Monday, April 26, 2010

Inventing the Future in Chicago

I'm headed to one of my favorite US cities this weekend - Chicago - to give a speech for the IFP Chicago Producer's Series. It looks like a great line-up. Lance Weiler will be joining me, as well as some great speakers like Pat Aufderheide, Gordon Quinn and many others, including quite a few I've never met, which is great because I'll likely learn a lot of new things. My personal favorite is the panel with the one speaker I'll be positively gushing about - Mike Stoklasa on his near-perfect reviews of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, which I've been raving about.  While there, I'll be speaking about innovation in media - something I just spoke about at DIY Days (the video is now up and embedded below), but I don't plan to recycle the entire speech. Instead, I will speak a bit about the current state of the film business - showing some examples of what is working well for filmmakers and other DIY artists, and then speculate a bit about the possible future of the field (cribbing a bit from my last talk).  I'll be speaking a fair bit about participatory culture, crowd-sourced production, funding and distribution and transmedia practice. You know, all those fun, trendy things to speak about these days.

So, if you live in Chicago, or anywhere nearby in the Midwest, stop by and say hello - or at least watch Mike's talk, if not mine. Hope to see you there.

Here's the video from DIY Days:

Brain Newman - DIY Days from ZAFFI Pictures on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Storming the gates, or can't we all just get along

Let’s all storm the fences. I’m mad as hell and I just can’t take it anymore. The tyranny of the gatekeepers has stifled all creativity and I can’t find any innovative or creative films. A secret cabal of festival programmers, distributors, IndieWire editors, producers reps, broadcasters, Apple employees, NYTimes reporters and theater owners is holding back the flood of original, amazing content.

Ok, anyone who’s worked in this business for more than say, a year, will laugh hysterically at the cat-herding thought of corralling that many movie geeks towards doing anything other than watching cinema. They can’t agree on what’s good and what sucks, much less what to suppress and what is genius. They seem to all agree on avoiding sunlight, but beyond that, no such cabal of gatekeepers exists folks.

Alright, there’s some truth to the whole gate-keeper argument. There is someone (many someone’s, actually) who has to weed through those 3000+ submissions to Sundance, and someone else who has to weed through the accepted films to figure out which ones might find an audience in New York City, much less in Topeka. You can choose to call them gate-keepers, but I like to think of them as shit-strainers - a big industry protecting me from all the crap out there. These poor souls watch more than 500 films a year on average, only ten or twenty of which might be worth me ever seeing, and for all that thank-less work, all they get is a bunch of name-calling in the blog-o-spheres (I could link to ten articles in the last week that are somehow related to this, but you’ve probably read them already).

We should be giving them a medal.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Possible attack on Attack of the Clones reviewer

Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media just recently released his new review of Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. If you haven’t already seen his Phantom Menace review, you’re missing one of the best things to come out of the interweb pipes. Seriously, don’t click these links unless you are ready to spend a good three hours of your day watching both reviews back to back (each review consists of about 10 episodes of 10 minutes each). I’ve written about him before - how I truly think he’s single-handedly created one of the more innovative new art forms online; I hope it changes film criticism as we know it and I think watching it gives the average creative viewer about a hundred new ideas for and/or about story-telling, criticism and new directions for remix, mash-up, copyright and creative practice to name just a few things. But I’m not writing this to help you discover the latest viral video sensation - the web does that fine without my help - but to point out that we’re in danger of missing out on more of these genius pieces because of fear. As both TechDirt and MTV have mentioned in the past few days, Mike is terrified to death that Lucas will sue him (to death) and is contemplating an end to his creative practice.

As reported in the MTV interview:
"...not 48 hours after its initial posting Saturday night, the first segment of the review was taken down by the popular video sharing service, "ostensibly" after a copyright claim by Cartoon Network.
"Was it really Cartoon Network or not? I don't know," Stoklasa sighed. "There was someone who started a rumor that it was a specific YouTube user who had copied the first part over to his channel and then put a link to his Web site in the description. But YouTube doesn't tell you who flagged it."

He goes on to say:

“The thing is, I'm no lawyer. But I had someone actually talk to a copyright lawyer, and they didn't know what to make of the reviews. It's a new thing, You can get away with using a clip from a movie for the purpose of review or commentary, but can you dissect an entire film like that? There's commentary and it's part satire [because of the character, Mr. Plinkett] and part review and part educational as well because there's elements of filmmaking insights."

