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We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen — which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about. I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation — what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.
This list, like last year’s, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep. Regarding the lesser amount, I don’t blame the people — I blame the technology (of course). I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it — one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely — like I did with this — when it is still purely a draft).
I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future. I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is. And that I only found two directors to include this year. Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right? Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: “Those whom you don’t know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real.” How true that is!
Last year I asked and stated: “What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended.”
This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind. It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world. I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks. It can’t be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward. In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO). If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better — you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).
So without any further adieu, here’s my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, [...]
Last fall at PowerToThePixel I had the good fortune to be invited to partake in a ThinkTank on transmedia. They have recently published their report on the day and I encourage you to read it. Special thanks for Michael Gubbins for pulling the report together and facilitating the session.
Among the observations and recommendations:
• The business models of film and other creative industries are struggling because they are trying to dictate how customers use the media
• Creative industry needs to break free of restrictive single media practices with territorial rights and release windows
• Different media platforms are not always in competition and can cross-fertilise a brand and attract new audiences
• Value is moving away from product sales towards customer engagement with a brand
Earlier this year, while looking at Atlantic Magazine’s list of Brave Thinkers across various industries, I started to wonder who are of this ilk in our sector of so-called Independent Film.
- Franny Armstong – After making THE AGE OF STUPID via crowdsourcing funds, Franny also looked to the audience to help distribute her film, creating IndieScreenings.net and offering it up to other filmmakers (see The Yes Men below). By relying fulling on her audience from finance to distribution, Franny was able to get the film she wanted not just made, but seen, and show the rest of us to stop thinking the old way, and instead of putting faith in the gatekeepers, put your trust in the fans.
- Steven Beers – “A Decade Of Filmmaker Empowerment Is Coming” Steven has always been on the tip of digital rights question, aiding many, including myself, on what really should be the artist’s perspective. Yet it remains exceedingly rare that individuals, let alone attorneys, take a public stand towards artist rights — as the money is often on the other side.
- Biracy & David Geertz – Biracy, helmed by Geertz, has the potential to transform film financing and promotion. Utilizing a referral system to reward a film’s champions, they might have found a model that could generate new audiences and new revenue.
- Peter Broderick- Peter was the first person to articulate the hybrid distribution plan. He coined the term I believe. He has been tireless in his pursuit of the new model and generous with his time and vision. His distribution newsletter is a must have for all truly free filmmakers and his oldway/newway chart a true thing of beauty.
- Tze Chun & Mynette Louie – Last year, the director and producer of Children Of Inventiondecided that they weren’t going to wait around for some distributor to sweep them off their feet. They left Sundance with plans to adopt a hybrid plan and started selling their DVD off their website. They have earned more money embracing this new practice than what they could have hoped from an old way deal. As much as I had hoped that others would recognize the days of golden riches were long gone, Tze & Mynette were the only Sundance filmmakers brave enough to adopt this strategy from the start.
- Arin Crumley – Having raised the bar together with Susan Buice in terms of extending the reach of creative work into symbiotic marketing with Four Eyed Monsters, along with helping in the design of new tech tools for filmmakers (FEM was encouraging fans to “Demand It” long before Paranormal Activity), co-founding From Here To Awesome, Arin launched OpenIndie together with Kieran Masterton this year to help empower filmmakers in the coming months.
- IndieGoGo & Slava Rubin – There are many web 2.0 sites that build communities, many that promote indie films, many that crowd source funds, but Slava & IndieGoGo are doing it all, with an infectious and boundless enthusiasm, championing work and individuals, giving their all to find a new paradigm, and they might just do it.
- Jamie King – The experience of giving away his film “Steal This Film” lead Jamie to help build VODO an online mechanism initially built to help artists retrieve VOluntary DOnations for their work, but has since evolved to a service that helps filmakers distrubute free-to-share films through P2P sites & services, building on this with various experimental business models. Such practices aren’t for everyone, but they are definitely for some — VODO has had over 250,000 viewers for each of its first three releases in 2009 — and the road is being paved by Jamie’s efforts.
- Scott Kirsner – Scott’s book Friends, Fans, & Followers covered the work of 15 artists of different disciplines and how each have utilized their audience to gain greater independence and freedom. Through his website CinemaTech, Scott has been covering and questioning the industry as it evolves from a limited supply impulse buy leisure buy economy to an ubiquitous supply artistcentric choice-based infrastructure like nobody else. His “Conversation” forum brought together the tech, entertainment, & social media fields in an unprecedented way.
