Only YOU Can Stop Our Indie Film & Media Culture From Vanishing

I was invited to contribute to the "Wish For The Future" series on Good.is.  This is mine:

When do we stop just thinking about ourselves and instead start working together? I am not talking about saving the world; I am writing about preserving and advancing ambitious film and media culture. It’s threatened, and no one individual will ever rescue it. My wish for the future is for the creative community, locally, nationally and globally, to work together to build the better indie infrastructure that is now possible.

For the past four years, I have been noting the problems and opportunities in indie film (along with many triumphs). I now have 99 problems—but I fear our collective inertia may be another one. Some people look at such lists and despair, but the truth is that there has never been a better time to be a media creator. We must learn to collaborate with a far larger circle and crew than ever before.
 
The tools of both creation and distribution are affordable and useable. We can tell what we want, how we want, and connect it with the audience that most desires it.
 
We are in the midst of a vast paradigm shift that could usher in a huge transfer of power—and to the makers, not more gatekeepers. The film industry was built on, and still foolishly depends upon, antiquated concepts of scarcity and control of content. We live in a time of grand abundance, total access, and general distraction from that content. The irony is that we have more at our fingertips, but we discover less—and grow alienated because of it. As with virtually all consumer-centered activity, we can discard the sucker-bet of impulse buys and opt instead for informed choice. Yet with the media business, if we do so, not only will we get the usual additional satisfaction, we will elevate the culture, too.
 
If we don’t alter our behavior, our indie film culture will start to vanish. I have produced close to 70 films, and I know in my heart that movies like The Ice Storm21 GramsAmerican Splendor,Happiness, or In The Bedroom would not get made today. Even if they somehow managed to, they would not get seen, and the creators and their supporters would most certainly not benefit.  Think about that. If that is the case, would they even be worth doing? Think about a world without the stories that bring us together and inspire us with possibility. That could be our future.
 
Creators, and supporters of their work, must be rewarded for and by what they create. Instead of that, we live in a time when only the smallest percentage of filmmakers can sustain themselves by what they create. Even our biggest successes return only a small percentage back to investors Although a tremendous number of movies still get corporately acquired, the rates that are paid are lower on a percentage of overall cost basis than ever before.
 
That is the choice we have before us now: a world deprived of great art and artists, or one that thrives with vibrant diversity. We need people to step up, say culture and community matter, and that we are going to build it better together. We need to move past a culture that only celebrates success, and instead grow transparent with our risks, even our failures. We need to focus on the stories, the form, and the communities that promote them—as part of our cultural glue. We need to do this together. We have to stop waiting for a solution, and recognize that it is in fact us.  
 
Show you value your time and select then next 100 movies you want to see now. Share what you are passionate about with your family and friends and insist they watch it. If you can buy direct from an artist, buy direct from an artist.  Support the crowdsource campaign of a favorite or local filmmaker, demand media literacy be taught in public schools, or join a local film society or institute. Don’t undervalue your work by accepting too low an acquisition fee for your work when you could do as well distributing it yourself.
 
This post originally ran on January 1st, 2013 on Good.is.  You can read it (and "like" it) here.  There's some definitely interesting comments worth checking out there -- and besides Good is an awesome site that is well worth your time.  I guarantee you will discover something there you care about -- or I will refund the time it took to get you there ;-). 

How Many Ways Can We Collaborate Around A Single Film?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have Crowd. Will Collaborate.

by Angie Fielder Crowdfunding is definitely the social media flavour of the month as creative people connect with online audiences who want to help finance their dreams. On Kickstarter alone, nearly 3 million people have helped over 30,000 projects, generating more than $US300 million in pledges.

As producers of The Second Coming, a feature film that is currently seeking funds via crowdfunding site Pozible (www.pozible.com), we recognise the need, in this fast-becoming-saturated crowdfunding environment, to think outside the box when it comes to incentivising people to pledge. Particularly if we want to go beyond our personal network of family and friends. That’s the real challenge with crowdfunding – engaging people outside of your own contacts, outside of your existing support networks.This extension of our networks will not only help us to raise money for our film but it will also, very importantly, mean that we start building an audience for the film NOW. When people pledge money to support a film, it gives them a vested interest in it and its success. That kind of audience dedication is extremely valuable.

We launched on September 10, 2012 and in the first two weeks of our campaign we have raised $20,000 of our $75,000 target. There’s still a ways to go however and in order to incentivise people to continue to pledge we have just released new packages that specifically target aspiring filmmakers and actors.

To develop the packages we gave a lot of thought to what WE had wanted as young filmmakers starting out in the industry. And the answer was – having the opportunity to be involved, and observe, the production process. There’s only so much you can learn at film school – the real learning comes from being amidst of all the action on a real project. That’s why we’re offering aspiring filmmakers the chance to observe and join in the production of The Second Coming. Our new packages include the opportunity to come into the rehearsals and on set, to join us at key creative times during the production such as the edit, the grade and the sound mix where we will invite the pledgers to provide their own creative feedback on the film as well as the opportunity for direct consultation with the film’s key creative team.

