When I heard DIY Days was coming to Boston, mostly I was looking forward to reconnecting with filmmaker, Alternate Reality Game enthusiast and ARGFest Boston speaker, Lance Weiler, (Hope is Missing and Beyond the Rave) and maybe getting a scoop on his next project. While I did get to do all that, I also got to meet some incredibly talented independent filmmakers, culture researchers, and writers, and participate in a great discussion not only about independent filmmaking, but also about the future of media and technology.
DIY Days is an offshoot of Weiler’s The Workbook Project, and is paired with the From Here to Awesome Film Festival. All are grounded in his commitment to open-source filmmaking, mentoring and encouraging creativity and helping independent filmmakers to finance, distribute and promote their projects inside and outside of traditional media channels (but mostly outside). Weiler’s partner in DIY Days is Arin Crumley, co-creator of indie film/YouTube phenomenon, Four Eyed Monsters.
DIY Days Boston, a free, all-day event, was the fourth and final conference in this series. (A new series will resume next year.) Speakers for the day included, among others, Weiler, a venture capitalist, MIT researchers, and, of course, many filmmakers, all bringing their knowledge and expertise to share with others. You can watch the conference proceedings online at the DIY Days site, so instead of giving a blow-by-blow of each talk, I’ll highlight my favorites.
The day started with Todd Dagres, founder and General Partner of Spark Capital. Spark has invested in online media companies like Veoh Networks and EQAL, the production company for Lonelygirl15 and Kate Modern. In addition, Dagres is a film fan and independent producer. Dagres spoke enthusiastically about “disrupting” the traditional media models and investing in the little companies that help break those models. This innovation is not only beneficial to all content producers, Dagres says, but also profitable. His enthusiasm was a big hit with the indie film audience, as he gave them a great feeling of hope for the future–investments in new media can only help the cause of indie film and content creation. He also spoke of the importance of thinking of “community, not audience.” He stressed how important creating a connection to a community is to the future success of new media. As an example of this, he mentioned a new EQAL online project that will accompany the CBS mid-season replacement series, “Harper’s Island.” CBS is investing heavily in online content over the next few years with a large part of it coming from EQAL.
The next panel featured Ana Domb Krauskopf and Xiaochang Li, researchers who work with Henry Jenkins at MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium. They were very happy to speak at DIY Days, as this was the first opportunity for them to talk publically about their current project. The work in progress is referred to as “Spreadable Media,” and Krauskopf and Li’s joint presentation took pains to define it and differentiate it from “viral,” which they felt is too “fuzzy” as a description of what it is stuck to as a label. “Spreadable” is a new way to look at how content is used and passed along by online communities and creators. The old model is “stickiness” — the idea that people go to places online and stay there, the “eyeballs” on the page. Spreadable culture is more fluid and dynamic. The penetration of media is not measured by a static collection of views, but by its ability to be manipulated, used and passed on to others who will manipulate, use and pass it on. Examples include LOLCats, Soulja Boy, and Chuck Norris Facts.
Reinforcing the shift from sticky to spreadable is a shift from a commodity culture to a gift economy. Krauskopf and Li stated that commodity culture is about economic exchange, and the gift economy is about social standing. Where a commodity culture views things like file sharing as piracy and has a negative moral value, a gift culture places more emphasis on social standing, and values sharing as a positive in social interaction. “Within a gift economy,” says Li, “things like status, things like prestige, and things like esteem are the markers of value versus the actual currency.”
The pair summed up with their views on how this way of looking at media is beneficial to the film-making community. Krauskopf ended their presentation with this encouraging thought: “The audience is willing to engage, and technology really is on our side.”
Lance’s talk after lunch explored the various paths of film distribution, and was very much a nuts-and-bolts description of the various methods of film release. As examples, he compared “traditional windows of release” to the different paths taken by himself with his film, Head Trauma, and by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice with Four Eyed Monsters. The ultimate conclusion was that there are alternative ways to distribute film and other media, and that filmmakers should examine all their options before proceeding.
I was lucky enough to share a cab to South Station with Lance at the end of the day. Although our readers know him for the alternate reality games connected to his projects, it is clear that film is Lance’s passion, and he is determined to equip filmmakers with the tools and knowledge they need to practice their craft. He feels he is filling a gap — the organizations that should be supporting indie filmmakers, he contends, are too far removed from the people they claim to represent. Traditional media remains frustratingly unaware of new technologies and how to use the Internet in a way that works for both them and content creators. The DIY movement takes the process away from sources that are stifling content, and gives control back to the creators, who are more passionate and committed to getting that content out to the global community. Perhaps traditional media will catch up eventually: Lance was recently named one of the “18 People Who Changed Hollywood” by BusinessWeek magazine.
And what does this mean for ARGs? It’s clear that in this intersection of creativity and new media, there is an opportunity for all types of expression. The convergence of culture shows that film is not the only area where content creators are attempting to launch new projects with new technology, whether in the gift economy described by Li and Krauskopf, or elsewhere. In the future, Lance would like to see musicians, game creators, artists, and writers — anyone with a stake or interest in new media — embrace the DIY concept. Independent ARG developers, for example, could benefit greatly from this collaborative, sharing of resources and knowledge approach, as well as by collaboration with similar groups of filmmakers, musicians, etc. Cross-pollination will enable a spread of media content in ways that will continue to revolutionize online content.
There is a thriving online community devoted to open source software development, and Lance not only envisions a similar open-source media community that shares its distribution tools and know-how with each other to the benefit of all, he is instrumental in creating it.