The New Film Industry: Can It Happen?

The new industry has arrived for music. And things are changing for books - authors can now take control, self publish and distribute their work. But what about film?

I recently took part in a working session with creatives from various disciplines (organised by the fabulous @Creatrix_me). Our focus was to examine the possibility of cross-discipline collaboration, and what support creatives might need to make productive connections to other artists. Inevitably our conversation found its way round to the changes happening in our respective industries - including the opportunities that the shift has brought to us all.

With two film makers around the table, I was very interested to get their thoughts on how the film industry was changing, and what they needed to make their careers happen. Film has always seemed like an exception to artists taking control - the number of people involved, budgets, and distribution models are giant barriers to independence. But are these barriers perception, or are there real mountains to climb? Talking through these challenges we realised the similarities to the old music industry:

The production challenge: films involve more people
Music production has changed so much over the past decade that it now seems ludicrous to even consider hiring a studio, session musicians or even producers. Yet this still happens, depending on the project and the ambition of the artist. Making a film may require many personnel - it just depends on the vision. There is no shortage of actors, cinematographers, editors or animators. So if your vision for the film requires expertise outside of your skillset at the moment, it makes sense to broaden the team. This doesnt seem like a barrier at all to me - it seems like a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved to create something amazing and make the art happen.

The budget challenge: more people equals more cost
Just like there will always be big budget albums, there will be big budget films. Budget does not equal success - and this blog about low budget success should inspire any artist. Yes it costs money to make a film - in the same way that it requires capital to find any business idea. As with musicians, the key to making it happen is to understand the budget required - rather than use it as an excuse to either continue the old way of studio finding - or of creating a barrier to making the film in the first place. Money is a perceived barrier - if you don't know how much you need, you won't enable the possibility of acquiring it.

Its really inspiring to see great filmmakers getting over this perception. Raphael Neal, the director of MaJiKer's videos, is currently producing his first major film, Fever. He's crowd funding it through the site Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, and after only a few weeks already has a large proportion of his target budget. Its rare after creating a plan and a budget for a project that you don't acquire money to fund it - as artists we generally achieve our goals once we put our minds to them.

The distribution challenge: films need to be sold to different markets to get cinema release
Here I see direct comparison to the music industry. In the old industry we had to prove an audience would buy albums en masse in each market in order to get an international distribution deal. The distributor then made the decision - they sold units based on what they felt your potential was. Artists and labels were at the whim of distribution. With digital distribution, the long tail rules. Anyone can get shelf space internationally - giving an audience the chance to discover your work as your community grows. The same opportunity is becoming reality for film - not only via free view platforms like YouTube, but inevitably with digital distributors like iTunes and Netflix. Self distribution must be around the corner.

The ego challenge: great films should be on the big screen
Going to the cinema is amazing. But film doesnt have to be consumed that way to be enjoyed, in the same way that having a hit on the radio does not equal success for an artist or ultimate pleasure for a listener. I imagine seeing your film on the big screen must be an ultimate thrill for the creator - however, that satisfaction is ego based. There are only so many cinemas with limited hours to screen work, but with digital projection becoming a reality, gone is the requirement for studios to ship film to every cinema. What will stop individual cinemas from selecting from a huge run of films and programming a diverse range relevant to their audiences? There are also unlimited opportunities for an audience to enjoy film online on any personal device of their choosing. If the intention of your art is to share it with an international community, then film now has more chance for success than ever before.

It's your intention for your work that drives you. In the end of you use any of the challenges here to stop you for shipping - or starting in the first place - then its not the industry that's blocking you.

Image from Flickr by Judy


Making It vs. Make It Happen

I recently noticed a posting on a YouTube video. The comment pointed out that the fan loved the track, but wondered if the artist "had made it".

Make it. Its a phrase you hear a lot in the creative industries - especially music and fim/tv, and usually as a way of describing the moment someone enters the mainstream. It is a destination goal, one shared by thousands of X Factor contestants and Hollywood hopefuls.

Making it means you have been chosen, that you are worthy, that you are good enough. Its an external validation, where your career is dependent on others' assessment of your talent. Perhaps that makes it highly prized - but rare, as it is determined by forces beyond your control.