- Pericles Lewnes – As a filmmaker with a prize winning but underscreened film (LOOP), Peri recoginized the struggle of indie filmmaking in this day and age. But instead of just complaining about it like most of us, Peri did something about it. He built bridges and alliances and made a makeshift screening circuit in his hometown of Annapolis, MD, founding The Pretentious Film Society. Taking indie film to the bars with a traveling projector and sound system, Peri has started pulling in the crowds and getting money back to the filmmakers. A new exhibition circuit is getting built brick by brick, the web is expanding into a net, from a hub spokes emmenate until we have wheels within wheels within wheels. Peri’s certainly not the only one doing it, but he brings an energy and passion we all need.
- Cory McAbee – It’s not enough to be a talented or innovative filmmaker these days. You must use the tools for entrepreneuarial activity that are available and you have to do it with flair. We can all learn from Corey. His films, his music, his live shows, his web stuff — it all rocks and deserves our following and adoption.
- Scott Macauley – some producers (like yours truly) write to spread the gospel, happy just to get the word out, not being the most graceful of pen. Scott however has been doing it with verve, invention, wit, and style for so long now, most people take his way wit words as a given. Not only is it a pleasure to read, the FilmmakerMagazineBlog is the center of true indie thought and appreciation. It’s up to the minute, devoid of gossip, deep into ideas, and is generally a total blast. And the magazine is no slouch either. And nor are his films. Can we clone the man?
- Brian Newman – After leaving Tribeca this year, Brian has showed no signs of slowing down, popping up at various conferences like PttP and the Flyaway Film Fest to issue missives & lectures helping to articulate both the problems facing indies these days along with starting to define how we will find our way out. Look to Brian to be doing something smart & exciting in the media world in 2010; somewhere someone smart should find a way to put this man to work shortly, but here’s hoping he does it on his own so we can all benefit from his innovative ideas.
- Nina Paley – In addition to successively adopting an “audience distribution” model for her film Sita Sings The Blues, Nina has been incredibly vocal about her experiences in the world of “free”, helping to forge a path & greater understanding for other filmmakers. And now her film is getting traditional distribution at the IFC Center in NYC (and our whole family, including the 9 year old spawn, dug it!)
- Jon Reiss – After adopting the DIY approach for his film Bomb It, Jon chose to share the lessons he’s learned in ever increasing ways, from his blog (and this one), to articles for Filmmaker Mag, to finally to the must-have artist-centric distribution book THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE. Anyone considering creating a truly free film, this book is mandatory reading first. Full disclosure: I penned an intro to Jon’s book.
- Mark Rosenberg – What does it take to create a new institution these days? Evidently quite a bit, because I can only think of one in the film space and that’s Rooftop Films. Mark curates and organizes with a great team of folks, who together have brought new audiences new films in new venues. NY is incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Rooftop’s work, but here’s hoping that Mark’s vision spreads to other cities this coming year.
- Liz Rosenthal – There is no better place to get the skinny on what the future for film, indie film, truly free film, artist-centric film, and any other form of media creation than London’s Power To The Pixel. Liz founded it and has catapulted what might once have been fringe truly into the mainstream. Expanding beyond a simple conference into a year round forum for future forward media thought, PttP brainstorms, curates, and leads the way in transmedia creation, curation, & distribution. Full disclosure: I was PttP keynote speaker this year.
- Lance Weiler – In addition to being a major force in both Transmedia thought, DIY distribution, and informative curatorial,with his role in Power To The Pixel, From Here To Awesome, DIY Days, & Radar web show but his generous “Open Source” attitude is captured by The Workbook Project, perhaps the most indispensable website for the TFFilmmaker. He (along with Scott Kirsner) provides a great overview of the year in tech & entertainment on TWP podcast here. It’s going to be in exciting 2010 when we get to see him apply his knowledge to his next project (winner of Rotterdam Cinemart 2009 prize and now a participant in the 2010 Sundance screenwriters’ lab). Full disclosure: This is that has signed on to produce Lance’s transmedia feature H.I.M.
- Thomas Woodrow – As a producer, Thomas has embraced the reality of the marketplace and is not letting it stand in his way. There is perhaps no other producer out there who has so fully accepted the call that indie film producing nowadays also means indie film distribution. He’s laying out his plan to distribute BASS ACKWARDS immediately after its Sundance premiere through a series of videos online. Full disclosure: I am mentoring Thomas vis the Sundance Creative Producing Lab.
