Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CREATIVITY vs BUSINESS - How Filmmakers Have To Change With The Times

When I first started writing and directing films The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the pop culture obsession, Dances With Wolves pretty much swept the Oscars, a little animated cartoon series called The Simpsons was just getting going and a guy called Vanilla Ice was making me and many others wish we were deaf.

Outside of the entertainment world, Saddam Hussein announced his plans to invade Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher announced her resignation as PM, Microsoft released Windows 3.0 and Pioneer sold the very first in-car satellite navigation system.

Back then, this is what a mobile phone looked like:

The above phone cost $1999 (seems the iphone 5 is a BARGAIN!) in addition to calls costing 40 cents per minute on top of a monthly rental fee. Oh, and this incredible piece of technology could only make and receive calls...  Nothing else. No camera for pictures and video, no texting, no email, no updating your Facebook (Mark Zuckerburg was 6yrs old) and no Angry Birds. Yeah, we had it tough back in the lame year known as 1990...

The first "movie" I was ever involved with was shot on VHS and was an adult comedy about Care Bears because my friends and I had access to the costumes thanks to a children's show being put on at the local theater. I had a blast making it with my friends in that Summer and despite only 6 people or so ever seeing it, the experience was enough to convince me that this new filmmaking lark needed to be explored a lot more. So I saved up my pennies from my first job out of school and bought this beauty:

The Sony V5000 shot on cute little Hi8 cassette tapes, cost less than Radio Shacks awesome mobile phone and got me shooting my first couple of movies. Playing around with this amazing camera was one of the things that convinced me that I wanted to be a filmmaker and a couple of years later I was jetting across the Atlantic to begin my Canadian adventure as a student at the Vancouver Film School.

Back in the early 1990s most people agreed that the best way to watch a movie was somewhere like this:

Look at how happy all those folks are!

Over the next couple of years, TV screens got bigger (along with the LazyBoy chairs in front of them), they got cheaper and- hold your breath now and prepare to "ooooooh..." -they were were HIGH DEFINITION! This meant we could now enjoy our movies like this:

Theater chains, movie studios and filmmakers were suddenly forced to find new ways to get those Lays chip-bloated bums back in movie seats. Bigger "event" movies filled with bigger explosions and slo-mo mayhem was the new model for success! Better storytelling? Who needs that when you can have thousands of CGI aliens and trolls blowing and smashing things up! Oh, that's not enough to engage you, well fine, how about CGI aliens, robots and trolls blowing and smashing things up in slow motion AND in 3D?!

And so now we're at this point. Twice the number of frames per second (48 is double 24 so it has to be better, right?) at twice the ticket price.

Look at how happy and engaged they all are with this marvelous shared experience we call Going To The Movies... Take that black and white people of days past. You can keep your happy-go-lucky laughs and shared experiences because we've got Twitter and Android and big-ass robots running from explosions in slow motion!

But wait, we are also going down another path. More and more eyeballs are gravitating away from those dusty HD behemoths in the corner of our living rooms and are instead watching those awesome retro 1990 re-runs of The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on our present day versions of that giant Radio Shack monstrosity. So now you can watch this:

On this...

Some might argue that its much better for your health to watch Vanilla Ice on a tiny little screen with low-grade audio, but that's beside the point. As a filmmaker, as a storyteller, as a Digital Content Creator, which is what folks like me are now called, I have to go where the eyeballs are going and that means changing. It would seem more and more of the folks who dole out the money to creators are also thinking the same thing. Youtube recently opened a fully-kitted out studio for their top creators who can use it for free. Youtube are also planning on launching a subscription service in the next few months for their top-rated channels. Netflix, meanwhile, just premiered Kevin Spacey's House of Cards TV series and chose to release every episode at once. The times they are a changing, folks...

It's a little daunting in many respects but it's also incredibly exciting. I first dipped my toes into the online content world last year through the webseries Libelle that I directed. I can't say I did it because I felt like I needed to keep up with trends. I did it because I was asked, because I thought it would be fun and because I had nothing else going on at the time. In the last few months I've done a lot more than dip my toes into the webseries world - I've plunged head first into it by co-creating, writing, directing, shooting, editing and doing a whole ton of social media, self-distribution etc. with Fools For Hire.

Two things have surprised me about this in the last few weeks as I've taken stock of where I'm at, where the things I've created are at and what I should do next.

Firstly, upon looking at the analytics that Youtube kindly provided me on our Fools For Hire channel, I saw that the show is being watched on almost as many mobile devices as it is on computer screens. Secondly, totaling up the number of views Libelle and Fools For Hire have so far received, I was forced to acknowledge something... In 17yrs of filmmaking covering over a dozen short films, more people have seen the two webseries I've directed in the last couple of years than have seen everything else I've ever directed.

I didn't get into filmmaking for the glamor and the fame and fortune. I got into it because it was a medium that spoke to me and in which I wanted to tell my stories. My family and friends watching my films is cool and everything but that's not nearly enough - I want as many people as possible to experience what I labor on creating. Webseries production is making it possible for me to tell stories longer than just a short film and get it out into the world without needing to wait anxiously on the whims of a distributor or broadcaster. Am I making money at it? Hell no! But that may not be the case in the coming few years.

The writing is clearly on the wall. Viewing habits are changing quickly. How and where people enjoy their entertainment is shifting. Wherever audiences go the advertisers will follow and as new content creation tools and delivery systems create new paradigm shifts it's vital that content creators like myself are ready and able to make the most of the new opportunities.

It's hard sometimes keeping up with shifts in technology, trends etc. but one thing will always be consistent and that's peoples desire to view great entertainment and experience wonderful storytelling.

Until next time, thanks for reading folks.