You won. You did it. Congratulations.

(funny how this phrase is rarely found outside creative careers - why does it not apply to any other industry?)

Compare having "made it" to "make it happen".

Artists that make it happen have taken control of their own careers. They are working towards goals that they have established for themselves - rather than trying to achieve a destination determined by other people. It is an active phrase, describing an exciting career that grows rather than just peaks. And it indicates that responsibility is in the hands of the artist.

So - which is more rewarding?



The terms of the music industry have always been dictated by labels.

Any negotiation that takes place involves labels and the consumer. From distribution to pricing, the battle plays out between these two giants. If one side has too much power, the other fights back.

But where is the artist? Are they even at the table?

Funny thing is - the artist is responsible for the creation. And now that they can connect directly to their audience, there is no longer a need for the middle man.

In the new music industry there is no need for battle.


X Factor: Power For Good?

Imagine if X Factor used its power of influence and ability to reach mass audiences for social good.

I've had the opportunity of recently paying a visit to the X Factor studio. It came at a time when I had just been researching the influence gays have had on western culture, so I was sensitive to what I now clearly see as discrimination on the programme.

X Factor has over 10 million viewers per week in the UK. In terms of creating and reflecting social norms, the programme is a potential force. And with the franchise in the US and beyond, it's reach is extensive.

Now in its eighth year, X Factor continues to skirt around and often hide the sexuality of its contestants and judges. Apprehension of losing viewers to a conservative audience, or of turning off teen girls who are meant to fancy the young attractive contestants, is apparent. It is a fear that has plagued the entertainment industry for decades, keeping actors, musicians and TV personalities in the closet.

Young male contestants, like The Risk and Frankie Cocozza, are clearly encouraged each week to discuss their exploits with female fans. This sends the message that straight youth is normal - while at the same time being gay is not to be discussed.

The often cited argument is that sexuality is private and no one else's business. I don't agree with this, and find strong contradiction within the music industry where heterosexuality is openly encouraged. Young stars should either make the nation fall in love with them, or date each other to create tabloid headlines.

The issue here, however, is that until homosexuality is normalised in society, gays will continue to be seen as different and something to be hidden.

A result of this is teen bullying - which is often believed to be the cause of suicide attempts amongst youth. The UK charity Stonewall reports that two out of three gay teens are bullied in school. Alongside this is the fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds in the US - with gay youth attempting suicide up to four times more than heterosexuals in this age group.

Lady Gaga has just been celebrated with an appearance on X Factor. Its safe to say that her fans include a large percentage of the gay audience. She campaigns against bullying, and has been part of the brilliant "It Gets Better" viral campaign. Gaga is the biggest force in pop music, and her recognition of this issue could have a significant impact in encouraging young gays to come out with confidence.

Shows like X Factor provide an opportunity for establishing social norms due to their popularity. By continuing to whitewash issues in an outdated belief that doing so will save ratings they are contributing to discrimination and homophobia. Think of the potential message a show like XFactor could send to young kids growing up gay who feel ashamed to be who they are. It's tragic that Simon Cowell has yet to discover the real power of his empire.


Learning From Our Elders

Pete Townshend chose to use the honour of the BBC John Peel lecture this week to deliver a rant. Essentially without any central thesis, his speech went over the same well-trodden ground that old industry giants find themselves covering - piracy, publishing, copyright, etc etc etc. Definitely not very Manifesto.

Townshend falls into the trap of many of our industry elders who feel that change is happening, but cannot recognise what a new industry offers to artists. Rather than adding a positive vision with their experience of being a creator, they respond from a place of resistance. It stems from the fear of seeing the foundations of how their own careers were shaped being torn apart and rebuilt.

We have much to learn from the forefathers of pop. They developed a blueprint of a creative form that we love, and the new industry is still celebrating. Townshend is apologetic throughout the lecture of speaking about music as art. But this is the area where he should own the platform. I want to know his genius and learn from his ability as a creator, not hear him riff about the price of downloads.