This is how our copyright system works against creativity - because the rules aren’t always clear and fair use can only be defended if sued, the mere fear of a lawsuit stops people from innovating. Now, I think he has a clearly winnable case, and it’s far from clear that he’s received even the slightest legitimate threat of a suit, but the point is - this is clearly creative work that should be encouraged, not stopped (I can see why Lucas might not like it, but that’s tough luck, kid). Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi have done some great work clarifying fair use, as has Michael Donaldson and many others. I’m sure if needed, some team that includes them and probably the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) can step up to his defense - and they will likely win. In the comments section to the TechDirt post, Nina Paley weighed in saying we should start a legal defense fund to support Red Letter Films if he is sued. So I, like Nina the filmmaker and Mike Masnick the writer am just chiming in to say - yo, Stoklasa - keep making review films, don’t worry about lawsuits - if they come, I’ll join the Kickstarter campaign to fund your defense. A few other things - yo, filmmakers and critics - follow his lead and make more creative reviews like this - a flood of them might help  - a tsunami of remix reviews is a hard thing to stop. Yo- film festivals - program his reviews in their entirety as midnight screenings. The audience reaction will likely be amazing - and it will prove you can program something that's available completely for free everywhere, and still make money!

Here's part one of the new review:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My advice to the new DocNYC Fest

The best news of the last couple of weeks was the launch of the new documentary film festival in NYC - DOC NYC. The child of Thom Powers, Raphaela Neihausen, John Vanco and Harris Dew, this festival promises to be a great new addition to the fest scene. This isn't news - Indiewire and thousands of others reported it, but I received an email invite to give feedback on the festival at a meeting this week, and because I’m in Orlando on the Shorts jury for the Florida Film Festival, I'll miss the opportunity. The founders asked for feedback anyway, and while I think they meant privately via email, I figure it can't hurt to tell everyone what I think - because it's all positive and because it’s really advice for all film festivals.

First - congrats to the team - you've assembled a great group, have central locations and an amazing board/advisory board. The overall response seems positive and the goals of the organization look great. While I am the first to say the last thing the world needs is another film festival, we do need a good showcase of documentaries in NYC - something devoted just to the form, unlike the other (great) fests in town. I also really like that you are saying it won’t just be film, but also other formats, which is great. So, here’s my thoughts on the fest and what I think you need to do to have great success and impact on the field.

Premieres - In your press release and in the early articles on the festival you mention that not every film in competition must be a premiere - stay true to your word. The very last thing we need is any new fest demanding premieres. This will be tough - mainly with the press - who are probably more responsible for premiere-itis than any single group - but it’s always tempting to let premiere status decide what gets in when you have a lot of good things to choose from. Film A is a premiere, Film B isn’ you program Film A. Don’t fall into this trap. Furthermore, be prepared to go an extra step - be willing to show a film even if it played somewhere else in NYC already. I know, this one is tough to swallow, but I promise you, if it’s a good film and there’s a good conversation around it, you’ll sell it out.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ken Price, Bukowski, Curation and Film

This post is a little off-topic, but I think it ultimately relates to film - in terms of curation and one idea that might work for some films. Over the past few weeks, I've been enjoying what is probably one of the best curated shows in New York right now - Josef Albers/Ken Price. The main show is at Brooke Alexander in SoHo, Manhattan, and it arguably gets the curation award (photo at left is from their site). In short, the curator Brooke Alexander once heard that the only piece of art that Ken Price kept in his home was a piece by Josef Albers. This led to a wonderful pairing of the works of the two at his gallery and in a stroke of genius, he was able to convince 4 other galleries to display additional works by either Price or Albers at the same time. The pairing is incredible and allows you to think about each artist, their work and art history in ways you hadn't expected before. Roberta Smith, writing in the NYTimes, said of the show "As far as I’m concerned this superb show could be maintained in perpetuity, courtesy of the Dia Art Foundation or some such. It should be required viewing for anyone hailing from the fraught curatorial profession (and its over soon, so catch it now). Its overarching theme is that abstraction is reality-based, distilled from lived experience, and actualized through highly personal approaches to process and materials. It’s a lesson in life as much as art." I think it should be required viewing for any curator, not just fine art curators, and that includes film programmers and curators as well.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The trifecta that broke the internet as we know it

That deafening applause you hear is not from Durham, NC post NCAA, but rather from the MPAA and the representatives of other major content providers on both sides of the Atlantic cheering on what may be looked back upon as the trifecta week that broke the internet as we know it. Three momentous things took place simultaneously this week that combined are more important than most people realize - the Ipad was released, the UK looks poised to pass Debill and a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the right to regulate broadband, thus possibly ending its ability to enforce network neutrality.

