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March 9, 2008

Justin Mitchell on the “New Paradigm”

Filmmaker Justin Mitchell took a break from shooting his new documentary in Brazil to add his comments to the On Google Video and The New Paradigm discussion. So I thought I’d start a new thread with his post:

Gary –

What is the answer my friend?

For those reading, I have worked with Gary and Plexifilm on two of my films (Drive Well, Sleep Carefully: On the Road with Death Cab for Cutie, and Dirty Old Town: Ted Leo).

I write this from Brazil where I am currently spending five weeks finishing a new documentary. Without going into too much detail, we have shoe-string funding for the film but not enough to make up for the five weeks film work that I’m missing by being gone. The hope, the ‘dream,’ is that down the road some finances are returned via distribution of the film.

The ‘new paradigm’ as it applies to film-making talked about above is here to stay for sure though I challenge anyone to define what exactly it is or to explain how independent creators are supposed to make a living off of it. How and where will that happen in the future, in this new paradigm?

I’m not talking about Hollywood films and I’m not talking about faux independent films (financed by sub-companies of the larger corporations.) I’m talking true independence — the kind of film-making that answers to no one, that allows for creative freedom without concern for stock-holders’ dividends.

Herein might lie the problem: Hollywood films may be able to truly maximize the potential of the new paradigm, work all the angles with all different streams of marketing, etc., and ‘give away’ versions of their films in some digital format and still make money. It’s already happening. But to apply the same rules to independent ventures such as ‘Helvetica’ is ridiculous. It just doesn’t work cuz there just isn’t the same marketing money to work with. And in that, the new paradigm, for me at least, falls apart. So I ask again, what is the answer?

All the comments on this blog are all valid, everyone has their right to opinion and will act as they see fit. What I’m curious is, how many of you are creating content and watching it being given away for free without your consent? At the end of day, most directors/producers struggle to pay rent and make ends meet the same way that everyone else does. It’s our own damn fault that we’re crazed enough to blindly jump into making films that often times require going into major debt, working 24/7, and generally driving everyone around us equally insane. Hopefully we create something that entertains you and hopefully we ‘break even.’ For some they will keep making films regardless of any of it. But for others, it will simply be impossible. The danger of this new paradigm is that talented independent storytellers may get lost, give-up, or be shoved into an abyss of free downloads.

For all those who believe that watching something on low quality Google video is somehow lesser an experience, think about this: We have almost come full-circle in the limited life of the moving picture. The first moving pictures were tiny double-postage sized images that one viewed by looking into Edison’s Kinetoscope (if you go by the generally assumed history.) Well, now we stare into the tiny screens of our cell phones or laptops. The quality was poor then and at the moment, still is on most of these viewing platforms.

Not only is the image size similar, but the content length is coming full-circle as well. Short form, easily digested content in 1895, short form, easily digested content in 2008. Our expectations and our baselines for viewing experiences have shifted. Not only that, but a lot of people want it for free and feel they deserve it for free.

If this new baseline is where its all going, we risk potentially losing many talented voices. We’ll end up with nothing but one-line artists and content that where you won’t have to think too hard or follow a story for more than five minutes. It’ll be free but it’ll be content that’s created in a day rather than over the span of a year.

Why type all this? I guess because I hope there is an answer. I guess because just as ‘Helvetica’ being on Google Video and some of the comments here demonstrate, we are moving somewhere and moving fast indeed. Hell, we’re practically already there. We better talk about it now before the trip is over and end up somewhere that none of us are happy with.



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