We are also keen to explore how we can involve a global audience at various stages of post production – VFX, titles design, music – there are loads of possibilities that we are yet to mine.

Writer/director of The Second Coming, David Barker, is a huge fan of the crowdfunding model: “We are in the midst of a filmmaking revolution. It's mind-blowing. Sites like Pozible are pipelines to a larger community that's evolving in completely new ways. Imagine where this could lead to? A massive creative community, more intimately connected to each other and their stories. This is not about charity, or wanting something for nothing, it's about growing a community where everyone gets rewarded for being part of a creative endeavour. "

 

It’s not just about crowd funding, but also crowd collaborating.

 

Pledging on Pozible is open to anyone in any country – all you need is a credit card or PayPal account. To pledge to the project or find out more go to: www.pozible.com/thesecondcomingmovie

 

Important Links:

Pledge at www.pozible.com/thesecondcomingmovie

LIKE the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/TheSecondComingMovie

JOIN the Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/FansOfTheSecondComing

FOLLOW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/2ndComingMovie Hashtag: #2ndComingMovie

Subscribe/Follow on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/thesecondcomingmovie

Like/Subscribe on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/aquariusfilmsoz (choose The Second Coming playlist)

Film website: www.thesecondcoming.com.au

Director’s blog: http://thesecondcomingmovie.tumblr.com/

Director’s website: www.minisumo.com.au

Follow Aquarius Films on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AquariusFilmsOz

And Facebook: www.facebook.com/AquariusFilmsOz

Aquarius Films website: www.aquariusfilms.com.au

Angie Fielder, of Aquarius Films, is an award-winning Australian producer whose short films have screened in Sundance, Venice, Berlin and Telluride. Her first feature, Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton, opened Sundance 2012 and will release in cinemas in the US in early 2013.

Thoughts On Collaboration...

Ah, the windfall of public speaking.  My two stop tour of Sydney & Auckland generated a lot of material.  I did a handful of interviews with some very knowledgeable journalists/filmmakers.  They have been coming to print and pixel. I spoke to Fiona Milburn from Transmedia NZ for the big idea on several subjects.  You can read the whole article here.  Amongst the questions I was asked about collaboration:

The key to collaboration is: the acknowledgement of what you don't know; respect for the experience and contributions of others; and a general level of openness and discovery.  I don't think that changes.  It is still at the core of everything.  However, what is exciting is the move away from geo-location based collaboration.  You no longer need to gather in the same spot.

Traditional collaboration was certainly very fruitful, but we now have tools that allow for different ways of working.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the first time I was aware of work done in a decentralised manner.  Due to differing time zones, the film had teams of people working on VFX 24/7 around the globe.  And, the visual effects coordination involved somebody working with these globally diverse, individual teams of contractors.  Now this form of collaboration is accessible to all of us.

One of the difficulties with these new forms of creating and consuming is that, until they’ve seen it done, many people don't know how to do it.  Thus, when somebody “gets it,” they feel like a pioneer.  And, they’re easy to recognise.  The history of pioneers tells us that they're the ones with arrows and swords in their back.

Currently, the folks who've done well in film are those who’ve lived through the period of capital intensive creation.  It’s a different era now, but our experts, the people who have delivered the current proof of principle, are used to working in that format.  It’s the new creators who will be the new leaders and thinkers.  They are going to be pioneers and, unfortunately, some of them will be sacrificed.

 

There's a lot more in the article on story world building, transmedia, and finding a new way forward. Read it: http://www.thebigidea.co.nz/news/blogs/transit/121245-a-new-way-forward-for-cinema

Is There A Possibility For Brand & Content Collaboration?

Can we move beyond product placement for a collaboration between those that fund the production and those that create stories?  Can it be done without compromising the integrity of the work.  Steve Wax and I wrote a blog discussion about this last year and I recently stumbled across this video of Steve and I.

 

 

The End Of The Auteur Era Of Film?

People like to get credit for their work, but have they been getting the right credit for it? Are we able to recognize when something is a collaboration as opposed to a work of an individual who has hired a team to execute it? I pride myself on having produced films that could only have been the product of the unique vision of the director. That said, I have had a front row seat on how culture in general has been drifting and leaping into something more collaborative and think it just may represent the end of an era.

One of my early jobs in the film business was working as a Script Analyst for many of the NYC-based film production companies. I was always impressed by how many seemingly unique ideas were shared by many writers. There was a month way back when when I read five scripts all featuring dwarf bowling (okay, so some of the companies I read for were schlock producers, but you get the general idea). It became clear that we all harvest our information from similar sources and process it in not-so-unique manners. If all we are doing is acting as a filter, does it make sense to claim authorship still?

I was impressed with James Gunn, the director of SUPER, when he specified that "A Film By" credit would be false due to the collective efforts of all those involved. SUPER is very much "A James Gunn Movie" though, as that credit is more of a brand -- if you know James Gunn, you know what you want to expect from "A James Gunn Movie". Utilizing a brand is a much different thing than claiming authorship. Brands do help filter content for audiences. False authorship confuses things for communities everywhere.

