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The Sky Is Not Falling: Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System // submit a post -- nelson@nelsoncarvajal.com

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

End Of Year DIY Perspective: How Our Moviegoing 2.0 Culture Redefines Our Artistic Vision & Relevance

One of the special features on the DVD of Jean-Luc Godard's Week End (New Yorker Video label) is a short interview with director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas). Halfway through the interview, after pointing out the iconic and technical significance of Godard's body of work, Figgis makes a fascinating aside: Godard's recent reaffirmation as a "modern" filmmaker is a direct result of his singular commitment to expressing a cavalcade of ideas without ever giving his audience a shred of attention or consideration. In short, Godard was the uber-artist for employing tunnel vision in his approach to the medium. Yes, he was a philosopher and a technical wizard in the art of filmmaking. But audience engagement was the last thing on his mind. Godard never aimed to capitalize on a single idea or selling point--he wanted to avoid making industries of such things.

So you can see why I sat up and panicked. It's December of 2011. The new year is days away. Further technological advancements in the democratized field of filmmaking will be made. More intuitive online platforms for artists' exposure will surely be founded. Our storytelling 2.0 model of audience building, engagement and replenishing will evolve. But all of this has one main theme at the center: an "all-encompassing" work ethic. Today's filmmaker has a lot more on his to-do list than Godard did.

FREE CINEMA NOW was created in reaction to an independent new media movie industry that was teetering between self-depletion and a seismic cultural breakthrough. I wanted to (and still will!) curate and sustain a dialogue with my peers that would enlighten, inspire and provoke action in our new roles as "content creators." All of the posts on FREE CINEMA NOW suggest the plans, possibilities and problems that come with our new industry. Yes, it's easier than ever to create a film (prosumer cameras!). Yes, it's even easier to get your work out there (YouTube. Vimeo. Do I need to go on?). But are enough independent filmmakers walking through these doors of opportunity? Even if they are, the more important questions are: Are they making it count? Are they creating an exciting cultural tidal wave for industry reform? Are those cross-promotional windows creating real revenue streams?

I personally think that a cultural shift has in fact occurred. I feel that our audiences have gotten over their dependency on Hollywood's model of big stars and big weekends. They have even lost their itch for the old independent model of festival-prestige titles getting their moment in the sun. Today's audience is a tidal wave of new media brains that is far more complex to please. People are now connected to multiple physical and psychological platforms. From niche social outings to focused LinkedIn groups online, the new media individual is not phased by a flux of information or content. Thus, the new moviegoer is insanely sophisticated. In the 60s, Godard stopped the presses by abruptly introducing text on the screen. Today's moviegoer is trained to watch a film on YouTube, disassociate the in-window advertisements and actively participate in the live comment feed beneath the streaming content. They sleep with an iPad or mobile device within arms reach. They are ready for aggressive content consumption. 

And fellow filmmaker, you better bring it.

So I suppose my real concern is this: If a true artist--like Godard--can only be preoccupied with one's own vision or idea, where does that put us storytellers 2.0? Our "vision" or "idea" is usually the film itself. But nowadays that film is just the tip of the iceberg. A larger narrative is built around the edges of that main piece of content (i.e. the film); this narrative requires us to be transparent in our execution. Every shred of concept exists somewhere--in a Facebook post or in a Tweet--and our own narrative of brand-building is tracked by an RSS Feed of some sort. Yes, we may have lost the mystery of yesteryear's filmmakers but have we lost our artistic relevance?

I don't think we have. If anything, what we have lost is a way to give our new work-flow the heft that it deserves. We all are self-franchises now. Our art can never be the kind of one-sided rhetoric that Godard or Kartovsky or Antonioni could build a foundation on. We can certainly emulate those artistic voices in our work--but these figures can never overwhelm the larger all-encompassing canvas that we are each creating. We are now the new radicals. All of our work is on the line and--more dramatically--out in the open. How's that for artistic bravura?


Note: I loved the analogy that this video below impressed upon me. Every piece of content helps create the larger canvas of us--the filmmaker, the artist, the icon.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 11th Hour Question: Is Your Fan Following Your True Audience Group?

It's going to be a cloudy day for you if you come to realize that your core online fan group is solely comprised of grandma and cousin Kenneth from Wichita, Kansas.

I always cringe when I see independent filmmakers create a Facebook fan page, Twitter page or even a Myspace FILM page and then...they just walk away from it. It's as if they're convinced that simply publishing these pages will attract fans/followers/potential viewers outside of their close friends and family. But this isn't a FREE CINEMA NOW entry that is going to beat you over the head on how you absolutely must be rigorous in your quest to build your online brand (even though I'm pretty sure every post that I've written pulsates with that message in some way).

Rather, let this entry be a potent reminder that audience management/cultivation through social media is still very real and very VALUABLE. If social media wasn't valuable, why would VOD cable marketers develop an app for users to "Like" the movies they're watching on various platforms? Or why would Cornell University perform an extensive study on the cross-cultural behavioral mood swings on Twitter?

