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Collaborative Digital Cinema
Transcript of Collaborative Digital Cinema
Rombes Introduction Crowdsourced
Remakes COnclusions Why these authors? Why this structure? VS. possible, but awkward quite awkward Within this tumultuous environment, there is a relatively new cinematic phenomenon, only made possible by the development of internet technologies: the crowd-sourced remake. These works of collaborative digital cinema allow a large group of people (potentially strangers) to collectively create a remake of an existing film.
Though far from being the "next big thing" to sweep the media landscape, these crowd-sourced remakes present radically new models for both the production and consumption of films. Or perhaps more accurately, these remakes embody in microcosm the new models that are growing all over with the help of the internet. With remixed works like these, authorship is broken down since the director of the original film, the curator of the remake, and the contributors to the remake all have some, but not definitive authorial influence on the final product.
The crowdsourced remakes outlined above, and the way they can effectively condense and illustrate important aspects of the broader cinema-internet environment are the focus of this project. These remakes’ illustrative qualities make them uniquely useful for demonstrating many of the key observations of various media scholars. More importantly, this means that the projects also allow us to clearly trace the intersections between these scholars’ different perspectives. Internet technologies are drastically changing the relationships between, and definitions of, those who make motion pictures and those who consume them. Audiences are becoming more and more powerful as the ways of accessing and sharing movies continue to multiply. At the same time, definitions of legal ownership and authorship are being rewritten as new ways of digitally possessing and reproducing material, legally or otherwise, arise. In this context of shifting definitions and assumptions, there are also many different parties with different, and often conflicting stakes in the definitions that are being reworked. These changes will directly affect what is available to consumers of cinema and how that material is accessed. As for those on the production side, whether you are an amateur filmmaker or an executive of a major motion picture company, if you are basing your decisions on old assumptions of these relationships, you are likely to find yourself isolated or even antagonized by the very audiences you wish to reach out to.
Several scholars, from within media studies and elsewhere, have taken note of these changes, and have begun the process of figuring out what it all means. What is the significance of this changing media environment? How does it continue or break with media history so far. There are some common themes, but there are just as many unique interpretations from varied perspectives. I will be using the two crowdsourced remakes, 'Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake' and 'Star Wars: Uncut' as tools for finding and examining the intersections between five scholars' work: Seth Feldman, Nicholas Rombes, Henry Jenkins, Lawrence Lessig, and Steven Johnson. Where applicable, I will also draw on the works of other scholars to clarify and expand upon certain issues. Lawrence Lessig is a legal scholar at Harvard Law School, and a founding member of Creative Commons. While not a media or cinema scholar per se, his work is deeply concerned with issues of media. He is, in Remix, an advocate for a change in the legal paradigm surrounding copyright. As such, he is intensely interested in how copyright law relates to media and the ways that people engage with media.
His discussion of the copyright system is intimately informed by his understanding and analysis of the ways that media have been consumed historically, how those patterns have changed throughout the 20th century, and how they are changing right now. Lessig’s analysis of media consumption and its relationship to culture, technology, education, and citizenship forms the basis of his arguments for copyright overhaul. In its current form, the American legal system and major media industries are waging a “war” against “pirates” on behave of certain business models. However, as Lessig suggests, this “war” criminalizes and punishes behaviour that is culturally healthy and normal (Lessig xix). And it is the ideas that spring from his analysis of media consumption and culture that are of interest to my study here.
One of the first, and most important ideas he puts forward is the distinction between Read/Only (RO) culture and Read/Write (RW) culture. This is a powerful concept. Appropriately enough, he borrows the vocabulary of the digital technology that is the platform on which these cultures are taking off. Like the file permissions they get their names from, RO culture does not encourage, or perhaps even permit, consumers to participate in the “writing” of the culture. They are to remain consumers strictly. With RW culture on the other hand, people practice both the consumption and the “creating and re-creating [of] the culture around them” (Lessig 28). Lessig refers to the testimony of John Philip Sousa in 1906 to both illustrate what this distinction can mean, and to historicize it. That is to say, that the dominance of RO culture is not a natural state of being, but an anomaly of the twentieth century. Sousa was arguing for tighter controls on the then new technologies of mechanical music recording like phonographs. This was in part for his own financial interests, but also about a cultural shift that would occur when people buy and consume their cultural artefacts rather than participating in their creation themselves.
Sousa argued, “When I was a boy… in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. (qtd. in Lessig 24). However, after the introduction and proliferation of playable recordings, the population becomes less and less practiced and familiar with the production of their own culture. Instead, we are experienced shoppers and choosers of the ready-made cultural tokens (Lessig 25).
As Sousa predicted, the twentieth century did see an unprecedented concentration and professionalization of the production of cultural artefacts (Lessig 29). Since Sousa’s time, of course, professionally produced and broadly consumed artefacts of RO culture have expanded. “We listen to music. We watch a movie. We read a book. With each, we’re not expected to do much more than simply consume” (Lessig 36).
These patterns of behaviour and the business models that profit off them were coincidentally reinforced by the inherent limitations of the technologies that enabled them. For one thing, analogue technologies for recording music, images, and motion pictures are physically finite. If I lend you a vinyl record, I no longer have it. Furthermore, copying always degrades the signal and is often prohibitively costly at the consumer level (Lessig 37-38). As a result, the analogue recording technologies of the twentieth century collaborated with a RO system and the business and copyright models that benefit from such a centralized, one-way production of cultural tokens. However, as Lessig then points out, digital tokens of RO culture are not so compliant. Unlike the analogue technologies of the previous century, they are easily and affordably copied and shared, even at the consumer level. And by extension, those tokens could now be manipulated as well. “What before was both impossible and illegal is now just illegal” (Lessig 38). This ease of copying tokens of culture re-opens the door for widespread RW culture, the culture that Sousa hoped to preserve. This has put the current media environment in some state of disorder. Some major players in the media environment players like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) engaged in widespread litigation against consumers (Lessig 39). On the other hand, some companies like Apple have utilized software called Digital Rights Management (DRM) to import an RO model of cultural tokens into the digital world and “convinced a skeptical industry that RO culture [has] a twenty-first-century future” (Lessig 42).
Having set the stage of the technology’s relationship to the business models of media for the 20th and 21st centuries, Lessig moves on to analyze the behaviours associated with RO and RW culture. He begins with a discussion of the practice of quotation, and a disconnection in the ways it is treated across different media.
In writing for audiences in English academia or law, for example, the use of salient quotations into one’s work is praised and even required. Citation is required of course, but no other payment or permission is needed. Indeed, if a university student asked for permission from the authors of all their referenced texts prior to submitting an essay, it would be considered odd and a waste of everyone’s time (Lessig 51-52). Of course, written text is not the only arena where quoting is possible. “If we can quote text from Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in an essay, we can quote a section from Sam Wood’s film of Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in a film” (Lessig 53). Yet, the cultural and legal standards surrounding these different kinds of media see it differently. Quoting in film or music is far more restricted than in text. While this used to be a virtual non-issue for most consumers because of the inherent difficulties of quoting in motion pictures or audio recordings, it is becoming more and more important now that these practices are easily achieved.
Lessig suggests that the practice of quoting, or “remix” across media is important and worth protecting for two main reasons. The act of quoting is simultaneously a social and communal activity, and a crucial form of education and learning. Quoting and remixing is an important part of how one becomes literate. Not just with written words, but with any cultural practice. He quotes Henry Jenkins, “More and more, literacy experts are recognizing that enacting, reciting and appropriating elements from preexisting stories is a valuable and organic part of the process by which children develop cultural literacy” (Jenkins 186). Through quoting in any medium, citizens enter into a broad ongoing discussion with other writers. This discussion both enriches the social ties across contributors, and helps each individual contributor hone their reading and writing skills in that medium
Furthermore, Lessig argues that even when the results of remix are of poor quality, the process is still a social good. “There’s good and bad remix, as there’s good and bad writing. But just as bad writing is not an argument against writing, bad remix is not an argument against remix. Instead, in both cases, poor work is an argument for better education” (Lessig 81). Lessig describes how the act of writing, or creating anything has value independent of the writing itself. This is because, as he puts it, “writing has its own ethic” and that “creating is a responsibility, only by practicing can you learn it” (Lessig 86-87). The teaching of responsibility through creation in turn cultivates a population of more empowered and thoughtful citizens. En route to his recommendations for copyright reform and a hybrid economy, Lessig’s analysis of media and culture brings up some very interesting insights. The concepts of RO and RW culture are very useful for describing different the different ways that people engage with cultural texts. Rather than inherent qualities of the texts themselves, RO and RW can be seen as the stances we take in relation to those cultural texts. Though RO has been favoured in the twentieth century, certain shifts in the media environment are allowing an RW approach, even to formerly RO texts. Lessig provides a strong case for the valuing and championing of RW forms of engagement on the grounds of their communal and educational benefits. Henry Jenkins has himself as an “Aca/Fan.” That is to say, he is both an academic and a fan. Though the two social categories are closer than they’ve ever been before, he is still working to bridge the gap in his work. He is simultaneously writing on fan culture from the privileged perspective of an academic, and personally acquainted with the material as a sincere fan. As he writes in the preface to Fans Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, “Each essay is prefaced by some personal reflections on how it came to be written. It is hard to imagine providing any kind of intellectual context for these essays that doesn’t deal with my personal stakes in the content. What I write about is deeply personal” (Fans, Bloggers and Gamers 6).
