02 March 2010

The Untamed Wilds of Internet Video

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

The Internet has opened up countless avenues of distribution, demolished the wall between content creator and consumer, and turned every functional, DIY filmmaker into an entrepreneur.

Digital filmmaking has taken that which was once a cost-prohibitive form of storytelling expression and put it into the hands of anyone with a credit card or the quaint, yet popular bits of paper with dead guys on them.

Theatrical release has now become just but one option for the up & coming filmmaker; it has, in fact, become more akin to the amusement park than “cinema” in the traditional sense.

We have entered an age not of having, but of accessing.   DVD, Blu-Ray, all of those physical, tangible items of library-oriented film aficionados are dying a slow, utilitarian death, dealt by the hands of those that for so long, were in the position to control their content, distribution, and influence.

We have social networks. Crowdfunding networks. DIY. DIWO. Indie.  Studio.  Mobile.  VOD.  MP4, H264, HD, WS, SEO, RT, @, Via, and the ubiquitous LOL.  We are a society on information overload, the precursor to the Matrix kung-fu tutorials, as RSS, Real Time, and @’s keep us on our toes.  Plugged in.  Tuned out.  More connected and simultaneously disconnected than we have ever been at any point in human history.  ADD is the new norm.  Don’t like something?  Click away from it.   Two seconds from cerebral decision to manual execution.  More.  Faster. "Better."

Technology and communications are moving at a lightning pace.  Keeping up is nearly impossible, as we head down the path to becoming the human race circa Wall•E - always plugged in, children with no attention spans, no patience, no desire to slow down.  Skim is the new read.  Glance, the new absorb.

That the “FILM INDUSTRY” is changing is not a new thing.  This is the single biggest evolution in distribution & business since the end of the studio system.  The Soderbergh/Tarantino/Rodriguez era has nothing on the change we’re seeing now.  As filmmakers - content creators - we are our own movie moguls; the O’Selznick’s, the Weinsteins of our own careers. We hold the cards.

But we are squandering the opportunity to advance our chosen discipline by clinging to film as it currently stands.  We are squandering it because I believe we’re not witnessing the birth of a new distribution model - but also the birth of a new art form.

To waste the opportunity now before us is akin to Edwin Porter deciding that this whole “Editing” thing wasn’t really worth it after all, and giving up. Herein lies the war of balance - we are so focused on getting our “films” out there through the magic of Internet distribution and the infinite possibilities it presents that we have forgotten one thing about the Internet itself.

Not only is it a platform for distribution - it is a medium, a new canvas waiting to be explored to its fullest extent.

The greatest works of art are those that cannot exist in any other medium but the medium in which it was created - the Mona Lisa could never be a rock opera. Watchmen failed miserably as a movie.   Don Quixote has yet to be made into a film matching the scope and wonder of the novel.  The crime novels of Hammett, Chandler, Ellroy and MacDonald have yet to have adaptations better than the source material.

A great short film should never be merely a truncated version of the theatrical, a fundraising trailer for something bigger.  It should be of something within the art form. A theatrical film will never be the same on an iPhone screen as it would be on the big screen.  Yet we waste our time cramming that which we wish to see on a gargantuan screen in the company of others into a 640x480 window.  It’s like going to Brazil and speaking Spanish.

I want to see the first great Internet film.  Web series are close - but they have yet to rise above a poor man’s TV show, or chopped up feature films.  They are not yet "of" the new medium.  In a previous post on this same subject from September of 2009, Pontification on the Proliferation of Skateboarding Bulldogs, I said, "I'm waiting to see the D.W. Griffith of this age" - who will invent the new language of internet video that makes it a product unique to the medium in which it is created?

What would a film produced exculsively for the Internet - with the same vigor and passion as that of a theatrical film, but using a language unique to the medium - look like?  Would it allow us a chance to bring the “film” more in touch with the novel?  A freedom of structure?  Would it be similar to a television series - a limited series?  Or an ongoing one, a storyworld decided by the vastness of cyberspace, one that not only uses the one-on-one interaction inherent in the Internet between creator and consumer, but new storytelling paradigms to create a whole new experience for the viewer?