Nail number one. Lots of people went and got themselves an Ipad yesterday, and many in the film industry are debating whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for independent creatives. Big media is rejoicing, as they think this will be their savior - allowing them to put the genie in the bottle and start selling their content to huge profits again. Old world computer geeks can’t seem to stand the closed, one-way nature of the Ipad (consumption), but their grandma’s seem to love it. Indie lovers think that wow, now they can make an application and actually make money for their content, or get their films seen by more people on the Netflix API. I have serious doubts that indies will be served well by these developments. Sure, a lucky few will make cool applications off the API to serve up and charge for their content, but most of us will be stuck where we’ve always been  - begging some gatekeeper to get our content onto the most used platforms. More importantly, this is a consumption machine - no USB drive, so you can’t even bring in your own content easily, no camera in front, sanction needed from on-high in Apple HQ, yadda yadda. My personal hope - this is like AOL in the early days. Everyone will flock to the ease of use of the walled garden for awhile and then realize they can do much more outside of it. That’s probably a best-case scenario, because this thing is popular and it’s hard to convince a public looking at something cool that there could be something even cooler than what they have. I can’t blame them, and we’ll see if perhaps this becomes the consumption machine for those things created on laptops, etc., including those creations of independents. In the meantime, the main reason I’m not playing with one is less philosophical - price.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

DIY Days - Reinventing Innovation Speech

I just wrapped my DIY Days speech (ok, hrs ago) and people have asked for the text and slides. So here they are. I am kinda commenting on the slides, and some slides are counter-points to what I am saying so the video will  be much easier to follow, once it is up.

Here's the text, after the fold:

Friday, April 02, 2010

FFF - What we can learn from social issue docs

All this doom and gloom in the film business is getting to me...

Nah, just kidding. I actually think that all of my posts lately have been pretty upbeat, even though some people have said otherwise - the underlying message is to figure out ways to make the film business work better. I also don’t hear as much negativity out there in the media business as I used to, in fact, most of that talk is getting pretty old and stale. When I meet with serious filmmakers, and by this I mean whether emerging or established, they have their heads on their shoulders and know the various games you have to play to make films and get them seen, they are pretty upbeat. They are generally excited about all of the changes, they can’t wait to experiment more and they can now at least try around with some new ideas since the old ones didn’t work well for many of them. Okay, quick aside, I do still meet serious filmmakers who are depressed, but I’ve posted enough about them for now and this is a happy post. So I’m now initiating a new category of post here, one devoted to nothing but the good news, the things that are working amazingly f-in well, things I love about film or the film world today or people I want to champion. I hope to keep up the good spirits at least once a week, but given my general grouchiness, and how many projects that pay me are on my plate that week, it may slip (unless I find some happy guest-bloggers, hint hint). I need a name for this feature, but I’m going to try and crowd-source that work - suggest away in the comments or via DM or email. For now, in the spirit of Twitter’s Follow Friday or #FF, I’ll call it FFF for Fun F***in Friday, which also let’s me celebrate cursing, my favorite hobby after film.

This week’s FFF - social issue documentary film. Yes, this sector is not usually associated with fun, but if you’re raising money, looking for help, looking for partners and strategies, looking for a community, building an audience, searching for new strategies, thinking about how curation helps content at festivals or pretty much any other activity in film, this is the Fun sector for you! I’m not kidding. The doc sector in general, but especially the social issue doc sector is thriving, has built some semblance of an infrastructure and is connecting with audiences, which isn’t easy for tough subject matter. It’s doing so well, in fact, that lots of filmmakers get upset that unless they are making a social issue doc there’s no chance for grant support, etc. But this is FFF, no complaining allowed - instead, we should look at what they are doing right and try to replicate some of it in the rest of the film world. So what water are they drinking? Well, someone who actually works in it daily can probably chime in with more than this list, but here’s a start (not in order of importance, just the order in which I think of them):