Monday, October 11, 2010

Vimeo Fest speech on collaboration

I had a great time speaking with Ted Hope at the Vimeo Festival and Awards this Saturday. I'm sure they will post video of our talks and conversation soon, but until then here's a rough transcript of my speech. Ted and I both spoke for 10 minutes, conversed for about 30 and then opened it up to Q&A, which was documented here (thanks to No Film School). I didn't read directly from this speech, so this is just a close approximation. A quick other note: Jeremy Boxer did a great job of curating some really great talks, panels and workshops. Kudos to him and the entire Vimeo team. The awards were spectacular, and I highly recommend checking them out online. I can't wait to see Bruce Sterling's speech on video and the awards ceremony and outdoor projections on the IAC center were pretty amazing as well. Here's the speech:

Thanks to Vimeo and Jeremy Boxer for having me here today, to talk about the future of film and media. We’ll probably get to the future soon, but I want to take a quick detour to the past. Today is about inspiration, yesterday was about innovation. When I look to get inspired about innovation, I look back at the history of avant-garde art and how they uniquely combined technology, theory, artistic practice and new business models to make something innovative and inspiring.

As I look back at all of the art work that engages me, that I find innovative, inspiring and transformative, I realize that they all share some common traits. Whether it’s Impressionism, Surrealism, Dada, Fluxus, the French New Wave or early American indie cinema - I find a few common traits -
Technology - using the latest tech;
Obsession with the art form;
Quoting, remix;
Dialogue with the community;
Participation - these works demand more of the audience.

Let’s look at the auteurs of the French New Wave. People associate the term “auteur” with the single genius. But let’s look at just one of those singular geniuses - Godard. He started as an obsessive watcher of films. He watched everything, was in the cinema all day, could quote his favorite scenes to his cinematographer. He was a critic first, commenting on the films, and then a filmmaker. He made his films in dialogue with the whole of film history - quoting it, sampling it really. (Note - today he is supporting a French pirate, because Godard says there is no such thing as intellectual property.) He used the latest technology - smaller, lightweight 16mm cameras that allowed him to shoot in new ways and tight quarters. He made up a new style by mashing together everyone else’s.

It was also very much about collaboration. He couldn’t raise money for Breathless so he had to go begging for money and a story from Truffaut. He critiqued his friend’s films, they critiqued his. The entire French New Wave worked this way. They were collaborating, watching movies together, sharing scripts, sharing actors and story devices and they were participatory. An audience member couldn’t watch the films the same lazy way - you had to get involved. They were jarring, new and meant for dialogue. And they sparked a genuine dialogue about the cinema, one that was passionate and in dialogue with the auteurs themselves, even if it was carried out in print not online.

This dialogue circled back on itself - filmmakers responding to other filmmakers, to the news, to culture, to the critics to their audiences. The cinema it created was cumulative, iterative and collaborative.

I was reading Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air the other day, and he notes that creativity in science is “almost always cumulative and collaborative. It proceeds collectively and thus thrives when barriers to collectivity are reduced.” And what has happened online is nothing if not  the removing of barriers to our collaboration and our creativity.

Hyde goes on to talk about how we are “collective beings .... who will thrive if there is a lively commons of art and ideas and who will disappear if there isn’t.”

That’s what we have today. It’s what Vimeo allows - a community of creators, collaborating, sharing, building a cumulative art form that comments on everything that came before it and creates something still new and worth sharing. Your audience is other creators and as creators we are also the audience.

We have access to tools to tell our stories for cheaper than ever before, and we can get it to an audience cheaper than ever before. We can talk to one another about the art form, about new technologies and about new artistic practices. We can find our fans, build them into an audience and enter into a dialogue with them about our art. We can involve them in the story through transmedia in entirely new ways. We can build a community, if not a movement.

This is what Hollywood fears - you aren’t independent anymore. You are a collective and you can collaborate and create things that rival what they can make - not in special effects or stars, but in creativity and reach. You don’t need them anymore - that doesn’t mean they’re gonna go away, but rather that we can build an ecosystem of creativity where they aren’t irrelevant, but where their output is just more fodder for us to build upon.

While many have been wringing their hands for the last two years about the bad business of film, we’re actually facing a great moment of opportunity. Never before have so many forces come together to allow creators to reach their audience. Never before could audiences participate with creators as they can now.

But this will only work if you take on the responsibilities that come with these new opportunities. You can’t just talk to your audience - you have to actually talk with them, be participatory. You also have to be vigilant - lots of powerful interests don’t like all this new stuff. It might suck to learn about and get involved with policy, but if you want this creativity to flourish you have to fight against the building of barriers -  and that means being active in the fight for net neutrality.

Most importantly, however, you need to collaborate. Is indie film dead? Who knows, who cares. What this festival has shown, however is that creativity is live and well. If we all act together, nothing can stop us from building a much more exciting future than what we’ve thus far had. I think we need a collaborative movement to change indie film and I think we’re already building that here today.

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