Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I want for the New Year - AddArt for internet video

Here's a simple idea for an entrepreneur to make a few bucks and disrupt the heck out of the business - design an Add-Art that works on internet video watched through a browser (or any internet connected device) that takes over whenever there's a pre-roll that I can't skip on a video online. Except instead of static art, which would get boring during all those pre-roll ads and trailers, pull in pre-curated artistic videos from Vimeo or YouTube (or Mubi, or....). I'm sure a widget could be made that could do this without the content distributors and/or device makers knowing about it, and it would save me from watching a bunch of crap I don't want to see. Or hearing it, if you made it work with Pandora. It would be a great bonus if the program also added witty one-liners, perhaps from Mark Twain, in place of those annoying text ads that can still be found running at the bottom of certain videos.

Please someone, make this, please.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

11 Things on My Mind for Twenty11

Thinking... please waitphoto © 2009 Karola Riegler | more info (via: Wylio)
It’s that time of year when everyone makes their top ten lists, and I’ve done it before and am adding my 11 cents here now. I could just paste in last year’s list below, as all of them are still relevant, but that’s too easy...except for number 1, policy. Unfortunately, this one is much the same as last year, so to make up for this repeat, I’m giving eleven thoughts here. Most of these aren’t predictions, but are instead just a few things I’m thinking about as we head into the New Year.
  1. Will the film industry start to take policy seriously? I doubt it. Policy turns people off, but if we don’t pay more attention and get active in these debates, the possible future for indie film might get turned off. It’s hard to imagine a world where the internet no longer works like it does now, but take one look at this graphic of what the industry wants and you quickly get a sense of what could become of the internet. This will be the year that this story gets framed to the public in a big way. The Right is already trying to paint the FCC’s recent ruling as “regulating” the internet. Filmmakers are story tellers. We need better stories about why this issue is important. There’s quite a role here for creatives, and I hope a few of them take this issue head-on in 2011.
  2. Will Apple become a rights-broker? When talk turns to Apple these days, it’s usually about the Ipad, and when it might come to Verizon. What interests me more is this excellent interview with Michael Whalen about their purchase of a huge cloud computing facility down in NC, and what it might mean for the future. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ownership of content isn’t as important as controlling the experience around content. Apple is already doing well with consumers accessing content. They could also handle rights licensing pretty well - imagine if any artist could post their content (film, music, writing) and set terms and publishers and others licensed that content through a system built by Apple - in the cloud. As Whalen says in the article about their possible plans "What if iTunes or whatever AAPL calls their new streaming service is broken into TWO parts - the actual delivery and streaming of the programs, etc. and on the other side - - the administration of the copyrights in the digital realm including collecting fees and licenses from OTHER PLATFORMS." While this isn’t talked about much, it’s an interesting theory and worthy of some speculation.
  3. Which indies will embrace the prequel? I’ve been speaking for a long time about how filmmakers can use short video as a way to build interest in their films before the film is released. Karol Martesko-Fenster has put a name on it with the idea of the prequel, and you can see a great example of how it can work for a documentary film with Bengali Detective which is premiering at Sundance. Lots of room here for other formats - building up certain characters or plot points in a narrative film, for example, and a great way to build audience.
  4. Which indie transmedia experiments will succeed? A lot of indies are starting to experiment with developing their story across multiple entry points. Lance Weiler has a transmedia project premiering at Sundance and another in the works (or maybe several). Liz Rosenthal and Tishna Molla are pushing the field forward by holding excellent conferences and labs with Power to the Pixel, and rumor has it some other big entities are getting into this soon. Wendy Levy at BAVC is helping filmmakers learn more about it as well through the BAVC Labs. I don’t think 2011 will be a big year for transmedia - it will probably start gaining more momentum in both indie and Hollywood circles (and elsewhere), but it will probably be 2012 at earliest before the “big embrace,” but maybe I’m wrong.
  5. Who will figure out mobile, social, check-in, rewards and indie film? There’s a few companies operating in this space, but no one has put it together well yet. This will be a gold mine (or three) someday and I can’t wait to see what launches and develops in 2011.
  6. Will YouTube figure out what it’s doing? If any company could use a strategy, this is the one. I could give them a million ways to do what they’re doing better. I’m sure you could too. They obviously have the whole mass adoption thing down, but when it comes to working with long form film and changing the distribution paradigm, they need some work. They ran some half-assed experiments in releasing films last year, and have been making some interesting moves lately, but this is probably the year when they need to put up or ....
  7. Will film festivals figure out social? Yes, they are all on Twitter. Marketing themselves constantly. Oh, wait, sorry, just constantly as the festival approaches or to hit me up to support some fundraising campaign they’re doing. Film festivals, through their curation, are better positioned than almost anyone to build a better relationship with audiences and help change the indie film paradigm. But only if they take social media seriously and start using it to help me (as an audience member) discover films year-round, and not just the ones they programmed. There’s value in the opinions and curations of your programmers. Lots of value, but only if you get smart about social (hint: see 5).
  8. Which trades will die? The last couple of year’s have brought us a whole host of new trades - almost completely online - and some new business model experiments. The problem is, we’re not getting any better information. In fact, if you put a bunch of random people who use the Net in a room and asked them to list the top 100 worst ideas for a film trade journal, you’d find all of them represented somewhere in the mix of Variety, HR, The Wrap, Deadline Hollywood, MCN, etc. (I am missing many here, I know). I imagine Variety will survive, if only because enough of Hollywood will pay for it behind their pay-wall, but it’s long been irrelevant. I actually think the HR strategy to become more consumer focused could have worked, but as it is being executed it’s like they are aiming for Delta Sky Magazine level work. That said, they have some new advertisers that might keep them afloat. IndieWire is in good hands now with Dana Harris (Eugene, who did an amazing job, recently left), and she, and the good crew there, might turn this into something even more interesting. At least one of the others will die - that’s one prediction for this year. I was speaking with a media investor the other day, and we both agreed - this space is ripe for some disruption, and I hope someone launches something new (or redirects course), because man, we need something better.
  9. Could someone start a fund for creative storytelling? Yes, I know there’s things like Creative Capital, but what I want is an IMPACT Partners for narrative films with no redeeming social value. Okay, just kidding, I know that all films have social value, and I actually believe that narrative storytelling is a better way to have impact on social issues than through docs, but you get my point. We need funding for narrative filmmakers with good ideas.
  10. Who will be the new filmmakers who break through and reach an audience? Who will tell the best stories? While most of this post is about business stuff, what I really like is discovering a new voice, or seeing an established artist go in a new direction, or just stay in a tried and true direction with a great new story. Many of these films won’t make it to a large audience, so I’m also interested to see which ones can break through enough to enter the cultural conversation. From what I’ve heard about many films in development or even premiering this January, we might have a great year ahead of us.
  11. Who will launch the next big thing? There’s a lot of people at work behind the scenes trying to build new film companies, transmedia companies, tech companies in this sector and similar new endeavors. I feel like I meet with someone about to launch the next big thing almost every day. Here’s to hoping that 2011 is a successful year for all of them!
note: I corrected the title of Bengali Detective (I had it wrong, as Bombay Detective....oops) and fixed the links.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How not to crowd-fund