I was similarly impressed -- moved actually -- when years ago I watched OUR SONG, Jim McKay's great film following three girls growing up in Brooklyn (and Kerry Washington's first role). In the opening credits, the "Film By" credit comes up, and then everyone who contributed to the film is credited. Nonetheless, having now recognized how unique McKay's work is (particularly here in America), it would not have been wrong to call it "A Jim McKay Film".

I frequently practice a form of blog writing that Bruce Sterling coined as a "Atemporality for the creative artist" (video here). The method goes a bit like this:

  • I have an idea or feeling about something, and spontaneously tweet it.
  • I witness what response the comment gets on Twitter and ponder it.
  • The comment is auto-posted to Facebook where those that it intrigues have more room to discuss it coherently.
  • I contribute on FB new thoughts on the subject that have been informed by the Twitterverse.
  • I consider all the conversations and write a post for my blog.
  • The blog goes up automatically onto the various social media sites and I see what response it gets.
  • I consider the comments (if any) that the post has and refine my ideas still further, possibly for a future tweet, update, or post.
  • With such a collaborative culture at work, it would be wrong to claim most ideas as my own, or even of a single author. I was heartened to see this recognition in Megan Garber's Neiman Lab response to Gabler's NYT Sunday Mag article last month "The Elusive Big Idea". It still surprises me how much our culture and media industry wants to promote egotism. I do not believe that credit grabs motivate creative thinking and such see no logical reason to hang onto false credits. In fact, it is the false credits that most reveal both the egotism and lack of creative thinking. With only one exception, can I think of any time that a credit discussion I engaged in was warranted (even if even then what was done was counter to industry-standard). But I digress...

    Garber writes:

    "Increasingly, though, the ideas that spark progress are collective, diffusive endeavors rather than the result (to the extent they ever were) of individual inspiration. Ideas increasingly resist branding. The idea of the idea is evolving. We don’t treat Google like a Big Idea — though, of course, that’s most definitely what it is; we treat it like Google. Ditto Facebook, ditto Twitter, ditto Reddit and Wikipedia. Those new infrastructures merge idea and practice, ars and tecnica, so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget how big (and how Big) the ideas that inform them actually are. Increasingly, the ultimate upshot of the Big Idea — the changed world, the bettered world — is bypassing the idea stage altogether. As we build new tools and, with them, a new environment, blueprints are byproducts rather than guideposts. We’re playing progress, increasingly, by ear. And, in the process, we’re becoming less self-conscious about change itself — and about our role in effecting it."

    I truly admire how this column and others like it have become community soap boxes to discuss the state of our industry and culture, to call attention to issues and options, and hopefully find some solutions. The plight of the independent filmmaker has progressed to the evolution of a truly free film community, and we are building it better together. The spirit of the collective endeavor is raging stronger every day and the results of this change of action and focus are shining brightly.

    As much as I was inspired to work in what I saw as the art form and medium that best defined contemporary existence, that inspiration came from those works of the great film auteurs. As difficult as it is to maintain this practice, I am inspired to keep pushing forward to help find some solutions by the commitment, labor, knowledge, and generosity displayed by the COMMUNITY on a general basis. Let's keep it up and lift it up to all that this culture and industry can truly be.

    Beautiful stories will be written by gifted individuals. Our greatest movies will be helmed by unique and committed visionaries. But neither is all that our world needs or even wants these days. In this time of superabundance and open access, it is the shared endeavor of communities that give to the culture they want, share what they love, and contribute to the efforts of many, that will carry us through to a better future. We are on our way and can not shy away from the hard work ahead of us, even if we do not receive credit for it.

    Mihir Desai on "Collaboration 2.0"

    We are really in this together. As never before, we know no barriers. I met Mihar Desai virtually, over the internet, and have been impressed with his passion, innovative ways, commitment, and collaborative instincts. Possessed with such qualities, it is no surprise that he has come up with a simple solution to solve some problems.

    I am very interested how the issues of micro-budgeted filmmaking are being addressed around the world. We face a set of common problems. Solutions will come from all over. Adopting transparency and openness, a commitment to share, we will make better films. With his first guest post here, Mihar is stepping forward and offering some solutions. Who will be next?

    You must have heard of the phrase "Filmmaking is a collaborative process." Does that apply to every kind of filmmaker? What about DIY filmmakers who probably just make films with a two to three person crew? It becomes really difficult to manage a lot of things when making a DIY film: Skeleton crew, constrained budget, lack of equipments and definitely no studio backing!

    We may have our scripts ready, DSLRs set up with no lights to shoot with but what about sound equipment? One of the few drawbacks of shooting with DSLRs is lack of great sound. You can't really monitor sound, visually or with headphones. There are no XLR inputs in the camera to record sound directly. Your best bet would be to invest in an additional piece of equipment like the Zoom H4N or else rely on post to improve sound. The latter is what most low budget filmmakers do. We try our best to clean up or use sound effects (SFX) to figure out a way to enhance the emotions in our films.

