"A Collaborative Effort"

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, March 30, 2011

Words + Images = "Make The Film"

For this post, I thought I'd let your eyes AND ears have a go at it. In the video below I've juxtaposed images from Stan Brakhage's Black Ice with interview audio of Harmony Korine from the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.

Consider it another "call to arms" for the emerging wave of new independent digital filmmakers and content creators.

Now watch.

Monday, March 28, 2011

DIY Screenings & Niche Film Festivals

Last week when I wrote of the importance of online peer-to-peer content curation, I forgot to mention that we shouldn't lose sight of the communal experience of moviewatching. In fact, because the general mass-going film festival experience has grown too big for its own good, now is the perfect time for to seek or create some niche programmed (underground) film festivals. For example take MoFest, a weekend long festival (April 16-17 at the Portage Theater in Chicago) that focuses on the works created by industry folk from the Midwest. This fest describes itself as being "dedicated to the hardest working film crew in the world. We are the people who assist, grip, light, record, prepare, style, sweep, scout, iron, paint, cook, edit, design, drive, sweat, and bleed for other directors’ projects. Now it's time for OUR creativity to take center stage!”

A festival like MoFest is the direct offspring of a festival-programming universe that has lost footing with its roots. Before individuals were interested whatever Tinseltown production would grace a modest fest with its presence or how many gala or red carpet "exclusive" events a fest could host, festival-going cinephiles sought out festival films for their unique offerings, their counter commercial lineup. We always had our Blockbusters and our cable TV, but really good festivals could feed us some really good off-the-grid content. And I don't want to give the impression that important and true fests have all vanished. I just want to insist that you continue to seek out fests like MoFest and other niche programs that continue to push for alternative experiences and ultimately, a new dialogue for that kind of content.

But niche fests can't do it all on their own. Consider an organization like the Gadabout Traveling Film Festival. Gadabout's website offers this description: "The Gadabout is a nationally touring film festival that screens a program of 20+ international short films. Independent in every sense, these films share the same willingness to challenge the conventions set for filmmaking. The Gadabout is a distribution avenue for truly indie filmmakers that distrust Hollywood and the commercial film festival circuit. We are NOT a competition, rather a celebration of what is possible in independent film and video." 

A rogue fest like Gadabout pushes for the implementation of DIY Screenings. Sure, this fest conducts its own micro-tour but what Gadabout would really love to see are more local producers in various cities take the initiative. These producers would be able to exhibit the short films somewhere--anywhere--to that area's moviegoing audience. How? Well, that depends. If someone had access to a wall and a projector, a makeshift DIY screening would be ready to go. In some cases, some cavalier local producers might even have access to a showing room or a back room in a coffee house. The point is that Gadabout offers a program of selected films and wants to push for a resurgence of the REAL indie moviegoing community.

That is something to really admire. A few weeks ago, in an interview I did with DIY-Film.com, I confessed: "We need to lower our fences from each other. Why do you think Hollywood thrives? Talent works with production houses that work with major studios that work with distributors who work with exhibitors and on and on. The key is collaboration. Screenings at the Nightingale or limited runs at the Music Box shouldn’t feel elite. The cinema is a currency that should be afforded by all. Know someone with a projector? Host your own DIY cinema."

It's comforting to be reminded of the enduring spirit of my DIY peers. Long live the cinema. Now go out and share this attitude.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shoot and Shoot and Shoot

Anyone who knows my shooting style knows that I'm not a fan of tripods. To me, most static "pretty" shots that I see from other indie filmmakers represent an analogy for an elusive Hollywood-esue model of moviemaking. Ever been on a student film set and notice how much of the day goes to laboring over a shot that really doesn't grab you in the end? We go to the movies and are swept away by the big budget vistas and then for some reason we're convinced that our camcorder, a tripod and a light set will accomplish the same feel. And when it doesn't, we're surprised. But we shouldn't be. At the end of the day, it's all about the content of what we're trying to show, say or provoke in an audience. So instead of trying to mimic or recreate a sense of grandness without the necessary resources (like an outrageous Hollywood budget for example), why not create our own language for the cinema? Let Hollywood make Sucker Punch. We'll instead focus on breaking away and discovering new ways to tell our stories.

I suppose this is why I embrace "direct cinema" filmmaking so strongly. I love grabbing the camera and just improvising as I go. It's a shooting style that liberates my senses; it awakens me. Sadly enough, this past week saw the death of a direct cinema pioneer: Richard Leacock. In the video below, watch the first two minutes as Leacock remembers the excitement of freewheeling filmmaking. Listen for the moment at the 1:32 mark when he says, "It was freedom! Screw the tripod!"

