Monday, March 16, 2009

Crowdsourcing movies

Originally uploaded by Documentally
In a darkened room in London, a group of shady individuals discuss the future of movies, and whether it's possible to make movies without the backing of a movie studio.

The answer, of course, was yes. Provided, of course, you're not expecting to see multi-million dollar blockbusters coming out of it. By using the power of social media, people from round the world can hook up and contribute to large-scale productions. You still need a guiding mind - crowd-sourcing doesn't mean a free-for-all, where everyone gets to do what they want. But if you're prepared to take people's ideas, and accept the help they can give, you can suddenly find yourself with a huge resource at your disposal.

Photo by Documentally (aka Christian Payne).

Amplified09 was a social media networking event that took place in London on the 24th February 2009 at Tiger Tiger in Haymarket.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who needs artists?

A selection of pretty album covers.

They all have one thing in common. They were almost entirely randomly generated.

A few weeks ago, there was a Facebook meme where everybody madly created album covers according to the following rules.
1 - Go to "wikipedia." Hit “random... Read More”
or click
The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to "Random quotations"

or click
The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”

or click
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together.
I didn't think it was going to produce anything interesting. After all, a few random words and a random image - the chances are it's gotta be crap, right? There's no artistic inspiration in there anywhere.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. These work really well. And in fact most of the hundreds of them on Facebook work pretty well. Which left me wondering about all those high-paid artists and designers. What makes them better than a bit of randomness? Are we going to see a world where art can be produced randomly by a computer, and be indistinguishable in quality from art produced by a human?

Or maybe we'll get a compromise where the computer does most of the work, and the human makes a few decisions based on a wizard. I can imagine pressing a button, and I get a mini-app which gives me my picture and my two bits of text, and then allows me to position them, resize them, choose the font and color, and that's my album cover right there. If I don't like the result, just reset the random seed and keep going till I get something I like. Click, click, click, job done.

Would that be a bad thing? If we give more people the ability to create artwork, are we cheapening the value of art, or are we exploding a myth that only a minority have the skills and talent to be creative?

(Pictures by Johnnie Ingram, me, Inanna Maiya & David Anderson)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cinema is brain-dead

Last Friday I took part in Clicks or Mortar, at the beautiful Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. It was a conference about the future of cinema, and more specifically, the role of cultural buildings in a digital online world. The highlight of the day was Peter Greenaway talking about his vision of the future of film.

Let's get one thing clear before I go any further. I don't like Greenaway's films. They always look so beautiful on the trailers, but I always find them disappointing, incoherent, and pretentious. So I would have happily skipped that bit of the day if I hadn't been dragged by Bill Thompson and BlueMaiya. Which would have been a huge mistake, because he was the most electrifying, challenging and fascinating speaker I've seen in ages.

"Cinema is brain-dead."

Those were his opening words, and from that moment on, I was hooked. He then proceeded to tell us why film wasn't the ultimate art form, and why cinemas were stupid. "You sit in the dark, and you're expected to remain completely still for two hours. You can't even do that when you're asleep... Film is a poor narrative medium - that's why it always goes to the bookshop for inspiration... We are still using the cinematic language developed in the 20th century to tell stories in the 21st century..." And so on.

He talked a lot about the four cinematic tyrannies:
  • The tyranny of text: most cinema is still basically text. It's not a visual medium. It's a way of carrying the written word by other means.
  • The tyranny of the frame: seeing everything on a frame is completely artificial. Film should be more experiential.
  • The tyranny of actors: "an actor is just someone who is trained to pretend they're not being watched".
  • The tyranny of the camera: you're not seeing something real, you're seeing something captured by a machine.
Okay, hold it right there, Peter. No text I can give you (Koyaanisqatsi springs to mind), and no actors I can get my head around, but how the hell do you have a film with no frame and no camera?

Well, machinima people, brace yourselves...

"The future of film is in Second Life."

Yup, he really said that. What Greenaway envisages, in part, is an art form where non-linear film happens in a shared virtual space, in real time, with a blurring between creators and participants. The film is created and viewed simultaneously. The cinema is also the stage, the editing room, the sound stage. The frame is where we choose to put it.

He's now moving on from films as we currently think of them, to doing live VJ performances, projecting animations onto paintings such as Rembrandt's Night Watch and Leonardo's Last Supper, and an incredibly complex multimedia project, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, which is part film, part game, part adventure. His next film will be funded by Nokia and intended for mobile phones, but will be more than just streaming webisodes.

So, will Peter Greenaway ever make machinima? Very possibly. He's fascinated by it.

Personally, I think his vision of a live performance in Second Life as "the future of film" is misguided. The experience of being at a live event, even if it's virtual, is completely different to the experience of watching a performance that's been prepared to do more than could ever be done live. He's speaking with the evangelical fervour of a musician who's got out of the studio and back on the road. In just the same way, being at a live performance of Dark Side of the Moon would be amazing, but it will never replace the CD of the studio recording.

After watching him present extracts from a dozen of his recent works, I still don't like Greenaway's films. But now I know why I don't like them. He's not a film-maker in the sense I usually think of. He's not a story-teller. He's a painter. And last week, he completely redefined for me the concept of the moving image. That alone was worth going for.