I will be drawing from three essays of Jenkins’. “Interactive Audiences? The ‘Collective Intelligence’ of Media Fans” from Fans Bloggers and Gamers, and “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry” and “Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars” from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. His books span numerous topics from gender politics in Star Trek fandom to issues of video game violence. However, the essay that most directly addresses the issues I am discussing here focus on the patterns of amateur fan writing in an online context and in relation to each other and to primary texts. Much of Jenkins’s writing, at least in part, seems to strive to challenge rigid conceptual oppositions like academic versus fan. Start here... ... and work your way towards here. Structre,
Rombes, & Johnson My Own Slow Hunch Or perhaps, rather than thinking of them existing on rigid tiers, these authors complete a spectrum. From the most outward looking cultural perspective in Johnson,
to Lessig, who is a lawyer speaking to legal contexts, but intimately concerned with issues of media,
to Jenkins, who is a film scholar looking to the cultural implications of media changes,
to Rombes, who is a film scholar investigating what the changes in media mean for the media.
to Feldman who is a film scholar looking at the connections between a crowdsourced remake and Dziga Vertov
Of course, I am grossly simplifying each of their individual and nuanced perspectives. However, This does show how they can be loosely arranged, and why I felt that they were a fitting selection for a project like this. They may not cover every issue concerning the intersection of cinema and the internet (for example, Lev Manovich’s discussion of the database, or Anne Friedberg’s discussion of the screen) but they span the spectrum of scale, and give a sense of the continuity of issues across scales. They demonstrate how all of these issues are in conversation with each other, and have implications along different cultural reference points.
The common referent of the collaborative remakes will reinforce the continuity across scales and frames of reference. They provide a more tangible example of how the broad spectrum of concerns can be connected in specific points.
While Feldman's work is already an active contributor to the discussion of crowdsourced remakes, the other four scholars have not specifically addressed them. Therefore, I will introduce each of those four with a summary of the concepts of theirs that I will be using for this discussion. Three of these five authors, in addition to providing very interesting and useful perspectives on cinema and the internet, are very broadly popular theorists. Henry Jenkins, Lawrence Lessig, and Steven Johnson have all found wide audiences outside of strictly academic circles. Jenkins has even made a considerable effort to explicitly bridge the academic-popular gap in his work.
Since I am discussing the critical engagement with media by amateur audiences, it is fitting to include perspectives with a popular cultural currency. This is not to say that Jenkins, Lessig, and Johnson are amateurish. Rather, I merely wanted to emphasize those perspectives that seem to resonate most clearly with the culture that they are observing.
Rombes, while not as widely read as the above three, fills a gap in the discussion that would be left open. He approaches digital cinema very directly, looking at what changes, cinematically, with the shift to digital technologies. He provides a close analysis of the aesthetics of digital cinema, for example. The links between his specific and focused perspective and the works of the other three authors ground the broad discussion in the field of cinema studies.
Feldman is the only one of the five scholars to have written directly on a crowdsourced remake. His article on Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake helps situate the remakes in relation to Dziga Vertov’s own approaches to filmmaking and documentary practice.
Furthermore, the variation in these authors’ figurative proximity to the specific subject of media helps balance the discussion. Their perspectives could be arranged into two tiers, not of importance, but of their relationship to media studies. Lessig and Johnson provide external, but no less valuable perspectives on the media environment, when compared to the media-specific scholarship of Jenkins and Rombes. Lessig and Johnson’s discussions help indicate the broader social significance of the phenomena that Jenkins and Rombes are witnessing at the closer, media-specific level. Through their work, we can see the ways that these phenomena are reflected in other cultural contexts outside of media, and their potential social value.
Lessig strives to establish the value of media practices like remix and quotation. He argues that they are crucial for a broad cultural literacy and that they ultimately lead to more responsible citizens. Conversely, he warns against the broad social consequences when these practices are restricted.
Johnson’s analysis of creatively rich environments demonstrates the value of those environments that cultivate a multitude of perspectives and connections. Though he is not directly concerned with media per se, the types of relationships that he describes and praises can be found in the media environments discussed by the other authors. As a result, his work connects their observations to broad cultural dynamics.
While Lessig and Johnson are concerned with the broad social implications of recent changes in the media landscape, Feldman, Jenkins and Rombes are much more embedded within the context of media scholarship. They take closer, more in-depth looks at the systems of meaning making going on in digital cinema. They examine the communities of media fans that digest it. They look specifically at the effects of digital technologies on the processes of signification.
Feldman has specifically dealt with a crowdsourced remake, and its historical context.
Jenkins writes on fans, and the ways that they process meaning from media collectively. He is interested in the relationship between fan activity and the media texts and the media industry. His work is also concerned with the way that digital technologies are changing the ways that fans interact with media, and the broadening of these activities to involve “regular” media consumers in addition to solely fans.
Rombes seeks to uncover what digital technology means for cinema. How does digital technology change cinema, and the way that cinema imparts meaning? In his work, he pays particularly close attention to the look and feel of digital cinema, and analyses the occasionally contradictory results. In this project, I am describing a network of relationships. Not only is it difficult to do this in a linear format, such an approach would likely not do justice to the nature of those relationships. Not every idea necessarily directly follows from one before it. Rather, they are all coexisting and informing each other.
Consider this open essay as a dinner table, and each idea has a seat at this table. The structure is flexible enough for the different guests to have conversations with any of the others seated there, and for more than two to engage collectively.
A traditional, linear essay is like the restaurant bar. Any given idea can converse easily enough with either the one to the left or the right. And they might be able to lean over and have a conversation with the one sitting one more stool over, but not without some awkwardness.
Furthermore... Rombes also decided to use a non-linear structure for his work, in order to reflect the chance-based research he was describing. He describes an encounter with an English professor he had as a student,
"when asked about the formatting of a paper that was due soon, [he] responded with something to the effect of, ‘Let whatever you are writing about determine the format of your paper.’ … The delayed result of his advice is the book you are now holding" (Rombes 11-12).
While I admire Rombes’ work, and the randomizing structure of his book, there are some limitations and problems with its execution. For one thing, since he could never be sure that a reader had necessarily read one section before another, it seems as though the book contained several redundant passages to re-introduce concepts every time they were raised. Though this redundancy might work on some level, as a way of letting a handful of ideas roll around in the reader’s consciousness, it can also make it difficult to find what is distinct, or being contributed in any particular passage. Navigation of his text is also an issue. You can select passages at random, you can read them in their alphabetical order (which is essentially a preset randomized list, since the alphabetization is arbitrary), or choose passages according to their titles. However, the titles are not always clear indications of the content of the passages. As a result, it is very difficult to discern the relationship between passages. Even if part of the point of a non-linear structure is to find chance correspondences between passages, it is also useful to see what relationships the author observes.
To borrow Christopher Langton’s metaphor via Johnson (Johnson 52), the network within Rombes book is too gaseous. The balance of chaos to order is skewed too far in favour of chaos, and meaningful connections between ideas are more difficult to discern. They are too fleeting, and there are no stable relationships to measure against. While a linear essay may be too much like a rigid, solid network for the issues at hand, I hope to approximate a liquid network with this structure.
By laying out the relationships between ideas, I hope to add that small measure of order that Rombes’ book is lacking. At the same time, by leaving the navigation open-ended, I hope to avoid the rigidity of a linear essay that would constrain the possibility for chance encounters between ideas distort the complex relationships between them. My own arrival to this project developed like a "slow hunch" as Johnson describes them. Years ago, I started to feel that there were things I wanted to articulate. An aarticle assigned in an undergraduate film history class would resonate with my musings on YouTube. Yet it was all indistinct.