For every indie filmmaker/content creator, social media should be viewed as more than a supplemental stroke for outreach. It should be viewed as a vital filmmaking instrument. In the spirit of the new storytelling 2.0 model--where audience interaction is very much part of the filmmaker's creative process--I wanted to reiterate some key points of execution when it comes to fan building for your next project.  These points--charmingly referred to as the "A-path"--find their origins in the informative SocialSteve's Blog:

"The “A-path” is about moving potential customers from interest to promoter step by step: 

1) Get their ATTENTION
2) ATTRACT them
3) Gain AFFINITY for you
4) Have regular engagements with you and keep them as your AUDIENCE
5) Get them to be your ADVOCATES – the greatest level to reach.


1) Validate – make sure that you are using keywords in “Headline” tweets and/or hashtags that are commonly used by your potential audience. Do not assume what you call your trinket or service is the same thing the potential audience would use to find you and your competition.
2) Respond – search for retweets of your tweets, replies to your tweets and mentions of your username. Make sure to follow up with either a thank you or appropriate response. 
3) Personalize – I emphasized the importance of one-to-one relationships to strengthen advocates. Therefore, do not correspond one-to-one in a generic fashion. Try to make communication specific to the individual to yield a stronger relationship."

I know that for some indie filmmakers--particularly those attached to the old film school mentality of "Hey man, I'm just a director..."--this commitment to active online-audience-relationship-building will seem worse than washing that pile of dishes in the sink. But for those of you willing to go along with it, you'll soon appreciate the difference between having a small group of people who "follow" you and having a core group of fans who will turn into viewers and (hopefully) ardent fans of you AND your work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Documentary Storytelling: The Myth Of Objectivity

"In documentary we deal with the actual, and in one sense with the real. But the really real, if I may use that phrase, is something deeper than that. The only reality which counts in the end is the interpretation--which is profound." - John Grierson

We live in such a strange time. It seems like there is social unrest at every corner of the world. And as filmmakers, we are storytellers. But what stories are we telling? It's hard to get through the day without checking on the latest #OccupyWallStreet update. We're all affected by such monumental civic events.  Facebook news feeds are riddled with individuals asking for cameras/collaborators to cover this nationwide event...or at least their perspective of it.

In recent years, documentaries have been quite popular with mainstream audiences (look no further than the Palme d'Or-winning Fahrenheit 9/11). Stories on war, education, prostitution & even dolphins have found their core audience (and in some cases, activism). But what of it all? At the end of the day, can documentaries ever really be objective? Yes, these docs all follow REAL people and events but they are at the helm of a creator (or team of creators). And thus the content in skewed (even if only slightly) to reflect a certain stance, angst or reflection of the creator.

So then, is the documentary filmmaker really a TRUE storyteller? Or are they only being true to their own sentiments and beliefs?

These questions are nothing new. This has been an ongoing debate since documentaries first emerged (some call those docs "propaganda" films). But I re-introduce these questions in light of today's new media landscape. 

In previous interviews I've stated that the storytelling transaction has evolved from the "sender-receiver model" to the "sender-receiver-sender" model. Case in point: In ancient times, a filmmaker would put a documentary out theatrically and that content/viewpoint would be the bottom line for that particular subject matter. The only alteration to that film's message would come in the critical reception from a small group of writers. Today, a filmmaker uploads a short documentary to Vimeo or YouTube and though critics still exist--yes, it's true!--the direct content contributors are now the viewers/audience members themselves. Just look at the comments section. Or look at who is sharing the video. Or who is not. Because the platform has changed from elite exhibition to democratized online social viewing, the film itself has changed. It's no longer in command of the screen. The screen encompasses so much more: "Likes," tweets, fervent responses, etc. This is exhilarating storytelling.

So now the viewers are the gatekeepers. They're the distributors of your work. They will decide. Does this make you the doc filmmaker want to aim for objectivity in your storytelling? Or is the new media landscape the long-awaited answer for subjective doc filmmaking?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Letting Go Of Copyright & Embracing The Fundamentals Behind Creative Commons

"Piracy is great." - Harmony Korine

Last week Facebook pissed off a lot of its users, detractors and indifferent site visitors when it introduced its new feature: the "Timeline." As if privacy was erased yesterday, a good chunk of Internet bloggers questioned the ethos behind having one's entire life available in a social media platform. But am I missing something? Aren't we over the whole privacy hump already? Are people still under the spell of attaining some romantic mystery? These people need to get with it. This is OUR era: An open, free network of information, ideas and innovation. Non-transparent walls are not welcomed. 

