30-05-2011 mag 4 / popular /

article/

Film-making goes digital

Abstract: 

This article focuses on the transformation of the traditional cultural artifact of film and the consequent impact in the production and consumption processes. The emergence of the Web 2.0 infrastructure and online networks enables active participation in the production and consumption processes which often results in the formation of hybrid spaces where the role of producer and consumer is increasingly blurring. The aim of this paper is to show how the transformation of the artifact invites participatory culture and how it has affected the production of space (collaboration between filmmakers) as well as the consumption of space (digital distribution through the Internet).

Introduction 

The rapid growth of technology in film-making has lead to a more collaborative and dynamic  form  of  expression.  Throughout  the  history  of  film  the  medium  has experienced remarkable changes, developing into a more advanced and easy to use tool for film production. These constant improvements on the medium brought about an overwhelming embrace by film-makers, already shaped by the rapid urbanizing world in  the  late  nineteenth  century  (Charney  and  Schwartz  1995),  thus  inviting  active participation between them. Additionally, there seems to be a shift from individual expression to community involvement (Jenkins 2006, 7) that enables “fresh actions to occur” and where among them “some serve production, others consumption” (Lefebvre 1991, 73). Along with the changes in production, the consumption of space alters, too. Unlike the traditional distribution in movie theaters, films can now be distributed in innumerable places online and offline. Spectators can now watch films at their own impulse without having to go to the movie theaters. Consequently, they are positioning themselves  as  “active  and  interactive  composers  of  a  cinematic  and  televisual discourse” (Naficy 2010, 12). Additionally, web 2.0 applications bring people with the same interests together and facilitate collaborative artistic practices (Christodoulou and Styliaras 2008). Interestingly, film-making in an online networked environment creates  the  potential  of transforming  the  action into  a  more  joint  endeavor  which breaks  the  boundaries  between  producers  and  consumers  thus  permitting “participants  at  different  stages  of  online  cultural  production”  to  act  as  users  and producers (Bruns 2007, 2).

Social production and consumption of space in pre-new media film-making 

In 1931 the philosopher and sociologist Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction traces the history of art and explores the early artifact consumerism  brought  by  mechanical  reproduction.  With  the  advent  of  mechanical reproduction Benjamin realizes that this unique “aura” emerging from authentic works of art suddenly depreciates. The initial cult value of the artifact is replaced to that of the exhibition value; thus, it became a “product” for the masses rather than a cult object. On the threshold of mechanical reproduction and consequently the transformation of the artifact to a product, consumerism penetrated peoples’ lives leading to a consumer society of which mass culture was to become both “ agent and object” (Hansen, 1983 pp.154).  The  proliferation  of  new  commodities  consumer  goods  and  fashion, characterized the 19th century Western modernity. This period involved a whole range of cultural and artistic practices that transformed the conditions under which art was produced and consumed (Charney and Schwartz 1995).

Film  was  along  these  transformations.  For  centuries,  even  before  mechanical reproduction took place, people were trying to develop film artifacts for realistically reproducing moving images. The constant struggle to improve the medium of the film in order to make it smaller, simpler and simultaneously more advanced, led to a series of  technical  inventions.  New  technologies  emerged  along  with  the  required entrepreneurial  skills  to  speed  up  and  bring  down  the  cost  of  production,  and ultimately lower the price of processed goods and consumer items. Consequently, new movies started to arise and along with them, many distribution companies entered the market for releasing films in movie theaters such as Fox Film Corporation, Warner Bros.  Pictures  or  Paramount  Pictures  Corporation.  In  parallel,  the  outburst  of consumerism and modern life in urban settings produced the consumer desire and quest for even more commodities, resulting in the formation of a social space where certain  “objects”  are  produced  and  consumed.    Henri  Lefebvre  (1991),  in  The Production of Space observes that such objects are not only things but also a set of relations  that  intervene  in  production  and  consumption  itself.  For  Lefebvre,  social space “subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity” (idem, 73).