Gradually, as I encountered other ideas, and other scholars, my thoughts began to come into focus. When I found these two crowdsourced remakes, they immediately struck me as peculiarly adaptable examples for describing a number of interesting issues regarding cinema and the internet.
I set out to research the field in a more dedicated manner. At first I grew frustrated, as it felt like nothing could winnow my field of focus. Book after book, and article after article, I kept thinking to myself, "YES, THIS describes what is going on in these collaborative remakes PERFECTLY. Then I would read another book, and IT would seem to capture the essence of the remakes too, despite being written from a completely different perspective.
I knew early on that these remakes were interesting, but I only realized later that this aspect of my research was not a deficit or a failure of my attention. Rather, this was precisely the strength of the projects that I was trying to articulate. They reflect, in many different ways, from many different perspectives, ideas and phenomena that are developing elsewhere in the broader context of cinema, the internet, and globalized culture.
Part of the remakes' remarkable nature lies in the fact that they are finite and clearly delineated entities, yet they are able to illustrate issues with far-reaching implications. This is what makes them so useful for discussing those issues. The remakes condense those unwieldy ideas, and make them more manageable. When I realized this, years after the first glimmers of an idea, this project finally came into focus. Steven Johnson is the writer standing at the greatest remove from the specifics of my project. He is taking the broadest view, and as a result, helps situate the phenomena I am discussing into the general cultural context. He is a popular scholar of science and culture. His latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, explores the environments and conditions that are conducive to creativity and innovation. He is feeling out the patterns common to creatively rich periods and places. Though not directly addressing cinema, and only occasionally addressing the web, his analysis of the ways ideas interact, change, and move can add a new depth to the phenomena described by the other scholars, and taking place in the video projects.
In his exploration, Johnson defines seven general patterns relating to creatively rich environments. They are tendencies of those environments that seem conducive to innovation. At the same time, he is always working to dispel some popular myths of innovation and creativity. Namely, he is undermining the figure of the lone genius (or small group of geniuses) who through dedicated perspiration and brilliance are responsible for the most significant ideas of art, science, and technology.
So what are the patterns he identifies? “The adjacent possible,” is a concept that Johnson borrowed from scientist Stuart Kauffman. It describes, given the current state of the world, all of the potential changes, recombinations, or novelties that are possible at this point in time. It encompasses “both the limits and the creative potential” of what is possible in a certain situation. In the realm science, he gives the example what was possible in the prebiotic primordial soup of ancient earth. All of the elements for a full-grown and modern animal are present in that environment, but there is no set of possible chemical reactions that could give rise to one; it is outside of the adjacent possible for prebiotic earth. However, the chemical recombinations to make the building blocks of life, like basic proteins, were within the adjacent possible of that environment (Johnson 30).
Of course, the adjacent possible is never static. Every time a new portion of the adjacent possible is realized, new combinations become possible. “The history of life and human culture… can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore. But some systems are more adept than others at exploring those possibility spaces” (Johnson 33). Johnson uses the idea of a “network” to both describe the shape of ideas, and the environments that good ideas arise from. An idea, Johnson suggests, is not a singular thing, but “more like a swarm” (Johnson 46). This is reflected in the physical structure of the brain, with thousands of neurons firing, and also in the way that a really good idea makes connections to other concepts. An idea does not stand alone.
Furthermore, conditions that are network-like are more likely to facilitate innovation and recombination. The more connections, the better, but perhaps more importantly, the connections need to be plastic. “A dense network incapable of forming new patters is, by definition, incapable of change, incapable of probing at the edges of the adjacent possible” (Johnson 46).
This need for flexibility leads to the essential modifier, “liquid.” To describe the needed balance between the order of stable connections and the chaos of potential recombinations, Johnson borrows a metaphor from computer scientist Christopher Langton. He used the states of matter, gas, liquid, and solid, to describe different degrees of chaos and order in networks.
“Think of the behavior of molecules in each of these three conditions. In a gas, chaos rules; new configurations are possible, but they are constantly being disrupted and torn apart by the volatile nature of the environment. In a solid, the opposite happens: the patterns have stability, but they are incapable of change. But a liquid network creates a more promising environment for the system to explore the adjacent possible. New configurations can emerge through random connections formed between molecules, but the system isn’t so wildly unstable that it instantly destroys its new creations.” (Johnson 52)
Conditions that are liquid network-like could be anything from the primordial soup of ancient earth, a human brain, an enlightenment-era coffeehouse, a city, or, a collaborative remake website. What is important is that new combinations of matter and ideas have the opportunity to be explored. The concept of the “slow hunch” stands in opposition to the notion that new ideas arrive in this world, fully formed, and all at once. With the “slow hunch,” Johnson describes the ways that ideas tend to grow slowly. A person or a community may have a half of a good idea on their minds for months or years. Eventually, given time, and the opportunity to encounter different perspectives and other hunches, they may develop into something fruitful.
Johnson goes on to explain that the most unique hunches tend to require a long time to mature and come into focus, and are simultaneously quite fragile. “Most slow hunches never last long enough to turn into something useful, because they pass in and out of our memory too quickly, precisely because they possess a certain murkiness” (Johnson 83). To cultivate slow hunches requires the unique balance of plasticity and stability of liquid networks. They need the opportunities to collide with other ideas that might complete them. But they also need a stable way of recording them so they remain available for development. Johnson borrows the evolutionary biology phrase “exaptation” to describe those encounters between ideas, where one is successfully repurposed for a use that it was never intended for. He refers to the example of Johannes Gutenberg. Winemakers had been using presses for centuries with no thought of words. Gutenberg’s insight was not in the creation of something new, but in finding a new use for something old: the press. (Johnson 153).
This concept is important for the way in emphasizes the need for networks to not only connect lots of ideas, but to foster collisions from completely different fields. “The modernism of the 1920s exhibited so much cultural innovation in such a short period of time because the writers, poets, artists, and architects were all rubbing shoulders at the same cafés. They weren’t off on separate islands” (Johnson 163). “Platforms” are those good ideas that are exceedingly good at facilitating other good ideas to build off of them, directly or exaptationally. The world wide web is a prime example of a platform built on top of other platforms. Similarly to the way it has allowed so many other good ideas to come about, it was made possible by the platforms of the Internet and computers (Johnson 189).
Artistic genres, too, are a kind of platform (Johnson 191). They provide a set of codes and relationships that an artist can build upon or challenge. In any case, platforms bring you closer to the adjacent possible, so that you don’t have to start from scratch. And the more open they are, the more different ways they can be utilized. “In a funny way, the real benefit of stacked platforms lies in the knowledge you no longer need to have” (Johnson 210). The two elements that Johnson labels “serendipity” and “error” each describe different perspectives of the balance of chaos and order required for effective networks. Serendipity refers to the happy accidents of discovery, when one stumbles upon piece of an idea that they were not necessarily looking for, but is meaningful nevertheless (Johnson 109). Johnson uses this to emphasize the need for randomness in a network to allow complementary hunches to find each other when a connection might not be immediately or rationally obvious.
Error, on the other hand, refers to the value of failed pursuits and combinations. As Johnson puts it, “Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore” (Johnson 137). Having just enough failed pursuits is one way of introducing the right amount of instability to a system to encourage new combinations of ideas. Johnson also gives the example of science researchers who encounter data that contradicts their expectations. By maintaining their assumptions of correctness, they might try to simply refine their methods towards the same goal. But with the right perspective, they could see that their assumptions had been in error, and that they had in fact opened up new and meaningful questions (Johnson 138-139). All of the patterns and concepts that Johsnon identifies overlap and inform each other to some degree. Networks are the interconnecting systems that facilitate the serendipitous collisions between slow hunches. This maximizes the possibilities of fortuitous elements of the adjacent possible being discovered and expanded upon. The best networks even introduce just the right amount of noise and error to collide with hunches to force them out of comfortable correctness and to explore different avenues of inquiry. Ideally, these networks also connect hunches and ideas from multiple different fields of knowledge and experience to increase the odds of fortuitous exaptation when otherwise unrelated hunches and ideas collide. Finally, platforms are a special kind of idea. They’re ideas that become mini-networks. They invite other hunches and ideas to utilize what they have already created either linearly or exaptationally. They allow you to directly explore the immediately adjacent possible, without having to start from scratch.
