Take Back What Has Always Been Yours

By Ted Hope
Keynote from Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Film Forum on 14 October 2009
NFT1, BFI Southbank, London
Followed by Matt Cowan’s Reuters Report from the Cross-Media Film Forum

Cinema is a driving force in my life. I don’t want it to leave us, nor do I want to have to leave it behind; it’s provided me with hope and inspiration, and an incredibly fulfilling livelihood. It is also a one hundred year old industry, and, in my opinion, damn close to both a perfect art form and a perfect entertainment, but is also one whose applicability to our lives and livelihoods must now be completely reevaluated.

Cinema, in its current concept and execution, is both derived from and depending on a world that we’ve passed by.

  • It is no longer the most complete and representative art form for the world that we inhabit.
  • It no longer mirrors how we currently live in the world.
  • Cinema is now a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day to day.

We must also recognise that there is no workable present day business model to support the current mode of cinema, other than one built on the exclusionary practice of isolated control of the funding, marketing, distribution, and exhibition systems. We know the model for financing and distribution – and by extension, also creation – is now running on fumes.

  • How long can the controlling studio model survive when the wall of control has already come done and the people — now embracing that they are both audiences and creators – have recognised the power they truly have and will unlikely ever surrender that power again?
  • How long can a business based on library assets survive when everything that has been digitised has also been copied and can now be spread with a touch of a button – and every time it is stopped, it is only to reappear somewhere else.

Sure, these are big problems before us, but being here, joining in the conversation today, is truly exciting because we are here to define and develop that new art form, one that in turn can spawn its supportive business model.

This can be done.

This will be done.

And whether we call it cross-platform, transmedia, or just good old “cinema”, we will do it.

In re-building our representative art form to truly demonstrate how we live, we will also develop a business model specifically for it:

  • One founded on access and transparency.
  • One where the rewards come from the work rendered and not the control maintained.

This is the hope has brought us together and it is this hope that will truly move us forward.

We not only all get to participate in this reinvention of cinema, but we all HAVE to participate in it. Things have changed: previously creators couldn’t – or perhaps wouldn’t – truly participate in the whole of cinema.

If we as creators redefine cinema as its complete whole — if we take back what has always been ours – cinema will no longer be the same art form it was 100 years ago, nor will we have the same film industry that we do today. Yet, to think forward, we have to look backwards and recognise cinema for what it truly is and stop naming a part of it as the whole.

  • Cinema is not just the narrative component.
  • Cinema is the entire process.
  • It is the dialogue that goes on between the audience and the content.
  • It is the experience that resonates long after the lights have been turned on.

Cinema is supported by six pillars and until now creators truly only participated in two of them: content and production.

Content, being made up of sound, image, time, and narrative has had more than enough for a singular author to content themselves with.

Production, until 20 years or so ago, generally meant creators had to work for someone else because the cost of production was so excessive (that they weren’t able to afford it on their own). The economic barrier to personally produce what you conceive has now virtually disappeared.

For the last two decades Independent filmmakers mistakenly perceived it as some sort of victory that they had the opportunity to participate in the first two pillars, but in settling for dominion of these two, we haven’t seen the forest for the trees.

When we look at the great woods that surround us now, we should recognise that we have not just the possibility, but also the necessity, to participate in the other four pillars of cinema:

  1. Discovery
  2. Promotion
  3. Participation
  4. Presentation

We must embrace this opportunity to engage in these aspects or we will lose it.

Those in control of the financing & distribution apparatus have historically limited the creative team’s full involvement to only content and production. For if they ‘grant’ direct access to the consumer, the audience, or the fan, they will also reduce their own control of the gate, of the choices, and of the rewards.

Control, be it through:

  • limited supply to the audience
  • the access to capital to the creators
  • and the marketing, distribution and exhibition apparatus

has kept access to all six pillars distanced from those that actually generate the stories, and as result nowhere near the full potential that we have in us.

With our new access and involvement, that power

  • to create,
  • to access,
  • to spread, and
  • to appreciate

is going to be owned by each and every one of us.

