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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?
and
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.