I'm not dismissing the old guard as being irrelevant to building the new industry. There are many who are active in pushing change forward. Brian Eno spoke recently on Channel 4 news about his new project involving crowd sourced creativity. These types of visionaries add immensely to finding solutions. They are using their abilities as creatives to offer something new - not attach to the past and complain that things are different.

The very act of being an artist means you create change. I often think of music as a mathematical problem that I must resolve - like sonic sudoku. Perhaps pop music has made us too comfortable. Even though we now live in the most exciting and productive era for artists, we seem to not all be able to rise to the challenge. For artists like Pete Townshend, it's just too much to let go of the past and embrace what we now have.

Image by Zio Zeta on Flickr


A Tribute to Think Different

With the recent passing of Steve Jobs comes also the ten year anniversary of the iPod, and therefore more reflection on Apple and the impact the brand has had on our lives.

The blogosphere does not need another tribute to Jobs. However, I'd like the chance to acknowledge the role that Apple has played within the music industry. For without them, I don't know how we could have progressed so far in a decade.

It's not so much what Apple made, though we have to appreciate the tools they gave us. Every Gaymonkey album was produced on an Apple product - most creatives even beyond the music industry will have used one of the company's machines to generate their work. The hardware allowed us all to be producers and stretch the boundaries of our talents.

And the innovation that Jobs and his team drove through wasn't confined to the products themselves. With the iPod came iTunes - disrupting the fabric of the traditional distribution model of the industry. Now everyone could release their material and gain unlimited shelf space to sell their work. And do it internationally. The platform allowed our own label to have top 20 albums across Europe.

But what stands above this all is what sits at the heart of Jobs and Apple itself. The intention of the brand to think and do things differently.

It's this driving force that attracts the cult of Apple. The outsiders who want to identify themselves with a product that is like them. Who see themselves reflected in the vision of a business.

Gaymonkey was founded on the same principles. We believed that anything creative could be possible through the motivation of the artist. That to make it happen we could use the resources at our fingertips. That by thinking differently we could reach the goals we set ourselves - not the ones dictated to us by an industry that lacked the foresight of the new exciting digital era.

And as Gaymonkey shifts - to enable artists to achieve - the ethos we share with Apple still remains. Think different and make it happen. That's all we need to wake us up and keep us going.

Image from bangdoll on Flickr.


Online Community Building - The Basics

Building your community takes planning, attention, and patience. Here's three key things artists should keep in mind when making connections:

Do Your Research
The fatal failure of any strategy is to get down to work without understanding the landscape - and that goes for social media as well. The tendency is to think that your potential audience is EVERYONE - in order to make the most of your efforts and resources, you need to focus. And a little research goes a long way.

Your research brief should include:

- which artists do you compare yourself to? Pick ones in similar situations to yourself (local artists, with the same musical profile in a similar stage to your career - don't put yourself in the Lady GaGa league!) Choose five favourites to focus on and dig deep into.

- build a profile of their fanbase. What type of people do they attract? Look across the usual channels - MySpace, Twitter, Last.fm, Facebook.

- what does this audience care about? Examine how they react to engagement with the artist. Do they like new tracks? Live shows? Videos? Exclusive interviews?

- look at their tastemaker champions - which blogs have written about them? what radio shows support them? 

Putting all this together will give you valuable insight to create a profile of your potential online community.

Construct Your Content
Now that you know the community you could attract, make a plan of the content you to engage them with. This is key - you need to plan this out in advance to be proactive. 

Think about this as you build online tools, like your website or Facebook fan page - and how it links to the other social media channels you could use (like your own blog, SoundCloud page, YouTube channel etc).

Check out this great post about Lady Gaga's social media success - which points out how she used great content strategically across various online channels. 

Start Conversations
Twitter is the best place to keep the engagement going. Remember that your community isn't just an audience - it's bloggers to support you, potential people to collaborate with, and other artists to form connections with.

Find a tone of voice and topics to chat about that relate to your content (and avoid talking about what you ate/what your cat ate!). Follow people, listen to their conversations, and retweet the things you like. And above all, make a contribution. 

This is jus the start. Eventually the community will build, and will become the megaphone of your voice. Communities support each other. It's about being authentic, and getting involved - and about making a quality - not quantity - connection.

Image from Flickr by alles-schlumpf