Johnson’s description of this system of forces and patters shows how similar phenomena in the field of cinema and the internet fit into the broader cultural context. He also presents a compelling case for the value of such patterns for media and beyond.
After Feldman, Nicholas Rombes is the scholar that most directly deals the specific issues relevant to crowdsourced remakes of the five scholars I am discussing in this project. His book, Cinema in the Digital Age is the text I will be drawing from, but it is worthwhile to mention that he has also studied and written on punk culture. Though not a central focus of Cinema in the Digital Age or this discussion, his interest in punk culture is interesting for the way it connects the rawness and immediacy of certain digital media to other corners of culture, and links it to a longer cultural history beyond the last few years.
A central theme of his book is the discussion of related tensions and dichotomies found in the way digital media are perceived. Introducing these tensions, he writes, “haunted by the spectre of perfection, there is a tendency in digital media – and cinema especially – to reassert imperfection, flaws, an aura of human mistakes to counterbalance the logic of perfection that pervades the digital” (Rombes 2). Balancing the perception of digital technology as cold and lifeless in its perfect reproducibility are phenomena like “mistakist aesthetics” or “DV humanism.” Not only do the new technologies make cold, exacting, duplication possible, they also facilitate the messy, and human, response. These responses are emerging from both the technologies themselves, and the ways that people have chosen to use them. The compactness of digital cameras, the ease of conducting long takes, the disposability of YouTube clips are just some of the characteristics of the technology that Rombes identifies as facilitating these antidotes to cold digital perfection.
To illustrate this double-perception and utilization of digital cinema, he lays out bold examples from either end of the spectrum “On the one hand, the term digital suggests the elaborate, expensive, micromanaged, soulless, perfectionist aesthetic of George Lucas’s last three Star Wars films. On the other hand, it conjures the homemade, imperfect, intimate, mistakist cinema of The Blair Witch Project, The Celebration and Tape, films where digital does not imply cold, anti-human technology, but rather intimacy, spontaneity and imperfection” (Rombes 97).
Buried within the perfectionist-mistakist spectrum is another spectrum. He identifies within the human, mistakist tendencies in digital technology both extreme fragmentation and extreme continuity. On the one hand, the fragmentary way that clips of cinema, regardless of source, end up on the internet leads to a sense of disposability about them (Rombes 24). On the other hand, the ease of conducting long takes with digital video “allows for a greater degree of reality and its mistakes to unfold” in real-time (Rombes 98). In a film like Russian Ark, for example, Rombes points out the sense of precariousness and tension in the film and the fragility of its smoothness. “You are always aware of the intense choreography of the camera and the actors, the sheer hair-breadth escape from a mistake that would ruin the entire film just around the corner” (Rombes 25).
Another similar “double logic” of digital cinema is the tendency to “[strive] for ever greater realism via a technology and interface that continually calls attention to the artifice of the medium” (Rombes 81). With digital technology, filmmakers are able to explore new corners of realism through extreme intimacy or extended long takes. Yet at the same time, so much of digital cinema calls attention to itself and is blatantly self-reflexive. Whether it is through ever more dramatic special effects or the layers of DVD menus and “making of” documentaries of their special features, digital cinema often reminds (or outright educates) its audience about it’s own technical apparatus and accomplishments. This leads to another central interest of Rombes book. That is, the structures and platforms in which we encounter films. “The process of navigation and selection – DVD chapter menus, iPod screens, links on the web – suggests narrative framing and assembly. The experience of going to a theatre and sitting in the dark without participating in the selection and arrangement of narrative blocks is becoming a radical, avant-garde experience” (Rombes 45). He claims that the reason for this increased interest in audience involvement is that “the stories themselves have lost their charm, have become demystified” (Rombes 45). While I disagree that uncharming stories are the motivation behind an increase in the prominence of interactive interfaces in today’s digital media, I agree that they are indeed an important issue. And like Rombes, I think these interfaces can have very interesting effects. For example, he describes how the numerous platforms and types of screens that one can watch films on leads to another kind of editing in the hands of the viewer. Different screens “[transport] the film’s meaning into whatever environment happens to surround the viewing experience” (Rombes 47). Combined with the film’s own editing and the viewer’s ability to pause, skip, switch audio trackts and et cetera, this means that the relationships within the film and between the film and its context are increasingly malleable.
This accessible malleability, along with things like the prevalence of “making of” documentaries, shaky-cam cinematography that reinforces the presence of the camera, leads Rombes to identify what he calls self-theorizing media. “Today, the process of theoretical deconstruction – at one time restricted to the halls of academe - has now become our culture’s new lyricism” (Rombes 59). He acknowledges that films with built-in ironic self-referentiallity or deconstruction are not entirely new (Rombes 62). However, for much of film history, access to rare film prints for the purpose of theoretical deconstruction was limited to a select few. The ease of access to the back catalogue of cinematic production, first opened up by home video and now accelerated by DVDs and the internet, has allowed anyone to re-watch, scrutinize, and critically engage with both old and new films (Rombes 63).
Furthermore, the ease of access of all manner of cinematic material through digital technology allows for new kinds of study, not easily achieved before, a “theory of convergences.” It “makes it possible to tune in to the echoes between film images across years. While there likely always will be a need for rationalist, formalist, methodical film criticism, what the digital database opens up is the possibility for a different approach, one that performs the randomness inherent in the digital system” (Rombes 10). Rombes is describing and praising a form of engaging with cinema that embraces and seeks out unlikely juxtapositions. This approach, opens the door to the “strange” and “secret correspondences” These are instances where meaningful relationships appear to arise out of the random combinations of those juxtapositions. He gives an example he calls the “iPod Experiment” where he attended a Hollywood summer action blockbuster, but substituted the soundtrack with random music by listening to his son’s iPod on “shuffle” in the theatre. “The result was almost heartbreaking in a way that is hard to explain. Perhaps it is because all the cynicism and irony slips away when you are watching a sequence on the screen that synchronizes in a profound way with the music you are listening to – music that you know is entirely random but that seems deliberately and carefully to go with the sequence” (Rombes 49-50). Rombes even organizes Cinema in the Digital Age to foster a chance-based engagement like the one he is describing. Instead of a series of chapters linearly conveying the author’s ideas, where each chapter follows logically from the one previously, Rombes uses a more open-ended approach through his structure. Brief essays and thoughts are arranged alphabetically by title; that is to say, they are arranged arbitrarily. “The reader is encouraged to read straight through, or to skip around and see where chance, and random access, takes her” (Rombes 12).
Finally, Rombes presents some interesting, and also somewhat contradictory suggestions about audiences’ relative understanding of motion picture technology over time. This is not necessarily a weakness of Cinema in the Digital Age, for it stirs some potentially fruitful perspectives, as well as indicating a change in the kind of technical knowledge of audiences, if not a quantitative change in their understanding. Though he doesn’t declare it as such, it is another double logic of digital cinema. In some cases, Rombes suggests that the mechanisms of digital cinema are more mysterious and more invisible from the perspective of audiences when compared to the analogue technology of celluloid. He writes, “the old source of motion pictures as the light shot through a moving film was itself a sort of realism. Everyone knew what a projectionist did. They understood the source of the images” (Rombes 1). Later, he goes on to emphasize the existence of a concrete object, like the film strip or even a video tape, as anchoring a kind of understanding relationship with the cinema (Rombes 31). By comparison, the code of digital films is invisible and immaterial, and the implication is that they are more mysterious and unknowable.
However, Rombes also makes the point that “the ubiquity of digital motion picture technology today (even the cheapest digital still camera contains a digital video function) makes moving images more natural in the sense that they correspond more closely than ever before to our experience of everyday reality” (Rombes 21). Combined with the proliferation of behind-the-scenes documentaries discussed earlier, this suggests that knowledge of the movie-making process and of the manipulation and use of cameras is ever more accessible.
As a result, we could say that common understanding of the media of motion pictures has not increased nor diminished, but shifted. As a stable object, cinema has become more mysterious in its digital forms. Yet it has become more knowable as a process, as an experience, and as an embodied action. It is appropriate then, that many of the phenomena discussed by the other authors here revolve around the active participation of the audience. "Interactive Audiences?"
Jenkins suggests that by now, it is safe to assume that audiences are indeed active, and not simply passive recipients of what commercial media dumps on them (Fans, Bloggers and Gamers 135). However, there are still binary assumptions to work out within the understanding of audiences as active. Are the activities of audiences autonomous of the powers of major media productions, or are they primarily coopted? Jenkins argues that neither perspective can sufficiently describe the relationship between audience activity and media. He is interested in the dynamic relationship between audiences and media industries and the “the interactions that occur among media consumers, between media consumers and media texts, and between media consumers and media producers” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 135).