There's a lot of buzz out there about crowd-funding, and I'm a big fan of the practice. I think there's a lot of hype, and not everyone can raise funding for their project this way, but it's also more than just the funds received - it's just as much about your connection to your fans. When I've donated to a project, it's about more than the money. I feel a direct connection to the artist and know I am supporting their work. This is also true if I support a micro-lending program for an individual in need, a charity doing good work, etc. It feels good to know that while you may only be giving 10 bucks, you are giving it directly to someone who needs it (for survival or for art) and helping them accomplish something.

I often support such projects through Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a for-profit company. They take a small fee for their service - five percent, plus a small credit card processing fee added on by Amazon's payment service. This is pretty transparent, and it also seems fair and reasonable. I know Kickstarter gets a cut, but it is small and not dissimilar from what most nonprofits charge when they fiscally sponsor an artist, which can run as high as ten percent but is generally 5%. Take IFP for example. If you are fiscally sponsored by them, people can donate to you on and IFP takes a sliding scale fee - anywhere from 3% to 6%.  Kickstarter works pretty well too, so I am fine with them charging for their service, even though they aren't a nonprofit. IndieGoGo is a similar site, and it charges 4% (which raises to 9% if you don't fund your project in its entirety), plus a 3% third party transaction fee.

That's why I am more than a bit perplexed that United States Artists (USA) is charging a 19% fee to those who donate to artists through their site. Wow. Really? Yes, really. That's 1% higher than what was reported in the NYT today, but it's what is quoted in their terms of use. There is no reason that any artist should participate in this scheme.

Now I have to give a little disclaimer before I continue. I have never been a fan of this organization. It's a long story, but when it launched I was one of a group of arts organizations that protested that instead of starting a new nonprofit to distribute grants to artists, the Ford Foundation (who started this) should have given grants to those organizations that were already supporting artists. Like the one I was running at the time (yes, some self-preservation was involved), but also like many other arts organizations. While I still believe this would have been a better path, I finally decided that even if the way it was being done was wrong, I would support the organization because artists were getting more money.  I've recommended artists to them for support (it is a nomination process, not an open call) and I've been thrilled for those artists who receive their grants.

In fact, I recently read (in the Times again) that USA was launching a crowd-funding initiative, and I was very happy for them and the artists. Many artists reported that new donors were finding them, and they were getting more support for their projects. Some, while skeptical at first, were happy to report that donations had exceeded their requests. I planned to write up a blog post this week to highlight this great new initiative, as well as a proposal from Ian David Ross and Daniel Reed for a new way of crowd-funding philanthropy in the 20 Under 40 book that I've been plugging here. That post will have to come next, because I've now learned about the bad part of this initiative.

Look, as I said above, I have no problem with nonprofits taking a cut on donations to individual projects. This is fair. I would even support them adding a check box where I could add an extra gift to the nonprofit. Something like "help us support more artists like this, add an extra gift here." That approach was also mentioned in the Times story. I would even go so far as supporting a nonprofit that just asked for a donation to help support all of their work in support of artists and not single out an individual project (old fashioned donation style). I understand that USA has helped "curate" these artists, and for some people (not me) that might be a symbol of quality. I also see that some of them get matching funds from a donor, that's great, but it isn't worth taking 19% of my donation to the artist. Perhaps you should get matching funds for your organization so you don't have to take it from me!

The NYT story suggests that making a donation to these artists would otherwise be difficult. I'm sorry, but that's just not true. Any of them could sign up with Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any other service and accomplish the same thing. Sure, a nonprofit might be helping an artist get their stuff up online, and many artists aren't good at such tasks, so I can even support a small mark-up, but 19% is insane!

Not to mention....hidden. If the NYT hadn't reported that amount (they said 18%) most people wouldn't know. When you click to support an artist on the USA website, it mentions that you should look at the terms of service, but unless you do so (and they know 99% of people don't do so), you aren't told anywhere else about the 19% fee. There's another golden find in their TOS statement too:

You understand that your contribution is being made to United States Artists, that United States Artists has exclusive legal control over all donations and that United States Artists is under no obligation to use your donation to fund any Projects recommended by you for funding.


While United States Artists intends to take into account donor recommendations with regard to funding recommended Projects, United States Artists shall have exclusive control of your donation and is not obligated to use your donation to fund any particular Project.

Translation - we don't have to give your funds to who you select. We don't have to follow your intent. What, did the City of Philadelphia write this up? Okay, I am sure they will likely give my donation to the artist, and are likely saying this in case the artist breaks their contract, but in my view, that should mean I get a refund not that they keep the dough. (I have a few other problems with their terms (especially as it relates to privacy), but that's the norm these days with website, so I'll stick to this one quibble.)

This goes against the entire spirit of crowdfunding. It goes against the entire nature of what it means for artists to build a direct relationship with their donors. I have no idea if the artist gets my contact info, as perhaps I'd like to fund them again, directly, in the future. I'll likely get hit up by USA again if I make this donation, as they surely keep my email address. I also can't be sure that the artist will definitely get my donation either. But, I can be sure - if I read the NYT, this blog or the TOS - that my donation gets cut 19% if I make it through USA. Really. This is what's astounding - more of my money supports the artist if I make my donation through a for profit company than a nonprofit. Something is wrong here folks.

