As the New Year commences, I am reminded of the changes in the word "filmmaking" in the past five years and, moreover, I'm reminded of the changes in my perspective on what a "film" property is over the last year.
Five years ago, we were cautioned against using the title "microfilmmaker" by folks in the industry because it might infer that our readers were actually shooting on film, whereas 95% of our filmmakers were using digital technology instead. In 5 years, however, it is universally understood that the term "filmmaker" refers to people who harness ANY form of visual technology to tell their stories, from Hollywood caliber rigs that can now be rented at microbudget prices like the RED One, to traditional prosumer and consumer video cameras like the HVR-Z7U and HVX200, to video-enhabled DSLR cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II or the Nikon 3Ds! (And of course, these sorts of expanses have forced cross-pollination, like the new Panasonic AG-AF100, a dedicated video camera that sports a lens mount that permits 35mm still lenses and which has a much larger imaging sensor to permit shallower depth of field!)
For those of you who've been following MFM's new experiment in filmmaking over the past year, it should come as no surprise that I've been forced to expand my view of filmmaking even more in this past 12 months. At this time last year, we were just starting to launch the World of Depleted post-apocalyptic film franchise, a global film initiative that would allow many filmmakers to share a single creative world, telling different tales in a sort of "Black Sandbox." (Somewhat like the terms of "Black Hat" and "White Hat Hackers," the colors here deal with the subject matter. The Black Sandbox we envisioned dealt with the darkness of a dystopian world and explored the pressing concerns and fears that nag at the edges of the minds of many Indie filmmakers.)
The benefits were multiple: filmmakers would have an area they could be creative in that would use a massed effort to bring fans to this world (and to be exposed to their work) and, the franchise in turn, would benefit by having multiple creators helping to expand the world. Additionally, the benefits to creators wouldn't just be in the ability to get their work out there, but, if there films were accepted as Official Canon, they would also be entitled to share in profits related to their work. And, unlike experiments in "cloud" communities--groups that create collective works with no overarching vision or authority--which can often get too disjointed and muddled, Depleted would have a core series of stories that tapped into a deep well of mythology, but would also feature a world with plenty of room for more areas to be shaded in and sculpted.
This initial vision was a great idea as a starting place, but, as I began the laborious process of working on contracts with our lawyer to integrate this and fleshing things out with our marketing team, I began to realize that the concept was too limited in scope. By restricting creation to filmmakers solely, we were closing the door on a huge number of other creatives who might not be able (or have the time or inclination) to create a film, but who could AND would contribute powerful elements to this world if given a way that appealed to their direct giftins. I began to realize that, for this to be a true Black Sandbox that creatives would love to explore (and fans could immerse themselves in), we needed a wide range of "tools" in the sandbox. To simply permit only films into the canon, would be like putting nothing but pails into the sandbox. This sandbox needed shovels, and spades, and rakes, and colorful shells that could be put into a new sand castle, as well.
Even at the core level we started with, films are a combination of a massive number of media elements: video, images, special effects, music, sound design, etc. What if we opened the doors for all creatives who had a piece to bring to the table that might be useful in any form of multimedia pursuit? A photographer might take a number of high rez, beautiful photos of abandoned buildings, while an effects artist might create a beautiful bullet tracking shot set over an alpha channel, while a composer might create a beautiful theme that reminded him or her of a part of one of the nations in Depleted. A filmmaker, then, who might have thought that it was too prohibitive for him to try to make his own film AND all the separate pieces necessary for that film, might see that these elements were already there and be inspired to combine them with his own film ideas to create an entire piece. Each person's contribution could become an official part of the World of Depleted and each person had the ability to share in the credit and profits of the canonized Depleted content they were involved in. On top of these sorts of media items, which we so quickly associate with film, there was also the opening for people to create stories, novels, comic books, and role playing elements set in this world. These new creations would then dovetail with the other elements, giving people a huge number of options to either get involved or play in this world!
As I began to think of all of these elements (and also to add to the interactive elements that we started weaving into the World of Depleted website), I began to find that my definition of filmmaking was changing radically. Yes, a film is a piece that combines some form of moving visual imagery and, usually, audio elements. However, the impact of a film or work can be modified, adjusted, and completely reframed through any number of additional elements. The realization of this has inspired me as a filmmaker and creator and has helped numerous people become interested in what we're doing with the World of Depleted!
In an interesting anecdote related to this concept, others are also discovering that expanding your definition of what visual storytelling is provides ways to tell stories you could never tell otherwise. One of my favorite post-apocalyptic TV shows, Jericho, which was canceled after a full 22 episode season by CBS, despite massive fan protest in 2007. Due to the shows incredibly powerful and well-reasoned writing that made it one of the best shows to have been released in the last 50 years (in the opinion of many of its followers, myself included), the outcry against the cancellation was extreme. So extreme was it that CBS finally capitulated by giving the showrunners seven more episodes for an abbreviated Season 2.
Of course, CBS dangled the carrot in front of fans that, "if ratings picked up enough," they would extend the season into a complete season and continue the show indefinitely. To no ones' surprise, despite a spurt in ratings, CBS declared the show a failure and canned it for good. Fans prayed it would get picked up by a cable station, that didn't need network-size ratings. However, no one else was willing to take a shot on the show, including the mind-blowingly logical destination of SyFy-- which would've found that Jericho's built-in fan base gave them ratings that easily rivaled its most successful show at the time, BattleStar Galactica. (Perhaps CBS had a proviso in the contracts that prevented any other television networks from getting involved.)
However, undeterred, Carol Barbee (Jericho's showrunner) did not stop trying to bring Jericho back for the fans. When no networks bought into a 3rd Season, she expanded her scope and signed a deal to release the 3rd Season as an entire group of comic books that would then be bound and released as a massive trade paperback after the run was complete. (Apparently, whatever limitations CBS had in Jericho's contracts didn't extend to comics or was far enough removed that CBS did not block this move.) And to make sure the fans knew exactly what the series was (a continuation of the televised season 2, as opposed to a separate story or backstory around the Jericho universe), they actually titled the comic series, Jericho: Season 3. Apparently, the comic has done well and it's slated for a Trade Paperback release in May. Hopefully this will continue to prove a good fit for the tales, somewhat like Y: The Last Man. (Of course, if reality being stranger than fiction holds up, the TV show that couldn't get continued on TV, might end up getting a fully featured movie deal after fans show networks and Hollywood that the series has made a successful graphic novel series.)
As I've said many times before, this is an exciting time to be a filmmaker!
God bless and happy New Year,