Jenkins identifies a convergence of three trends at work: “1. new tools and technologies that enable consumers to archive, annotate, and recirculate media content; 2. a range of subcultures promote Do-It-Yourself (DIY) media production, a discourse that shapes how consumers have deployed those technologies; and 3. Economic trends favoring the horizontally integrated media conglomerates encourage the flow of images, ideas and narratives across multiple media channels and demand more active modes of spectatorship.” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 135-136). This approach establishes a useful perspective for observing how fan communities and audiences engage with both the tools and the media.
To illustrate some of the ways that fan activities and media industry entities are encountering each other, Jenkins draws from examples like the case of Babylon 5 producer J. Michael Straczinski who “actively courted the science fiction fan community long before his proposed series was approved for production” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 145). However, he is careful to note that the these kinds of relationships are not always “simply coopting grassroots activities back into the commodity culture. Successful media producers are becoming more adept at monitoring and serving audience interests” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 148). On the other hand, Jenkins also discusses examples of media companies spooked by audience activities and responding with lawsuits when they feel that they are loosing control of their material. There are relationships of power and resistance present in this environment to be sure, but it is more complex than a straightforward either-or divide.
Jenkins, in addition to the relationship between fan communities and commercial media producers, discusses the relationships within fan activities. He borrows from Pierre Levy to describe the way meaning and knowledge are negotiated between fans, and between fans and media texts. Distinct from organic groups like families, and organized groups like corporations, self-organized groups such as web-based virtual communities are increasingly the sites of “collective discussion, negotiation, and development” of shared and collective knowledge (Levy 217). They are where knowledge, and interpretations of media texts are collectively digested. “Online fan communities might well be some of the most fully realized versions of Levy’s cosmopedia, expansive self-organizing groups focused around the collective production, debate, and circulation of meanings, interpretations, and fantasies in response to various artefacts of contemporary popular culture.” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 137). This kind of collective processing of ideas is, in part, so powerful because, as Jenkins writes, “it frees individual members from the limitations of their memory and enables the group to act upon a broader range of expertise” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 139).
In this article, Jenkins begins to discuss the new forms of digital production that fans were exploring at the time of writing. For example, Photoshop collages, and fan-made music videos put together with home videocassette recorders were becoming more and more popular (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 143-144). Though personal computing power and home internet connections at the time were still too limited for widespread manipulation of digital video, Jenkins was describing the seeds of the kind of behaviour important for this project.
Finally, Jenkins shows how the ways that fans negotiate their interpretations also colours the character of their relationship with filmmakers and media the industry. He contrasts fandom. to another form of DIY media interaction: culture jamming. While fandom can encompass a range of stances towards media texts from highly critical to warmly approving, it is always stemming from a drive to participate with media and popular culture. Culture jamming, on the other hand, “[wants] to opt out of media consumption and promote a purely negative and reactive conception of popular culture” (Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers 150). In this essay, Jenkins gives an overview of the peculiar and complicated relationship between Star Wars fans and Lucasfilm over the years, with particular interest to the creative fan activities of fan fiction and amateur filmmaking. Regarding the difficulties of this relationship, he notes, “In that history, there have been some periods when the company was highly tolerant and others when it was pretty aggressive about trying to close off all or some forms of fan fiction” (Convergence Culture 154).
Fan writing and filmmaking have a long history predating their web presence. However, the ability to connect with other fans online did have some profound effects within these communities. “The web provides a powerful new distribution channel for amateur cultural production. Amateurs have been making home movies for decades; these movies are going public” (Convergence Culture 135). Jenkins places this shift in fan activities in parallel with broader cultural shifts. As opposed to the twentieth century, where folk culture was largely behind closed doors and ignored by commercial culture, “the story of American arts in the twenty-first century might be told in terms of the public reemergence of grassroots creativity as every-day people take advantage of new technologies that enable them to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content” (Convergence Culture 140). This move into public view forces the previously underground activities of fan/folk cultural production and the interests of commercial media production to face each other on new and unfamiliar terms. As a result, media companies like Lucasfilm tend to have the inconsistent and unstable responses like those described earlier. In “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” Jenkins predominantly looked at the changing relationship between a fan community and the company controlling their texts of inspiration. However, in this essay, he looks a little closer at what the act of writing means for the fans themselves in addition to their relationship with a corporate entity. He is starting the process of navigating the different expectations of what participation means to different interested parties.
In the specific examples from Harry Potter fandom that Jenkins uses in this essay, “writing” does indeed refer to the act of composing texts of printed words. However, In the broad trends and relationships that he is discussing, Jenkins uses “writing” to describe the act of creation in all media. Likewise, he discusses how cultural “literacy” is at stake in the same way (Convergence Culture 176).
Jenkins discusses the ways that this kind of cultural writing can be meaningful for those to participate in it. On one level, it is a valuable way of practicing literacy. “More and more literacy experts are recognizing that enacting, reciting and appropriating elements from preexisting stories is a valuable and organic part of the process by which children develop cultural literacy” (Convergence Culture 186). Moreover, for children, it provides access to an alternative arena for growing literacy outside of classroom structures (Convergence Culture 187). Writing within a fan community and sharing your writing online with others in a decentralized forum simultaneously sets it apart from classroom hierarchies, and creates the environment where fans can work out varying interpretations and analyses of textual material. Jenkins describes, for example, a process of “beta reading” in a Harry Potter online fan community, where contributors can get feedback from their peers and from more seasoned writers on ongoing works (Convergence Culture 188). The communal digestion of source material interpretations can be seen in the categorization schemes these communities create for their fan fiction. For example, on one Harry Potter fan website they have genres like “alternative points of view” and “missing moments” (Convergence Culture 190).
Jenkins spends the rest of the essay addressing the conflict between Harry Potter fandom and groups that wish to censor such texts on religious grounds. Out of this discussion arises an interesting example of how a fan engagement with a cultural text can be a critical engagement, and not blindly adulatory. “Rather than ban content that does not fully fit within their worldview, the discernment movement teaches Christian children and parents how to read those books critically, how to ascribe new meanings to them, and how to use them as points of entry into alternative spiritual perspectives" (Convergence Culture 214). Of course, a critical engagement does not necessarily have to be from a perspective opposed to the assumed stance of the text. Rather, these kinds of examples show how any fan engagement with a film or a book, whether it is celebratory or sceptical can be critical and analytical. Through these essays, Jenkins addresses a number of related issues. By exploring the popular theorizing of fan communities, he continues to dismantle the assumed barriers between academic and fan perspectives. Furthermore, his discussion of the intersections of participatory culture and new media technologies helps to paint the picture of how audiences are utilizing these technologies to extend their interaction with both cultural texts and each other. "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars" “Why Heather Can Write” Crowdsourced remakes are a type of online video project. They allow their users to reinterpret and remake an existing film collectively. There are two prominent examples of this genre at the moment, "Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake," created by Perry Bard and "Star Wars: Uncut," created by Casey Pugh.
In each of these examples, the organizers of the remakes make the original films available online, but broken up into short clips. Participants are invited to select any of the clips and remake it any way that they wish. They can then upload their remake to the corresponding original. As hundreds of participants all contribute their remade clips, an entirely new film starts to emerge.
The resulting film is a work created in part by the original filmmakers who inspired the remake, the project organizers who put together the structure of the website, and the community of participants who uploaded clips.
The remakes also allow for more than one kind of viewing. The completed remakes may be viewed in their entirety as a completed work. Or, you can navigate through the clips on your own, editing your own viewing experience. In each of the remakes, their websites provide some form cataloguing system for browsing the clips, in addition to being able to select them based on chronology.
Taken as a whole, the remake projects are incredibly layered texts. The original film, the framework of the project, the individual uploaded clips, the uploaded clips as a collection, are all coexisting, informing each other, and being juxtaposed against each other.