We need a better system for supporting artists. USA was supposed to be part of that answer. I'd be much more likely to support both them and the artists they have funded if more of my donation went to the artists directly. I'd support their system if the 14% mark-up over most fiscal sponsorship charges was plainly shown, or better yet, if it was optional. Heck, I might even donate more, if it was a choice. I don't like slamming any nonprofit for trying to raise money for artists, but this isn't the way it should be done. Unless something changes, I can't support this program and recommend that you don't either.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Panel proposal for Sundance - Brands and Indies

This coming year's Sundance Film Festival will feature numerous panels in addition to the usual mix of films, new media and limos stuck trying to turn corners in the narrow streets of Park City. They usually announce the panels early in January, and tend to focus on things like creativity and distribution, but sometimes branch into other arenas of interest to the field. Here's one I'd like to see:

Indies, Levi's and Wal-Mart:
Indie filmmakers have always been desperate for cash, and increasingly there's talk of a new wallet in town - funding, partnerships and marketing support from brands. Shane Meadow's funded his entire feature film Somers Town through a partnership with Eurostar, and even little indies like Hunter Weeks have used branding partnerships to get their films made and seen. Branded entertainment is a buzz word, with some people suggesting it offers the perfect compliment - consumers/audiences getting content how they want it (free), filmmakers making a living and companies extending their brand. Even documentary filmmakers are now engaging with brands - with the Good Pitch leading the way. This could be great for everyone involved, but does it go against the "indie spirit" to which we're accustomed? What are the ethical issues to be debated? What are the best practices? How do I get in front of marketers? How do I protest this if I hate it? And is anyone actually getting their film made and seen this way? Come join a marketing executive from our major sponsor, Morgan Spurlock (whose film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is in the fest), Jess Search of the Good Pitch and a rep from AdBusters in debate about this emerging trend.

I'd go to that panel. I'd moderate it. I'd be interested in the debate. I am not against this practice either - as I've said elsewhere, I just think that as this trend continues, it would be good to have a discussion about it publicly - at one of the biggest film fests in the world (and one nearly synonymous with branding in the indie world). A quick aside though - actually, I hate panels. I'd prefer to see this as a debate between two people with a moderator, but you get the point.

Edit note - I added Morgan Spurlock's name after Sheri Candler reminded me that his film was in the fest, before I just said an indie filmmaker.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 06, 2010

A new role for the film trades?

Earlier today, I was reading my Twitter feed and noticed that Sundance had announced their short film selections. I had an interest in this news, because several of my clients and friends were awaiting announcements (ok, those accepted already knew from the programmers) so I clicked through and read the press release. All the news I needed to know was there on the Sundance site for me - info on the films, the directors, how many had submitted, etc.

Within 30 seconds, I received tweets from all the film trades that I follow, as well as from nearly every film blogger on the planet that yes, indeed, Sundance had announced their selections. None of them seemed to add any news to the, uhm, news. If we can even call it news, rather than PR - there's an old saying that news is what someone doesn't want published, the rest is just PR, but that's another post.

This makes me wonder a few things. Since Sundance, and any other film festival, film organization, film company, etc. can reach me directly now, is there any need for the film trades to report this news? Especially if they aren't adding much in the way of analysis? I can actually see the argument for the regular press to publish it - readers of the NYT may not follow Sundance, but surely, anyone in the film business who needs to know about Sundance can hear it from their Tweets and doesn't need Indiewire (or Variety, or...) to relay that info anymore.

Does this news merit being the headline of your daily email news? Probably not anymore. Should it possibly be moved down to an "as noted" column at best? Probably so.

Does this give you, as a reporter and you, as an editor, more free time to devote to other stuff? Yes! There's a lot of news out there not getting reported by any of the trades. All kinds of info it would be good to know. Some real reporting could be done. Some digging, and even some making people angry for being a ....journalist. You know, the kind that digs for hidden stories, now apparently only done by Wikileaks. Come to think of it, since all of the trades seem locked in a battle to become less relevant by the minute, perhaps we just need to start a wikileaks for the film business. That would be news.

Now, I know many of the people at the trades, and most of them are good people. I am not attacking any particular trade here, or any reporter, nor am I arguing that all of what they do should be muckraking. But if you take a look at pretty much every trade on any given day, you quickly notice a lot of PR and not much news. We could use a balance between the two. Just a thought.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

So now you're in.....

So, you were accepted into Sundance. Congratulations! Now what?

Here's some Sundance advice that you won't hear much from others. It applies to those who will get into Slamdance in a few days as well. This is not for the established filmmaker with a lot of experience, but for those new to the scene: 1) don't rush things, and 2) look out for yourself.

If you aren't one of the films that comes to Sundance with a professional team behind you already - ace producer, top attorney, producers rep, agent, publicist, etc. - then you've probably just started getting emails and calls from all of the above. You've probably heard something about how happy they are for you, how they've been following your trajectory for years and now they want to help you find success in the marketplace of Sundance.

It is flattering. It will make you feel great.

It will also make you forget any business sense you ever had before and make you more vulnerable to exploitation than ever before.

Odds are good that their interns are robo-calling everyone else accepted as well, telling them all pretty much the same feel-good story. So, beware. There are great producer's reps, publicists, agents, consultants...insert job title here....out there. You may end up hiring some of them. Your primary concern, however, should be you, your career, your film and getting your film in front of its audience. Now is the time to slow down a bit and analyze your situation.

Whatever you do, don't sign up with whoever calls you first. Talk to them. Have them tell you about other films they worked with. Ask them how they work. How many films will they be representing? What will their strategy be for your film? Can they send you references from other filmmakers? How do they handle expenses? Do they fly first class or coach (if they bill expenses to you)? There's more questions to ask, but the point is - you are the hot property here, not them. Don't let them make you feel lucky to be speaking to them - they should be lucky to help your film. Some will walk away, huffing that you are too much trouble for them - good riddance.

They likely haven't seen your film, so make sure they see it and then ask them what they thought about it. Listen to their voice. Did they love it? Or do they just see it as something to sell, represent, publicize? Sure, a good, talented person can sell/pitch/market anything, but even these will work harder for you when they love your film. (A quick side note - Generally speaking, you don't want to show your film to distributors at this point, but that's another post). Very few filmmakers ask this. It is uncomfortable. Ask them what their favorite aspect was and listen to their voice (or if you meet in person, look directly in their eyes). Working with someone who loves your film will be much easier than someone who just sees it as business.

Take a read of your gut. Consult with other filmmakers and friends (for free) and also shop around - there are many people to work with, and even those people who everyone tells you is the best ____ in the business has some competitors who are less well known and who are equally talented. Who you pick to work with you is one of the more important decisions you will make. It is tempting to say yes, scream for joy that so and so hot stuff wants to work on your film, here comes success! But don't. That success likely won't come, but it surely won't come if you don't strategize your next steps as much as you planned all the ones leading up to now.

You did plan all of this, right? No? Here's some quick advice - 

1. Define your goals. Think about your goals for the film. There can be many, but you need to decide what is important to you. You need to think about what will be the best strategy for your film. As a filmmaker you have more options than ever before, and as Jon Reiss argues today, you don't need to think about the old paradigm(s) for success in today's marketplace. There is not one single answer here, so my hope would be you've already thought about this, but you likely haven't. So, you need to....

