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October 10 at 8:30am

How Many Ways Can We Collaborate Around A Single Film?

By Ted Hope

We will work together to build it better.  We will use the tools we have, but not let them restrain us. Let’s turn our limitations — financial & otherwise — into assets (may our chains set us free).  We will not let ego drive us away from an ambitious and interesting cinema.  Let’s acknowledge that defining a true author in cinema is hard, and the act of creation is rarely original. Everything is a remix.In an era of Grand Abundance, it is best practice to be even more generative, but less authorial.  And if all that is where we are, where does it leave us?

I am always looking for new methods of collaboration and new ideas of how someone else might riff off of one artist’s work.  Multiple authors have multiple arms and louder voices; their success is everyone’s & their failure no one’s.  If we encourage others to use our work for their own work, everyone wins.  Our work will get more traction and enter the cultural dialogue more fully, and the artist behind the secondary work is remaining productive, inspired and given new room to experiment with a tad less judgement swarming around it.

I love collaborative works like Star Wars Uncut.  I love cover songs for the same reason (but unfortunately the laws in this land are more restrictive for cinema artists than musicians).  I got inspired by Electric Literature’s Single Sentence Animations for the same reason; the author picks a favorite sentence from a work, and then the animator and composer go to town.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  A leaping off point.  I want to see work travel and evolve in other people’s hands.  How many ways can we collaborate?  Do we know our tools? Our potential?

Hal Hartley had mentioned to me recently that he was doing a series of shorts by the greatest American playwrights.  I was thrilled to then read about in the NY Times last week.

To celebrate its 50th season, Baltimore’s Center Stage has commissioned a series of 50 short films, written by 50 established and emerging playwrights, starring well-known stage and screen actors directed by the indie filmmaker Hal Hartley (“Henry Fool”).

Mr. Hartley shot the films in New York and Los Angeles over the course of about three weeks. Mr. Kwei-Armah said all the participants were paid “a token couple of dollars,” and several people donated their money back to the theater. The entire project cost about $50,000, which came from donations made by the theater’s subscribers and patrons.

Read the whole article here.  Watch the first video here, written by Anna Deavere-Smith.  I think it is great, harrowing, thrilling.  You’d be a fool not to stop reading this now and go watch it (just wish I could have embedded it).

As I said these are all just the tip of a magnificent iceberg. The YouTube Symphony was just the beginning. We are sure to have many more such experiments in the years ahead. Some will be full on narrative features.  Some experimental tone poems. Others scandalous hilarious sketch pieces.  The gates have been stormed.

The tools are being built.  On a similar note, Clay Shirky recently expressed the hopes that the Internet can now transform government and truly advance democracy (hat tip: Chris Dorr).

T.S. Eliot once said, “One of the most momentous things that can happen to a culture is that they acquire a new form of prose.” I think that’s wrong, but — (Laughter) I think it’s right for argumentation. Right? A momentous thing that can happen to a culture is they can acquire a new style of arguing: trial by jury, voting, peer review, now this. Right?

A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetimes, in the last decade, in fact. It’s large, it’s distributed, it’s low-cost, and it’s compatible with the ideals of democracy. The question for us now is, are we going to let the programmers keep it to themselves? Or are we going to try and take it and press it into service for society at large?

Political change.  New art forms.  A better world. It all takes my time, but we do push it forward, together.

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  1. Audrey Ewell / Oct 10 at 8:30am

    Time and place, respect: I don’t think we’re there, as we barrel forward in an age of entitlement. I for one am not content to have people use snippets of my work in a context that I don’t support. It has happened before and it will happen again. I think people should ask first. And I still think no means no, no matter the context. If we lived in a society where that was respected, then there would be the potential for much greater true collaboration among artists and makers. But there is a whole segment of people who don’t think media should cost them anything. It disrespects the sacrifices of the original maker. A true collaboration isn’t possible unless all parties are willing participants. And I think it’s one thing when there skilled, dedicated makers like Hartley or Gaitskill at the helm, as opposed to a random guy who ripped your movie off a torrent. Hartley and Gaitskill et al know the sacrifices, have the work ethic and honesty to respect the source material in some way. I don’t necessarily see that in remix culture as a whole, and there’s a backlash against it in several creative (especially music) circles. We’re just not decent enough people to make this work, to be respectful. But you hit a giant button for me today, as people have used some of our footage in a way that glorifies something I abhor, so: timing. But I don’t think you’re talking about people who rip and use your stuff without permission; I think you’re talking about something I think of as artists speaking through the ages, a kind of grand dialogue of big ideas through time. For instance, Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights: I’m so in love with this devastating film; I feel the cold whisper of Bronte’s hand reaching through time and coming alive again in the honest work of another great artist. Even as Arnold made the film boldly her own, she also respected the core truth of the original in a fundamental way. I think it takes a real artist and decent human being to be able to respect the truth of another. And I’m not so sure that everyone is a true artist, or a decent human being. And today I’m less sure than I was yesterday. But if there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that this will be the discussion for some time to come.

  2. Audrey Ewell / Oct 10 at 8:30am

    “And I think it’s one thing when there *ARE* skilled…” Sorry. That sort of typo drives me crazy.

  3. Ted Hope / Oct 10 at 8:30am

    I hear you Audrey. I was generally thinking about work that we DESIGN for collaboration — or at least offer after the fact. Yeah: “artists speaking through the ages, a kind of grand dialogue of big ideas through time” = what I dream of. And so agree with you on Andrea Arnold’s work. I am going to do what I can to connect the two of you, being fans of each of you as I am.

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