Facebook isn't doing anything it wasn't bound to do anyway. A massive social network that spent years building a base of active users HAS to raise the level of access and interactivity at some point. The only logical way of doing this is by highlighting and exercising the key trait of every user (and of every human being): STORYTELLING. The "Timeline" is a natural progression. Share the story of your life. It can be a jarring idea to embrace but put it into the context of your trade or field of expertise and it can be beneficial. Consider our trade as artists: Filmmaking/Promotion/Content Creating/STORYTELLING. It's a match made in heaven!

Month in and month out on this blog I insist for my fellow indie filmmakers to continue to brand themselves online and to intuitively share their content on focused platforms/dial tones. I think now that such a mammoth enterprise like Facebook will push for this kind of daily practice, more artists will lower their guard and finally join the already growing mindset behind an open network of creativity and content. From this, I think the next big hurdle will be in accepting the fact that piracy/appropriation art can lead to great things. Let's face it: We're not making money by spending money on short films and then uploading them to Vimeo. 

So why not push for more "sharing" of our content? A lot of us already are: We have our videos streaming for free on YouTube, Myspace Video, TwitVid and so on. Why not have our work available for fellow artists to expound upon?


The biggest thing I can take away from the above video is the wonderful line, "You have to move away from thinking about content to thinking about community." I believe that the fundamentals behind the Creative Commons practice are what will save the independent film industry and will also propel our new media future. One of my favorite tweets from indie film pioneer Ted Hope expresses that yearning:

This goes beyond pirating work to share with bigger audiences (which is a blessing no matter which way you slice it) or appropriating content to elevate the source material (which is an art form that is making a triumphant return). There is a powerful analogy here: "Copyright" is the old version of independent filmmaking and "Creative Commons" is without question the here and now. Our new media industry is now a culture of connectivity, access and open doors. None of this fits the old business model of stuffy Hollywood agents, social status and studio doors slamming in your face.

Take this all in. Think about it. Get excited.

And if you're still one of those artists who hates the future of social media (Timelines!) and can't bear to put your work out there for those to experience and expound upon...well...maybe yours is a story/brand/image not worth sharing.


Below: Some recent works of appropriation art.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Poverty, Pluck & Perseverance: The Life Of The DIY Artist

"I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick." - Maya Deren

There is a negative sentiment shared by some in the industry these days toward the term "DIY": For those individuals, going DIY can be a precursor to failure.

Of course, that kind of connotation doesn't benefit anyone of us who are plugging away at our own DIY endeavors. As DIY filmmakers, we're prone to suffering. We can take it. This was never going to be easy. Besides, whoever said that the DIY mindset/route was the ticket to becoming a conglomerate movie-producing titan? Or that anyone of us could become blockbuster filmmakers?

The line in the sand needs to be drawn.

DIY, at its core, is the lifestyle of the true independent artist. It's about risking life and limb (and that's not an exaggeration) to attain a truly fulfilling work-flow of creating engaging and valid content, without compromise. And if we can somehow leverage today's new media tools to acquire reasonable revenue streams, then that's a sacred plus.

On the flip side, anyone who aims to become the next Michael Bay should quickly jump off the DIY ship. There are plenty of miscellaneous crew positions to be filled on the next "Pirates of the Caribbean" film. And nothing about working on bigger productions should be seen as "selling out." I should know. I've worked as a production assistant for such dreck as "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and even the tepid "The Dilemma." But I know in my heart that I'm an independent filmmaker. I don't intend to make the next "Transformers" in my lifetime. But if working a thankless position in an overstuffed Hollywood production helps me continue to produce my own work, then I'm reading the cards right.

My concern is that there may be mislabeled DIY artists who have every intention of directing the next "Conan the Barbarian" remake. Those filmmakers will be wasting their time by following the DIY route. Maybe that's where the negative connotation is stemming from. Maybe we tooted our horns as DIY artists too loudly and too quickly in the beginning. Maybe we let other aspiring filmmakers think it was going to be easy.

I feel this professional dilemma could be solved by highlighting one notion: Expectation. What do you--the individual reading this blog post--expect to happen? Are you in it for the TMZ-style fame and fortune? Do you want to be the next Luis Buñuel or Joseph Cornell? Maybe a little of both?

Once you figure that out, you can then gauge what you can sacrifice. For instance, if you want that top job in Hollywood, you really can't afford to flop out in an early stage. A dud cannot be your first film. Some strong ethos for this example can be found in Scott Macaulay's "When Should You Give Up?":

"Directors and producers rely on others to enable their visions, and it’s very difficult to tell them that those visions turned out to be not so visionary. Investors want to know their belief went to something worthy (to say nothing of their money back). It’s hard to admit to oneself that you have disappointed them. And then there are the crew who have done great work within a flawed project. For them, an audience will produce both pride and career opportunity. Finally, there are all those phone calls — “Hey, when’s the film coming out?”— and your own struggling ego, which says, there must be something more you can do.

Overarching there is the mindset that we have perhaps unfairly created, which is that a film’s failure to come out is a reflection of the will of its creator.