- TopSpin Media – As their website explains: “Topspin is a technology platform for direct-to-fan maketing, management and distribution.” They are also the tech behind Corey McAbee’s activities and hopefully a whole lot of other filmmakers in the years behind. Founded by ProTools’ creator, Peter Gotcher, and Shamal Raasinghe, TopSpin is a “white label” set up thathas the potential to usher in the Age Of Empowerment for the artist/creator class. Today it is primarily a tool for musicians, but expect it to migrate into filmdom fully pretty damn soon.
- The Yes Men - The Emma Goldman (“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”) TFF 2009 Award winners for keeping both politics and film marketing fun, these pranksters hit all the fests, winning awards, and using it to launch their own distribution of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD. Bravery’s always been their middle name, but they are among the first of rising tide of filmmakers willing to take for full responsibility for their film.
I don’t have that answer and I will leave it to the others (at least for today) as so many are offering options:
- Francis Ford Coppola has got his opinion (and it sure got a lot of comments when I posted it to Facebook).
- The New Yorker ran a funny piece on the state of publishing that read a bit like Scott Macauley’s Letter From The Near Future.
- Power To The Pixel just delivered three awesome days of discussions of new forms (Check out their recommended reading).
- Arin Crumley and Jamie King have some interesting solutions.
- The industry can’t figure out formats yet again.
- the change social media has delivered is pretty astounding.
That’s Aza Raskin from Mozilla. And this is an attempt to explain Google Wave:
What are the other five tools that will make sure tomorrow does not look like today that I should be posting about?
Just spreading the word…
I am in London to deliver the key note speech at Power To The Pixel. This is that speech.
Take Back What Has Always Been Yours
Cinema is a driving force in my life. I don’t want it to leave us, nor do I want to have to leave it behind; it’s provided me with hope and inspiration, and an incredibly fulfilling livelihood. It is also a one hundred year old industry, and, in my opinion, damn close to both a perfect art form and a perfect entertainment, but is also one whose applicability to our lives and livelihoods must now be completely reevaluated.
Cinema, in its current concept and execution, is both derived from and depending on a world that we’ve passed by.
• It is no longer is the most complete & representative art form for the world that we inhabit.
• It no longer mirrors how we currently live in the world.
• Cinema is now a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day to day.
We must also recognize that there is no workable present day business model to support the current mode of cinema, other than one built on the exclusionary practice of isolated control of the funding, marketing, distribution, and exhibition systems. We know the model for financing and distribution — and by extension, also creation — is now running on fumes.
• How long can the controlling studio model survive when the wall of control has already come done and the people — now embracing that they are both audiences and creators — have recognized the power they truly have and will unlikely ever surrender that power again?
• How long can a business based on library assets survive when everything that has been digitized has also been copied and can now be spread with a touch of a button – and every time it is stopped, it is only to reappear somewhere else.
Sure, these are big problems before us, but being here, joining in the conversation today, is truly exciting because we are here to define and develop that new art form, one that in turn can spawn it’s supportive business model.
This can be done.
This will be done.
And whether we call it cross-platform, transmedia, or just good old “cinema”, we will do it.
In re-building our representative art form to truly demonstrate how we live, we will also develop a business model specifically for it:
• One founded on access and transparency,
• One where the rewards come from the work rendered and not the control maintained.
This is the hope has brought us together and it is this hope that will truly move us forward.
We not only all get to participate in this reinvention of cinema, but we all HAVE to participate in it. Things have changed:
• Previously creators couldn’t – or perhaps wouldn’t — truly participate in the whole of cinema .
If we as creators redefine cinema as its complete whole — if we take back what has always been ours — cinema will no longer be the same art form it was 100 years ago, nor will we have the same film industry that we do today. Yet, to think forward, we have to look backwards and recognize cinema for what it truly is and stop naming a part of it as the whole.
• Cinema is not just the narrative component.
• Cinema is the entire process;
• it is the dialogue that goes on between the audience and the content.
• It is the experience that resonates long after the lights have been turned on.
Cinema is supported by six pillars and until now creators truly only participated in two of them: content and production.
Content, being made up of sound, image, time, and narrative has had more than enough for a singular author to content themselves with.
Production, until twenty years or so ago, generally meant creators had to work for someone else because the cost of production was so excessive (that they weren’t able to afford it on their own). The economic barrier to personally produce what you conceive has now virtually disappeared.
For the last two decades Independent filmmakers mistakenly perceived it as some sort of victory that they had the opportunity to participate in the first two pillars, but in settling for dominion of these two, we haven’t seen the forest for the trees.