So, to my fellow indie content creators, here's what I have to say: Shoot and shoot and shoot. The more we can interact and move with the elements around us, the more our content can begin to exist outside of its constraints (frame, running time, etc.).

Check out this experimental short film below. It won the Best Experimental Film Award from the Vimeo Festival. Note how the shots aren't pretty, don't have DSLR-esue depth of field and yet continue to hold our attention. The camera is alive and free to surprise us.

And so is the content.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Real Struggle For Indies: Content Curation

A common oversight in our creative field is the curation of GOOD or STIMULATING content. Social media platforms like Vimeo give us all megaphones that can sometimes create more white noise in our arena; this can hinder the validity of an emerging new wave of indie filmmaking because there is such a high flux of content coming and going. The bottom line is that most online content (video, film) is quite bad. And not bad in an intentionally volatile or spiteful way. It's just that everyone is putting everything online. So where do you go? How do you compete with the dancing cat videos when your content is a 7-minute silent film?

The key is going to be in the "micro"-curation among the independents. It's going to involve some meticulous cross-promotion of engaging or interesting works by our peers. This is harder than it sounds. The reason is that much of our time is already dedicated to actually creating content and then promoting ourselves as branded entities online (via social media, viral ads, etc.). Adding this other layer of promoting other people's work may sound overbearing but it's a good problem to have. I feel that from this rigorous curation of GOOD content we can recreate an engaging and inspiring conversation about our content as a whole.

At the end of the day, any artist of value is only creating palpable work because he or she is inspired on some level. So go ahead: Log in to your Facebook, Cinefile, Digg and Twitter accounts and start promoting your fellow filmmaker.

You might inspire someone.
I'll get the ball rolling. Here goes some content that moved me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Notion Of Independent Group Distribution--Can It Work?

Independent writer and director Ben Hicks forwarded me his recently published mammoth of an article titled "The Evolution of Film Independence" and his call for a new industry of indie distribution is both compelling--and capable of happening.

"So what is Independent (group) Distribution?

Independent (group) Distribution is when a team of independent filmmakers unite under one Film Collective, in order to effectively distribute their collective works. A Film Collective is nothing more than a trademarked name and logo that the Film Collective’s members share. No one is the owner of the Film Collective and the Film Collective does not own any of the films, the filmmakers do. Each filmmaker is only responsible for their films and are not involved creatively or financially with any other filmmaker’s work. Each Film Collective member must have their own production company from which each individual filmmaker’s films are produced through and which any and all money earned through the Film Collective is paid to. Each Film Collective member’s films should share similar characteristics to help distinguish their films from other distribution companies, and all films (and film related merchandise) should be available for viewing and purchasing on the Film Collective’s website (although not exclusively).  

So what is the advantage of Independent (group) Distribution over Independent (self) Distribution?

Let’s take a look.


First and foremost we must remember that although film has incredible artistic and social relevance and is one of the most powerful art forms of our time, we also have to remember that the distribution side of things is a business (which is why most of us would rather let studios deal with it).

But this is all we have to know.

Like any business, no matter what you sell, you have good customers and bad customers. A good customer is someone who continues doing business with you throughout the years. A good customer is someone you can rely on, a bad customer is someone you can’t.

Going up to a movie theater with your one film and asking if it can play there one weekend may be possible at some mom and pop theaters, but by and large it’s a very difficult process. Why? Because for larger movie theaters they have good customers that continue to give them consistent business through a body of content. Business usually feels so cold to many of us because it’s simply a numbers game without any heart, but if we realize that all we have to do is play by the numbers we’ll be able to get our foot in the door. A lone filmmaker with their one film is an unknown, maybe they’ll take a chance but most likely they won’t because their other clients (studio distribution companies) bring in typically a known amount of people. They can see that this distribution company is usually good or great for business (or they wouldn’t continue to use them) and why would they choose an unknown client over a client that is typically good (or even great) for business?

But what do you think would happen if you went to a theater and said, “Hi, I’m a filmmaker who works for an artist owned Distribution Company. We are a collective of award winning independent filmmakers with thousands of devout fans and if you would like to do business with us we can guarantee 5 to 10 films a year for theatrical screenings. We do our own promotions and in the past, our numbers show that 70% of our screenings get sold out while another 10% usually sells close to 80% capacity.”

Now we’re talking their language and by forming film collectives the amount of doors that will become available to us will increase considerably. Not only for theatrical screenings but also for DVD markets, streaming and downloading options, international markets, EVERYTHING. If we join forces we can leverage our collective content to make leaps and bounds towards sustainability.