But some films shouldn’t come out. They don’t work, and they don’t represent the filmmakers’ potential as much as they need to."

Bottom line: If you want Jerry Bruckheimer's job, don't upload that ill-received karate-zombie movie to YouTube just yet. For the high-profile Tinseltown landscape, your window is microscopic. So make your movie count.

For the DIY auteur, DIY can lead to more hands-on, cavalier prospects. Consider some tips in Nayan Padrai's "Why We Call It Direct Distribution Instead Of DIY":

"If you are making a film and able to sell / license it to an (in-direct) distributor, great for you.  Start writing your next script.  But if you are like the 95% majority of Indie filmmakers, please accept that marketing and distribution is now a part of the job, but luckily you don’t have to DIY it.  Start your own distribution label (of course raise this money during your production finance stage itself), subcontract pieces of the workflow to enthusiastic and knowledgeable people, make your own output deals for now and the future, and embrace the free-market model of Direct Distribution."

Bottom line: Where the DIY landscape leaves a little more room for error (mainly due to the fact that most of the truly independent content is little-seen at first), experimentation and revision can flourish. The main glitch with the DIY arena still comes in the over-saturation of content. We still need to effectively curate content via dependable online platforms and channels of exhibition. And that's a full time job in and of itself.

So who are you? The truly independent DIY artist? Or the film student who still needs to make the trip out west to Hollywood?

I'm DIY all the way. For those of you who are as well, watch the two companion videos below. You might feel reawakened inside.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Storytellers Are Simply Curators Of Information"

There have always been the core ingredients behind the act of storytelling but as we propel wildly into the new media age of digital storytelling, we're seeing that most of the dialogue among content creators moves away from the storytelling fundamentals and more towards brass tax questions like--why aren't we making money at this?

An interesting thing has happened among the independents. For the first time--at least in my lifetime--we're seeing more of a gap between seasoned mentors and hungry apprentices in our workplace. The democratization of film has left up and coming indie filmmakers to become more cavalier and guerrilla; these days the indie industry resembles a volatile landscape packed with hungry and desperate artists.  On the other hand, seasoned industry pros seem to have become blindsided by the digital revolution, not knowing what to make of the fall of print journalism, the demise of regional film criticism and the introduction of non-traditional distribution/exhibition channels. From baffled to bewildered, who has time to hark back on the core fundamentals that make up our medium, our passion?

First, it pays to remember who we are as content creators/digital filmmakers. A wonderful write-up by social/digital media rhetoric scribe Aleks Krotoski gets back to the basics:

"Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses. When enlisted by charismatic leaders and turned into manifestos, dogmas and social policy, they've been the foundations for religions and political systems. When a storyteller has held an audience captive around a campfire, a cinema screen or on the page of a bestseller, they've reinforced local and universal norms about where we've been and where we're going. And when they've been shared in the corner shop, at the pub or over dinner they've helped us define who we are and how we fit in.

Human experience is a series of never-ending, overlapping stories bumping into one another in expected and unexpected ways. Our days are made up of personal narratives of good and evil, joy and conflict, magic potions and angry gnomes. They are naturally co-creations based on a push and pull of projection and interpretation. We interpret, analyse and synthesise the characters and events in our lives to help us make sense of the world, and these have been translated by professionals into folk tales, myths, legends, pantomime, bestsellers, soap operas and Hollywood blockbusters. Storytellers are simply curators of information who finesse the elements of a yarn into a beginning, middle and end."

In short, a rejuvenation between the passions of old and new, pro and novice, mentor and apprentice needs to happen. Instead of trying to monetize every inch of this still undefined new media industry why not continue to cultivate real storytellers, artists and leaders into roles that will eventually define this next wave of digital filmmaking? Some great work is still being made by the independent artists but unless those works are exhibited on high profile platforms, no one is talking about them--let alone buying them.

In the above video "15 Years of Film Distribution," three key questions about today's content consumption are asked:

1) Who's curating it?
2) How's it getting out there?
3) How are people finding it?

These three questions, which any producer might call 'the trilogy of terror,' are tackled with every week by bloggers, Vimeo users, Digital Spy articles, Mashable headlines and everything else that is able to be retweeted. But still, the real vital curation of information must come down between pro and novice. I always frown when I hear the word "intern" in our field. I always thought our lives as working artists was a two-way channel for inspiration. Breaking in to work in the new media industry shouldn't come down to merely coffee-fetching or transcribing. Collaboration is the key.

Near the end of the above video, one of the panelists confesses that she wishes some of the panel experts were indeed younger individuals. Maybe that's the missing ingredient: Instead of stressing over how to "fix" this crazy movie industry, we need to spend more time sharing our stories and insights with each other.

We can learn from each other. We're each others' core audience.

