Filmmaker Arin Crumley offers a round-up of NYC’s DIY Days and shares the tools, insights and inspirations this innovative conference can bring to the cinema of today... and tomorrow
I was invited to provide a guest blog post to supportyourlocalcinema.com and decided that since DIY Days explores innovative audience-focused business models, that I would try to share what I experienced at the event and how these ideas can be applied to local cinema houses.
DIY Days is a roving conference, free to participants and organized by volunteers, that provides accessibility to ideas, resources and networking that can enable storytellers to fund, create, distribute and sustain. I co-founded the event with Lance Weiler in 2009 when we hit five major cities with different events each month while screening films as part of the online film festival we also co-founded called From Here To Awesome. It was an exciting time because we were able to expose audiences to the work of dozens of up and coming creators, some of whom have since become considered a new breed of filmmakers. Since then, Lance has continued to orchestrate DIY events across the country, expanding the community and providing this invaluable resource. At last year’s DIY Days New York I was invited to do an all day incubator and short presentation on OpenIndie.com, a distribution tool that was in many ways born out of the DIY Days panel discussions and future of indie film dialogues we hosted. At this year’s DIY Days New York on March 5, I had the opportunity to be strictly an attendee for the first time ever, which gave me an opportunity to step back and simply listen.
Molly Crabapple, Founder Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School introduced by Lance Weiler
The first talk I got to see was by Molly Crabapple, an artist and entrepreneur who has built an empire out of her Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. This burlesque life-drawing class was started in Brooklyn in 2005 and has since expanded into what is essentially a franchise, providing the format and social networking tools for others to form their own Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School events around the world. Combining two of her passions, figure modeling and burlesque, Molly has turned a simple one time event into an empire, bringing the experience to thousands in ways she never could have imagined. Applying this to local cinema, one can imagine an alternative film event (similar to the Rocky Horror Picture show) involving a high degree of audience participation and large percentage of returning fans. As Molly has demonstrated, there could be events happening all over the world facilitated by the original creator of a project.
Next up was Brian Newman. Last year he gave a great DIY Days talk about refusing to let the future be designed by what he refers to as the “vicious, blood-sucking beasts in Hollywood.” He challenged creators to invent the future themselves by using technological advancements to tell stories in a new and fresh way. He lamented, “If all we get out of this revolution is a fancy TV that lets us watch any movie at any time, then we have failed.” Similarly, if all the digital theater revolution brings us is the ability for movie theaters to book any film at any time, then we have also failed. Personally I feel that is a great step, but only part of the picture. What would be great would be if cinemas enabled by new technology created a new kind of experience by exploring other methods of engaging audiences before, during and after their cinema experience.
This year Brian Newman’s talk at DIY Days urged participants to get passionate about political causes and make art reflective of that passion. To Newman it’s not enough to simply be excited about a medium and it’s innovations, he wants to see storytellers use the medium to present the controversial issues of our times and spark the dialogue needed for change in our world. He implied that there are many ways we can do this, saying, “We can tell political stories and have an impact that’s perhaps even greater with other forms of film than just documentaries.”
I’m completely on board with the type of film Brian is urging filmmakers to make and think this also creates a type of film that benefits from cinema viewing. When these films end and the lights rise, you find yourself in a room full of people all grappling with the same issues raised by the film. Group discussions are an organic extension of the film and this dialogue can be the first step toward effecting change in our world. If more and more cinemas used these conversational piece films to bring community together in their theaters then the value of a local cinema could extend beyond being purely entertainment.
One of the last talks I attended, and the one that I absolutely had to go and see, was Brian Chirls’ talk. A little backstory - I met Brian Chirls in 2006 at a screening for my first film, Four Eyed Monsters, and I ended up hiring him to help us build the technology to self-distribute the film, leading to a collaboration between us that lasted over a year. Since then Brian has gone on to create a number of software projects including Crowd Controls, which visually demonstrates on a map the demand for a film, a model we pioneered with Four Eyed Monsters and was most recently utilized by Paramount Pictures’ Paranormal Activity. This functionality is what can allow local cinemagoers to collectively control the ‘big screen’ the same way they’ve taken control of the little screens in their lives. We all choose how to use our phones, computers and TVs, why not allow people choice on how to use their local cinema? Rather than being one person’s decision, a democratic system could support the scheduling of a diverse lineup of films based on nearby requests and also increase ticket sales by better catering to the preferences of the local audience. The ability to collectively curate what movies play in your local cinema would be powered by audiences who could access online lists of available films, request certain films and then receive notification when that film is being booked nearby. Messaging functionality would allow them to share their lists with friends and invite them to screenings they are attending. If all of this sounds like the distant future, I’m proud to report that this functionality is all working today at OpenIndie.com and demonstrates the social networking revolution that cinema can embrace alongside filmmakers and audiences ready to co-create a new way of releasing, exhibiting, and watching films.
Brian Chirls was asked to talk at DIY Days about the promising new possibilities of HTML5. HTML5 is the latest revision on the standard language for structuring and presenting internet content. There was a humorous irony present at the start of Brian’s talk, as it seemed his presentation wouldn’t actually be possible due to problems with the technology in the room (it was as if Brian was so far ahead of his time that he was breaking the projector just by looking at it!). I was happy to help a friend out and together we were able to get the setup working. Brian then showed attendees some of his HTML5 experiments that demonstrate a vast new set of capabilities, many of which are supported on Google Chrome and last week’s newly released Firefox 4. As more and more of these coding standards are embraced in the future we could see the implementation of websites utilizing live camera feeds, screen sharing tools, real time 3d and video manipulation. HTML5 could also power the digital playback in a movie theater and allow smart phone and tablet-carrying audiences to actually interact with the movie screen before, after, or even during interactively orchestrated sections of a film. You can see how cinema going digital and using consumer-grade, web-enabled computers to play back to high quality projectors and speaker systems provides a brighter future of expression than overpriced DCI 4K standards that offer no new functions beyond simply replacing the need for shipping film (but end up actually costing way more). If cinemas can embrace this new technology and continue to evolve in pace with audience’s growing appetite for interactive, entertaining engagement, then it’s clear that local theaters could play an integral part in the way people consume media and connect with their community.
DIY Days attendees
After the event’s completion there was a lively social atmosphere which gave people the opportunity to network and expound upon the day’s proceedings. In repeatedly asking people how their ‘DIY Day’ was I came to the amusing realization that, actually, there is no such thing. If I wanted to have a truly DIY Day I’d have to manufacture my own shoes before I left the house, and to truly make a film on my own I’d have to manufacture my own camera. The reality is that as filmmakers we depend on a huge infrastructure of resources including equipment, cast, crew, editing software, distribution tools and ultimately audiences to participate in our creations. Hanging out after DIY Days with this group of highly capable and motivated artists, I got into several conversations with people I hope to be able to work with in the future. What I realized is that rather than falling into my tendency to do everything myself, I’m interested in embracing my interdependence on others and forming teams who can accomplish far more than I ever could alone. It also made me realize that if the future of making films lies in group collaboration, then the future of watching films will also likely lie in a connected, participatory experience.
I want to thank Lance and the countless volunteers for organizing this event, providing numerous valuable resources, and making it available to the public for free. You can check out DIYDays.com to find videos of presentations and information about future events.
Although DIY Days has only toured in North America so far, I would like to ask SylC’s European readers this - If DIY Days was to be brought to your city, what topics, tools and speakers would you be interested in seeing? Would your community and it’s creatives benefit from such a gathering at your local cinema to further this discussion?...