Cinema is a driving force in my life. I don’t want it to leave us, nor do I want to have to leave it behind; it’s provided me with hope and inspiration, and an incredibly fulfilling livelihood.
It is also a 100-year-old industry and, in my opinion, damn close to both a perfect art form and a perfect entertainment. But it's also one whose applicability to our lives and livelihoods must be completely re-evaluated.
Cinema is no longer the most complete and representative art form for the world we inhabit. It is a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day-to-day.
There also is no workable present-day business model to support the current mode of cinema, other than one built on the exclusionary practice of isolated control of funding, marketing, distribution and exhibition.
We know the model for financing and distribution – and, by extension, creation – is now running on fumes. How long can the studio model survive when the wall of control has already come down and the people have recognized the power they have as audiences and creators?
How long can a business based on library assets survive when everything has been digitized and can be copied and spread with the touch of a button?
To think forward, we have to look backwards and recognize cinema for what it truly is and stop naming a part of it as the whole. It is the entire process, the dialogue that goes on between the audience and the content, the experience that resonates long after the lights have been turned on.
Cinema is supported by six pillars. Until now, creators truly only participated in two of them: content and production. For the last two decades, independent filmmakers mistakenly perceived it as some sort of victory that they had the opportunity to participate in the first two pillars. But we haven’t seen the forest for the trees.
When we look at the great woods that surround us now, we should recognize that we have not just the possibility, but also the necessity, to participate in the other four pillars: discovery, promotion, participation and presentation.
With our new access and involvement, the power to create, to access, to spread and to appreciate, is going to be owned by each and every one of us.
In denying the creative class access to those other four pillars of cinema, our industry also inhibited the narrative form from expanding beyond a linear structure and its delivery from migrating from a singular platform.
Yet the creative side somehow did not just readily accept but also propagated the myth that this is how it was supposed to be. When considering the audience’s actual experience of cinema, the creative class has embraced false and unnecessary demarcations: between commerce and art, between content and marketing, between creator and audience.
Marketing and narrative each influence each other. Each can be used together to effectively shape our perception and knowledge of the events we intend to consume.
The “sell” is part of our creation; we enter our stories by the path the piper of marketing paves in front of us. If we stop being cynical about the “marketing” aspects and use them to shape our narratives — and make sure that the narrative also shapes those points of impact we call marketing — our stories will have more influence, depth and resonance, by the sheer fact that they are now more complete, carried from our moment of discovery, reinforced through moments of resonance, and represented by the objects we surround ourselves with.
By shedding the false construct of a line between the form and its delivery, we transform our art form.
So with regard to:
CONTENT and ITS CREATION:
— Expand the narrative — along a thematic premise — from just a feature format to also include multiple short-form works that can be used to seed, corral and bridge audiences from one work to the next.
— Create story-world instructions that will allow others to also enter and participate in the narrative. This guide will describe what rules must be followed in the creation of characters and their actions.
— Open the narrative and erase the end, or rather give multiple opportunities for endings, as audiences want to re-engage in new and different ways at different times.
— Open the narrative and offer alternative points of view, so that the experience no longer is single-character-centric.
— Consider opportunities for off-line discussions and individual customization to re-enter and even influence the narrative. Should characters, in addition to audiences, comment on the choice creators make? Where can user-generated modifications enter the narrative later on?
— Embrace collaboration. There is so much work to be done, a singular author can not build the entire world. Have a collaborative brainstorming session with like-minded storytellers on how to expand the narrative.
— Record data and provide access to it every step of the way. Show how fans how it is done. Pull back the curtain and let others see the mystery.
— Recognize cast, crew and vendors as our work’s initial community. Bring them into the discussion.
— Provide many points across many platforms for discovery by audiences. This can come from websites and blogs, video content or games.
— Provide the audience with the proper context for appreciation. This usually comes from providing some ongoing curatorial services for audiences to understand how it fits in the entertainment and cultural chains.
— Brainstorm participatory opportunities. Are there missions and obstacles that your characters face that could be mirrored in a basic game environment? Can players interact in a gaming world via the appropriation of character traits that the story originates?
— Provide multiple areas of participation on a casual level. What aspect of the story would be a fun application or widget that is spreadable?
— Offer different points of access for audience participation on a creative story level. Design characters that can travel into other creators’ hands.
— Provide fans the opportunity to create on the same lines as the story’s originators. Allow for remixing and reposting. Alternate POVs and approaches to the material make for a richer experience for the hard-core. Examine how some narratives encourage fan fiction
— Offer different points of access for audience participation on a fan/appreciation level. Let them in on the details of how and why. Where and when and on what was it shot? The details should be built into all data you deliver.
— Provide insight into the process. Allow audiences to get to know the creators. Build a friends and family fan-base. Offer (and reward) fans opportunities to create and thus aggregate different promotional tools.
— Build referral activities into the narrative and engagement processes.
— Provide individual curators with unique opportunities throughout the process.
— Make presentation (exhibition) an event. Add a live social component. Know your fans in advance.
— Provide opportunity for deeper appreciation. Furnish study notes and moderate discussions that allow the content to more fully resonate with audiences.
— Keep the experience alive long after the work has ended.
In taking control of what has always been ours, we, both the original creators and the engaged audiences, together expand the potential for narrative, for cinema and for appreciation.