In the case of film-making, the recurring improvements of the artifact invites people to use it and perform certain actions thus producing, reproducing and consuming social space  (Lefebvre  1991).  In  1994,  Gottdeimer  states  that  spatial  relations  are  social relations that are replaced by participation. The act of participation can be seen as “bringing spaces to life as well as carving out new spaces and creating new social forms” (Cornwall 2002, 2). Interestingly, film has always been a collaborative medium; “a  combination  of  the  efforts  of  producers,  directors,  scriptwriters,  set  designers, editors, cameramen, actors and others” but as well directors themselves (Fabe 2004, 140; Monaco 1981). In the latter case, throughout film history we have noticed many collaborative film projects between directors, an effort mainly referred to as anthology film  (Deshpande 2010). Specifically,  according  to  Deshpande,  as  anthology  film  we label a collection of multiple short films, each of them usually directed by a different director  while  surrounded  by  a  central  theme,  premise  or  event  (2010).  Similarly, another  interesting  dimension  of  collaborative  film-making  is  the  re-emergence  of “multi-productions  with  multiple  national  partners,  which  have  increased  among European and Asian countries in particular” (Nacify 2010, 16). Collaboration in film-making requires that multiple people work together, but each individual serves the needs of the greater project and the emotional impact of its storyline (Cornwall 2009).

In short, film as a medium proliferated widely after the outburst of consumerism, inviting more and more people to use it as well as participate in joint actions. A reason for its wide proliferation was its continual adaptability, not only in remaining relevant for its time but also by “facilitating the emergence of other media and arts and of modernity in its transformation into late modernity and beyond” (Nacify 2010, 12). As the philosopher and scholar Marshall McLuhan argues, the medium of film as many other media, survived by becoming the contents of newer media (1964).  The scholar Jay  David  Bolter  calls  it  “remediation”  meaning  that  every  time  a  newer  medium replaces an old one while at the same time regenerates its cultural space (1991).  This is a very significant observation, judging by the great transformation of the medium of film  from  its  invention  to  today  and  the  change  in  methods  of  production  and consumption.

How the new artifact invites participation 

Professional film-makers go digital

"I  started  working  in  DV  for  my  Web  site,  and  I  fell  in  love  with  the  medium.  It's unbelievable, the freedom and the incredible different possibilities it affords, in shooting and in post-production. For me, there's no way back to film. I'm done with it."   David Lynch 2005 on Variety

It was with the introduction of HDCAM recorders in 1998 that digital cinematography began to arise. Soon, more and more companies offered various high-definition video cameras. Since the price of the digital video cameras has rapidly fallen, an outburst of digital films has taken place. Professional film-makers and home-enthusiasts found, in this new improved artifact, new ways to showcase their films as they achieve better quality image and require less effort in post production. Film-makers were finally given the opportunity to free their creative potential and achieve better performances by taking multiple camera shoots. Therefore, this new digital environment changed the traditional artifact and, along with it, it remediated its cultural space (Bolter 1991). In 2006, the cultural theorist Henry Jenkins observes this kind of shift in the way media content is produced and circulated3. He distinguishes that people empowered by new technologies demand active participation therefore producing a new social space.

Professional film-makers grabbed the potential of this new medium, participating in collaborative  digital film  productions  and  delivering  award-winning  films  on  lower budgets. For instance, Cities of Love is a series of collective motion pictures surrounding the notion of love in various cities around the globe. Each movie of this collection is created by the participation of outstanding directors who are given a specific timeline to portray their view on the subject.  So far, two motion pictures have been released, Paris, je t’aime in 2006, and New York, I Love You in 2009. According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), more episodes are to follow in Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Jerusalem. Similarly, All the Invisible Children is a 2005 collaborative movie project regarding childhood and exploitation.  Seven directors were invited to present their own perspective about the theme in their part of the world5.  These  recent  omnibus  and  collective  feature  films  present  and  demonstrate  the affordance and accessibility that the new digital artifact provides and the participation that is enabled via its wide use. David Lynch’s statement in his interview in 2005 on Variety  magazine,  manifests  the  major  transformation  that  film-making  has  been subjected to with the emergence of new digital technologies.

Beyond the Still - online collaborative film contest 

"Unlike traditional media, the Net is not just a spectacle for passive consumption but also a participatory activity"

(Richard Barbrook 1997).