2. Read. A lot. Quickly. Sure, you can pay someone to help you build a plan, but you can also learn most of what you need to know by reading free stuff online. I could mention lots of resources, but here's just three: Look at the sidebar of Ted Hope's blog. He links to numerous online, free resources. Read a few of them quickly. Second, buy and quickly skim read Jon Reiss' Think Outside the Box Office. Even if you don't decide to follow his lead in the DIY mode, he mentions just about everything you need to know. Pull an all-nighter with this one. Can't pull an all-nighter? Here's a quicker read: Eugene Hernandez's two year old but still largely accurate advice about festivals, whether you got into Sundance or not.

3. Talk. Speak with other filmmakers who have been there before. Get their advice.

4. Build your Plan A. Whatever you end up doing, it's better to have options. Determine what you are capable of doing on your own. What can you do on your own - given your resources in time and money? Plot out what that would look like. You now have a Plan A. Pick any potential team mates (publicist, etc) based on this plan, but go in with an open mind. If you do get an offer, it is Plan B. If Plan B is better than your Plan A, then you might take it. You also now have something to negotiate against - if they aren't going to do something you can do on your own....carve out those rights. You can only do this, however, if you actually have a plan.

5. Take a deep breath. Consider all of those phone calls seriously, and then ....

6. Make an informed decision. Trust me, whatever happens to your film from here on out, you'll feel much better about it if you've taken the time to make the best possible decision for you and your film.

Now that you've eaten your vegetables, feel free to resume your celebration!

Video of my NYFA Lecture

I recently spoke at the New York Foundation for the Arts or NYFA, a great artist support organization in New York City. They've posted the video of my presentation:

Reinventing the Arts Through Technology from NYFA on Vimeo.

You can also check out and download the slides from Slideshare

Monday, November 29, 2010

New thinking on the arts - 20 Under 40

Just over a year ago, I heard about a nifty new project to collect essays about new directions in the arts from twenty leaders of the arts under the age of 40 - called, appropriately enough, 20Under40. Having just stepped down as the leader of a nonprofit to go in new directions, and being just under the cut-off age, I had more free time than before to write a longer essay, and submitted my proposal for a chapter on ten important trends in the arts (which I wrote about on this blog in the link). My chapter was accepted, I finally got it written and edited (with some great editing help) and the book is now set for sale on this Wed, Dec 1 from the project website. 

We received our author's copies not long ago, and after a quick perusal (to be sure my chapter actually made it through), onto the shelf it went, behind a stack of other books I need to read. Then came the Great Flu of Thanksgiving...okay, maybe just a cold, but I was laid up this entire past weekend, and had more free time to watch movies and read books, and I decided to read the entire book.

I'm glad I did. There are some great chapters in here, with some pretty cool ideas. I'm not going to review the entire book here, but I can say that if you have any interest in the arts, arts participation, arts education and/or new ideas for the arts and arts education it is a great read. I liked many of the chapters and will likely be bringing up these ideas on this blog, and in my practice, in the coming months, but here's a quick shout out to a few that struck a chord, as a way to possibly stimulate your interest in the book:

1. David J. McGraw - writing on The Epoch Model - the idea being that we should make room for organizations with an "expiration date" instead of thinking every new nonprofit needs to last forever. Oh, how I wish this would become prevalent!

2. Ian David Moss and Daniel Reid - unveiling a fabulous idea for crowd-sourcing philanthropy. This one is gold. Their idea goes well beyond the simple crowd-funding models we have now (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo) and envisions an entirely new system for philanthropy....and they even write the chapter as a proposal for a foundation to adopt their idea. I'm not sure if anyone will, but I've already used this chapter as fodder for some new ideas in the film world. Ian has a great blog post about the idea and this project here.

3. Kylie Peppler - on how learning to "creatively code" is fundamental to the "future of arts education in a digital world." Right on. This one really spoke to me, as it touches on ideas of what it means to be electrate (literate in an electronic world), and because the author makes it clear that coding can be done by anyone - and should be done by everyone - because it is "essential to communica(tion) in a digital age."

4. Bridget Matros of the Boston Children's Museum closes the book's submissions with an amazing chapter about the need for new thinking about teaching arts to very young kids (under 5) if we are to build a more creative society. Matros uses real examples from her time in the Museum to show how adult's fear of arts/creativity impacts youth - and sets their thinking into rigid boundaries that are the opposite of art. It reminded me of an old quote from David Lynch, about how his parents wouldn't give him a coloring book because they didn't want him to feel bounded by the lines on the page - he needed more freedom to create. Matros says much the same, and her anecdotes about frustrated parents limiting their kids creativity to "paint a flower for Mommy" (because of their own fears and preconceptions about art) are poignant. Reading her chapter, it becomes clear that if we want to change public perceptions on the arts (and arts education, importance, funding, etc.) we need to focus on how we teach art to 3 year old kids!

Readers interested in seeing brief blurbs on every chapter can find them here. Fellow authors not mentioned here, don't despair - I learned something from every chapter, but feel the ones mentioned here resonate most with what I write about on this blog, and I couldn't review every chapter here! I'll likely have more here soon on the other ideas in the book. Kudos also to editor Edward Clapp, for putting this all together!

You can also support a crowd-funding campaign for the book (a very DIY effort, worthy of support), and while I've already found the books on Amazon, buying it from the project website will support the effort (and I say this not expecting any revenue from this, just to support the idea of the project).  There's an all day launch party in Boston on Dec 10th and one will be scheduled in NYC soon. I'd love to see a similar book just about film. I've suggested my own 20 under 40 in film, and would love your thoughts on this in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Etsy rocks the docs...and should be in a fest near you

Going along with this earlier post on the need for new thinking about docs.....I have another pet theory:

It's a crime that none of the major documentary festivals have bothered to show the Etsy short docs. What are these? Etsy has hired a team to make short docs about the artists and crafts-people who sell on Etsy, and while your gut reaction might be that this isn't art, they are pretty well made.