    I’ve always believed that sound design is the third dimension in films. It’s very crucial to have good sound design. Even if we use silence a good ambient noise helps add a lot of depth. 2001: A Space Odyssey and the recent Sundance winner Ballast are great examples when it comes to use of silence in films. As mentioned earlier most DIY filmmakers don’t even have great equipment to wait for an extra 30mins after the shoot to record sounds. Unless you are in film school where you don’t have to pay for equipment and you can just download sounds from the school’s SFX library.

    Times have changed, we are always on the Internet and don’t have to be physically available everywhere to collaborate. The internet has now become a very important resource for filmmakers. New media tools and various free websites have made it so easy to create, share and promote!

    Taking this into account, through my DIY production company Auteur Mark (@AuteurMark) I’ve started the Auteur Mark Sound Bank. It is India’s first free SFX library. During the past couple of months in Chicago, along with my editor friend, Vernon McCombs, I decided to dedicate some time recording SFX. This includes wind, train, waves, beach ambience, birds, stove, water dripping, shower curtain, footsteps and various other diagetic and non-diagetic SFX. These are all universal and not really country specific. Footsteps, wind, traffic sounds, for example are similar everywhere. The sole purpose of this endeavor is to offer sound resources for filmmakers to use in an unrestricted manner. Other than helping filmmakers enhance the quality of their films with better sound effects, our idea is to create a community of like minded film people who believe in creating, sharing and cross promoting each other’s work. It is our duty as DIY filmmakers to help this community grow. Imagine the creative possibilities if ten filmmakers the world over started a similar resourceful platform for other filmmakers to use. Best part about new media tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Sound Cloud, DropBox is that there is no financial investment. I can sign up for free, upload media for free and let others download the same for free!

    “Auteur Mark Sound Bank” is free as well. You don’t need to register to download SFX. Just visit our Sound Cloud page: www.soundcloud.com/auteurmarksoundbank search for the SFX you are looking for and click download! These are listed under Creative Commons. All we ask for is an on screen credit. The Auteur Mark Sound Bank will always grow. We plan to record SFX every few weeks and upload. We also invite other filmmakers to submit SFX of their choice. Just email a high quality WAV or AIFF file to contactus@auteurmark.com and we’ll upload it for you. Once again, all credit will be given to the creator.

    That’s how easy collaboration is now. As a progressive step forward we at “Auteur Mark” plan to start a stock footage library as well. If incorporated in the story wisely one can use footage from overseas without even traveling all the way, yet increasing the production value of the film.

    DIY filmmaking and distribution is slowly becoming a global movement and the only way I see it succeeding is if we contribute to build a strong community. We still get to tell the story we want to without compromising on quality. There is an audience for the kind of films we make and building the community will only help this audience base grow wider and eventually global.

    Filmmaking still is a collaborative process and will always remain that way. How we collaborate will continue to change, we must embrace change and experiment with new forms and styles. Now that the Internet has made things so much easier for us, who knows, there will come a time, when the end credits of films will display the crew’s Twitter handles!

    - Mihir Desai

    auteurmark.com filmblog.autermark.com Interview in the Sunday Guardian

    Born and raised in India, filmmaker Mihir Desai got his undergraduate degree at Columbia College Chicago. Right out of college Mihir started his own production company Auteur Mark which is India's first DIY production company. Mihir believes in keeping an individual identity by not compromising on the creativity and hopes to create a similar environment for fellow DIY filmmakers in India. He is currently editing his documentary Common Thread.

    Ten Ways To Stand Out In This Crazy "Film" Biz

    Okay, granted there are the givens that help one stand out: talent, taste, connections, money, good looks -- but what if it was a level playing field?

    Are there things that you can put into practice that will help positively separate you from the pack of other hungry artists trying to cement a place for yourself in the field that you love?  Since all of you have helped me with your conversation, appreciation, and general involvement, I wanted to do something that might aid you to get to where you want to go.

    The following are some quick thoughts as to what things might quickly make others take notice of you, remember you, or give you some deserved respect.  I am eager to hear other suggestions too.  There are probably one hundred ideas like these, and I think it's time we all started sharing.