When we look at the great woods that surround us now, we should recognize that we have not just the possibility, but also the necessity, to participate in the other four pillars of cinema:
We must embrace this opportunity to engage in these aspects or we will lose it.
Those in control of the financing & distribution apparatus have historically limited the creative team’s full involvement to only content & production. For if they “grant” direct access to the consumer, the audience, or the fan, they will also reduce their own control of the gate, of the choices, & of the rewards.
Control, be it through:
• limited supply to the audience,
• the access to capital to the creators,
• and the marketing, distribution and exhibition apparatus
has kept access to all six pillars distanced from those that actually generate the stories, and as result no where near the full potential that we have in us.
With our new access and involvement, that power
to spread, and
is going to be owned by each and every one of us.
In denying the creative class access to those other four pillars of cinema, our Industry also inhibited the narrative form from expanding beyond a linear structure and its delivery from migrating from a singular platform. Yet, the creative side somehow not just readily accepted, but also propagated ,the myth that this is how it was supposed to be. For 100 years, we embraced a short sighted vision of what cinema — it’s creation and appreciation – is .
When considering the audience’s actual experience of cinema, the creative class has embraced a false and unnecessary demarcation
• between art & commerce,
• between content & marketing, and
• between creator and audience.
Marketing & Narrative each influence each other. Each can be used together to effectively shape our perception and knowledge of the events we intend to consume.
• Isn’t “discovery” the first point in the narrative chain?
• Isn’t “promotion” about the point of impact for the audience’s “discovery” and its subsequent resonance?
Cinema, and its business, changes with our acceptance of the whole definition of our work.
The “sell” is part of our creation; we enter our stories by the path the piper of marketing paves in front of us. We react not just by our own instincts, but also in accordance with what is happening around us, what our contemporaries are experiencing too. If we stop being cynical about the “marketing” aspects and use them to shape our narratives — and make sure that the narrative also shapes those points of impact we call marketing — our stories will have more influence, depth and resonance, by the sheer fact that they are now more complete, carried from our moment of discovery, reinforced through moments of resonance, and represented by the objects we surround ourselves with.
By shedding the false construct of a line between the form and its delivery, we transform our art form.
• By extending the narrative in the direction of what once was called marketing or business, cinema itself is no longer a line, but a sphere — a full world and no longer just a slice of life.
• By removing the constrictions of the where and when we encounter cinema, it becomes a greater influence on our lives.
• By spreading the opportunities we have to engage, both back and forth, across multiple platforms, cinema is no longer an impulsive location-centric activity, but an ever-present and consistent choice.
• By changing from a monologue to a dialogue with our audiences, we return ownership to the commons and gain back loyalty in exchange.
As storytellers we have been trained to think predominately in the form of the feature length narrative; it is the byproduct of our tunnel vision, of our acceptance of a limited definition of cinema restricted to singular aspects of a far more rich communal experience. For our art form and our business to both reflect the realities of the world we are now living in we have to embrace a new set of “best practices” for the narrative form, solutions that attract new audiences, experiments that can lead to new business models.
We have to erase the division between content and marketing, between art and commerce, between creation, presentation, and appreciation. As creators, entrepreneurs, and audiences we have to leap into the whole of cinema, abandon the trees, and enter the forests. I don’t have an answer yet, but I suspect that the list of what we all need to embrace will include aspects of all six pillars of cinema and not just the two we have aligned ourselves with. In the days ahead the “best practices” for engagement in the six pillars of cinema will become clearer, but some things are already evident, and by no means is what I have to offer is a comprehensive list, but I do think that if my future collaborators entered my offices, already armed with the following considerations, the solutions to some of the struggles we have in our industry currently would feel far more evident.
So with regard to:
CONTENT & ITS CREATION:
• Expand the narrative — along a thematic premise — from just a feature format to also include multiple short form works, that can be used to seed, coralle, and bridge audiences from one work to the next.
• Create storyworld instructions that will allow others to also enter and participate in the narrative. This guide will describe what rules must be followed in the creation of characters and their actions.
• Open the narrative and erase the end, or rather give multiple opportunities for endings, as audiences want to re-engage in new and different ways at different times.
• Open the narrative and offer alternative points of view, so that the experience no longer is single character-centric.
• Consider opportunities for off-line discussions and individual customization to re-enter and even influence the narrative.
o Should characters, in addition to audiences, comment on the choice creators make?
o Where can user-generated modifications enter the narrative later on?