I think they’d have been perfect for the mission of DOCNYC - blurring the lines/acknowledging the changes in the field. If I ran a Doc fest, they'd be featured content on my website...and if you disagree with me, trust me, this would be in the spirit of provocation. But I can’t single this fest out - err, I guess I just did, but I like them and they seem open to ideas so....but really, this is about all fests

Guess what? There’s a few changes afoot in the world: Shorter content; the web; commercially supported films (this is a huge phenomenon barely acknowledged in the fest panel world); an interest in the DIY/Maker community; a slowly changing of forms due to technology...and a few other things. All of them are perfectly encapsulated in the Etsy docs. They raise ethical and other issues for the field - no more so than some other practices, but a good conversation could be had, for example, on the ethics of selling the products of the artisan you are documenting - and this alone makes it worthy of inclusion in a doc line-up. Plus, they work. Short, sweet...and money making. They may fail with this experiment, but mark my words, some version of this is the future of the doc, and we should be part of the conversation - instead of excluding them from the party, they should be welcomed.

Disclaimer: I know one of the makers of these docs. Have for a long time, but no other ties. I bet this is part of the problem - she knows many people in the doc world, and if you aren’t making a doc for Toronto or HBO (etc) then you just fall off their radar.


Some of the best content I’ve seen all year.

Here's some faves:

Handmade Portraits: Old School Tools from Etsy on Vimeo.

Some more:

Handmade Portraits: Wood Mosaics from Etsy on Vimeo.

Lucky Duck Press:

A Letterpress Legacy with Lucky Duck Press from Etsy on Vimeo.

Pets with Fez:

Handmade Portraits: Pets With Fez from Etsy on Vimeo.

 A note: I had commented here that their Flash cookies were problematic to me (thus the Vimeo link), but after emailing with some Etsy folks I feel comfortable that they aren't rabid data gatherers, so I removed that comment.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Piracy Helps Potter

There was a story in today's NYT about the phenomenal opening weekend of the new Harry Potter movie - taking in about $330 million at the box office. Midway through the article there's a nice little paragraph about how this was accomplished in spite of some recent piracy of the film:

Early last week, the first 36 minutes of “Deathly Hallows,” about a quarter of the movie, leaked onto the Internet, prompting a fresh round of hand-wringing about piracy and leading to some worries that the movie’s opening weekend would suffer as a result. Mr. Fellman said that the studio was investigating but that the pirated footage did not appear to hurt the release. (If anything, the news media coverage of the leak helped.) 

Good to see that piracy has once again helped a movie find success! Hollywood (and the RIAA, etc) keep wringing their hands about how piracy is ruining the business while more sober people keep pointing out that if anything, piracy seems to correlate with success and not hamper business at all.  But really, I'd be surprised if Dan Fellman wasn't smart enough to purposefully leak those first 36 minutes - what an excellent teaser to get you to the theater and what pirate stops with one quarter of a movie?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stop making docs

Yo, you. Shut up, listen. I don’t want your (feature) doc anymore.

I know, you are offended. So what?

Make me a really interesting website, that happens to have maybe 20 minutes total of video. In 3 minute segments. Let me trade it, use it, share it, on my phone. Let it actually have an impact instead of just stroking your and your funder’s egos. Let it be interesting and aware of today’s realities. Let it be useful. Let it never play a film festival. Ever.

Do this, and I will love you. And so will everyone else.

I’m not saying everyone should do this, but you should. Yes, you. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Montreal, Restaurants and the need for better social networks

Anyone following my Tweets lately knows that I just took a trip to Montreal - I tweeted about the conference, the food, the Bixi bikes...everything. I was there to speak at RIDM, a great documentary film festival that has a new director and that is poised for some really great things. It was my first trip to Montreal, and my wife was able to join me so we added on a couple of days for exploring the city.

This post is not directly about film - but I'll get there by the end, trust me. My wife and I are foodies, and make a point of searching out the well- and not-so-well-known restaurants in all of the towns we visit together. On this trip we had some amazing meals. I'll list them all below the fold, for those who are interested, but what I learned on this trip was that how we discovered them, researched them and finally picked where we ate was not what I expected. The web influenced this, and so did the food sites - to some extent - but much less than I would expect. What it taught me was that in spite of years of development of trip and food sites, they are all woefully inadequate and there remain some golden business opportunities out there for anyone thinking about how to use technology to better "consumer experiences." I think this extends to cultural experiences as well - and thus film, music, theater, books....pretty much anything.

We had plenty of options out there for finding info on restaurants in Montreal - Yelp, Zagat, Gayot, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, the websites of the restaurants themselves, ChowHound....there's a plenty endless list. All of the places we ended up going to were listed on these places, and there were tons of reviews. But the reviews were pretty all over the place - good, bad. Who knew whether that stellar review of a restaurant was from a real foodie, or just someone who'd just fallen for the hype? Was that bad review from someone who is just anti-meat eating generally, or perhaps they had a bad relationship with the waiter? Sure, some of the sites let you see their other reviews or rate the reviewer, but generally speaking all these sites could do was help us narrow the field just a little bit - and we only started feeling comfortable when we compare these listings to those in more traditional sources - travel books, old NYT reviews, a 4 year old Gourmet magazine featuring Montreal that my wife hung on to, and of course...people.

We narrowed down the list of possible places to 15 or so restaurants, and then did what we always do.....turned to a trusted source for some help. We are lucky to be friendly with a VP at the Beard Foundation, so we always check in with this person for advice on the best restaurants and food wherever we travel. Within seconds, he'd emailed our list to two foodies he trusted in Montreal, and they conferred (via phone, within minutes, foodies are obsessive fans) and sent us back comments on all of our potential places and a small list of a few we hadn't heard about, or that we had removed from our list because of bad reviews online (judged wrong by these experts we still hadn't met, but had a lot more trust in because of who recommended them).   We then confirmed with the brother of another friend in NYC who is from Montreal - a double check that we in fact had the best list we could.  This was our ultimate guide - the recommendations of strangers we could trust because of who they knew.

This is why I am excited to see the launch of new social networks like Path, announced this week, that focus more on smaller groups of people you really know. I want more of them, and I hope someone builds them for me, because I don't have the time. I don't care what some person says on Yelp. Okay, I do care, but only a little bit. What I really want to know is what do my friends recommend. My real friends, not just all the people I talk to on Facebook, which includes a fair amount of people who I trust for film recommendations, but not for food (or wine, or book) recommendations.

I want to be able to walk down a street in Montreal and see a map of every restaurant nearby and have a rating based on just my friend's reviews. Mitchell ate here and liked it. (He's our James Beard friend) You are standing in front of this Persian restaurant, but three blocks over is one that someone else you know recommended much more highly. And there's a table open now (via Open Table). Here's the dishes they recommended. Mitchell liked this restaurant two years ago, but the Chef has moved on to another restaurant across town, and while Mitchell hasn't eaten there, three of your friends have and gave it good reviews. You starred this as a place you want to eat at when you read an article in the NYT three years ago, it still gets good reviews and your Bixi bike just broke down a short two blocks away from it.

