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23 October 2008



I enjoyed reading this post. But it also left me frustrated.

Your focus on creating "sustainable enterprises" that can "thrive in the medium to long-term" misses what is important about what these pioneers are doing. They're building models by which they can support their work as individual artists. That's what's wonderful about this creative and technological revolution -- that it gives creative people the means to do the work they want to do, and support themselves financially.

Why is it important for the Internet to re-create the studio model, or spawn giant media and distribution businesses? These businesses have often been the enemy of the artist trying to do original work. They sign up projects that will have the broadest possible appeal, and then sand off any rough edges that might make them unique. Filmmakers must prove their value at the box office before they are given a modicum of creative control.

While it may be sad if the current infrastructure of moviedom -- studios, DVD distributors, rental shops, cinemas -- cannot figure out a way to survive, I think you may be missing two key points.

First, new technologies and platforms always seem financially insignificant at first. (In the 1890s, the movies were small compared to the box office power of live theater... TV was small and financially insignificant in the 1940s...home video was small in the late 1970s, before it surpassed theatrical ticket sales in the 1980s.)

Second, the first hundred or so years of cinema have been about putting the marketers and businesspeople in the driver's seat. For heaven's sake, when Thomas Edison and George Eastman and others created the movie business, they tried to prevent independent filmmakers from buying film stock, cameras, and making their own movies.

Today, the tools of creation and distribution have been democratized. The *most important* thing about these artists figuring out how to eke out a living doing what they love is that they are creating an important new business model that doesn't depend upon the stifling bureaucracies and gigantic structures that have been necessary to support filmmaking for more than 100 years.

That's big.

Scott- I greatly admire your passion and eloquence. I also accept that you, perhaps more than anyone, understand the historical shifts wrought by technological change that have affected the movie business over the years. As a result I can quite see why you would be frustrated with my conclusions.

I guess I was voicing my own frustration at the apparent lack of progress in realising the full promise of new world distribution. I accept such change will be slow, and the financials will look meagre to start with. But the image you conjure up of individual creative talents forging sustainable careers strikes me as quite a narrow conception, and one that’s not applicable in all cases.

I start from the simple premise that people should receive fair recompense for their work. Now, if you're young, free and relatively unencumbered by responsibilities (including a dependent family) you may be happy to settle for running up credit card bills, cadging off friends and family etc. The stuff that indie filmmakers have always gotten by on. But what if you're not? What if your life circumstances are such that you need dependable income? Having bazillions of adoring fans for your work isn't going to help unless you can squeeze some cash from them.

Now let's consider those bright young things twenty or thirty years into their careers as creative individuals. They've steered clear of the moribund studio system, they've got a huge fanbase, but unless they have found a business model that works they'll still be scrabbling around for bits of money here and there to keep their creative endeavours flowing.

And what about their collaborators? The talented and creative people who contribute artwork, music, software solutions etc.? How are these people to be compensated for their investment in a shared project? Goodwill is not a sufficient pre-condition for a workable business model in the long-term.

That's what I meant by building sustainable enterprises. Not seeking to recreate the studio system or create digital distribution mega corporations. I'm thinking about small, fleet-footed and responsive indie companies attuned to their audience and able to deliver their creative vision while also keeping the wolf from the door and sharing the spoils equitably for mutual benefit. It's probably idealistic, it may even be anachronistic, but it’s a much more inclusive vision of the Internet’s potential.

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