    1. Know what you like.  That is, know what you like beyond the stuff that you like just because you made it, or want to make it, or think you can make it.  Understand what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. It is a lot of work to become articulate about creative endeavors, but those communication skills are prized and praised -- and surprisingly rare.  I am still waiting for someone to provide me with their alternative to my list 32 Qualities Of Better Film.  Get to it!
    2. Know your story.  That is, know not just the story you want to tell, or help tell, but know the story of you and how to tell it.  In order to get work done, people need to want to work with you, and they need to explain to others why they should also want to work with you.  Mastering your story or stories should be a goal.  To keep your story evolving is one of the practices I recommend most.
    3. Be heavily engaged in social media.  I know I sound a bit like a broken record on this point, but...  We have not yet even seen the true impact of being part of a large, vibrant, and heavily engaged social media community will have on a work, but when we do, those that are part of it, will be years ahead of those who haven't joined up beyond a Facebook page.  In terms of the film industry, social media is in such infancy, that anyone can become a leader in the field at this point.  The powerful effects of connectivity will benefit you regardless of the role you take on a project -- and it will benefit the project too.  SUPER, which I produced (with Miranda Bailey) partially owes it's discovery, financing, and sale, to the participants' heavy engagement in social media.  What more needs to be said?  In determining whom to hire or collaborate with I look at their talent, their attitude, their personality, and their social media involvement; but that's just me!  I remain amazed -- and depressed -- by how few people in the creative arts have blogs or websites.  Our ability to put good work before the eyes of the best audience is hampered by our lack of involvement in social media.
    4. Don't insist on being the sole author of work.  Be confident that you are the best person to shoot your material AND then give it to others to also shoot. You've seen fan fiction, yes? "Sweded" films, right? They are always of well known work, but what would happen if work in "homage" was made before anyone saw some footage. I would love the opportunity to see how others interpret the material when it is produced in a void (ie. before the core work).   I am confident that someone that did this would get numerous opportunities to tell the story about it, which in turn should increase the audience for their own work.
    5. Be truly collaborative. People remember those that help them. Ben Franklin said that when you wanted something from someone, you should loan them a book. That may be a bit over strategic for my tastes, but people do get inspired to help others the more you help them.  Even more importantly, things do get better when we work together.  Being part of team that made something good will have far more impact than being the author of a mediocre work.  Use your labor for things you believe in; don't undervalue it, even when others do.
    6. Take risks.  Be forward thinking and don't rely on the old ways.  Security is a trap that enhances the status quo. Everything has already changed.  We are living in a world that has already changed to the point our reactions will soon be recognized as absurd.  And although this does not require throwing it all away, it does encourage you to think beyond what has already been written.  The lack of a current economic model for film production encourages experimentation.  The lack of aesthetic approach that recognizes audiences desire to both participate, and be led, to share, spread, and mutate, encourages experimentation.  So get out there, do it, and share your experiences.  We want to hear about them.  We need to hear about them.
    7. Think of cinema in the broadest of ways; don't limit yourself to the confines of development and production.  Have both your creative and outreach plan include discovery, participation, presentation, and appreciation.  Adopt a cross-platform, transmedia approach from the get-go.  As Lance Weiler tends to say, "bake it into your project's DNA".  We all must extend our and our project's reach.
    8. Be recognizable. We all meet too many people to remember the ones we should. I have always liked the idea that I could fade into the background, but coming up with both James Schamus and Christine Vachon, both who had and still have signature looks, I could not help but notice the utility in being known as the guy with the bow tie or the woman in the black rain rain coat.  How do you expect people to remember you?  Why not give them a hand?
    9. Okay, this one only will work if you are among the first to do it, and it is of a much different sort than what I have been listing here but... Localize each edition of your work.  Customize your script so that the characters' names are changed to those of the individuals of the entity you are submitting to.  Imagine the shock and surprise when the reader finds their boss' name or that of their friends.  It's "Being John Malkovich" taken to the next level.  You can extend this other editions of your work, crowdsourcing local elements to drop in for each screening, and utilizing the digital aspects of present day work.  I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.
    10. Don't look to be discovered.  The film industry encourages a plantation or corporate hierarchy way of thinking, which again only benefits the status quo.  This is most represented by the old way of bringing a film to market upon completion.  The filmmakers who design their projects to take directly to their audiences will demonstrate a forward and practical way of thinking -- and one that does not negate a later adoption of old methods (if someone wants to dump a pot of gold on you that is).  Abandon the belief that all you have to do is make a good film and the rest will work out -- it's akin to a slave mentality.  Why do you need someone to discover you?  What you need is to find a way to keep producing new work.

    How To Spot Problems Early: It All Begins In Development

    For an indie producer, to engage -- and remain for any serious length of time -- in development of a project is a testament of belief in the project.  The producer works with no promise that the film will ever happen, and generally speaking will have nothing to show of their efforts unless the film actually gets made.  If  the film isn't made, the producer can't use the script to get them future work.  If the film doesn't get made, the producer's reputation suffers -- even if they have improved the project with their involvement. Nonetheless, I find the development process invaluable for a number of reasons.  One of the strongest benefits of development is that it reveals who you are truly collaborating with.  Have you ever worked with a writer and director team and they think the script is perfect and you know it needs work -- and probably a lot of it? How do they respond to your notes? Do they recognize they can take the script further, or do they think you are just pushing them for pushing's sake? Do they think each new draft is perfect until you point out otherwise?  Arguments are healthy, if they are used to bring things closer to the truth, and not just so that someone can feel they've won.

    When supposed collaborators don't want notes, when they just want to go out with the script, or get angry that you have questions, or are confused, these are all good indications that you just are not going to get there.  These are good indications that you are not working with people who want to make the best movie, but people who just want to be right.  These are people who are telling you that they are not good collaborators.  These people are using development to let you know that everything that comes next is not going to be an enjoyable process.  They are asking you to evaluate your choice.