These more personalized options don't exist yet, but they will. You don't have to think hard to imagine how this could also work for film, or theater or book readings or just about anything else. Simple example - I should be able to "check in" to Montreal when I arrive and be told that four films were playing at RIDM that I've been wanting to see because I read about them on Indiewire, two are playing that Basil watched at the Toronto Film Fest and liked and because I trust him I might want to see them as well. I should also be told that Lucy Walker has a new film there, and that because I liked her last film, I might like this one, and I should be able to buy the ticket and if I can't make the show...add it to my Netflix queue for when it is released, with a note saying who recommended it and why. Or just let me know she is speaking on a panel.

So, that's my request for today - someone build me all this stuff. Soon, or I might get bored one day and do it myself.

For those of you interested in the restaurants, here's the list with quick comments, below the fold:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Making the impossible possible

I went to hear the brilliant theorist Slavoj Zizek speak at Cooper Union last night. One part of his speech was especially interesting to me. Forgive me, Zizekians for paraphrasing his very smart argument, but the short version will have to suffice as it was a 2 hour speech. One of his main points was about how ingrained ideology is in our culture - we don’t think twice when people call certain things impossible and others possible. His critique was coming from the left (the still proudly Marxist left, in his case), but is pretty poignant nonetheless.

Why, he asked, is everything possible under capitalism and technology? We can go to the Moon, photograph a comet, build a social network that can connect the world, decode the genome, possibly upload our conscious someday to a machine, make space flight available to the rich, we can keep polluting the earth with no major changes because we’ll make up for this by paying for the carbon offset... etc etc, add your favorite new possibility here.  Yet, say we want to have health care for all....impossible. Say we want to build a more equitable distribution of wealth. Impossible - that would lead to totalitarianism.

Instead, he argued, we need to look at all these impossible scenarios and realize they are the only places available for real change. Most of what is “possible” is a false utopia. Most of what is “impossible” is very possible and we can find examples buried all around. What is utopian is not to believe that we can have a different society, but rather to believe that the current paradigm can continue.

Now, you don’t have to subscribe to his overall political agenda, but I think that last point is pretty interesting when thinking about film. I got out of the meeting, and found this post from Mynette Louie, who was on the same wavelength:

"Wish ppl would stop telling me what's impossible b4 even trying. Indie film is inherently impossible--we have to try to make it possible!"

She's correct. What’s needed now is a big dose of radicalism. We need to stop accepting the current stru(i)ctures around what it means to make and distribute a film and see them as false paradigms. We need to reject the false utopianisms and design something radically new. This means that not only does traditional distribution not work, but....wake up...neither does DIY distribution if at the end of the day you are working for free to get your film out. You might just be indentured to yourself, but that’s still no better than being sold to “the man.”

Nope, a radical change will mean something much more. I’m not going to prescribe that solution here - I may not be capable of that ever - but I would hazard a guess that the answer lies in imagining the impossible as possible.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ten Great Things about Indie Film

I do a fair bit of complaining about the state of things on this blog, so I thought I’d take a moment to post about some good things for once. Riffing off Ted Hope’s list(s) of bad things in the industry, in a friendly manner, here’s my top ten list for good things going on. Sure, there’s more than ten, but I didn’t want to come up with 38 (much less 75), so I thought ten was a nice round number.

  1. Ch-ch-changes: There’s been a lot of change at the top in the industry lately. We’ve seen big change at the New York Film Festival, MoMA, AFI, Full-Frame, LA Film Festival, Sundance and Indiewire to name just a few. That’s a great thing - new perspectives are needed and all of these organizations will probably be stronger for it in the long run. This is nothing against the people who left - in most cases, I know them and like them, but I like a little shake-out in the sector. It would be great to see a little more shake-out amongst the other “gate-keepers” in the industry, but hey, this is a start.
  2. Sharing: It’s much easier for filmmakers to communicate and collaborate on projects now. While not all of the data I’d like to see is available, it is much easier for me, and everyone else, to communicate with one another and see what’s working and what isn’t working. It’s much easier to share and promote info on one’s film, to crowd-source production, funding and even audience building. As more tools are built to facilitate collaboration and sharing, we’ll see even greater things built - and anything that makes us less truly alone as an indie is a good thing.
  3. Tools: Following on the sharing, we have some pretty cool new tools at our disposal - Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Crowd-Controls, Open Indie, Top-Spin, Good Screenings, WireWax and Wreck-a-movie being just a few worthy of mention. There’s plenty more (even the big ones like Facebook and Twitter are helpful to indies), and new things being developed everyday. Not to mention the DSLR revolution and other production tech changes - all helping indies to make a better film, often more cheaply.
  4. The return of small: There’s always been a vibrant regional film festival scene, and while there has been a little shake-out, there’s also been a few smaller festivals rising up that promise good things - Indie Memphis, Flyway Film Fest and Camden to name just a few. Even the new Vimeo Festival (owned by a decidedly not small company) showed how well a “small” fest could work this year. Then we have the rise of indie film clubs and screening series, such as Cinema Speakeasy, Cinefist, the Pretentious Film Society, UnionDocs and similar efforts. I can’t even begin to name them all, and they make for a much more vibrant film culture. They’re also a great way for emerging filmmakers to build a support network, get exposure early on and develop a fan base - all good things.
  5. Doc-everything: The doc world is growing up, in so many ways. From an evolution in pitching markets (the GoodPitch) to new funding mechanisms (Gucci, Impact, Fledgling, etc) and old (Sundance, Participant, Ford) and outreach support (Film Sprout, Working Films) and even new festivals (DocNYC) taking stage while older ones (Sheffield, IDFA, HotDocs) continue to thrive, while new blogs (What not to Doc) enter to give great advice - the field is alright. Sure, it’s still tough to make a doc, and yes, there’s a bit too much focus on social issue docs, but this is arguably the healthiest part of the sector. Note: I am leaving off at least a hundred names that are part of this vibrant scene, and I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is a testament to the health of the sector.
  6. We’re figuring out distribution: For real. You can’t go to a festival anymore without some panel on distribution. There’s a plethora of experts to help you (Broderick and Reiss, amongst others); lots of alternative options to explore (Argot, Tuckman, Variance, Cinema Purgatorio); new avenues for VOD and digital (Gravitas, Brainstorm Media); a few web platforms trying new models (IndieFlix) and yes, even some of those supposed dinosaurs, traditional distributors, are figuring out how to make some things work (trust me, ask a few people like Magnolia, for example). We haven’t solved this puzzle yet, but we have more minds focused on it than ever before, and many more options to explore.
  7. We’re thinking beyond the film: Sure, you might not be hip to transmedia, or may even hate it, but more and more artists are realizing that they are often creating a project, of which a film is just one component. This helps with expanding the story, giving more avenues for audience engagement and opening up potential revenue streams. While not everyone will be a Lance Weiler or Jeff Gomez, all of us can benefit from trying some new storytelling methods.
  8. VoDo: I’ve explained it here before, but essentially VoDo is a simple way to support filmmakers on pirate networks. But piracy is a bad thing, you say. “Waah” says I. Keep bashing your head against the wall hoping it will go away. In the meantime, smarter people have thought up a way to turn a possible negative into a definite positive - we could use more of such creative thinking.
  9. Filmmaker Magazine: Scott Macaulay somehow keeps improving this magazine, in spite of the competition and in spite of his busy producing schedule. Without picking on anyone, ahem, Filmmaker Magazine is quite literally the only trade publication worth reading anymore as an indie (I am not counting little guys like HTN (etc) in this mix, they rock). While the website could use some modernization (the content is good though), the magazine overall continues to serve up a great mix of reviews, news, analysis, new faces and new ideas. Thank goodness for that, because very few others are looking good in this race (to the bottom for most).
  10. Variety is behind a paywall. Boy, I’ve never heard people gripe more than when Variety cut off their free access. But here’s the deal folks - the same 5,000 people or so (maybe more, just guessing) that paid for this in the past will pay for access now. Does it make their Tweets pointless? Yes. Did it open up even more room for their new rivals? Yes. Did it get thousands of indies to stop obsessing over sh-t that they don’t need to know about? Yes, and that’s a darn good thing.
So, tell me what you think of these ten things - are they good? What did I miss? 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Upcoming NYFA Panel