For being two unrelated projects, these two remakes have strikingly similar qualities. Yet there are also some subtle differences with very interesting implications. The quotiation that the participants of these remakes are performing is exactly the kind that Lessig is discussing in Remix. This practice of taking an existing cultural token, and reinterpreting it through the act of creation is what Sousa was referring to when he said he fondly recalled “young people together signing the songs of the day or the old songs” (qtd. in Lessig 24). This is the 21st century version of that traditional behaviour, where the “songs of the day or the old songs” are films, and “people together singing” is collectively recreating those films. One could even say hat Man With a Movie Camera is an “old song” and Star Wars is a “song of the day”
We can also see within these remakes the power of a RW approach to culture. On one level, Man With a Movie Camera and Star Wars have historically been RO tokens of culture. Their status as films meant that only those with access to the necessary capital for filmmaking could really re-write them. Yet, on another level, we can see how these films have always had RW qualities, and how these remakes tapped into those RW roots and carried them to a new level. In the case of Man With a Movie Camera, Vertov’s own dream of “[enlisting] the Soviet youth organization, the Komsomol, as scouts for armies of Kinoks would make, edit, distribute and exhibit film in a continuous stream” bears traces of a RW approach to filmmaking (Feldman). Star Wars, of course, has a long history of fans taking a RW approach to the film. Since its first release, its fans have been making costumes, stories, and amateur films.
These histories of RW engagement, and the way that digital technologies have allowed that engagement to blossom in the form of the crowdsourced remakes are a very clear illustration of the media environment Lessig is describing. It is the social value that comes with these practices that Lessig says is at stake in the debate over copyright.
In addition to the social good of gaining media literacy through practice, Lessig also describes how one learns a kind of civic responsibility through creating something that enters the world for others to see (Lessig 86). Though it is impossible to objectively measure someone’s level of responsibility, let alone those who have participated in these projects, we can at least take note of how these remakes reflect Lessig’s description of healthy cultural practices. In each of these remakes, participants are asked to submit something that they’ve created to the discussion. The Star Wars remake is an interesting example of the legal situation that Lessig discusses in Remix. While the original Man With a Movie Camera is in the public domain, Star Wars is still owned by Lucasfilm, and would seem a likely hotspot of copyright disputes.
Of course, the remake hasn’t been challenged or taken down on behalf of Lucasfilm. It is still going strong. Indeed, Lucasfilm’s treatment of Star Wars: Uncut provides some hope that areas of the film industry are warming towards this kind of audience interaction. Then again, Lucasfilm has a history of swinging back and forth between extremely accommodating and extremely restrictive of its fans' activities (Jenkins 154).
Furthermore, we can still see signs of tension in Lucasfilm’s response to Star Wars: Uncut. Pugh mentioned at a talk at SXSW that Lucasfilm was “in love” with the project. Yet he also described some of their concerns. Lucasfilm is worried about the appearance of other corporate logos that appear in any of the remade clips. “That was their main concern if we actually started distributing it” (qtd. in Terdiman). They also do not want to remake to become a commercial product, or to make any money off of it, for fear of being seen to abuse the work done by the fans (Terdiman).
Lucasfilm’s position may be admirable, but it is also indicative of the lingering tensions and anxiety over copyright repercussions, not to mention being a rare outlier in media-corporation-fan relationships. The degree to which these remakes illustrate Rombes’s ideas of chance based research and random, fortuitous juxtapositions extends beyond their composition of hundreds of short clips. The combinations are also unpredictable. They are outside of any one agent’s control in that anyone can upload a clip, and nobody has total control over what the others upload. The opportunity to navigate outside of the original chronology of the film increases the opportunities for novel combinations of images.
In the Man With a Movie Camera remake, this unpredictability is increased by the randomization process, where a new edit is generated every day. As Feldman points out, "What we are watching then is the 1929 work, already a masterpiece of dialectical montage, in juxtaposition to a continuous stream of images responding to it" (Feldman). The projects are like machines finely tuned specifically for creating and finding new and meaningful collisions between images
Of course, the juxtaposition of images will never be totally random or chaotic. They are chance encounters between images from a finite set of possibilities. The clips were all wilfully submitted. They were chosen and selected, not by a single curator, but at the very least by the person who uploaded them. Furthermore, the clips are organized according to their corresponding portion of the original film.
The remakes cultivate a semi-random mix of juxtapositions through the various mechanisms of their creation and viewing. But it is not so random or chaotic, that a viewer will become bored and lost in the sea of uninspiring and truly random juxtapositions.
With this in mind, the crowdsourced remakes share a structure similar to the liquid network that Johnson describes. It is as though the remakes have reached through time and media, and taken Rombes’s ideas of secret correspondences and the theory of convergence, but heeded Johnson’s advice of a balance between chaos and order.
Of course, Rombes wasn’t advocating for complete chaos either, it is just that Johnson articulated the balance for these kinds of networks better. Note that in Rombes’s “iPod experiment” his “random” music was randomly selected from a discrete batch of songs: those chosen and stored on his son’s iPod. The juxtapositions between the film and the music are not drawing from all of recorded sound, but from a set of music selected by someone close to the author. There is a balance between randomness and order.
Rombes’s iPod experience and these crowdsourced remakes both successfully illustrate how Johnson’s model of a fluid network can operate as a form of media engagement, even though he was primarily discussing social environments that lead to innovation in technology.
Through the remake’s ability to illustrate and connect both Rombes’s and Johnson’s ideas here, we can also more clearly see the relationship between the two authors’ work. Both of the original films have a long history of inspiring creative production. Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera has been a favourite of cinema and media studies scholarship for years. As Feldman has pointed out, Vertov and his film seem to resist remaining “historical” because of how relevant they continue to be for cinema scholarship (Feldman).
Likewise, Star Wars not only launched a commercial franchise of films, television shows, and merchandise. It has also been extremely generative for amateur cultural production. Star Wars fans are famous for their home movies, their costumes and props, and their fan fictions.
Furthermore, the cultural production inspired by these films has always been crowdsourced, in a sense. Though not crowdsourced in the web-based meaning of the word, the writing done on behalf of these films has always drawn on and fed into wide communities. Whether it is the ongoing dialogue of scholarly writing and interpretation, or the communities of fans that share stories and met at science fiction conventions, this cultural activity is “sourced” from a “crowd.”
Looking back on these films’ history, it seems almost absurdly appropriate that they would be the ones to receive the crowdsourced remake treatment. Of course it is these monoliths of cultural inspiration that should be re-interpreted and digested collectively, and through active creation.
That said, we can see some of the interesting differences that I mentioned earlier emerging. The two histories of cultural production described above seem to fall directly into the categories “Academic” and “fan” as discussed by Jenkins. It is difficult to describe the history of Vertov’s film without using words like “academic,” “scholarship,” or “studies.” Similarly, a discussion of Star Wars interpretation will be drawn to the word “fan.”
These two projects seem to simultaneously support and frustrate Jenkins’ effort to break down the barriers between academic and fan categorizations. The fact that they both can thrive in the same kind of collaborative and creative environment of the remakes implies that the barriers between academia and fandom are indeed not that great. It doesn’t matter that one is associated with universities and the other with science fiction conventions; they can both be successfully digested and remade through the crowdsourced remakes.
Yet the subtle differences between the two remakes also appear to quietly collaborate with these cultural distinctions. To start with a fairly broad element of the remake websites’ designs, the way that the complete films are composed emphasise different qualities of the remakes. In each project, multiple versions of clips can be uploaded. This means that their websites need to have some process for selecting clips for the final or complete version of the film.
In the Man With a Movie Camera remake, an analytical engagement with the text is emphasized. Remade clips are randomly selected from those submitted for any given portion of the original. Every day, a new version of the film is built, as the randomization process repeats. This random churning of the clips maximizes the possibilities for striking or meaningful juxtapositions between images. Meanwhile, Star Wars: Uncut’s mechanism for selecting clips for a final and complete remake emphasises the community involvement in the project. The process is not randomized, but the project organizers do not act as curators by selecting clips either. Instead, participants are allowed and encouraged to rate their favourite clips. The community favourites are then used for the complete version of the remake. The other versions of clips are still accessible to be viewed on their own, but when a viewer watches the remake from start to finish, the highest voted clips will be played.
This divide between the maximization of new juxtapositions and the collective choice of a community favourite is reinforced by the way the clips are presented on screen. In the Man With a Movie Camera remake, the original and the remade clips are presented simultaneously side-by-side. Thus, there are collisions not only across shots, but within shots. The Star Wars remake, on the other hand, displays only the submitted work, and not the original.
These differences are reinforced in the way the websites allow you to navigate the shots on your own. Both websites have a tagging system that allows you to find clips according to their content. Man With a Movie Camera’s tag catalogue is far more extensive, and some of the tagging in Star Wars appears inconsistent. However, the Star Wars remake does allow participants to add new tags to clips.