Maybe then there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Age Of DIY Consent: Desperate Times Call For Cavalier Risks

Microbudget filmmaking--or as it's known these days as "zero-budget"/"guerilla" filmmaking--is at a crossroads. As the DIY filmmaker, we're sometimes asking ourselves: Is this worth it? I'll admit that in a macro-centric-industry, one that is in a constant flux, it can be disheartening to still be a "micro" player. Big changes are happening. For content producers, Netflix is looking like less of a venue for streaming content, as they will probably lose their core audience soon. For the social media pioneers, an online earthquake will push followers to start trending Google+ sooner than later. With such industry-redefining events happening, how do we micro/DIY folks look to nab the eyes and ears of the masses?

I hate to sound like a broken record but I still think it'll come in innovation and a knack to be REALLY cavalier in how we tell, brand and deliver our stories. The dust hasn't settled yet. DIY is still very much alive and--more importantly--is a vital mindset for our independent industry. DIY has evolved from its original rebellious connotation; it is now the embodiment of new media enlightenment. Consider this video ad for Nokia. It was shot on a cell phone.

The production behind "Splitscreen: A Love Story" may have been well funded and of course is in a position for broader reach with the branding of Nokia behind it but it still employs the cavalier sensibilities of risk, experimentation and bravado.

The bottom line is this: It's good to be a struggling DIY filmmaker right now. Because we are pushed up against a wall of doubt, expectation and limited resources, we are the most dangerous players in the arena. We WILL get our content across to our focused audiences--if not the masses! We don't need to follow a yellow brick road to Hollywood fandom. We're going to off-road it to cinematic validity!

I like to look back at some fundamentals I wrote about for Cinefile near the end of last year in a piece titled "The Urgent Need For New Indie Filmmaking Myths":

"The fact of the matter is that the popular notion of "indie cinema" has been lost in translation. The myths of the hunger artist pushing to get their voice and work heard have been mishapen to represent a filmmaker merely crawling through film festivals for the sake of mirroring that unreachable Tinseltown lifestyle. Independent cinema for me was never about that. Let Hollywood be Hollywood. That business model works for them. For me, independent cinema is still coming to fruition. It's thinking outside of the box [...] Basically, individuals of influence in the indie realm need to start creating new myths for the coming waves of talent. The sad truth is that some film schools and institutions are still preaching and training future James Camerons; in other words, they're creating falsified notions for young filmmakers. To think that going to film school, reading a "How-To" book and submitting to a high profile festival is the one and only ticket to success is beyond ludicrous [...] We need to introduce the myths of alternate exhibition systems (e.g. digital downloads) as being the premiere--not secondary--avenues for indie artists. We need to introduce the myth of becoming the self-marketer as being a vital asset to directing/producing your film; thus throwing away the notion that solely making the film will suffice."

Our DIY movement was sprung from a need for change. Everything I have been writing, linking, referencing and highlighting in this FREE CINEMA NOW website has (hopefully) highlighted that fact. What I want to see from my peers are their continued efforts in producing engaging content. Don't be discouraged if you're not getting a thousands hits on YouTube right this moment. Keep creating. By creating, you're cementing your online brand/identity. Keep building your audience through social media pages like Facebook, Cinefile and the newly introduced Google+.

Stay strong. Stay alive.

Stay needed.


Note: A good guide for new media filmmakers can be found at "New Media Rights Advice To Filmmakers"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Flip Cam May Be Dead But The Rebel Indie Spirit Is Very Much Alive

Back in April it was announced that Cisco was planning to shut down its video department--in other words, the Flip Video Camera. While it came as a shock to most people, it pays to remember that technology these days changes quicker than an infant's diaper. It doesn't mean that the Flip Cam is obsolete; Cisco is just off to new ventures. What I always liked about the Flip Cams--and what I still do like about them--are their tremendous reach. Not reach in depth of field but in how easily they can be toted around and pulled out in a blink's notice. These are the REAL instruments of guerrilla and indie filmmaking. Fuck the setup--just point and shoot.

Now that Cisco has stamped an "RIP" on these cameras, I feel that they will grow to be treasured tools for true indie auteurs. In the same way that certain "film" cameras resurfaced for experimental filmmakers, Flip Cams will be Thor's hammer for digital filmmakers. And with no more of them being produced, you can bet they will be in demand. 

But what about the stories being told with Flip Cams? They're still as viable as anything being shot on 35mm. Like I always scream about: It's about content and NOT fancy cameras/expensive budgets! Consider filmmaker David Guy Levy's feature length film A Love Affair Of Sorts. It was shot entirely on Flip Cameras.

Los Angeles Times: "The 30-year-old Silver Lake resident made A Love Affair Of Sorts with just two $300 Flip camcorders, an actor he barely knows and a budget of $1,600. He's not just showing it in his living room, though: The movie, apparently the first Flip Cam movie to get a U.S. theatrical release, will open Friday in cinemas in L.A. and New York.

"A lot of people might question why I'm making the first Flip Cam movie," Levy said at his home, where half of A Love Affair Of Sorts was shot. "They might say, 'Why did you do that? Why not a big movie with a big story?' Well, I'm not trying to make Avatar."