Film-makers all over the world engage in online collaboration facilitated by the Web.  A usual example of such collaboration entails the exchange of raw footage back and forth between  the  creative  parties  involved  until  the  media  content  has  reached  its completion. Even though this process could also take place offline, the transfer of the medium  from  analogue  to  digital  has  enabled  the  Web  to  become  its  natural mechanism for media transfer and collective production. This collective process has been a matter of discussion in academic literature. For example, Schäfer observes that Web 2.0 has drawn our attention to collaboration and collective action via the easy-to-use interface in popular applications facilitating user-created or user-provided mediacontent (2008). The World Wide Web and especially Web 2.0 infrastructures provide an environment where film-makers can share their creative output. Video users can place their media content on a server where other users can download it, edit it and upload it back, contributing to a recurring, and cyclical process of media transfer. The  Story  Beyond  the  Still  constitutes  a  representative  example  of  how  the  Web facilitates  collective  artistic  practices.  The  idea  of  this  collective  short  film  was perceived in 2009, when the acclaimed photographer and film-maker Vincent Laforetteamed up with Canon and Vimeo to encourage photographers to participate in a social experiment in storytelling6. Using a Canon 7D, he was assigned to make a three-minute long prologue video ending on a still image. Then the participants, by picking up where Vincent Laforet left off, tried to continue the story by adding their own standpoints into the developing script. Each chapter ended with an indicative still frame in order to encourage the beginning of the next chapter and the evolving action entailed. The final result comprises eight chapters, six of which where created by the lucky winning participants under the direction of Vincent Laforet. On the whole, Story Beyond the Still represents one of the many examples where the artifact invites a “conjoined interaction of a plurality of individuals” facilitated by the Web (Schäfer 2008).

From professional to amateur 

"For me the great hope is now that 8mm video recorders are coming out, people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them. And that one day a little fat girl in Ohio is going be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder. For once the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed and it will really become an art form." 

Francis Ford Coppola

Literature  to  date  on  participation  has  identified  that  consumers  are  increasingly getting involved with the apparatus of production by “establishing an amateur culture on a global scale” (Schäfer 2008, 41).  The availability of low-cost camcorders and digital cameras has encouraged more and more people to embark on film-making.  However, apart from the important role that the mass production of consumer goods played, the Web was also behind this emerging culture. The Web has transformed from a static medium to an interactive one, namely known as Web 2.0, where people engage in the generation and presentation of media content to large audiences. Instead of being passive consumers the audiences are now turned into active producers creating new social spaces for grassroots cultural productions (Jenkins 2003). Interestingly, as Francis  Ford  Coppola  comments,  the  fact  that  everyone  can  become  a  part  of  the production process, establishes the ground to amateurism in the creative practices in contrast to the strict professionalism of the 20th Century.

This  arising  popular  culture  has  opened  the  way  for  creative  expression  and collaboration. Amateur film-makers can now produce, edit and distribute their films and radically change traditional ways of production. Budget is no longer a barrier for creativity;  film  productions  no  longer  emanate  from  the  elite  few.  Whether  one  is shooting a short film or a friend’s gathering, the new artifact has now become so easily accessible that aspiring amateur film-makers are enthusiastically participating in the production process.

While navigating the Web, one can find various examples of amateur collective films. For instance, the 2008 participatory film Man with a movie camera, for the production of  which  many  people  around  the  world  shared  their  creativity.  This  collective production is inspired by 1929 Dziga Vertov’s silent documentary film with the aim to interpret the original film. The website that hosts this participatory endeavor includes a list of every shot in Vertov’s film along with a brief summary of what each shot entails. The purpose of the website is to inspire and guide the participants on the collective process. Each of the participants can contribute from an entire scene to a short shot or multiple shots from different scenes. According to the website, every day a new version is constructed adding different perspectives and interpretations so that each contribution becomes part of the global remake and screened in tandem with the original. Interestingly, the software that empowers this collaborative effort leaves the participant with the entire freedom to choose where to place their shot while the software synchronizes and streams the media contents as a linear film.

Similarly, Life in a day, the most elaborate crowd-sourced art project in history, is the result of an idea conceived between award winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald and the producer Ridley Scott who invited people from all over the world to visualize how a normal day of their lives could be as long as it was captured on July 24th, 2010. The enormous participation and enthusiasm from film-makers all over the world, led to  a  media content  source  of  80,000  videos  that  added  up  to  4,500  hours  of  raw footage. All the submissions were then handed over to editor Joe Walker who, along with the director, eventually limited the footage to 90 minutes, encompassing different motivations, perspectives, stories and experiences surrounding that particular day. For this collaborative achievement, users around the world uploaded in YouTube footage created on cell phones, cheap consumer cameras, or high definition ones. Whatever the cameras  use  though,  high  definition,  or  low  definition,  expensive  or  cheap,  the segments’  consolidation  showcases  a  thrilling  montage  picturing  a  single  day  on earth

Altogether, Man with a Movie Camera and Life in a Day represent fine examples of how global collaboration can be achieved by encouraging culturally diverse participation enabled by the artifact and facilitated through the World Wide Web.

