Cinema 2.0: Me, Myself and iPod – what now for the arts?

May 1, 2007

I attended a Tribeca Talks panel discussion this week on Cinema 2.0: Me, Myself and iPod – essentially a discussion on the impact of social media on the production of art (notably cinema and literature). The line up of panellists included

Jonathan Lethem
Brent Weinstein (Head of the Digital Media Dept. at United Talent Agency)
Jerry Paffendorf (Futurist with The Electric Sheep Company and his blog is here)
Charles Leadbeater (a leading authority on innovation and creativity, ex Financial Times and Independent. The wiki for his current project We Think – The Rise of Mass Creativity is here ) – great TED talk here.
Kathleen Grace (Director and Producer of The Burg a web based drama set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
and moderator Georg Szalai (NY bureau chief and business editor at The Hollywood Reporter)
There were a lot of pertinent points raised about the relationship between the old, the new and the vast space in between.
I can’t do justice to the 90 minute discussion (and subsequent questions and answers) but I did capture a few points which I think it’s worth mentioning here – particularly in the context of Irish arts and cultural organisations – some of whom are out there using social media, many others of whom are ambivalent about the impact on the production of their artistic artefact.
The panellists addressed the issue of giving work away for free, particularly if you’re struggling to make a living in the first place. Kathleen Grace and her crew have created a soap opera about Williamsburg which is viewable free and online. They decided to forget about pitching to the studios at the outset and are hoping that it will be picked up (before they drown in credit card debt I imagine). It’s given them a direct outlet for the creation of their art and an instant audience for the work.
Novelist Jonathan Lentham created The Promiscious Materials Project which was specifically designed to distribute his work (at the cost of $1).

I like art that comes from other art, and I like seeing my stories adapted into other forms. My writing has always been strongly sourced in other voices, and I’m a fan of adaptations, apropriations, collage, and sampling.

Lentham described his online activity as an “analogue gesture in a digital cloak” because he is very clear that he creates the artefact and then allows it to be discussed, modified, mashed-up etc once that creative act has taken place.
Leadbetter posted 11 chapters of his book online and sought feedback and comments – he is incorporating some of those into the final draft and will credit those whose work he includes.
The panellists were in general agreement that creativity is a collaboration, and while the origination of the artefact (book, sculpture, video etc) may be the work of one person – the conversation that surrounds it (both before and after) is the way of entwining both spaces and expanding on the relationship between artist and community.
There was a lot of discussion about the future of the business of social media, particularly from Futurist Jerry Paffendorf (whom I could have listened to all evening and who focusses on ROA Return on Awesome rather than ROI..) on how online worlds are evolving and changing (virtual worlds are increasingly “opt in” and the mantra is “Don’t have sex with Google”) and and notably Brent Weinstein who heads up a division at United Talent Agency that specifically handles artists working in/with new media. There is money to be made and business models are evolving but Paffendorf described it well when he said

The currency we are using doesn’t know how to quantify what we are making

I really enjoyed the discussion, it got my own creative juices flowing and I came away with the following which I think are going to be pertinent issues for Irish arts and cultural organisations.
1 There’s no going back. An active, updated, interactive online presence is a must if you are a creative and it’s about driving traffic to where you will get paid even if in the short term it’s unlikely that you are making money.
2 Circling the wagons and adopting a defensive approach to creativity is self defeating. In the old days (6 months ago as Weinstein suggested) retaining and restraining may have worked – in this new era of social media community is where it’s at.
3 As one producer (in the Q & A) described it – people are in control of their ipod screens, their computer screens, their TV screens and ultimately their cinema screens. This model of drag and drop cultural consumption is only going to increase and impact on all other areas of media/cultural production. If creatives aren’t driving that traffic then they’re going to get stuck in a traffic jam that’s going nowhere fast.
4 There are no residuals on the internet so new ways of creating work and more importantly commissioning opportunities for this medium are going to have to evolve, particularly in countries like Ireland where we have a grant-aid culture.
5 Commerce, community and creativity co-exist in an internet age – the challenge for many creatives is how to make that relationship work for them.
The Tribeca Film Festival broadcasts a daily webcast on Youtube