Forward thinking: empowering the storyteller

Power to the Pixel Think Tank: PART TWO

The first part of the report from the Power to the Pixel Think Tank in London centred on the engaged audience as the driving force of a cross-media movement.

The theme for the second report is empowerment of the film-maker, content creator or storyteller. As Michael Gubbins reports, engagement and empowerment and creator and audience were inextricably linked for the Power to the Pixel Think Tank, which met at the RSA in London.

The cross-media vision extends some way beyond the debate about “democratising” film.

Putting low-cost, and often free, tools for the creation and distribution of content is certainly a significant step which will inevitably have an effect on the culture of film-making and other forms of content creation. But the cross-media movement puts two other dimensions to this democratisation:

  • The linking of tools for production and distribution with others for discovery and collaboration with audiences
  • A cross-media perspective meaning that the narrative can transcend any single discipline, such as film

Empowerment then, is about a culture of creation and participation where the gap between creator and audience  – and between participation and consumption – is blurred.

Participation not consumption

Analogies were drawn by some of the panel with the rise of Punk Rock in the 1970s. Although the term is now used to denote a genre of music, at the time it had more of a sense of a movement: music was not a product to be consumed but a means of expression.

For the first time in history, the means to create audiovisual material is in the hands of everyone – at least as ubiquitous as guitars in the ’70s. How these recording materials are used will be decided by all kinds of criteria such as cost, technical standards, file-sizes etc.

As many other media have discovered, what will not hold sway in this new world, according to the panel, is the narrow interests of industries built for a top-down, rights-driven analogue age.

The audience will have the final say in the development and success of new creative forms and the experience of the music business is that these forms will challenge industry business models.

The temptation – seemingly irresistible to many in the industry establishment – is to see these participatory digital developments as mere amateur tinkering that will have no impact on “real film”. But for the Think Tank, such thinking misses the point.

They paint an optimistic picture of  a dynamic and free exchange between storytellers of all kinds and audiences. Out of this vast increase in activity will come a range of new business models – but the economics will emerge from demand and collaboration rather than being shoehorned in from the current single model.

“In a free culture, we should be able to participate in the things we enjoy.  It will eventually become its own form that has many different ways of developing,” said multi award-winning US film producer Ted Hope.

Technology is already empowering new formats and bringing together different disciplines to create coherent narratives.

Martin Elricsson, Swedish Producer and Creative Director at The company P, which has been developing games and participatory drama, said creative people were reaching similar conclusions from different perspectives and coming together with a real sense of  momentum: “To us this doesn’t feel like a time of film crisis but a renaissance. We’ve been doing our own thing and finding similarities with others’ work. The common thread is closing the distance between artist and audience.”

Power and responsibility

The enthusiasm of the cross-media pioneers and the logic of the argument will not win over everyone.

Indeed, it is probably fair to say that the majority of established film-makers would be happier if the whole digital revolution would quietly go away. Mainstream interest is not really driven by enthusiasm.

“The reason why people are talking about transmedia is because they are confronted by the fact that the system is no longer working.  There’s no money.  Big sales companies are not paying what they promised they’d be paying.  Only light in this dark system is this blinking thing of transmedia,” says Michel Reilhac, Executive Director, Arte France Cinéma.

He acknowledged that film-makers in particular were often motivated by being part of a system that is rapidly disappearing: “Most people fell in love with the atmosphere of the industry and they want to be a part of that.  They are not about storytelling.  They are about being a member of the film community the way it has always been.  Part of a mythology.”

That certainly explains part of the reluctance to embrace new forms of creative expression. The waiting for some mythological single internet Business Model is also a strong habit too.

But Ted Hope believes there is another unspoken factor – fear.

“Most of the film-makers I talk to are complete Luddites.  They need to understand what the most simple tools are and that they need to not be afraid to engage. “

It is not just or even primarily technophobia that is the problem. “Resistance isn’t to technology it’s to the audience,” says Brian Newman, consultant and former President of the Tribeca Film Institute. “People are scared that they have to engage with their audience.”

Christy Dena, founder of Australia’s Universe Creation 101 said there was a changing dynamic in the relationship between artist and audience that undermines a long-established culture.

“People are afraid of losing control.  And it is a skill to design a work that involves interactivity.”

The mission for Power to the Pixel is that knowledge is shared and tomorrow’s report will look at how a cross-media movement might emerge to act as a community for all film-makers in a changing digital age.

Think Tank members

CHAIR: MICHAEL GUBBINS, journalist and consultant (UK); SCILLA ANDREEN, Co-Founder & CEO, IndieFlix (USA); OMID ASHTARI, Agent, CAA (USA); PETER BUCKINGHAM, Head of Distribution & Exhibition, UK Film Council (UK); CHRISTY DENA, Director, Universe Creation 101 (AUS); MARTIN ELRICSSON, Producer & Creative Director, The company P (SWE); TED HOPE, Producer and Co-Founder, This is that (USA); MAUREEN McHUGH, Writer & Partner, No Mimes Media (USA); BEHNAM KARBASSI, Producer & Partner, No Mimes Media (USA); BEN MALBON, Managing Partner & Founder, BBH Labs (USA); BRIAN NEWMAN, Consultant and Former President, Tribeca Film Institute (USA); NINA PALEY, Filmmaker, Sita Sings the Blues (USA); MICHEL PETERS, Co-Founder & CEO, Content Republic (UK), STEVE PETERS, Experience Designer & Partner, No Mimes Media (USA); SARA POLLACK, Entertainment Marketing Manager, YouTube (USA); MICHEL REILHAC, Executive Director, Arte France Cinéma (FR); LIZ ROSENTHAL, Founder & Director, Power to the Pixel (UK); SLAVA RUBIN, Co-Founder, IndieGoGo (USA); DAVID VARELA, Producer, nDreams (UK); HUNTER WEEKS, Filmmaker, 10MPH and Ride the Divide (USA);
LANCE WEILER, Filmmaker, Story Architect and Digital Innovator (USA).