Tribeca Talks – Cinema 2.0: Me, Myself and IPOD – April 30, 2007
Last night’s Tribeca Talks panel discussion on Cinema 2.0 was really fun because not only did the moderator and audience ask good questions to the panelists, but the panelists also asked good questions to each other, so you’ll see that represented in my notes below. If you attended this panel and would like to contribute any additional notes, please do so in the ‘comments’ section.
Tribeca Talks – Cinema 2.0: Me, Myself and IPOD – April 30, 2007
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival. Left to right: Brent Weinstein, Kathleen Grace, Charles Leadbeater, Jonathan Lethem, Jerry Paffendorf and Georg Szalai.
Brent Weinstein (BW) – Head of the Digital Media Department at United Talent Agency
Kathleen Grace (KG) – Co-Creator, Producer, Director of theburg.tv
Charles Leadbeater (CL) – Journalist and Author of We-Think
Jonathan Lethem (JL) – Best-selling novelist of The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn
Jerry Paffendorf (JP) – Resident Futurist of The Electric Sheep Company
Georg Szalai (GS) – New York Bureau Chief and Business Editor of The Hollywood Reporter
(GS) Can you tell us about your work and how you do it?
(KG) Started out working in theater. Created theburg.tv with a friend. We wanted to do an online television show. We thought, why wait around to pitch it to networks? Let’s just do it ourselves. In May 2006, we launched our first video on YouTube and on June 25, 2006, we launched the website. We received media coverage in such places as the Gothamist. We shoot the show on weekends.
(JL) The Promiscuous Materials Project is an analog gesture in digital clothing. I use the web to make them known and available. I’m a novelist and short story writer. I came around gradually to the Internet because of the provocations that digital media makes. I’m an advocate against the perceived notions of copyright. There’s been an exaggeration of the undertow of the legal concept around it. Giving something away was my gesture about how I feel. It’s non-commodifiable and connects with artists by going completely outside the world of movie studios, agencies, and brokers of materials. Directly from one artist to the next.
(CL) I published my first draft of my book online in October 2006. Did it out of the frustration with traditional publishing. Wouldn’t it be better to create conversations about your book before you publish it?
(BW) Our agency mined the Internet for talent. We took a hard look at the Internet. There are artistic voices that speak directly to these digital platforms. We identify and represent these digital artists and make deals for them to create content.
(JP) The Electric Sheep Company builds things inside 3D online environments and avatars. I’m a futurist on the team. We think ahead. Online creative environments are the next innovation of the web. The web can be a lonely place, but in these environments, you don’t have to be alone watching a video by yourself. We focus on the virtualization of everything by turning the web into a video game. It’s fascinating to watch what’s happening in these virtual worlds like Second Life. Machinima is making movies inside virtual worlds.
(GS) What’s your reaction to traditional media and what conflicts exist between it and new business types?
(KG) We haven’t got a lot of reaction by the traditional media. Some people I work with at my day job think our show is just cute, while there some others who take it more seriously and some people don’t get it at all.
(CL) Technologically, it’s simple. What’s challenging for people is why you would do it at all. The organization question is – how do you organize it? There’s a mixture of intrigue and an undercurrent of alarm by professionals. In the long run, there will be more ways to make money from these new business types.
(JL) I’m perfectly entrenched in a career based on the old media business model. I like it. I have affiliations with book sellers and publishers. All are puzzled by these notions and gestures. Some aggressively ignore these new possibilities. I’m not terribly interested in business models. I’m more interested in recognizing the non-commodifiable parts of them such as building social functions. Culture is ultimately owned by everyone and no one.
(CL) Does the potential for engagement excite you?
(JL) I’m not shopping around for someone to write the last chapter for me. I’m interested in having it fooled around with after it’s published online and then repurposed from the reader to the critic to the satirist. I want to be aware of these things. It’s more valuable than dollar figures.
(KG) We get lots of comments on our site. For example, someone wrote a 250-word comment that theburg.tv is everything that’s wrong about Williamsburg, so we created a video response to that. In October 2006, we wrote a Halloween script online, but didn’t have the time to shoot it. The range of interaction varies. We even named a character after a commenter. One commenter told us we were racist because of one Asian character they thought was misrepresented, but it was the Asian actor that made the choice of how to portray that role himself, so we gauge our responses to these reactions.
(GS) Do you get jealous of people who may have better ideas than you?
(CL) If someone has a good idea, I’m extremely grateful for it, but I still have the notion that my argument is still mine. I’m the one who’s writing it. Most creativity comes from collaboration. I will credit all contributions people make.
(JP) It’s interesting to watch these things play out. Second Life builds a virtual world in real time. If someone has a cool idea, we try to contract them, but there’s always an issue of ownership. There’s a quote on Second Life that says it’s “different than the web, because you don’t have sex with a Google page.”
(CL) Will Google work in virtual worlds?