ß Beyond story & character, can audience-generated image-overlays play a role in the experience?
• Shed the notion that is distancing for an audience to have characters played by different actors.
o as the great works of both Shakespeare and Dr. Who demonstrate, we can derive pleasure from witnessing the interpretation of a role by many performers.
ß Even within a singular narrative
• Embrace collaboration; there is so much work to be done, a singular author can not build the entire world.
o Where can the crowd provide material in an organic way that will enhance their relationship to central work?
o Be willing to just think wildly at times.
ß Have a collaborative brainstorming session with like minded storytellers on how to expand the narrative.
• Is there a way that multiple people could collaborate around this idea?
• Are supporting characters worthy of their own stories, own experiences, own environments?
• Could alternate futures and alternate paths be sketched out now?
• Record data and provide access to it every step of the way. Show how fans how it is done. Pull back the curtain and let others see the mystery.
o Record the recording.
o Let the crew broadcast and comment.
• Recognize cast, crew, & vendors as our work’s initial community. Bring them into the discussion.
• Provide many points across many platforms for discovery by audiences.
o This can come from websites and blogs, video content, or games.
o Trailers, clips, and posters are the most traditional way, but even in these arenas there is still much room for expansion and innovation.
ß These introduction mechanisms can be used not just for the whole, but also for each step in the process and narrative.
• Provide the audience with the proper context for appreciation.
o This usually comes from providing some ongoing curatorial services for audiences to understand how it fits in the entertainment and cultural chains.
ß If you like x, then you will also like y.
ß Provide other cultural artifacts for comparison.
ß Curate and show what else you love.
• Brainstorm participatory opportunities:
o What are the gaming structures inherent to the narrative?
ß Are there a missions and obstacles that your characters face that could be mirrored in a basic game environment?
ß Can players interact in a gaming world via the appropriation of character traits that the story origninates?
• Provide multiple areas of participation on a casual level.
o What aspect of the story would be a fun application or widget that is spreadable?
o Does story development, trivia, or gaming warrant prizes, cookies, or contest provisions?
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a creative story level.
o Design characters that can travel into other creators’ hands.
o Iconic costumes or behavior alleviate the need for spector actor identification and thus increases spreadability.
o Totemic props, dressing, & design allow story environments to permeate the boundaries of our real world as fans appropriate such objects and display them.
• Provide fans the opportunity to create on the same lines as the story’s originators.
o Allow for remixing and reposting. Alternate POVs and approaches to the material make for a richer experience for the hard-core.
o examine how some narratives encourage fan fiction — for isn’t this something every storyteller wants: the fan-fiction user/creator to become also the advertiser/promoter.
• Accept that audiences like to both be directed and to participate;
o both the truly active and the somewhat passive experiences are pleasurable.
o It is up to us to show how this duality can be enabled.
• Demonstrate to audiences how they can participate more with (and in) our stories.
o Instead of defining ourselves as the creator, we should accept ourselves as enablers.
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a fan/appreciation level.
o Let them in on the details of how and why. Where and when and on what was it shot? The details should be built into all data you deliver.
o What themes within the narrative allow for aggregation on single subject websites?
ß I.e. “If only there was a man who could…”,
ß “The worst day at the worst job is when…”
• Provide insight into the process. Allow audiences to get to know the creators. Build a friends & family fan-base.
• Offer (and reward) fans opportunities to create and thus aggregate different promotional tools
o Posters & trailers
o Fan fiction
• Build referral activities into the narrative and engagement processes.
• Provide individual curators with unique opportunities throughout the process.
• Make presentation (exhibition)an event.
o Add a live social component.
ß Know your fans in advance.
o Make it something that is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
• Provide opportunity for deeper appreciation.
o Furnish study notes and
o moderate discussions that allow the content to more fully resonate with audiences.
• Keep the experience alive long after the work has ended.
o Provided totemic items (aka merchandising)
o How can fans demonstrate their passion?
I can’t say if I got the order or organization of this right. I certainly know that the list is nowhere near complete. And I know there is no template for creation, no template for production, nor for any of the six pillars. Yet although there may be no template, there are “best practices”. I hope I have given some fuel to the thought of what those may be.
For in taking control of what has always been ours, for embracing what is the whole and not just the part of cinema, we, both the original creators and the engaged audiences, together expand the potential for narrative, for cinema, and for appreciation. This is the mission before us. This is our mandate and this is why I am excited to get to discuss this with all of you in the days ahead. Our industry has a great opportunity before us. I hope we can truly take advantage of it.