    What Makes A Good Partnership?

    The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a must-read article on my former Good Machine partner James Schamus. The author, Carlo Rotello, does a thorough job on the difficult task of capturing most of the complexity that makes James someone that is fun to collaborate with: he is not easily defined, has many interests (sometimes conflicting), and enjoys deeply both the process and the product.  People so often look for people they get along with to collaborate with; I think that is is mistake.  Harmony may work in other types of relationships, but in a creative one, it is a formula for mediocrity.   If you truly care about the end result of your work, you should look for someone you enjoy arguing with to partner with.

    Rotello sums up our Good Machine partnership by defining David Linde as the business mind, Schamus the intellectual, and me "Hope, an advocate of radically decentralized media democracy, was the revolutionary;".  I like how that sounds, but what really worked at Good Machine, and in other creative relationships, is when people can argue clearly and without ego for what they feel will make a story work best.  Trust is the next most required ingredient in a successful partnership, quickly followed by a willingness to accept that you may not be right (that non-ego thing again).

    Good Machine had a great number of really smart and passionate people working together who realized that if they spoke up and advocated clearly for what they believed in, they could get things done if they were able to work REALLY hard.  Everyone spoke up, but also learned how to listen.

    Arguing about creative choices should be a fun process, because you are chasing a truth and an ideal.  The challenge is making sure the participants are all chasing the same thing.  When partners start chasing different outcomes is one of the ways things go wrong.

    Collaborating among producers though is different from the collaboration between a producer and a director, or a producer and a writer.  I have had the good fortune of collaborating with A LOT of producers.  When producers collaborate and recognize that they lifted the project up and made it better, you know you'd always like to do it again together.  That result does not always bring the same result with other categories of collaborators.

    Your Great Movie May Never Get Seen

    If you think it is as simple as make a great film and it will get seen, you are not truly recognizing the world we live in. Great films get ignored all the time. Great films don't get distributed, and when they do, often they are not distributed in a significant way. Filmmakers and their collaborators have to move beyond the dream that if you build it they will come as it allows both them, their work, and their supporters to be exploited. You are reading this presumably because you either love watching great movies or because you aspire to making great movies.  I write here because I want to do both of those things and I have the confidence that if we change our behavior, both are possible.  I write here because I want to do both of those things and I have the concern that if we don't change our behavior, we will lose the opportunity to do either for ever.

    Change begins with a step, usually the easiest one for the most people to do.  What would be that change that encourages either, and ideally both, for better movies to be seen more widely, and for more of the movies to actually be better?  On all fronts, I think the answer comes down to collaboration.  If the quality of culture and the access to quality culture is of a concern to you, you have to enter the equation.

    Speak up and join in.  Curate.  Filter.  Focus.

    Don't Do It Yourself: NYC DIY DAYS Keynote

    I am giving the keynote today for DIY DAYS.  This is it, devoid of any adlibs. It is inspiring to be in this room with all of you for this: The first edition of DIY DAYS NYC. All of us. Together. Here.

    It took me almost 30 years to get here. Thanksgiving Weekend. 1980. The Clash’s Sandinista! Godard’s “Everyman For Himself” and Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” They all came out on the same weekend and I was home freshman year for break. Seeing, hearing, absorbing all that I thought: ”This is what I want to do: intense, hard-hitting, challenging, personal, political self-expression. “ I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what the first step could be, I just felt that want. That DEEP DEEP need to create something of my own.

    Have you ever recognized that you are in the right place at the right time? The exact right place? In the exact right time? With the exact right people? I have felt it, a few times, and that feeling has pushed me, pushed me forward, in a big way that has brought others along with it.

    I felt it when I first moved to NYC. 1984. Second wave of Punk Rock. I saw whom I later realized were the Coen Brothers always in the same late night grocery as me trying to decide which cold cereal to buy just like me and my roommates. Cut to: Subway doors. They open and there’s that big mane of stand up grey hair that I late realize is Jim Jarmusch. Music booms: The Replacement’s “Let It Be “– 1st time I realize I am blown away by a band younger than me. Jump to: the front of the movie theater. Spike Lee is passing out flyers for the film that the trailer inside the theater is also pushing me to see.

    It is that feeling -- that incredible feeling --that all is within reach. I may not be able to play the guitar but if I can pick it up and scream with feeling and personality, someone may come. It may not have SFX or movie stars, but if I can shoot it and it is real and reaching and new, someone may come.

    Eight years later, 1992. Sundance. The movies are great. I’ve a couple now. The filmmakers are all now my friends. We make ‘em cheap. No Budget Revolution #1. We are challenging each other, sharing information. And the People: they are coming. Companies are buying. This thing, this dream of mine, to take French New Wave and Punk Rock attitude and love of art and character and politics might, just might have a chance to be something more than a hobby. It may be a job. It can pay the bills. A vocation – a life sustaining vocation.

