Friday, August 28, 2009

The New Media Revolution - ?

A New Media revolution is underway, apparently, but I fear I might be sleeping through it. What the f%$# is "New Media", anyway. I've been hearing this phrase for awhile, now, and I'm not any more certain today of what exactly it is than I was back when I first heard it. Is it referring to actual content, the format of that content or the way that content is delivered...or all of the above? Is it some crazy, as-yet indescribable hybrid of books, film, art and other stuff? Is it stuff that is already here or stuff that is coming in the future? Is New Media strictly tied to the internet or is it stuff that can be bounced up to satellites and projected against a 10 story building? Or can it be as simple as a good HD cable t.v. show as opposed to the network crap we were forced to watch throughout my growing years? Maybe it's just anything media-related that I have trouble understanding.

Of course, I had to go to wikipedia, where I often scurry to when I want to begin to understand something - or at least get a pulse on how others understand it. Here's what it says, essentially:

New Media is a term meant to encompass the emergence of digital, computerized, or networked information and communication technologies in the later part of the 20th century. Most technologies described as "new media" are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulatable, networkable, dense, compressible, and impartial.

Hmmm. Whatever that means. Other terms commonly associated with New Media include: interactivity, media convergence, viral communities, open source, globalization and others that are equally opaque to me. However, I do know one thing as an independent filmmaker, the way media is created, delivered and promoted is changing. Fast. Actually has already changed tremendously, for the most part. And the way stories are told may (or may not) change with it.

Is this big news? Hell no. People have been talking about this for years and the forward-thinkers have been batting it around for decades - even pre-internet (as we know it now, anyway). But it always seemed like the theoretic mental masturbation of think tank-types and not anything that would have any real-world relevance to a hustling young indie filmmaker bred on "Stalker" and "Mouchette" or even "Star Wars", who still craves the romance of sitting in a big dark theater with a bunch of eager strangers.

There will always be a place for that, even if that theater now often exists inside people's homes (minus the strangers...I think). But people are now watching their movies in lots of different ways. And I've already made it clear in other blogs that the commercial theatrical model for truly independent filmmakers is all but dead. Digital technology has already won the content creation revolution and that same technology, applied in different ways, has us squarely in the midst of a content delivery revolution. The cost barrier for making films is much lower these days - and that includes everything from CGI work to 3-D. And the cost barrier for delivery of those films is lowering, as well. Right now, you can upload your film to a "store" where people can purchase a DVD or download it in various ways and you can promote it through various network sites with affiliate sales support - without it costing you much of anything up front. It's a low-level distribution/marketing network that used to cost thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars to create, but can now be done for practically nothing, depending on who is willing to do what for you for free. In any case, there's probably never more than a thousand dollars in inescapable costs and not too much more than that in elective costs.

Does that mean a brighter future for indie filmmakers? Possibly. But unlikely for most filmmakers and far from guaranteed for even truly talented filmmakers. In this fine ol' world of ours, you often get what you pay for. Just because the tools have gotten much cheaper, doesn't mean they'll work magic for you. Most filmmakers are crappy marketers. Actually, quite frankly, most filmmakers are crappy filmmakers. Which also means a glut of crap is getting made, forcing good filmmakers to be innovative to be heard above the din...or risk getting lost in a sea of cinematic mediocrity.

That need for innovation is starting to trickle down to the way "films" are getting made. (Will the term "film" and "filmmaker" start to die? - Media and content are sooooo UNsexy....). We're seeing more and more serialized work (i.e. webisodes), mixed media work, interactive works, works of unusual lengths and some stuff that is simply uncategorizable. At first, I dismissed these new works as the desperate attempts of opportunistic filmmakers trying to fit square pegs into round holes. "We can show movies on cell phones?? Great! Let's make a 30 second version of Gone With The Wind!". But as more and more "New Media" emerges, they are starting to look like not just new work, but new models of work - new paradigms. The old school part of me is admittedly still resisting this new stuff. I grew up watching movies in theaters and I can't help feeling that anything that is not created for that experience is not CINEMA. But is that really true?

I'm not saying it isn't true, I'm just exploring the question. In one sense, of course, it is indeed true. The term cinema refers to the place where you watch films itself. So, for something to be cinematic, it needs to be ideally suited to that environment. Also, I feel like so much "New Media" stuff is simply sales tools or pandering to the growing A.D.D. epidemic rather than exploring all of the aesthetic possibilities of visual storytelling. And finally, with all of this "convergence" what distinguishes one thing from another. When is a book no longer a book or a film no longer a film if the two can be combined digitally to create a hybrid experience?

On the other hand, it's clearly time for filmmakers to broaden our conception of "filmmaking" - of visual/aural storytelling. The times, they are a-changin'. New Media, whatever the f^%$ it is, is here. Or coming soon. Old media, if not dying, is definitely limited in its ability to provide opportunity for filmmakers. If we are true artists, true creatives, we will embrace the creative challenge these new models are presenting to us. It's actually a very exciting time. But it is a transitional time and that, even with the best of transitions, is always a slightly melancholic experience. In any transition, something dies when something new is born. Even if it's just our old dream/fantasy of sitting in a dark, crowded cinema, feeling the buzz of the audience as your film slowly unfolds for them. Well, we can still have that at festivals and private screenings. That won't ever go away. But there's a brave new world out there that doesn't yet make sense to me. I think I need to get off of my old-school ass and go explore it.....

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