There was a point Thursday evening where in my head I could almost get a clear vision of what it all meant and where it was all going in terms of motion pictures. I woke up confident that I’d get a couple of interviews in, and it would come to me like a gift wrapped with ribbon and the column would practically write itself. But by Friday afternoon, after eating not one but two meals and feeling a little ragged from a week of running around LA, I was right back to square one — full of food and new information, but just as perplexed as when I left San Francisco.
My first stop was Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe, which is a non-profit economic development center that also serves fantastic home-style Central American food. Even knowing that I was going to eat later, how could pass up fresh Oaxacan and Salvadorean tamales? Plus, Sunny Gault is another out of towner hailing from San Diego, where she first hooked up with Veoh and has since become the producer and host of Veoh Viral.
With a background in both journalism and theater, Sunny was a natural fit for broadcast journalism, and worked as an anchor and reporter in a number of markets across the country. But she was getting tired of the “cookie cutter” approach to television news, and after settling in San Diego and doing freelance reporting, she decided to put together a pilot for a San Diego news magazine show. While she got the production off the ground, wrangling sponsors to put up the $400,000 it would cost to produce a season proved more difficult.
Having already had to learn to everything from camera to makeup herself after years of small-market and freelance video reporting, she discovered online video publishing and realized that she had the skills to bring some polish to her own show. So she started daily news brief show Anchor in PJs, putting together a new show daily for two months — a punishing schedule for any project, but especially when you’re doing it for free.
So after seeing an opening at Veoh on Craigslist, who were looking for help with their productions, she convinced them that what they needed was a “Publisher Advocate” — somebody who could be both a liaison with other content producers as well as an educator and resource for new publishers. Hence, Viral serves as both a marketing tool and outreach vehicle, and she’s not limited to staid formats or a single market and can feature talent from across the web. “It’s so free, so liberating,” she gushed.
What she’s looking for in video content isn’t particularly “authenticity” as much as “entertainment.” The best thing about online shows, she asserts, is that “not everybody has to like them.” There’s room for small productions, experimental work and obscure topics. Granted, she has a horse in the race, but her argument that video sharing sites could become a powerful new mediator between producers and their artists is to a degree already true. With that fresh in my mind, I made my way to Hollywood and Vine, where the old mediators still very much call the shots.
I was headed to meet Micki Krimmel, Director of Community over at Revver and another acquaintance from visits to South by Southwest Interactive. When she’s not keeping Revver fans happy, she also covers the democratization of motion picture production at WorldChanging. She had suggested the Cat & Fiddle Pub, which is apparently a well known spot for laid-back lunching in Hollywood. My anglophilic sensibilities were a little shaken by the juxtaposition of pub food on a sunny patio with a bubbling fountain — but as Micki reminded me, “You can find anything in LA.”
Of all the folks that I had spoken to, I was expecting Micki to have the most in common with my own perception of the zeitgeist. We share a lot of friends and turn up in similar places both online and off. What I didn’t expect is that, in our shared knowledge of motion picture production and web media communities, I came right back to so many of the same questions that have been bedeviling me for months. And how do you turn “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and “the only constant is change” into a column?
Needless to say, things got a little philosophical when you throw the entropy wrench into the works. While my questions were ostensibly related to the mechanics of what Revver’s doing, we couldn’t avoid considering the whole issue of intellectual property and the point at which commerce and art intersect. On the plane ride to the Southland, I had read Jonathan Lethem’s fantastic feature article in Harper’s, “The Ecstasy of Influence.”
Micki had addressed some of the ways in which the issues in that article are being addressed online in an article for Worldchanging earlier in the month. She asserted that it was both somewhat unrealistic to think that there would only be one site (and therefore one model) for distributing online video. She also pointed out that the status quo in Hollywood also appears ultimately unsustainable. But just as we both still buy books and records and go to movies, the old models won’t go away.
I was reminded of a point I’d heard years ago that, even with the proliferation of computers and the Internet, paper use in the United States was actually going up. What’s important is that to a degree, old media is never replaced by new media. It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an additive and cumulative process, and there aren’t lines between anything but instead subtle shifts in existing balances.
An apt analogy is plate tectonics. While the GooTube deal certainly shook things up like four or five on the richter scale, the fault line was there all along. And there are a million other fault lines in the model — between cast and crew on set, between talent agencies, between producers and distributors — where smaller will continue occurring nearly constantly.
Of course, both Micki and I have a vested interest in seeing the business of motion pictures change. If I never see another $150 million “theme park ride” action blockbuster produced, I won’t lose any sleep. On the other hand, I do want to see my friends continue to get paid so that they can continue to work.
In that respect, some of the questions brought up by the people I talked to over the week, Revver seems to be doing a good job of answering. For instance, Revver users can look for more refined metrics to glean feedback on what works and what doesn’t; better ways to add meta-information to their videos so that advertisers can better match up their products to the content; a “video patrol” team that works to keep Revver a safe space for both advertisers and content creators; and an especially intriguing approach to reporting views — but inserting server callbacks into the Quicktime and Flash video falls, even videos that users download to their own machines could report starts, finishes and impressions and clickthroughs.
It was a lot to digest. “We all want to simplify it, but media’s never been one thing,” Micki reassured me. Everyone in the space seems to have sincere enthusiasm mixed with nervous anxiety, a pride in the work their doing but the humility not to expect overnight success. Tired, conflicted and trying to come to terms with it all, I made my first visit to the Arclight. The business models are what’s important, I know. But right then, all I wanted to think about was being in Hollywood, surrounded by the magic of the movies.