with our festival around the corner, but I think the conversation is crucial for filmmakers (and their supporters in the industry) to follow. What's happening to journalism (and music) is also happening to film, just at a somewhat slower rate. We can fault the papers for not having the foresight to come up with new business models before it was too late, but only if we hold ourselves to task and make sure we are doing this now.

Brian Solis has a great article over at TechCrunch on the future of journalism. He relates that he asked Walt Mossberg (of the WSJ) whether newspapers should be saved. Walt's reply:

"Walt thought for no more than two seconds and assertively replied, "It’s the wrong question to ask. The real question we should ask is if whether or not we can save good journalism.” He continued, “Think about it. Of the hundreds, thousands, of newspapers around the country, there are really only a few that matter. Good journalism and journalists, on the other hand, are worth saving.'"

Walt's comment is spot-on, and it also applies to media - television stations, studios, film festivals and even filmmakers. As I've said before, I have little interest in saving any industry from the radical changes of digital. People need to adapt or disappear, but I am interested in what's good for audiences/society and what's good for filmmakers. And the changes happening online are (for the most part) really good for filmmakers. But Walt's comment also implies something else - it's not about saving all journalism/journalists, but those that are really good. Now I'm not going down the slippery slope of qualifying what makes a "good" filmmaker or film, but I think we all can understand that the same applies here. Luckily for savvy filmmakers who think they are good, there are more tools than ever to build your own brand and your own fan base without needing some big system supporting you. As Solis explains:

"It’s not unlike the renaissance currently underway in the music industry. Artists are discovering that they have a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) channel to reach fans and cultivate relationships. Those in touch with technology and the cultures of online societies can bypass traditional music production and distribution altogether."

This is equally true for film, but it only works if you are an industrious filmmaker willing to take the leap and embrace this change instead of following in the same old patterns. Many filmmakers (rightfully) resist this new paradigm - they are creatives and shouldn't have to think about marketing, how to use Facebook, etc. But increasingly, unless you are one of the lucky few to get a big distribution deal, you have to learn this stuff. And even if you do become "big," I'd argue that it's still important because it builds your fan base for anything else you do. As Solis says in the article, "Personality, motivation, determination, and the ability to embrace risk and venture into unchartered and unpredictable territory is the only way to champion change and influence the direction of professional adventures"

Solis finds hope for journalists in what he calls the statusphere, that continuous stream of Facebook (and Friendster and Twitter, mainly) status-updates, which he defines as:

the new ecosystem for sharing, discovering, and publishing updates and micro-sized content that reverberates throughout social networks and syndicated profiles, resulting in a formidable network effect of movement and response. It is the digital curation of relevant content that binds us contextually and through the statusphere we can connect directly to existing contacts, reach new people, and also forge new friendships through the friends of friends effect (FoFs) in the process.

(he continues...)

This is the new way of building audiences and fans.

If you are a journalist, it’s now your responsibility to create a dedicated tribe that supports, shares, and responds to your work and personal interaction in both the Statusphere and also at the point of origin. It’s the only way to build a valuable and portable community around you and what you represent.

I think this is true for filmmakers (and film journalists/reporters/businesses) as well. You simply have to get involved actively in promoting yourself, building a fan base and using this network to push people back to your content - your films. Can the statusphere save indie film? I'm not sure, but it's one more thing to keep in mind as we try to build a better system for indie filmmakers to reach their audiences.

What all of this means for filmmakers is pretty clear, but as a person more on the industry side, I also think it gives us an important mandate. As I said before, not all filmmakers are good at this stuff - they are good at being creative. So how can we, as an industry, use our value in the statusphere to better serve society? Meaning, for any of us in the industry to be worthwhile to society and filmmakers we should be using our roles in the statusphere to bring more attention to quality filmmakers/films. This is, obviously, what many film festivals, distributors, critics, theatres and broadcasters have been doing for years. I'm not arguing that we haven't. But we've mainly been doing this in the physical world - as opposed to digital - and if we're going to stay relevant in the future we need to be doing this better online. This doesn't mean just adding more Twitter feeds to our institutional websites, getting a Facebook page, etc. Of course we should do all of that. But we're only as good as the filmmakers we are supporting, so we need to find ways to incorporate their voices into our message - actively. They need to be part of the conversation we are building with our audiences. In regards to publishers, Solis suggests that:

Savvy publishers and content producers will also benefit from the extended visibility and vibrancy of the supporting conversations and should in turn build and support campaigns and presences that promote the individual in addition to the media brand to create a dynamic and blooming human collective. Monetization is then influenced by the earned social capital and currency that is valued and measured through relationships and dialogue.

So, perhaps it's time more distributors, festivals and other start thinking about how they can use the Statusphere to help their filmmakers find the right audience.

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