(JP) People want to opt into living spaces. We’re becoming a human computer.
(GS) How are your agency’s digital artists, such as LonelyGirl15, different than traditional artists?
(BW) There’s not that big a difference. We help then get their work seen by people and attach a business model to it. If corporations are involved in make money off of it, then so should the artists. We sign an artist, find out what they want to do next and take them there. They make money and advance their art at the same time.
(GS) How do you know what will work?
(BW) Unique artists are hard to come by. An artist’s appetite is pretty well-defined and we help them realize it. If it’s the right type of client and idea, we might pitch it to the traditional media, but the client might want to keep it to the web.
(GS) Is any of this paying your bills? Is money your focus or are you all about creating?
(JP) Most everything online that makes money is through online advertisements. In Second Life there are virtual currencies called Linden Dollars, some of which are transferred legally and illegally. This is a conflict discussed in the book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. China is concerned about virtual worlds competing with their own currencies.
(BW) There is a quantifiable business model online. Some clients only make a little money, while some make a lot of it. Television is an ad-supported medium. The Internet will become a much more competitive platform for services. The audience can participate in content, which makes it much more valuable.
(KG) We haven’t made any money yet, but we’ve gotten some interest in sponsorships such as Dewars. We are signed with CAA. We did our first whole season on credit cards. Theburg.tv is different than other viral videos because we have seven recurring characters and shoot on multiple locations. It’s a TV show fit for the Internet. We need to pay some of our actors, because they’re SAG. We’re still figuring it out. A lot of people suggested we take the show to traditional TV. We may pitch it to a network, but it’s not creatively where we want to be. We like that a network can’t tell us what or what not to do. We get most of our viewers through RSS feeds.
(JL) Repurposing materials is not a money area. It functions as publicity. I got an interview with Forbes the other day, because I’m giving stuff away.
(JL) What’s your position on Net Neutrality (the idea that the Internet belongs to everyone)?
(BW) As an agency, I’m not authorized to make political statements, but as a human being, I think Net Neutrality is amazing. We would never know about our artists if it had not been for Net Neutrality. For example, we discovered an episodic mystery online and sold their next idea to Michael Eisner.
Q: Is there an idea of the format and length that will be palatable enough for the Internet?
(KG) There’s no magic number for the length of a show. Peer-to-peer technology will make things easier for people to download things at any length. There’s no rules, which is the great thing about the Internet.
(BW) There are starting to be rules. Advertisers need to know what they’re buying, but what’s online now is all over the place. When people more frequently use computers as a television device, things might change. It’s a lean back vs. a lean forward experience. Shorter tends to be better on the Internet than longer.
(JL) There are different lengths when you’re watching things alone vs. with other people.
(BW) There are more people watching TV today than ever before.
(CL) My kids’ media habits and attitudes are so different than mine.
(JP) As an example Justin.tv is this dude and his friends in San Francisco who wears a camera on the side of his head and records his life 24/7. People sponsor him. He posts a schedule of where he’ll be, and you can even watch yourself watching him. He puts the entire unedited video online, but there are no tools that allow the viewers to edit what they want to see. The tools that allow something like this to happen can be found at click.tv.
Q: I avoid YouTube because it looks like crap, but the industry is looking for hits. There’s a strange discrepancy between quality and hits. Where do you stand?
(BW) Media companies are trying to tap into the widest possible fan base. At the agency, we don’t care about hits, but talent. Places like YouTube have the ability to direct people back to the artist’s URL.
Q: Creativity beats money most of the time on the Internet. TV stops creativity. Young people are excited by the Internet because it brings them surprises. How can the Internet be a profitable domain in the future?
(BW) Even though more people are watching TV than ever before, the viewing is chopped by so many different channels. If you want to get something on TV, it has to have a broad appeal. For the Internet, you can program for a niche audience. It’s an inspiring innovation. Half of the business at our agency is facilitating the development of artists online.
(CL) There’s a gap between amateur creativity. How do you sustain people? If online depends on volunteering, we will need to find some sustainable way to keep it going.
(KG) We all just want to work on it part-time and not go into debt.
(JP) My favorite thing in 2006 was Four Eyed Monsters who went into debt, but made something kick ass by creating an online grassroots distribution model.
Q: Is there a way to collaborate on a consensus of the value of art online?
(CL) Science has always been valued without money. What you do is really what counts. Commerce and community exist in different ways. The community gets turned into the audience and participants.
(BW) Check out zefrank.com, an innovative interactive experience.
(JP) Check out iminlikewithyou.com, where you can get points for answering question.
Q: (Arin Crumley, Co-Director, Four Eyed Monsters) What are some qualities of this notion of Cinema 2.0 or Web 2.0 that new media has?
(KG) Things are now sharable and spreadable. We’re a part of Creative Commons, which allows people to share content from your site as long as they cite where it came from.