    I’ve made sixty movies now. It some ways it feels like: “sure, I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people” I am fortunate. But you know what? You know what I sincerely believe? I wasn’t. I wasn’t where I thought I was yet: it wasn’t the right time or place or people yet.

    But I am now: right here with all of you. We can make something happen. Something entirely different. Something the world has never seen or heard or felt ever before. We can have that thing that I always have wanted but never achieved. We’ve never had an opportunity like the one we do right now. But time is short and if we don’t act soon, we are going to blow it.

    Do you know what you are feeling right now? It is the feeling of the being in the right place at the right time with the right people.

    The question is what are we going to do with it? Where are we taking it? Ask yourself: what sort of world do you want? What sort of culture do you want? One where others tell you what stories can be told? One that requires you to beg others for support to get your work made? One that demands you utilize their resources & techniques to reach and engage audience? One that can turn its back on your offspring and your babies without the bat of an eye? One that can buy those children of yours, for a fraction of their value, for years upon years?

    I don’t think so.

    We are on the verge of establishing something quite contrary to that horrible vision. The tools and platforms of the digital age can supplant the gatekeeper-controlled, impulse-buy motivated and capital-intensive infrastructure that we’ve played all too long in.. We now have the promise of a newly emerging artist-centric, audience-focused, low-cost collaborative model that can be both achieved and sustained and will deliver us better and more diverse work in a manner both more accessible and participatory than ever before.

    You know this – or at least recognize this. That is why you are here today. That is why we all are.

    But we are also in danger of losing this incredibly glorious and generous opportunity before the roots take hold and the seeds truly spread. Why? Because we all look to ourselves, and not just primarily, but often, far too often, exclusively. If we want to protect ourselves, promote ourselves, the time is now to focus on community first.

    Now there are great examples before us, and they offer the better alternative. This is what this day – DIY DAYS --is all about. Look at what Lance Weiler and everyone over at the Workbook Project have done for all of us, with all of us. This event. That website. They are free. They are open. They are participatory. And they are incredibly useful. They are the start and they are the model. We are all the future, and we all are – or should be – incredibly thankful.

    Which one do you want? The old, closed, gatekeeper model? Or the new one that is artist and audience centric that can usher in a true middle class of artist entrepreneurs?

    How do we do that? By working together. By sharing. By recognizing that today’s definition of being an artist requires that you be there all the time, from beginning to end – but not alone, not by yourself. You can’t abandon your babies. You can have the child support. Just ask the person sitting next to you today.

    Our job description requires that we curate, educate, and aggregate – and not just create and produce. We have to embrace all six pillars of cinema -- of all art forms --and not just the pillars of creation and execution, but also discovery, promotion, appreciation, and presentation. It’s a lot of work, but that problem is also the answer.

    Don’t be hesitant. Look at the old way: The only people that benefited from those lines drawn between art and commerce, between marketing and content, are the very same people who are now enjoying the good business opportunity before them now when creators license their work for low fees for low terms on an exclusive basis without access to any of the data their work generates. We have to stop this process. • We have to stop this practice where content is free, but the hardware to play it is extremely expensive. • We have to prevent a world where the aggregators get rich but the creators get a pittance. • We must insist that the data and fans that our work generates is ours, in the fullest sense of the word “ownership”. We have to help each other. We can not settle for the world that has been offered, but must reach for the one that we have dreamed of and can now obtain.

    I came here today because I want to ask you all to do one thing, really to beg of you all to do one thing. And that one thing I truly believe can change our world. That one thing can bring the new world, the artist-centric, creator-empowered & participatory culture into being. That one thing is simple: Do not leave here today without committing to do at least one thing for another person that is in this room right here right now, to do something for them and their work.

    Commit to curate. Commit to promote. Commit to educate, to program, to organize and to facilitate. To Collaborate. Pledge your help. Give it as a badge of honor for you both to wear. Link up. Do it now. Do it later. Just do it today. Offer your help to someone here today.

    We have to build the infrastructure to support a challenging and diverse culture. It may not be as fun as creating yet another movie or game or music or book, but we must accept it as part of our job description. It requires giving and it requires accepting. We can all leave here stronger, wiser, with more potential. But it depends on you.

    If you don’t want to help and work together: we can stop referring to it as the film industry, the music business, the comics trade – and instead the next time we get together, we can discuss our hobbies.

    The good news is that these are not Do It Yourself Days. You are not alone. We are going to build it better together. Make it better together. It just requires us to reach out. Please make your pledge to help someone else while you are here today. Let’s not squander this opportunity. Tell us what we can do for you. Tell others what you can do for them. Let DIY DAYS be about truly working together. Accept this gift from Lance and The Workbook Project and pass it along. It’s going to be how it works, this new gift economy of ours: the more you share, the more power and value you are going to generate.

    Pledge your help to someone here today.