The fact that a Flip is only a few inches tall helped create an intimacy that bigger, fancier cameras couldn't offer.
Awkward pauses, spasms of expressions and subtle drama are captured as the audience "secretly" watches from the coffee table or the bedside.

"With the Flip Cam, we can just put it down and two minutes later forget it was even there," Levy said. "We would interact and realize that we've had the camera rolling.""

Now I'm not saying that your next project should be shot on a Flip Cam. But know that for the true independents--a useful filmmaking instrument is a useful instrument nonetheless. "Share your story--in whatever capacity you can!"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cross-Platform Media, A Foil For SXSW & Tomorrow's Digital Life. The Future Of Indie Cinema Is Now.

For the longest time, movies were constrained to only exist in the time and space of a single screen (albeit a theatrical or television screen). Yes, they lived on in our heads, imaginations and aspirations but the sender-receiver model remained archaic (in plain terms that is). With the "New Cinema" upon us--that sometimes dangerous, always exhilarating landscape which is truly indie film--movies have now stretched to avenues of social filmmaking, Transmedia, revitalized underground cinema and much more. The short film, for example, is no longer a stepping stone; it's a valuable entity in a new market (VOD, iTunes, Mubi, etc.). And Transmedia, with its cross-platform approach to storytelling, is quickly becoming less of a novel gimmick and more of a cultural phenomenon. In this Tribeca (Online) Film Festival piece, this popular genre is put into context: "Whether called transmedia, multi-platform, cross platform or just cross media, filmmakers from all genres no longer just make films. Aspiring filmmakers in the social documentary sphere are facing the prospect of a media campaign of overwhelming proportions. But innovative and passionate socially-minded individuals are taking chances and creating blueprints for future filmmakers."

The key is that this new "blueprint" is not only on a single screen. It's interactive. It exists in offline social groups, gaming devices, mobile devices, guerrilla marketing campaigns, DIY cinemas and so forth. The ethos behind Transmedia--which lies in telling your story in EVERY possible capacity--is something that ALL new independent filmmakers/content creators need to embody, practice and elevate. With this new era of digital filmmaking/storytelling 2.0, the indie filmmaker needs to constantly be pushing the envelope in delivering or presenting his or her content. It's not enough to just "make" your film. You need to "make" your film matter in the eyes and ears of consumers/viewers who are swept up in the sea of content that is in the theatres, on TV and on the Internet. I think a big part in achieving this comes in the practicing ethos behind Transmedia/Cross-Platform storytelling.

For guidance on executing your multi-platform story (and remember that the "story" doesn't only have to be your film; it can be your branding, your company, your online identity, your crowdfunding idea, etc.), let me point you to Julie Matlin's helpful article "10 Things To Keep In Mind For Producing Cross-Platform Media":

"1. Pick your spot. Not every film/TV project needs an interactive game, original webisodes, extended interviews, director’s blog, a mobile app, mash-up tools, user-generated content, podcasts, online chats, screensavers...
2. Involve the audience. Capitalize on the unique opportunity to engage audiences more deeply through forms of interactivity ...
3. People connect with people. Digital or otherwise, audiences connect with stories through people...
4. Distribution as destination. Let your audience put your content in front of other audiences...
5. The end is just the beginning. Notions of development, production and post-production do not accurately define the realities of digital production...
6. Tailor production values to context. Do your business and your audience a favour: don’t apply film or TV production budgeting to digital programming...
7. Pay attention to marketers. The most innovative and engaging programming happening in the digital medium today is being led by marketers and interactive ad agencies...
8. Tell the whole story. Or at least a digital version of the whole story...
9. Measure and report meticulously. The only way to improve on what you’re doing today is to know if your content is being used at all...
10. Stay in the game. Avoid bleeding edge. Focus on content that you think can deliver value..."

In addition to successfully adapting to this "cross-platform" mindset, it also helps to learn that entities and organizations on the indie landscape are also adapting and responding to this cultural filmmaking change. For example, indie producer Ted Hope points to the Northside Film Festival as being "an answer to SXSW." As many have already discovered, SXSW in a lot of ways has grown to the mammoth scale of Sundance and can sometimes miss the initial intent: To find the TRULY independent films.

Hope writes: "The democratization of culture and the tools to create and share it is definitely been one of the more exciting trends of the recent past.  We see it in all spheres and aspects of our daily life, but what symbolizes it best?  Many friends and pundits characterize it as a dumbing down, but I truly perceive it as quite the opposite.  People everywhere are asking all of us to look and reach up, to aspire to more, to inspire each of us to cross into new realms.

DIY filmmaking is very much a part of [Northside's] mission. It’s now a given that many of the most exciting films at major American festivals are the product of a handful of friends working on a shoestring, and it’s time festivals gave these films the dedicated platform they deserve."