Produsage: The Case of Stroome 

Recent  theorizing  in  film-making  has  identified  cases  of  convergence  between  the production  and  consumption  processes.  New  hybrid  terms  such  as  “produser”  or “prosumer” have been applied in order to describe a new mode of cultural production in  which  participants  can  act  as  both  producers  and  consumers  often  dubbed  as “produsage”.  The  new  media  scholar  Axel  Bruns  remarks,  that  the  concept  of produsage  creates  a  heterogeneous  and  hybrid  space  and  emphasizes  the  role  of software in facilitating these collective processes (2008).

Software has drawn attention both from Axel Bruns (2008) and the sociologist and anthropologist  Bruno  Latour  (1992,  2005)  in  an  effort  to  describe  the  agency  of digitally  created  artifacts  enabled  by  the  software.  As  Shäfer  emphasizes,  defining participation merely as an activity performed by users “neglects the agency of the software design that channels these activities” (2008, 122). For example, in the case of Stroome, an online collaborative video editing community, where users can upload media content, share it with other members of community and collaboratively edit it until  it  is  published.  Video  editing  in  Stroome  offers  film-makers  the  potential  to transform post-production processes into a less solitary and more communal endeavor.

In addition, the Stroome platform affords produsage by allowing users (both producers and consumers) to “mix it up and mash it out” as the website suggests, meaning that they can simply upload videos, directly edit or remix them and eventually publish them. The software designed for this process, the dashboard, helps users upload and remix  their  videos,  watch  the  most  recently  updated  videos  with  the  customized recommendation system, keep up-to-date with their friends’ projects, tag, comment and rate. Additionally, the dashboard of Stroome facilitates dissemination processes by providing embedded applications such as  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and BlogSpot. As Bruns observes, software affordances open up new horizons for creativity, out-distancing traditional media processes and romantic notions of the artist being the primary “auteur” (2008). In general, Stroome constitutes an online paradigm of the growing blur between the spaces of production and consumption.

Digital distribution through the Internet 

Both professional and amateur film-makers, can benefit from the Web, showcase their creative output and get greater visibility. Since the web has become a common content distribution medium with low barriers to entry, almost anyone’s creative activities have the potential to thrive. An increasing number of film-makers have recently started to distribute their films within online media networks paving the way to other creative people who enjoy sharing their media output. YouTube for instance, is an online video network that allows users to discover originally-created videos or mash-up videos, as well as upload and distribute their own ones.&

The  features  of  YouTube  are  designed  to  facilitate  collaborative  processes  by prescribing skills and competences to the users. By doing so, as long as users have a broadband Internet connection they can access a great amount of cultural products, connect  with  other  people,  and  collaborate  and  circulate  media  content.  The outstanding  potential  behind  such  participatory  video  portals  lays  in  the  fact  that almost anyone who owns the technological means to record and upload a video clip can share it online. The simple and easy-to-use interface of YouTube allows the users to make the most of their YouTube experience14 by identifying their desire in one of the features suggested: watch, discover, share, personalize, and upload. By embedding their videos to social networking communities, as well as upload and directly edit their videos, users can perform various activities, from watching media content in 3D and high definition to subscribing to channels they are interested in.

Conclusion 

Technological  advances  have  radically  changed  the  way  movies  are  produced  and consumed. The advent of the Internet and Web 2.0 has empowered consumers to become active in the production process, thus establishing the ground for the amateur culture to thrive. In the case of Stroome, the low technological barriers to entry and the easy to use interface results in the creation of hybrid spaces where producers and consumers converge. In addition, the design of Stroome’s platform encourages users to collaboratively generate and distribute their films to large audiences; activities which would traditionally take place remotely or across a distance. Online collaborative video networks such us Stroome, have provided access to media tools to a broad segment of users fostering grassroots creativity. In 2009, the author and new media scholar Lev Manovich questions whether art is still possible  after  Web  2.0  as  he  claims  that mass  production  and  consumption  make professional productions irrelevant. Much of the current debate has focused on what the  future  holds  for  film-making  but  the  past  has  shown  that  in  every  emerging technology there is always a utopian and dystopian controversy. Walter Benjamin’s manifesto still seems pertinent. However, what one can certainly observe is that art can “no longer [be] a pursuit for a few” (Manovich 2009, 329).

Literature 

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