The Torch: Can we sell it in pieces?
Film as it is today faces many challenges. As a medium it has been around for quite a while but just like any other art form it is in need of constant renewal. With the industry’s big boys complaining about the audiences’ growing lack of enthusiasm for the old-fashioned movie experience (be it in your local cinema or at the multiplexes downtown), with the studios ferociously battling against piracy with mixed results and blaming the unfaithful consumer for their own short-sightedness instead, you at times hear nothing but the shrill cry of persistent crisis.
But does it really have to be this way? I can’t help but thinking that this alarmism doesn’t tell the whole story. I think there is a flip side to the matter.
To me there can be little doubt that making a film is above all about making a point of some sort. About telling a tale and addressing an issue — then bringing it to the audiences, to your fellow countrymen and contemporaries, the people you’re part of. No film comes to life unless it gets seen, right?
Undoubtedly, too, the web and new media offer a whole range of opportunities, not all of which are yet fully understood or have been realised to their utmost potential. They call for a different kind of approach and certainly involve some extra risk-taking where money is concerned.
But they include new opportunities as well. And if on the one hand we rightfully claim there be some new consumer ethics out there, should there not exist at the same time such a thing as the producers’ obligation to ensure that the public gets what it wants the way that it wants? Isn’t that a legitimate claim as well? Profits aside, if one takes the art of film seriously and views it not as a luxury but as an indispensable public and social requirement, then one equally has to see the mutual nature of that delicately calibrated relationship — and ultimately come to address it!
So if indeed the call goes out for a re-invention of the industry then what it says is basically this: be creative (about your formatting)! While that may scare some, for those who prefer facing each challenge as it comes and enjoy setting course where there has been no road to speak of before (and filmmaking in Singapore provides plenty of opportunities to train this skill): it could be your time to shine!
Now, I think we’ve all taken note of TIME magazine’s decision to name YOU, the average internet user, as person of the year in 2006. For my part, I still wonder who’d be smart enough to pick it up and combine it with our very own, distinct consumer habits of the digital age.
Web 2.0 regulars have set the agenda anew, so that it includes the many technically enabled ways of sharing amongst users, the virtual dimension to old-school social networking strategies and some community-building, the sheer dynamism of which eloquently bespeaks the basic human need it has grown from. Apply these standards to your filmmaking and delivery, et voilÃƒ : that’s what I’d call the ever so desperately sought-after sign of the times! Couldn’t this at last lend much needed new meaning to that well-worn phrase: that it is every director’s and producer’s goal to turn their movie into “an experience” for the viewer?
Not that this is the first time someone has hit on this line of thinking. I’ve come across at least one example from Singapore’s independent cinema: the encompassing pre-release campaign to introduce Originasian’s upcoming production Becoming Royston. As an attempt to successfully organise a bit-by-bit launch, thus continuously raising the level of public awareness and building sustained interest from its target audience, webisodes were made available on the film’s official website before the film was even completed or released.
Indeed, with online streaming solutions being perfected all the time, with manga being successfully distributed to mobile devices in Japan and with iTV at the starting blocks, the race is very much open already. Learn from the innovators, since it doesn’t hurt your film to copy successful marketing strategies.
Here’s something for the audacious to prove: that it is only for Holly-Bolly Studios to be dependent on millions of dollars to make a point (marketing-wise). Or to put it in the words of that old saying , “For all their Wood, they can’t see the Forest no more.” (Okay, I admit that was a bad one!)
For the time being it seems like the entire industry is still stumbling along like a toddler in this, so there’s plenty of free space waiting to be claimed! Couldn’t it be precisely the small, independent production for once that shows itself better equipped for adjusting to new market demands and thus be ahead of the game?
And for those out there who still harbour doubts about their creativity in keeping up with all this new gadgeteria story-wise: just look at the 19th and early 20th century novel as it were, the works by such renowned writers like Fontane, Dickens or Tanizaki. They got serialised, sequenced, broken up and literally sold in pieces. That didn’t kill them.
Formatting doesn’t kill the quality as a rule. But at the same time I am firmly with you in this: content comes first – whatever the format!
Look out for mo’s comments on the arts, film and filmmaking in “The Torch” every other Thursday.