Recognize The Time We Are Living In

If you didn't notice this is a new year.  It is also a new age.  My resolution is to help all filmmakers and members of the film industry to understand it.  Hopefully we can also all get started on adapting for this Age too.

This is The Age of Access & Surplus.

This is no longer the Age of Control & Shortages (that was last decade).

These times require New Rules & New Emphasis:

  1. Discovery
  2. Participation
  3. Demystification

We need to conceive of both our creative and business practices in terms of how they incorporate these three elements.

When 45,000 films are made globally each year and the film work of all time is instantly available at a very attractive price point (how does free grab you?), how will your work be discovered?  How will an audience value it over all the other content competing for their attention?  Since the films of Godard and Kurosowa are far better than yours, why will someone watch yours?  It no longer is enough to be new.  It no longer is enough to simply be playing at the local theater (although that still helps a great deal).

The one thing that today's filmmakers have over all the past masters, is that the past masters are dead.  Their work is not going to change.  Today's filmmakers can build relationships with audiences and communities.  They can offer a deeper relationship with them than Stanley Kubrick can.  Audiences have changed.  Communities are not passive.  As much as people like to be directed, they also want to participate.

The truth is out there.  They may sell us a bunch of lies, but people are smart and they figure it out.  We know how the tricks are done.  We also know how art is made.  The curtain has come down and those that don't provide access to the process risk the wrath of the hungry.  Is there any reason to keep any of it hidden?

The New Skills Needed For Participatory Culture

Okay this is old news, but it is still DAMN F'N relevant! In 2005, via the MacArthur Foundation, Henry Jenkins released this white paper, pointing out that:

Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opporitunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of tradi- tional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

What Jenkins goes on to point out is needed among students, is also very much needed by anyone working in the film business, or desiring a full appreciation  of today's film culture.

The new skills include:

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes

Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.

Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities

Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources

Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

I want to make sure my son has all these skills in his arsenal as he starts middle school.  That said, if I ran an undergrad film school, this training would be part of the core curriculum.  At the grad level, it would be an entry requirement.

The Twenty New Rules: What we all MUST TRY to do prior to shooting

I am prepping a new film with the shortest amount of time I have ever had to prep a movie. It is also one of the more ambitious projects I have been involved in. There is so much to do I can't afford to squander any time (luckily I have been prepping some blog posts in advance, so this doesn't take time -- it expands time!). The short prep is also unfortunate because now is a time that the producer has to do even more than ever before.

My To Do List may be more of a Wish List these days. Instead of doing everything I think I should be doing, I have to focus first on what absolutely needs to be done to get the film in the can.

Now is the time we should be doing things differently; yet given the opportunity to make the film I want, with the cast I want, even at a fraction of the budget that I want -- how can I let that opportunity go by?
Having more options and better tools, doesn't solve everything by any means.
These times are tough indeed. Everyone knows it is hard out there for an indie filmmaker, particularly for a truly free filmmaker. Most would acknowledge that it is harder now than it has ever been before. Few have revealed (or admitted) how the current situation will change their behavior. I think right now, with reality staring me in the face, I can only speak about what I wish I could do. There is still a big gulf between thought and expression. How does the present alter what we all wish to do on our films?
Personally speaking, I would say we need to evolve the definition of what it means to be ready to shoot a film. Granted, more can always be done on the creative level and that is certainly worthy of discussion, but here -- on TrulyFreeFilm -- we are discussing the apparatus, the infrastructure, the practices that can lead to a more diverse output, robust appreciation, business model, and sustainable practice of ambitious cinema. So, what would I do if I really had my shit together? I have been trying to answer this and share my thoughts along the way.
Today's version:
  1. Recognize it is about audience aggregation: Collect 5000 fans prior to seeking financing. Act to gain 500 fans/month during prep, prod., post processes.
  2. Determine how you will engage & collect audiences all throughout the process. Consider some portion to be crowd-funded -- not so much for the money but for the engagement it will create.
  3. Create enough additional content to keep your audience involved throughout the process and later to bridge them to your next work.
  4. Develop an audience outreach schedule clarifying what is done when -- both before and after the first public screening.
  5. Curate work you admire. Spread the word on what you love. Not only will people understand you further, but who knows, maybe someone will return the good deed.
  6. Be prepared to "produce the distribution". Meet with potential collaborators from marketing, promotion, distribution, social network, bookers, exhibitors, widget manufacturers, charitable partners, to whatever else you can imagine.
  7. Brainstorm transmedia/cross-platform content to be associated with the film.
  8. Study at least five similar films in terms of what their release strategy & audience engagement strategy was and how you can improve upon them.
  9. Build a website that utilizes e-commerce, audience engagement, & data retrieval. Have it ready no later than 1 month prior to first public screening.
  10. Determine & manufacture at least five additional products you will sell other than DVDs.
  11. Determine content for multiple versions of your DVD.
  12. Design several versions of your poster. Track how your image campaign evolves through the process.
  13. Do a paper cut of what two versions of your trailer might be. Track how this changes throughout the process.
  14. Determine a list of the top 100 people to promote your film (critics, bloggers, filmmakers,etc)
  15. Determine where & how to utilize a more participatory process in the creation, promotion, exhibition, & appreciation process. Does it make sense for your project to embrace this?
  16. How will this project be more than a movie? Is there a live component? An ARG? An ongoing element?
  17. How can you reward those who refer others to you? How do you incentivize involvement? What are you going to give back?
  18. What will you do next and how can you move your audience from this to that? How will younot have to reinvent the wheel next time?
  19. What are you doing differently than everyone else? How will people understand this? Discover this?
  20. How are you going to share what you've learned on this project with others?
As I've said, I know I am not doing all of these yet on my current production, but that leaves me something to strive for the one following. The goal is to keep getting better, after all. But man, I wish I could be doing more!
The desire to do more is so huge, but time and resources limit me, limit us. Sometimes it feels like an accomplishment to at least get the film financed. Still though, I can't claim to be doing my job (producing) well if I am not doing all of these. I have to do better. I know it is even harder on smaller jobs. Still though, as much as our job descriptions keep expanding as our salary level decreases, this list is what we must accomplish. Or at least it is the list I think we need to accomplish right now.
I am going to shut up now and get to work. There's too much to be done.