With more niche festivals emerging (and with better curating mindsets!), more indie filmmakers challenging the narrative form and the digital frontier becoming more than just an accessory (Haven't heard about iCloud? Read here), anyone who still shakes their head at the thought of filmmaking being synonymous with "digital" is begging to be left in the dust. There is nothing wrong with our medium evolving. In fact, it's expanding--and the digital frontier, the digital life is our right of passage.

The digital tomorrow will provide us the opportunity to really get our work, our voice out there. It already has.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Our Cinematic Post-Postmodern New (Media) Wave

This past weekend I wrote of the newly revitalized underground cinema as being a palpable gateway to the "New Cinema" (Regardless, the New Cinema is organic, ever-changing). That said, I still think it's essential for us independent filmmakers and content creators to start addressing the void in our immediate industry, our immediate culture. That void comes in the misguided collective mindset that ours is a failing or unfulfilled industry. Anyone who entered in the independent cinema game should NOT be surprised when they soon realize that overnight financial gains aren't a realistic feat. We become independent filmmakers because we are first artists. Those who think otherwise should read Ted Hope's powerful post, "A 'Career' In Indie Film? Better Have That Second Job Lined Up..."

In times of struggle and uncertainty--key words for our independent film realm--there lies great potential for reinvention, risk and (hopefully) reward. What I still find puzzling is that so many "independent" filmmakers insist on trying to play the role of the Hollywood filmmaker. They aim to make that ONE debut magnum opus. They waste lots of money they don't have. They waste lots of time they don't have. And ultimately, they scratch their head when their film doesn't get into Sundance--but that other film starring Woody Harrelson does.

This is our time to thrive creatively. This is our time to create challenging, counter pieces of cinema. Remember, counter cinema is always a reaction to the current culture (thus, the similarity to "counter culture"). If our current mainstream culture pushes for bloated 3D movies, skewed gatekeepers and star-crazy film festivals, why not offer DIFFERENT types of cinema to an untapped reservoir of eager viewers? We have no excuse anymore. Our distribution platform is Vimeo. It's YouTube. 

It's online.

This can be our New Media Wave; our stamp on the cinema. The thing about underground, radical cinema is that it's easily sharable both online and offline (those who don't believe in the physical culture should read the step-by-step manifesto).

Let's stop writing off these "different" types of cinema as just being viral fodder or out-of-reach niche content. If we can embrace these types of stories we can learn about new voices, new fundamentals and new visions. Maybe by challenging the typical "film school" rhetoric that so many find hard to shake off, we can lower our guards and find the courage to carry our industry to that sustainable stage of productivity we all strive for.


I've included four works below. Two of the works are from established, universally recognized filmmakers. The other two (including my own) are from this new crop of filmmakers. But all of them are uncompromising and singular in their execution.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Social Filmmaking: Casting The Viewer, The Individual

Our current era of independent filmmaking/exhibition/distribution has introduced alternate methods of delivery for the new media content creator. That is to say, the new indie filmmaker has to tell a story with much more frequency, sometimes over longer periods of time. Before, a filmmaker would just make the film and then hope the finished product connects with some sort of audience for fiscal gain (ticket sales, studio deals, yada, yada, yada). But Web 2.0 and the social media revolution have (thankfully) lifted Oz's curtain. Therefore, a revived need for (daily) content has really put filmmakers on the spot. The good news is, is that filmmakers have more power in actually choosing their audience than ever before. The bad news is that this daily content (an active Twitter feed, updated YouTube channels, blogs, etc.) is often free content and therefore returns no immediate revenue for the artist. But don't fret.

A post in Filmmaker Magazine--"The Microbudget Conversation: Art and Poverty"--really puts it in perspective:

"Throughout history there have been connections between oppositional art movements and reduced resources. There have been artists for whom a rhetoric of poverty — or, perhaps more accurately, a rejection of the conventions associated with making art in more accepted (and usually more expensive) ways — has enabled empowering forms of self-definition."

Thus, we find ourselves in a culture of "free content." The slogan has shifted from "Content is king" to "Free content is king." This is who we are. This is what we have to work with. Think about that.

This free content, again, has value for you the artist because it is defining who you are. And after you have developed your online voice--your online presence, your industry significance!--you can then identify your true audience. Audiences gravitate towards points of interest and the more clear, prominent (and I believe "distinct") you are as an independent filmmaker, the easier it will be to pinpoint your group of followers and provide them a direct feed. Think of the audience's points of interests as eventual points of purchase for the filmmaker. Sooner or later, these loyal fans will be there to help kickstart that passion of project of yours or will even be there to pay for a download your completed film project. They'll be there and they'll support because they will care about your work. Because you showed them your passion and perseverance.