Furthermore, the clips in the Star Wars remake are navigable according to the participant who uploaded them, something not possible in the Man With a Movie Camera remake. This feature of the Star Wars remake may serve to make the participants more personally invested in the project, since their clips are more directly associated with them. Since this remake utilizes Vimeo to host the remake clips, participants can also leave comments on each other’s clips. This further emphasizes the communal aspect of Star Wars: Uncut, by facilitating discussion amongst the participants.
The differences between the films do not only lie in the way they are viewed and navigated, but also in the way they frame the process of submitting clips. Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake, preserves the original pace of the film, a crucial aspect of Vertov’s work, by dividing the film shot-by-shot. In other words, each uploaded clip corresponds to one shot of the film. This maintains the rapid succession and juxtaposition of images.
In Star Wars: Uncut, the division of clips is not shot-by-shot, but in equal fifteen second segments. In most cases, these segments span multiple shots. As a result, participants are subtly encouraged, but not necessarily required, to experiment with editing. This aspect does not necessarily reinforce a sense of community engagement for the contributors, but rather a more involved and “hands-on” engagement. Finally, the language with which the remakes present themselves also indicates the slightly different sets of assumptions surrounding them. From the introduction for the Man With a Movie Camera remake, “Anyone can upload footage. When the work streams your contribution becomes part of a worldwide montage, in Vertov’s terms the “decoding of life as it is”” (Bard). The introduction encourages participants interpret Vertov, and to consider how the modern world can be translated in images the way he engaged with the 1920s. There is even a brief background of Vertov and his work that mentions how the original film announced itself as “an experiment in the cinematic communication of visible events” (Bard).
The language on the Star Wars: Uncut website strikes a different tone. Casey Pugh, the creator of the project is described as “dedicated to creating new and fun experiences on the web” and “interested in using the internet as a tool for crowd sourcing user content” (Star Wars: Uncut). The introduction continues, “Star Wars was a natural choice to explore the dynamics of community creation on the web.” Finally, in interviews, the team behind the remake has mentioned that their work is more like “community-sourcing” than “crowdsourcing” ("Star Wars Uncut: The Force of Crowd Sourcing")
All of these differences between the original films, the structures of the websites, the self-explanation of the remakes, as well as the communities they are drawing on may collectively explain the differences in the look and feel of the remade films. Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake feels more analytical, while Star Wars:Uncut feels more like a bunch of fans rifflng off of their shared experiences and inside jokes. The Man With a Movie Camera remake’s uploaded footage is exploring the outside world and its representations, while the uploaded Star Wars footage is exploring creative expression and the meaning of a shared mythology.
Seth Feldman’s morphology of shots for the Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake is a good indication of the kinds of approaches that its participants take towards the material. They have juxtaposition, montage, and dialectics in mind. A morphology of Star Wars: Uncut shots would reveal an entirely different set of categorizations. No “chronological juxtaposition” or “expository metaphor” (Feldman). Instead, there would be distinctions between animation versus live action. Between digital animation and stop motion. Between store-bought costumes and home made. Between solo work and group submissions. Some strive for humour or camp. Others are more serious.
In any case, we can see that there are some interesting differences between these otherwise strikingly similarly structured remakes. My intention with the above passage was not to emphasise how dissimilar these two projects are, or to firmly reassert the cultural categories of academia and fandom. Nor do I wish to imply that an analytical engagement and a community engagement are mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary, both approaches to media are enriched by each other. And both approaches thrive in both of these remakes. Instead, I wanted to show how the subtle differences in the projects lead them to explore different ideals of progressive approaches to media, ideals that are both facing great opportunities and resistance in the changing media environment of today.
In all of the texts I am discussing in this project, these are the kinds of approaches to media that are at stake in the emerging digital/cinema environment. Close, theorizing, analytical, critical audiences and audience communities who collectively interpret, discuss, and create media are on the minds of almost all who attempt to describe what is happening with cinema and other media in the digital environment.
Both of these kinds of media engagement play a big role in each of these crowdsourced remakes, but each of the remakes is taking a slightly closer look at one of them. To borrow a metaphor from Stuart Kauffman via Steven Johnson, each of these projects is exploring different paths into the adjacent possible of progressive media engagement. Johnson provides an elegant meta-metaphor for the adjacent possible, describing it,
“as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Those four rooms are the adjacent possible. But once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point” (Johnson 31).
These two films have arrived together in the wing of that house called, “collaborative remakes,” and are now each opening doors that lead a little deeper into either analytical engagement or community engagement. Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake & Star Wars: Uncut Why not just use YouTube? These two crowdsourced remakes have a balance of simple understandability and complex and far reaching implications. The makes them uniquely well suited for illustrating the ideas being discussed in this project.
While I am confident that within the vastness of YouTube a multitude of illustrative examples exists, that very vastness makes it an ungainly and less effective tool for explanation. YouTube would be too conceptually "big" to hold up and turn around in your mind. It is too sprawling to trace all of its inner relationships.
These two remakes, on the other hand, are more concise, yet do not sacrifice their applicability to complex issues. Lessig & the Remakes Many of Rombes’s most central concepts can be observed at work in these collaborative remakes.
For one thing, both crowdsourced remakes reflect Rombes’s guiding principle of chance-based research. Just as he atomized his book into brief passages to increase the odds of fruitful collisions, the remakes have atomized the films into clips. He described chance-based research, and these films are like chance-based cinema. The structure of the remakes make it easier to stumble upon juxtapositions that reveal some new and unintended insight, or as he would call them, “secret correspondences.”
That these remakes allow both participants and viewers to experiment with different ways of interpreting and analyzing the films is a good illustration of “self-theorizing media.” I still maintain that it is not solely that the media texts contain their own theorization within themselves, but also that media today is more accessible for audience theorization as well. That said, the way the two projects present themselves on their websites as forums for analytical engagement and community engagement does indicate that the remakes themselves are self-theorizing as well.
One of the characteristics of self-theorizing media that Rombes discusses is the prominence of the interface in our encounters with cinema. Of course, this holds true with the crowdsourced remakes. The attraction of these remakes lies as much in their innovative interfaces as much as the content of their remade clips. Though the remakes can be screened in a traditional theatre, their primary mode of engagement is through the web-based interface of their websites.
Finally, we can also witness the dual logic of perfection and mistakism at play in these remakes. The projects could not exist without digital technology’s ability for perfect duplication, and high-speed transmission. Their structures convey a sense of precision in their fine-grained dissection of the original films. At the same time, the remakes are also indelibly human. Many clips, especially in the Star Wars remake, celebrate and revel in their human messiness. Other times, the clips have an aura of sentimentality, since their brief duration makes them seem fleeting and frail. A number of characteristics emphasise the personal intimacy of the clips, from the individual usernames associated with them to the sheer diversity of filmmaking styles. In the case of Star Wars: Uncut, this dual logic is even more apparent. Since the official Star Wars franchise is at the forefront of slick, perfectionist, digital special effects, the decidedly raw and mistakist look of the crowdsourced remade clips appears like a reassertion of their aesthetic in response.
So many of Rombes’ ideas are embodied so neatly in these remakes, it is difficult to avoid sounding enumerative when attempting to describe them all. It is almost as though his book is about the remakes, despite never mentioning them. That is, I suppose, a secret correspondence between the three. Rombes & The Remakes Johnson and the remakes;
YouTube My own efforts in organizing this project were informed by this relationship between Rombes' and Johnson's ideas. 1) THe Adjacent Possible 2) Liquid Networks 3) The Slow Hunch 4 & 5) Serendipity & Error 6) Exaptation 7) Platforms 2) Liquid Networks 1) THe Adjacent Possible 4 & 5) Serendipity & Error 6) Exaptation 7) Platforms 3) The Slow Hunch There are a number of ways that these crowdsourced remakes can successfully illustrate Johnson’s ideas. Indeed, all seven of his key concepts are applicable in some way. The remakes are networks of media that provide a balance of fluidity and stability that allows for new and interesting combinations of images to be found. The creative force of their submissions and the interesting juxtapositions between those submissions thrive on the serendipity of chance encounters. Even when the submissions or combinations do not work as they were intended, they may inspire new understandings of the films, or a new approach of a submitter. They make use of the “spare parts” of their current cultural context in novel ways, pushing at the boundaries of the adjacent possible. The projects thrive on technologies, and characteristics of the cultural context that were never intended for this particular use. The projects take advantage of existing platforms like the web and Flash. They also act as platforms for their participant’s creativity, and viewer’s experimentation with cinema navigation. They materialize long-gestating ideas of distributed media production. Johnson's Description of YouTube and the Adjacent Possible Probing the boundaries of the adjacent possible requires utilizing what is available in your given context. For example, Johnson describes the case of top-of-the-line baby incubators not working well in the context of developing countries. Those areas do not have the resources to maintain them. The spare parts are not available. So, some people designed a baby incubator made entirely of old car parts, and it has been a big success, since even very poor and remote communities are able to maintain automobiles in today’s context (Johnson 27-28).