In denying the creative class access to those other four pillars of cinema, our Industry also inhibited the narrative form from expanding beyond a linear structure and its delivery from migrating from a singular platform. Yet, the creative side somehow not just readily accepted, but also propagated, the myth that this is how it was supposed to be. For 100 years, we embraced a short sighted vision of what cinema – its creation and appreciation – is.

When considering the audience’s actual experience of cinema, the creative class has embraced a false and unnecessary demarcation

  • between art and commerce
  • between content and marketing, and
  • between creator and audience.

Marketing and narrative each influence each other. Each can be used together to effectively shape our perception and knowledge of the events we intend to consume.

  • Isn’t ‘discovery’ the first point in the narrative chain?
  • Isn’t ‘promotion’ about the point of impact for the audience’s ‘discovery’ and its subsequent resonance?

Cinema, and its business, changes with our acceptance of the whole definition of our work.

The ‘sell’ is part of our creation; we enter our stories by the path the piper of marketing paves in front of us. We react not just by our own instincts, but also in accordance with what is happening around us, what our contemporaries are experiencing too.

If we stop being cynical about the ‘marketing’ aspects and use them to shape our narratives – and make sure that the narrative also shapes those points of impact we call marketing – our stories will have more influence, depth and resonance, by the sheer fact that they are now more complete, carried from our moment of discovery, reinforced through moments of resonance, and represented by the objects we surround ourselves with.

By shedding the false construct of a line between the form and its delivery, we transform our art form.

  • By extending the narrative in the direction of what once was called marketing or business, cinema itself is no longer a line, but a sphere – a full world and no longer just a slice of life.
  • By removing the constrictions of the where and when we encounter cinema, it becomes a greater influence on our lives.
  • By spreading the opportunities we have to engage, both back and forth, across multiple platforms, cinema is no longer an impulsive location-centric activity, but an ever-present and consistent choice.
  • By changing from a monologue to a dialogue with our audiences, we return ownership to the commons and gain back loyalty in exchange.

As storytellers we have been trained to think predominately in the form of the feature length narrative; it is the by product of our tunnel vision, of our acceptance of a limited definition of cinema restricted to singular aspects of a far more rich communal experience. For our art form and our business to both reflect the realities of the world we are now living in we have to embrace a new set of ‘best practices’ for the narrative form, solutions that attract new audiences, experiments that can lead to new business models.

We have to erase the division between content and marketing, between art and commerce, between creation, presentation, and appreciation. As creators, entrepreneurs, and audiences we have to leap into the whole of cinema, abandon the trees, and enter the forests. I don’t have an answer yet, but I suspect that the list of what we all need to embrace will include aspects of all six pillars of cinema and not just the two we have aligned ourselves with. In the days ahead the ‘best practices’ for engagement in the six pillars of cinema will become clearer, but some things are already evident, and by no means is what I have to offer is a comprehensive list, but I do think that if my future collaborators entered my offices, already armed with the following considerations, the solutions to some of the struggles we have in our industry currently would feel far more evident.

So with regard to:


  • Expand the narrative – along a thematic premise – from just a feature format to also include multiple short form works, that can be used to seed, corral, and bridge audiences from one work to the next.
  • Create storyworld instructions that will allow others to also enter and participate in the narrative. This guide will describe what rules must be followed in the creation of characters and their actions.
  • Open the narrative and erase the end, or rather give multiple opportunities for endings, as audiences want to re-engage in new and different ways at different times.
  • Open the narrative and offer alternative points of view, so that the experience no longer is single-character centric.
  • Consider opportunities for off-line discussions and individual customization to re-enter and even influence the narrative.
    • Should characters, in addition to audiences, comment on the choice creators make?
    • Where can user-generated modifications enter the narrative later on?
      • Beyond story and character, can audience-generated image-overlays play a role in the experience?
  • Shed the notion that is distancing for an audience to have characters played by different actors.
    • As the great works of both Shakespeare and Dr. Who demonstrate, we can derive pleasure from witnessing the interpretation of a role by many performers.
      • Even within a singular narrative
  • Embrace collaboration; there is so much work to be done, a singular author cannot build the entire world.
    • Where can the crowd provide material in an organic way that will enhance their relationship to central work?
    • Be willing to just think wildly at times.
      • Have a collaborative brainstorming session with like-minded storytellers on how to expand the narrative.
  • Is there a way that multiple people could collaborate around this idea?
  • Are supporting characters worthy of their own stories, own experiences, own environments?
  • Could alternate futures and alternate paths be sketched out now?