    The Exhibitor Audience Collaboration

    I ran into Chris Dorr last week and had a good conversation with him about the many different ways the film world needs to engage with social media. One of the ideas here offered was exhibitors and festivals utilizing FourSquare. I tweeted the genius idea and sure enough soon learned that at least one film festival was ahead of the curve. AMERICAN SPLENDOR created a soft spot in my heart for Cleveland and now learning what the Cleveland International Film Festival was up to brought a sweet pang of joy. What's FourSquare you ask? CIFF explains:

    Foursquare, a social networking tool for mobile devices, is a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide, and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things. Anytime you log your location with Foursquare, you earn points that translate into virtual “badges.” Frequenting a place more than anyone else will earn you the title of “Mayor.”

    My only question though is what does becoming Mayor of CIFF get you? It's the kind of thing that I think all festivals should engage in and Mayor status should bring a free pass for next year. Theaters should also do the same and offer free tickets.

    Simple promotions awarding the monthly "Mayor" is just the start of things that could come from a FourSquare alliance.  Mike Vogel pointed out that filmmakers could come up with ways to entice people who had earned a "Swarm" badge with 50+ attendees.  What such ideas do you have to share?

    Let's recognize and accept that it is not just the movie that audiences want, but also the social experience. We have to work harder to find ways to enhance that. One thing is for sure though, the more you know the regulars at a theater then more you feel at home -- and the more you feel at home the more that you are going to be there.

    Update 3/21:  The comments below are full of good ideas.  I hope the film festivals & exhibitors  listen (and foursquare too).  Please let me know of any that are doing it right (and why) as you come across them.

    Sundance Observation

    To me, the filmmaking community (the artists, the business folk, the curators & promoters, the appreciators & fans) have to embrace that we are in a seismic shift to an artist-centric collaboration with the audience and away from the corporate controlled supply & attention. This requires a redefinition of cinema by its creators to embrace the discovery, engagement, presentation, promotion, & appreciation processes as much as we do development & production. We have to erase the lines between between art & commerce and content & marketing. We have to stop thinking of films as singular objects and refocus on how they are bridges for the ongoing conversation we have with audiences. Specifics like VOD numbers are important, but we miss the point if we don't look first at the big picture.


    15 Ways To Show Your Collaborators You Appreciate Them

    As an indie film producer, what can you do to show appreciation for all those that are helping you make your film?

    1. Do your job well. Make a film everyone is proud of. Give the team memories that they were lead well.
    2. Provide timely information and decisive actions, as clearly as possible. Don't try to hide anything. Don't sugar coat; speak truthfully about the situation -- reality may not be pretty, but presenting it clarifies your mutual trust.
    3. Recognize how well your collaborators do their jobs and show how much you appreciate them. Show respect. You can't make this film without them; they chose to join you and you are fortunate to have them.
    4. Learn everyone's name. Learn something about them. Take interest in their lives. Remember & celebrate their birthdays. Thank them for their work.
    5. Demonstrate that you are concerned for your crew's health. Provide vitamins and sun screen. Can you provide flu shots on set? When someone is sick, send them home.
    6. Have a true commitment to safety. If working long hours on location, provide overnight accommodations. Don't let people drive when they are over tired. Really have a safety meeting each day.
    7. Good food is quickest route to someone's heart. Provide thoughtful craft service: healthy food, fun food, new food, fresh food. Work with your caterer to make sure people are getting what they want.
    8. Provide a constructive work environment. Keep the workplace clean and orderly. Don't joke around camera. Don't let people read in view of others. Give everyone access to information.
    9. Don't contribute to a bad world. Help your team recycle. Don't force them to waste due to their work situation. Use less paper.
    10. Bring some fun into their world. Provide entertainment or education at lunch breaks. Do "dollar days" at the end of the week.
    11. Let them help the world at large. Organize a blood drive at lunch during production, a toy drive, or coat drive during the winter months. Get absentee ballots when they will be working during election periods.
    12. Adopt and post/display strong anti-discrimination, anti-sexual harassment policies.
    13. Help them enjoy themselves. On location, provide an extensive entertainment list for all visiting crew and cast, including restaurants, theaters, medical, specialty stores, massage, and directions. Organize some group outings during non-working hours.
    14. Go that extra distance to make things better for the team. On location, provide laundry service. In booking travel, always enter everyone's Frequent Flyer miles. Provide direction books in all vehicles.
    15. Recognize everyone as a key part of the process. Get them the tools they need to do their work well. Screen dailies and invite everyone. Create a blooper reel to screen for crew. Give them posters, DVDs, t-shirts. Inform them as to the progress of the production. Allow them to comment on the website.
    When I have asked for some of these things from past production teams, I have occasionally met with some resistance. "I am a production manager, not a camp counselor!" "These people are adults; they should be able to take care of themselves!".

    I don't agree. Everyone works hard. We need to show that we appreciate it. It's funny though, when I put this question out there to the Facebook & Twitter worlds, I think people mostly recommended alcohol and backend points. Money and booze, maybe that's all it takes...

    Special thanks to all of you who contributed to this. This was a crowdsourced post.