For that matter, is the size of the screen even an issue anymore?  Who’s to say that all films won’t someday be downloaded to high-speed Internet accessing projectors and projected onto the standard theater screen?

With the advent of transmedia storytelling, a film is now just one part of the whole experience.  What could the Internet do to enhance not only the visibility of one aspect of your project, but expand the storyworld you’ve created in ways a two-hour three-act piss break and popcorn theatrical experience could not?

It may sound like I’m bashing film as a medium.  I’m not.  I adore it with every fiber and stitch that makes me.  I want to direct and produce something big and huge and a big theatrical experience (I dream of one day directing a James Bond film).  What I am bashing is the short-sighted view of the Internet as merely a distribution tool. Some have made efforts to make the leap - but it’s not enough.

It’s of paramount importance to debate new business models in film.  It’s a means towards survival.  But so is looking ahead to all the undiscovered possibilities this nascent Internet medium has to offer, and from there, discovering ways to capitalize upon them.

And to squander that is like holding your breath without any hope of release.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


allen mez said...

This article makes such a great point. The medium IS the message. It seems that the short form
currently is adapting better. How will longer narratives develop in a landscape where viral distribution is codependent with the impulse to take a short break and check out something cool. (Usually while people are at work)

You bring up all the important points from cell phone screen size to the ability to soon merge our online content with our living room flat screens. I found it odd when Youtube changed from 4:3 to the widescreen ratio. Was that at odds with the medium or helping it? I don't know.

It's an exciting time for new visual forms of storytelling Tyler.

Tyler Weaver said...

Allen -

Thanks so much for reading & commenting!

I agree with you that the short form is currently the best candidate for further development. I think as the technology moves to television sets, allows for multi-device sync, and other techno advances, we'll see a move towards feature length films being more readily accepted - and the chance to explore new forms with all the new, fun storytelling toys.

It's an exciting time, and the Internet is a great example of a delivery system being a medium unto itself.

Thanks again for having a read!


Luci Temple said...

When we explore this question, first thing we need to consider is that "internet" is no longer confined to a computer. People are connecting their games consoles, large screen TVs, netbooks and mobile phones to the internet, which means it is viewed in a number of formats and many different locations.

Surprisingly, 50% of people do actually want to watch longer form entertainment on their mobile phones (IBM "End of Advertising" Report 2007), the smallest of potential screens, so we shouldn't ignore long form options completely.

And a good deal of internet usage is happening in the evening, traditional "TV" time, rather than at work. Thus, with time for more than just short form.

'What will be the next thing' is a very good question. To make use properly of the internet, I would suggest it would be interactive rather than passive viewing, with the audience also a participant. Further it might include networked social involvement - again something big on the internet that we don't get from a book or movie.

Some could argue that Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMPORG) are in fact the thing made to make use best of the internet?

So perhaps we will see more of this, or alternative reality games (ARG), that weaves story across the net in a way that asks a mass audience to participate.

Frederick Marx said...

Thanks for throwing down the gauntlet, Tyler. Your challenge is a worthy one and I'm only sorry your voice was not a part of the now just ended Forum here at the Documentary Edge Festival, New Zealand. We talked a lot here about new internet distribution and financing paradigms but not much about the medium itself. (Though Sally Potter's "Rage" did come up as one notable counter-example.) I for one have yet to take the leap fully into internet as an art form. But I can imagine the day coming...

Tyler Weaver said...

Luci -

Thanks for reading and commenting! Your point about the internet being on TV and not computer-exclusive is absolutely correct - one that I thought I had said in my post, but maybe I didn't.

The long form will have its day, I'm just not convinced it will have its day as it currently stands. I think interactivity will be the key here - maybe something along the lines of the "choose your own adventure."

Also, I think episodic storytelling will be key, with "film" taking on a hybrid of filmic, television, and novelistic storytellling forms.

Of course, I could be completely wrong, but as long as I'm entertained and/or creating entertaining things, I'm happy. =)

Thanks again for reading!

Tyler Weaver said...

Frederick -

Great to have you commenting here!

This whole post has been stewing for awhile, I suppose since 2006 when I attended the SilverDocs festival film conferences, and the entire conference was focused on new distribution - not even funding.

And I would have loved a trip to New Zealand...

Thanks for reading!

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