Right now, a lot of indie filmmakers are doing a good job of presenting themselves online (active social media pages, articles in the press) but what is needed next is something I like to call "Social Filmmaking." I believe social filmmaking could be a force to be reckoned with. Imagine how specific and unique future pieces of film will be with artists deeply connected to their audiences. Much more intimate projects. A cinematic rhetoric between artist and audience that is so dynamic, no two films will ever be alike. 

Basically, as "starving" artists we need to keep reinventing ourselves, our industry. Maybe by developing more intertwined relationships with our core audiences, we can elevate our content and thus engage each other to produce more valid pieces of work. Flight of fancy? Maybe. A more productive state of mind than sulking over not being financed by Hollywood? Definitely.

Frank Rose, author of "The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories," recently said in an interview:

"We've spent the last hundred-plus years with a strict delineation between author and audience--you read a book, you watch a movie, and that's it. You're a consumer. We came to think of this as the natural order of things, but in fact it was just a function of the limitations of our technology. Mass media, which is the only media we've ever known until now, had no mechanism for participation and only very limited, after-the-fact mechanisms for feedback. But there was nothing natural about that [...] Before culture became a consumable, it was something people shared. The problem is, that was so long ago we've forgotten how to do it.

Let's share our stories with more viewers, by actually targeting our REAL viewers. But first thing is first: Go out there and cast your audience. Make sure they're perfect for the part.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Understanding The Value Behind Your Free Content

Figuring out how to transform the free online content that we produce (almost on a daily basis) into currency that can someday pay the bills isn't just a growing concern--it's an indie industry-felt dilemma. Yet, for the longest time, I've been insisting that my peers continue to make work (mostly digital shorts, blog entries, images, RSS Feeds, etc.) and just put that content out there--for free. I still feel this is a vital behavioral-business model.

Other indie digital filmmakers have actually asked me, "Yes, but how do I make money with my short film?"

My answer usually is, "Well, that's a tough question. First of all: Who are you? Do you have a following? Is your work actually good ("good" meaning it's content that is engaging, interesting or of some niche value)?"

I think those questions need to be answered first before any artist makes the leap from 'independent creator' to 'financially successful creator.' Today's new media landscape provides a sometimes-impossible-to-navigate terrain where your content can easily be overlooked. But don't be scared. Good content will always reign (and be of historical or sociological value). Our first--and perhaps most important--set of tasks is to curate our own content, make it accessible and continue to build audiences.

In his piece "In The Digital Era Free Is Easy, So How Do You Persuade People To Pay" Cory Doctorow brought up some good fundamentals to employ:

"If your strategy is to convince the public that the "real item" is reliable and the unauthorised ones are dodgy, then you must do everything in your power to increase the reliability of the real item, otherwise word will get around and the campaign will fail."

That "real item" that Doctorow is referring to can be your labor of love digital short film. It can also be that incubating idea your trying to fund on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter. Whatever it is, it is wholly unique and emblematic of you the artist. Which brings us to my earlier question: "Who are you?"

The answer to that question is built upon the very practice of producing free content on the web. With every image, word and piece of sound, you're telling a narrative about you the artist. There is tremendous value in that.

If you can bring yourself up to believing that there is a worthwhile value in building your public image and engaged audience, then Doctorow's reasoning begins to feel more tangible:

"Buy this because you're supporting something worthwhile.

This is the proposition made by indie artists and it's one reason so many major entertainment companies hive off "indie" labels, imprints and brands. Supporting the arts feels genuinely good – knowing that your money is going to someone who made some work that moved you and entertained you. This may be the most powerful motivator of all, but it's also the trickiest.

For this to be really effective, the customer needs to have a sense of the person or people behind the work. That means this proposition favours artists with highly visible, personal public profiles, and not every artist has it in them to hang out there in the world with their audience. Some people are just shy. Some are worse than shy – some artists have negative charisma, and every time they appear in public (physically or virtually), they reduce the business case for buying their works."

For our arena, negative charisma is the offspring of an indie filmmaker's inability to embrace change. Connectivity is everything, so that curtain of mystery you may want to depend on might be your Achilles' heel. When it comes to the Internet, there is nothing wrong with being an open book. The more accessible your work is--heck, the more accessible you the artist are--the greater the value your content can attain.

Think about the last piece of work that you purchased. Was it from an artist you had no idea of? Or was it from someone whose work/image/persona/philosophy has already engaged you?

Outside of tapping into niche channels hosted by appropriate content curators (for example, experimental filmmakers might want to look into having their work hosted on Bad Lit: The Journal Of Underground Film), it's still up to us--the independent content creators--to continue to produce selected pieces of free content with the aims of building an audience that finds our work valuable. So when the time comes for our work to be given that platform of mass or mainstream exposure (iTunes downloads, VOD deals, etc.), our audience will be there, happy to purchase the content and sustain the desired business model we hope to reach.

Note: Storify is now open to public, so I suggest you add this platform to your pool of resources of storytelling and online visibility. There are lots of way to get creative with this tool. Remember: Get your work out there!