As I see it, the project of this blog is to promote good documentary film, both from the perspective of the consumer (pointing you guys in the direction of good films to watch, and providing you with critical tools for engaging with them), and the filmmaker (helping you find your artistic and spiritual voice through nonfiction film).
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the business side of things. The fact is that while we are living in what many call a “golden age” of documentary film (more media outlets than ever before, cheap and accessible equipment and access to knowledge) the task of making a film is nevertheless extremely difficult, time consuming and STILL expensive. So those of us that are looking to develop our voice often need to get creative with funding opportunities.
Every couple of years, it seems like new methods for raising money for creative projects (and indeed, monetizing existing content) breaks on to the scene. It was probably about ten years ago now that Kickstarter burst on the scene, and essentially provided a way to ask strangers, friends and, mostly if we are honest, family members, for money through an on−line medium of exchange. We utilized this method in film school as best we could by posting up short teasers for our films on Kickstarter, Indie Gogo or some similar site, and begging friends and family for small donations that would, we hoped, add up to enough to shoot our films. Just check HERE for an idea of how many of these sites there are.
Now, I never found these methods to be very helpful in the long run. Each project seemed to have diminishing returns, and the fellow students that proved to have the most successful crowd funding campaigns conspicuously seemed to have the richest relatives. I eventually concluded that this was really just an elaborate way of asking your extended family for money. Nowadays, these crowd funding sites have been taken over by corporate fundraising entities, which sort of defeats the purpose of a source of capital to generate new content for up and comers. I, for one, never found that a given crowd funding campaign could generate any more money by the hour than if I’d have simply gone to work for the same amount of hours I spent working on the Kickstarter pitch.
But I think there’s something else on the horizon that might be a better option. First a caveat: I’ve always been an early adopter. I was among the first technicians for digital cameras used in cinema, somehow I had e−cigarettes before “vaping” was a thing, and I moved to a walkeable lifestyle in LA several years before that became a more widespread phenomenon, just as a couple examples. But the thing about early adoption is that sometimes you get in a little TOO early, and you don’t see the benefits for a while. So rest assured that this stuff is coming, but we are in the very, very early stages.
So what am I getting at? Well, I want to point you guys in the direction of this new frontier in fundraising, and you can decide when you want to jump in. What is this new opportunity? It’s called cryptocurrency, the most notable of which is bitcoin, but more generally, people are starting to use blockchain technology to build new ways of exchanging value. In short, it’s a new kind of money, and a new way of thinking about value.
Take a look at the video at the top of this post and pay special attention to the last section, owning and monetizing intellectual property, starting at 15:49: it is the the best explanation that I’ve found for what blockchain technology is, and what it can do for people all over the world, AND how it could help solve the problem of inequality.
But the most interesting part for me, is how it could help those of us in the creative services industries.
First, a little background:
When I was in undergrad, studying film in Orange County, all we wanted to do was make our films. We wanted to write, direct, shoot and edit our films, and allow them to be seen by audiences. The problem with a medium like film, is that it has a very high cost to produce. Unlike say, poetry, which only requires a pen and paper, film requires cameras, crews, lights and grip equipment, sets, crews and computers to create, and then theaters or a television distribution network for viewing. This has the effect of leaving a lot of talented filmmakers out of luck. Without funding, how were we to practice and hone our craft, or even get our foot in the door in the industry? Over the years, we researched and sought out various ways “in” to the industry. Some of us (myself included) worked our way up from the bottom, starting out on productions in low−level, intro jobs, and working our way up in the existing system. Others looked towards self−funded, labor and favor intensive short content, like music videos or short films, in the hope that we would gain an audience that would then attract clients that would be willing to pay for future productions. In the short film world, it meant saving (or going into debt) to produce a five to twenty minute film, and then taking it to festivals, hoping for exposure. For music videos, it often meant partnering with a band or music group to produce a video for on-line distribution and exposure. While these ways “in” occasionally worked for people, it required huge amounts of up−front costs and work for the possibility that MAYBE one day, someone who had the power would notice us and hire us to do more work in the future. So, so many of us however, spent all our money, went into debt, worked countless hours and turned down other work just to end up right back where we started, on the outside looking in.
However, a lot of the content that we produced was very good, inspiring, technically proficient, and garnered a lot of fans. But only in rare cases was there any connection to the quality of our content and our ability to make a CAREER out of doing what we loved. Many of us ended up working in the film business, but not as creatives. Of course there was always the lucky few who “made it” and worked their way into the business as writers or directors, but the rest of us settled for some kind of job on the fringes, as a technician or office worker of some sort, et cetera.
But with the rise of social media and user created content distribution platforms like YouTube, and sites that often combined the networking aspects of social media with the content creation of Instagram and YouTube (like Facebook), billions of dollars worth of advertising money began to flow through the internet, resulting an a gigantic financial windfall for a few (such as the owners of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube). The users meanwhile, and the creators of content found themselves providing free content that Facebook was able to then monetize. Of course, some people were able to garner enough attention to make a living, but the vast majority of us simply contribute for free while the owners of the platform profit.
Well with the advent of a decentralized monetary system, it could be possible for all the users generating content to share all these profits. That’s what the folks over at Steemit and Brave are trying to do. Like I said, this technology is still in it’s very early, experimental stages, and like the early days of the internet where it took hours to load a photograph, in many ways the infrastructure has not been built up to handle the demand. But I think it’s too important to ignore, and while engaging in early adoption, exploration and development of this new technology might be a little frustrating at first, it will likely be very rewarding in the long run.
Understanding what cryptocurrency is, and how it moves value from peer to peer is probably a subject too weighty for one post, and I’ll consider creating a subcateory for that on the website in the future.
For now, just know that it is on my radar, and if and when I run across any exciting developments, I’ll be sure to let you all know. Here’s a video on what Steemit is all about:
And here is a video on what Brave and the “basic attention token” is all about:
My final caveat is that I am in no way endorsing these companies. I am still in the early adoption, research stage for all of this, and while I find the technology intriguing, I cannot speak to the integrity of these specific companies. However, I will be giving these two in particular a try, and I’ll be keeping you guys up on what I find out.
You can check out my Steemit page here: https://steemit.com/@onejwells13. I’ll be using that as a parallel platform form which to publish my blog posts and share my video content. If it turns out that this is a successful method of monetizing content, I’ll show you how to do it. Currently, it involves a verily sophisticated knowledge of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, so it may take some time, and hopefully things will get easier as more people are aware of the technology. It’s something that you might consider setting up for yourself as well down the road, and if you do, I’d like to hear from you on how it goes.