  • Record data and provide access to it every step of the way. Show how fans how it is done. Pull back the curtain and let others see the mystery.
    • Record the recording.
    • Let the crew broadcast and comment.
  • Recognise cast, crew, & vendors as our work’s initial community. Bring them into the discussion.


  • Provide many points across many platforms for discovery by audiences.
    • This can come from websites and blogs, video content, or games.
    • Trailers, clips, and posters are the most traditional way, but even in these arenas there is still much room for expansion and innovation.
      • These introduction mechanisms can be used not just for the whole, but also for each step in the process and narrative.
  • Provide the audience with the proper context for appreciation.
    • This usually comes from providing some ongoing curatorial services for audiences to understand how it fits in the entertainment and cultural chains.
      • If you like x, then you will also like y.
      • Provide other cultural artifacts for comparison.
      • Curate and show what else you love.
  • Brainstorm participatory opportunities:
    • What are the gaming structures inherent to the narrative?
      • Are there a missions and obstacles that your characters face that could be mirrored in a basic game environment?
      • Can players interact in a gaming world via the appropriation of character traits that the story originates?


  • Provide multiple areas of participation on a casual level.
    • What aspect of the story would be a fun application or widget that is spreadable?
    • Does story development, trivia, or gaming warrant prizes, cookies, or contest provisions?
  • Offer different points of access for audience participation on a creative story level.
    • Design characters that can travel into other creators’ hands.
    • Iconic costumes or behaviour alleviate the need for spector actor identification and thus increases spreadability.
    • Totemic props, dressing & design allow story environments to permeate the boundaries of our real world as fans appropriate such objects and display them.
    • Provide fans the opportunity to create on the same lines as the story’s originators.
    • Allow for remixing and reposting. Alternate POVs and approaches to the material make for a richer experience for the hard-core.
    • Examine how some narratives encourage fan fiction – for isn’t this something every storyteller wants: the fan-fiction user/creator to become also the advertiser/promoter.
  • Accept that audiences like to both be directed and to participate
    • both the truly active and the somewhat passive experiences are pleasurable.
    • It is up to us to show how this duality can be enabled.
  • Demonstrate to audiences how they can participate more with (and in) our stories.
    • Instead of defining ourselves as the creator, we should accept ourselves as enablers.


  • Offer different points of access for audience participation on a fan/appreciation level.
    • Let them in on the details of how and why. Where and when and on what was it shot? The details should be built into all data you deliver.
    • What themes within the narrative allow for aggregation on single subject websites?
      • i.e. “If only there was a man who could…”
      • “The worst day at the worst job is when…”
  • Provide insight into the process. Allow audiences to get to know the creators. Build a friends & family fan-base.
  • Offer (and reward) fans opportunities to create and thus aggregate different promotional tools
    • Posters and trailers
    • Fan fiction
  • Build referral activities into the narrative and engagement processes.
  • Provide individual curators with unique opportunities throughout the process.


  • Make presentation (exhibition) an event.
    • Add a live social component.
      • Know your fans in advance.
    • Make it something that is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
  • Provide opportunity for deeper appreciation.
    • Furnish study notes and
    • Moderate discussions that allow the content to more fully resonate with audiences.
  • Keep the experience alive long after the work has ended.
    • Provided totemic items (aka merchandising)
    • How can fans demonstrate their passion?

I can’t say if I got the order or organisation of this right. I certainly know that the list is nowhere near complete. And I know there is no template for creation, no template for production, nor for any of the six pillars. Yet although there may be no template, there are ‘best practices’. I hope I have given some fuel to the thought of what those may be.

For in taking control of what has always been ours, for embracing what is the whole and not just the part of cinema, we, both the original creators and the engaged audiences, together expand the potential for narrative, for cinema, and for appreciation. This is the mission before us. This is our mandate and this is why I am excited to get to discuss this with all of you in the days ahead. Our industry has a great opportunity before us. I hope we can truly take advantage of it.

Matt Cowan’s Reuters Report from the Cross-Media Film Forum, 14 October, 2009