Next week I'll be speaking at the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), and this talk will be more broadly about how artists can use new technology (as opposed to my usual focus on just filmmaker artists).  I highly recommend you check out NYFA's website for other great resources for both artists and organizations - job postings, fiscal sponsorship, education, arts advocacy, an artists directory, studio space, funding notices and more. They're a really great organization, with a lot of cred in the art world. Here's the description of the panel from their website, and registration info is below.

Brian will survey some key changes in the arts due to digital technology, and will give practical advice for using new technology for art making, dissemination of one’s work and building a sustainable career.
• How has culture changed, past and present, as a result of technology? 
• What are the new tools artists can use to experiment and put forth their vision? 
• What is transmedia, and how might it be used by filmmakers and other artists? 
• How have artists built sustainable careers, selling directly through social media? 
• What have been successful strategies for the use of these new tools? 

Most importantly, this seminar will argue that artists must harness new technology so that they shape the future of our field, instead of it being shaped for them. 

Date: October 28 Time: 6:00 to 8:00 PM 
$10 NYFA Artists (in advance) $15 General Admission (at the door only)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm Still Here as Transmedia

I know the news on this film has largely subsided, but here goes anyway:
I’m Still Here is not only a transmedia project, but it’s also one of the more successful ones ever least this year.

I’m ready for the mobs of trans-experts to attack, but let me (for once) be brief. Wikipedia defines transmedia storytelling as:

In Transmedia storytelling, content becomes invasive and fully permeates the audience's lifestyle. A transmedia project develops storytelling across multiple forms of media in order to have different "entry points" in the story; entry-points with a unique and independent lifespan but with a definite role in the big narrative scheme.

Now we can argue if this is correct, but since we can all contribute to the definition at Wikipedia, for now, this definition will be considered communal. So, to me, I’m Still Here was a story that unfolded across multiple media - television shows, tabloid news, websites, traditional newspapers and eventually a movie. There were rap songs, poems, drug-filled ARG, er, escapades.  Joaquin’s performance was ongoing, pervasive and in a sense it was an ultimate ARG that no one was even sure whether they were participating in it or not. I haven’t looked too far, but I’m sure someone has even created a comic or animation about it. Each of these things was a story entry-point, and could engage audiences with the story in different ways. At minimum, it engaged many audiences in trying to figure out whether it was real, fiction, a bad drug trip or some combination of all of these.

So, how is this not transmedia? (I’m sure I’ll hear in the comments or offline....)

One of the most successful? Definitely not in terms of box office. But if we also look at success by how well people believed in and interacted with (even debated) the story-line, it was a huge success. Same with criteria such as media impressions, entering the cultural conversation, being uber-meta, etc.

Some might say it’s just a hoax, or a mock-u-mentary or doc or just plain stupid. But I think transmedia can be many things, and it might just be that something like I’m Still Here qualifies. Sure, this was an artful hoax, but why can’t a hoax be transmedia? Does the creator have to personally create all the platforms the story unfolds upon for it to be transmedia? Or can they create a situation where even the news as “reported” by someone else becomes part of the experience? Some might argue that the story has to motivate you to participate, but I think plenty of people participated in this by talking about it, sharing it with others and paying for a ticket (ok, maybe 5 people did that).

I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, so please disabuse me of this notion if you think I’m terribly wrong. To be honest, I’ve been wondering for a month why no one has written about this yet - in my googling, I’ve not found anything (but again, tell me if I’m wrong). The closest thing I’ve found on this subject was Henry Jenkins writing about LonelyGirl 15 (back in 2006, mind you) and the relation of the “hoax” story to epistolary fiction. He wrote:

The content of earlier epistolary novels turned readers into armchair detectives and amateur psychologists, piecing together the events of the story from multiple, fragmentary, and sometimes contradictory, always subjective, accounts. These ARGs take on a more public dimension, exploring conspiracies or mysteries which exploit the expansive potential of the transmedia environment. Though read in private, these early novels became the focus of parlor room discussions as people compared notes about the characters and their situations. ARGS today offer a very similar experience of mutual debate and collaborative interpretation for a society just beginning to experiment with what cybertheorist Pierre Levy calls collective intelligence.

He too brought up that most people would think you need to push the audience to act, to do something.  As he wrote:

This is the nature of art (fictional or nonfictional) in the age of collective intelligence: the work provokes us, incites us into action. Indeed, as an art project, Lonelygirl15 seems designed to encourage our participation. Yet we don't know what we are supposed to do if we do not correctly identify the genre within which the text operates: do we dig deeper into the text in search of clues (as in the case of an ARG) or do we go beyond the text in search of reality (as in the case of reality spoiling)? In this case, the public's uncertainty about the status of these images made figuring out the source of these messages the central task. The mystery overwhelmed the content -- perhaps more than the art students anticipated and forced them to out themselves so that we might hopefully engage with their work on another level.