Next, and on a much more human level, which sounds like a more rewarding and enriching experience: self distributing your films or forming a company with a bunch of artists you respect and are inspired by - a group of artists that you can now call friends - or continuing to do everything alone? Now I don’t know about you, but to me the idea of rolling into a festival with a bunch of friends, watching and supporting each others films while being on the lookout to recruit new and talented artists/human beings (for the Film Collective), sounds way cooler than eating popcorn alone in a dark theater.

Last but not least, forming a Film Collective will also make everything easier on our fans. You tell me, as a film fan, which site do you think you would visit more frequently?"

So there. The cards are on the table. Ideas are bouncing around in your head. You may be kind of excited. Do you agree with Ben's pitch? Disagree? Want to add more? Keep the dialogue going in the comments below and be sure to share this post on your social media platforms.

Remember: Our time is now.


Read the rest of Ben's original post here.

Also check out the website for his latest film Kids Go Free To Fun Fun Time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Our Micro Industry Needs: More Story Drivers

Pillars are integral instruments to sustaining viable foundations. I'm not telling you anything new there. Yet, in our arena of DIY moviemaking, culture refining and trendsetting, this idea of "pillars" is becoming more of a dire thirst and essential element.The reason is because it's easy to get lost in all the hub bub of day-to-day developments in our new media landscape. Whether it's a new viable force on the distribution front or an aggressive hypothesis on how to crack the current distrib-infrastructure, what we usually are presented with is solely "situation." What we need more of are calculated perspectives and forward-thinking game-plans.

Film Courage offered some useful feedback on the recent DIY Days but what we must never take for granted are the bullhorn-grabbing orators and innovators who are sharing their story. Below are two presentations that I consider to be essential viewings. The first is by Michael Margolis, the guru behind GetStoried.com and the second is by Thomas Mai, veteran film sales agent.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Today's Movie: A Cultural Collective Narrative

"The issue of ‘convergence’ is having a significant impact on micro-budget feature film-makers. It is opening up vast new possibilities to profile and distribute work alongside established industry methods." 

That's the potent opening line in a resourceful post hosted by Film London's microbudget-film-centered platform Microwave. Cross-promotion and intuitive marketing schemes have become popular staples of indie filmmaking and why not? It's hard enough to get your film financed, so being able to attract outside capital from branded franchises is a welcomed feat. The hard part is being able to embed these products carefully within your work; I mean, you're still making your piece of art, not a ho-hum corporate commercial. Still, free services like Product Place Me! give filmmakers the opportunity to get clever with their sponsors' products.

But cross-promotion in filmmaking is just one avenue of a larger "Cultural Convergence" in new media moviemaking:

"The MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies outlined the context for their research with a few clear definitions. They explained how ‘Cultural Convergence’ describes an “emerging pattern of relations bringing together entertainment, advertising, brands, and consumers in creative and often surprising ways.” They define these new relations through three key concepts: “transmedia entertainment, participatory culture, and experiential marketing."

They claim that “this altered landscape privileges ‘expressions’ over ‘impressions’”; with engaged consumers drawing together information across multiple media experiences, creating new touchpoints for brands and properties. Finally stating, “convergence culture calls for a re-negotiation of the expectations of media content producers, advertisers, and audiences.""

The transmedia avenue is of particular interest because it uses a plethora of instruments--gaming devices, mobile phones, blogs--to tell a story. And because these instruments are often common among moviewatchers, the capacity for interaction and faster feedback is greater. Think of it as live theatre filmmaking. Anything can happen

I love the perspective that Gunther Sonnenfeld gave in his "Transmedia, Content Convergence & Publishing" post:

"I’ve used the terms “campaign” and “promotion” to prove a point: we don’t have to divorce ourselves from the functions of media, we just have to change the functions of what media can mean to us (you know, in a collective sense). You’ll also notice that “narrative” has replaced “channel”; we want to get comfortable with the idea that narrative is the thread that not only binds, but is what culturally disrupts and ultimately affects real change in the real world."

I agree with Sonnenfeld that this new narrative thread has the opportunity to broaden our perception of the world. What we took for granted since the early days of YouTube and social networking is the focused calling for appropriate, relevant and compelling storytelling. Luckily, transmedia functions like a cultural Molotov cocktail flying at you: the second it hits, it unleashes new ideas through every conceivable platform (albeit physical or viral) that are hard to ignore.

Lance Weiler has been a key figure in this model for transmedia entertainment, convergence and innovation. His presentation at 2007's Power to the Pixel is something to behold.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"I Think This World Would Be Unlivable Without Art"

In the wake of a tepid Oscar telecast and the mass media channels becoming flooded with fashion and gossip centered content, I thought I'd point my fellow indie filmmakers to some powerful words. They come in Steven Soderbergh's concise and stirring acceptance speech from winning the Best Director Oscar for Traffic. To this day, it remains one of the more memorable speeches and reaffirms the validity of our artistic drive.