In fact, we’ve been seeing a lot of these “in-between” docs that straddle the line of documentary and fiction, and thereby require us to get more involved as viewers in figuring out the “puzzle” of just how real they are. Jenkins noted: “In other words, there seems to be a fascination with blurry categories at moments of media in transition -- it is one of the ways we try to apply evolving skills in a context where the categories that organize our culture are in flux.” So perhaps as we straddle this line, we’ll get some hybrid forms that become more than just a movie and straddle into transmedia territory.

In a hypothetical debate, I can see arguing the other side - that it’s not transmedia, just a good performance, but more than anything I think arguing this point might help better define the term for all of us.

Until then, I’m calling this one transmedia.

Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mimi and Eunice and Nina Paley

I bumped into Nina Paley the other night and she handed me a cool new comic she's doing called Mimi and Eunice. Like her past work, it's pretty amazing. Here's one of my favorite panels:


But don't worry, they aren't all about piracy. Here's another great one:


Per usual, Nina is releasing this work naturally. Some would call it through creative commons, or copy-left, but I say naturally because it's just the common-sensical, natural way such creativity should be put out there, shared and (hopefully) when liked, compensated. Exploring the site, I also found this great video she did for the EFF. What a creative way to summate many of the troubles of the web today. Check it out and if you like it, support her work! (honesty alert: I haven't yet, but plan to do so myself). If I ran a foundation that supported freedom of expression, artistry, innovation, creativity and culture, public service media and had an emphasis on policy, I'd give her a huge grant since she covers all my bases....creatively. But I don't.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pixel Cross Media Forum

I'm en route to the Power to the Pixel Cross Media Forum right now. It's a great event, one of a kind really, focused on Cross Media or Transmedia practice. There are lots of great speakers, people pitching projects, workshops and meetings and even a think-tank later in the week. You can watch it live here. I've been meaning to give it a plug for awhile, and now that my flight is delayed for about..oh...4 hours due to crazy hail in NYC, I guess I get to plug it more now!

I've written about the Pixel Lab a couple of times. I've also spoken there a bit, with this presentation on new business models being my most recent. I'm a big fan of everything the Pixel folks do, and highly recommend that you follow them online and try to attend an event in the future. I'm not speaking, but I am meeting with several producers, catching up with my friends/class from the Lab this summer and doing some meetings in London. I also hope to attend the amazing show by Ai Weiwei at the Tate Modern before I leave. I can say it's amazing already, as I've seen some video footage already from this film that's launching soon from Muse Film & Television. If you are based in London, check out the Pixel Lab, the Ai Weiwei show and drop me a note on Twitter to catch up!

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.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Adventures in Plymptoons!

Thanks to the power of social networking, I was alerted that one of my online "friends" - someone I've never met, but hope to someday - is doing a pretty cool documentary project on the great animator (and real world acquaintance, if not friend) Bill Plympton. The filmmaker, Alexia Anastasio, sent me to her Kickstarter campaign where she is trying to raise funds for the film.

I get a lot of these emails, and while I check them all out, I rarely have time to give a plug even to the good ones, but I watched her video and I really like it. It's also clear that she has the support of Plympton - he's very much a part of her campaign, so I figured I'd tweet about it soon. Today I woke up, however, and saw this great post from Bill himself over at Ted Hope's blog where he talks about being a serious animator and the trials and tribulations of releasing a good, grown-up animation today. I highly recommend you read his post, and it made me decide to give a plug today to this documentary.

So, check out the Kickstarter campaign. Kick in some dough (as opposed to Do) if you have the inclination. Then, go out to the IFC Center and spend some dough watching Bill's film, Idiots and Angels. If you like it, tell others, so they spend their dough and Bill can make back the money he is spending on the release. You'll get an added treat - the film is prefaced by a short Bill made called The Cow who wanted to be a Hamburger, which I saw when I was on the jury for short films at the Florida Film Festival. I loved it, the jury loved it - we gave it a prize, which qualified it for Academy consideration. You'll like the whole thing and will, hopefully, decide to go back and give more money to Alexia's Kickstarter campaign and then see Idiots and Angels again. Or so I hope.

Here's her campaign:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Made to Persuade - Orphans 8

My friend Dan Streible over at the NYU MIAP program has sent out the call for proposals for the 8th Orphan Film Symposium - Made to Persuade. The Orphan Film Symposium has quickly become a must-attend event for all cinephiles, showcasing many interesting "neglected" films and videos. If you are a scholar or just anyone interested in this area, I recommend sending in a proposal. 

If you are a filmmaker, make sure to check out the Helen Hill award - which gives you a travel stipend to come to the conference and present your work.  Pretty cool.

From the press release: 

NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Cinema Studies and the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program present the

8th Orphan Film Symposium
April 11-14, 2012
Museum of the Moving Image
Astoria, NY

NYU and Museum of the Moving Image host the 8th Orphan Film Symposium, the biennial gathering of scholars, archivists, curators, and media artists devoted to saving, screening, and studying neglected moving images. The renovated museum houses a 264-seat theater, video galleries, and digital projection areas throughout its new space.

Call  for  Presentations:   “Made to Persuade”

The theme of “Orphans 8” is persuasion. What neglected film and video productions have influenced thought, opinion, behavior, and perception (or tried to)? What “pictures in our heads” come from moving pictures and sounds that were made to persuade?

Among the many forms under consideration are: political campaign ads, advertising films, television commercials, newsreels, newsfilm, religious pictures, sponsored and sales films, promos, PR, PSAs, EPKs, military productions, clandestine or subversive work, trailers, teasers, snipes, documentaries, essay films, public affairs and public access programs, activist and advocacy pieces, propaganda, issue ads, culture jamming, intelligence work, stereotypes and counterstereotypes, censored footage, indoctrination and training films, triggers, guidance and educational films, amateur samizdat, and related orphan films and media.

Selected speakers will lead presentations, screenings, and discussions. Proposals that include the screening of rare, rediscovered, or recently preserved works are highly encouraged. New media productions using archival material are sought as well, as are presentations about copyright issues and technical aspects of moving image archiving and preservation.

Send proposals (500 words or less) to dan dot streible at nyu dot edu

Mail proposals that include DVDs to
Dan Streible, NYU Cinema Studies
721 Broadway, 6th floor, New York, NY 10003
Early review begins 1.11.11.