Johnson is emphasising that not only must one utilize what is available in the given context to develop good ideas, but also that good ideas can only succeed when there is a context that can accept and support them. Charles Babbage’s analytical engine may have been a brilliant design, but the context of the 19th century did not have the “spare parts”, both physical and conceptual, to support it (Johnson 40).
He goes on to describe how the great idea of YouTube would not have worked ten years earlier. Even if someone had conceived of the idea, the slow speed of most internet connections would have prohibited its use. Furthermore, the creators would not have had access to the platform of Flash software, and would have had to encode the whole process themselves – a daunting and costly task for three engineers (Johnson 39). This illustration of the adjacent possible with YouTube is very good. It clarifies the concept as well as indicating interesting qualities of YouTube and it’s relationship to its context. However, there is more we can learn from this illustration.
Johnson uses YouTube as “the good idea” at the end of the equation. The right circumstances lead to the success of the idea. But YouTube, and other video hosting sites like Vimeo for that matter, are also very useful platforms themselves. They provide structures for other people to utilize in their own explorations of the adjacent possible.
In the case of Star Wars: Uncut, which uses Vimeo, we have a very clear example of what Johnson calls “stacked platforms” (Johnson 189). Star Wars: Uncut is a platform for its participants and viewers who experiment and explore interpretations of the original film. But it is also based on another platform, Vimeo, which was uses other platforms, like the web, Flash, and Java, which all use another platform the internet, and so on. None of the platforms deliberately facilitated the ones above them. Yet they are all successfully exapted, and put to use building spaces for further innovation. For each level of innovation, the platforms they used are amongst the cultural and technological “spare parts” of their context that allow them to explore the adjacent possible.
There are two other platforms that the crowdsourced remakes use from their supply of “spare parts.” The original films themselves have become exapted platforms in the hands of the remakes. They each repurpose the original films for new forms of creative expression. These projects are a good illustration, not just of Johnson’s concepts, but of the ways his concepts can play out across context of technology and of art within the same setting. Johnson’s discussion of YouTube and the adjacent possible, and my extension of that discussion, use the concept of the adjacent possible to say something about the nature of good ideas. We were looking at how a good idea, no matter how good, can never leapfrog the adjacent possible. Without the necessary context to receive it, it cannot take hold. Similarly, we were looking at the way very good ideas find ways of taking advantage of their current context by repurposing what is available.
However, what if we turned our perspective around and reverse engineered Johnson’s concept? Rather than observing known elements of the current context to make a statement about the nature of a good idea, we could also look at an idea to learn something about the context that it resides in. More specifically, what can we learn about our current cultural context by the existence and success of these crowdsourced remakes?
At the risk of sounding too clichéd, the crowdsourced remakes may be used as a litmus test for a number of cultural and technological characteristics that are necessary for their success. There are the more obvious requirements discussed already, such as the internet connection speeds sufficient for video streaming and uploading. There are also other, less immediately obvious technological conditions required for these remakes. For example, digital cameras need to be ubiquitous enough for a substantial portion of the population to own them.
Perhaps even less obvious, but more interesting, are the cultural characteristics required for these remakes to work. Along with the two technologies mentioned above, these projects require those technologies to be in familiar and everyday use. It doesn’t matter if high-speed internet and cheap digital cameras are available, if nobody knows or cares how to use them. How to read this project After the introduction area, follow the large arrows leading to the larger nodes that introduce the works of Rombes, Jenkins, Lessig, Johnson, Feldman, and the crowdsourced remakes.
From there, feel free to explore the nodes discussing the relationships between the authors' work and the remakes.
After following the arrows and exploring the secondary discussions, make your way towards the conclusions in the lower right hand corner of the essay When millions of people have motion picture cameras in their phones, and make and distribute lots of little video clips, the distinctions between the categories of “filmmaker” and “not a filmmaker” are blurring. True, the vast majority of the little video clips are inconsequential, but that is kind of the point. Time will tell if we, collectively as a culture, can achieve widespread media literacy and critical engagement through the practice of widespread inconsequential movie making. Crowdsourced Remakes: Threat or Menace?
How I learned to stop worrying and LOve the changing norms of audience-media engagement. Johnson & Feldman
The slow hunch of Popular filmmaking An ideal of popular filmmaking, not at all dissimilar to the kind that contributes to these remakes, has been developing for decades. It is slow hunch. Not in any single person’s mind, necessarily, but bouncing around in the collective cultural back-of-the mind. At various points in history, some filmmakers have aspired to have a society where access to filmmaking is democratic.
Seth Feldman presents a very particular articulation of this ideal from the 1920s by way of Vertov. “He proposed to enlist the Soviet youth organization, the Komsomol, as scouts for armies of Kinoks who would make, edit, distribute and exhibit film in a continuous stream” (Feldman)
Decades later, Cuban filmmaker and theorist, Julio Garcia Espinosa voiced a different, but similar desire for broadly distributed cinematic production. He asked, “what happens… if economic and social development reduce the hours in the work day, if the evolution of film technology (there are already signs in evidence) makes it possible that this technology ceases being the privilege of a small few?” (Espinosa). He hoped for a time when the opportunity for anyone to make art, including cinema, is not strange, but commonplace. He refers to an older prediction of Marx’s, “in the future there will no longer be painters, a [sic] rather men who, among other things, dedicate themselves to painting” (Espinosa). He continues, “The task currently at hand is to find out if the conditions which will enable spectators to transform themselves into agents — not merely more active spectators, but genuine co-authors — are beginning to exist. The task at hand is to ask ourselves whether art is really an activity restricted to specialists, whether it is, through extra-human design, the option of a chosen few or a possibility for everyone” (Espinosa).
However, like the slow hunches described by Johnson, there has always been a piece missing. It was not yet a complete idea. An environment suited to sustain it and accept it was not yet in existence.
For one thing, there were technological hurdles to overcome. Espinosa had high hopes for video technology to open up cinematic production to a mass population, but that was still not quite enough. Equipment such as the Sony Porta Pak, at over a thousand dollars, was still out of reach for many amateur filmmakers.
Moreover, not many people even considered amateur filmmaking as something they might like to do. Vertov, as Feldman demonstrates, wanted more than just cinema made by a wide population. “In proposing a cinema “made by all” he necessarily abandons the challenge to the frame by abandoning the frame. He is not making strange so much as finding it and in so doing asserting that it is not so strange at all” (Feldman). Even if the technology existed in the 1920s, or even the 1960s when Espinosa was writing, the idea of casually making amateur cinema would still have been strange. The cultural perception of the practice was not receptive. Finally, there was still no reliable way for ideas and films to be exchanged easily, in many-to-many communication; something necessary for this kind of democratic media production to work. Video technology may have lowered the economic threshold for making cinema, but sharing that cinema with anyone beyond a small circle of acquaintances was still virtually impossible.
Thus, the slow hunch of popular filmmaking continued to gestate. Now that it is becoming possible, it is entirely by accident. The technologies that have facilitated and accelerated this kind of cultural activity, such as the internet and cheap digital cameras embedded in cell phones, did not intentionally contribute to the project of democratic cinematic production.
Despite all that, the crowdsourced remakes are here and are successful. What’s more, we are approaching the moment where this remarkable phenomenon ceases to be remarkable. The shared idea of Vertov and Espinosa, where everyone will be able to make cinema, and that this ability will be ordinary and not strange is visible in these projects. As Feldman points out, “the parallel between what Bard is doing and what Vertov envisioned in his Kinoglaz writings—a nation of collective filmmakers and film viewers—reaches across the modernist/postmodernist divide. Vertov’s cinema works by eradicating the categories upon which modernism depends—conventional vision vs. an attack on those conventions; creator/spectator; ultimately humans and machines” (Feldman). The spectators of these projects are also its creators. Even those who do not upload any clips create their own edit of the material in the way that they navigate the website.
Gradually, over many decades, as the necessary technologies and complimentary ideas accumulated, the slow hunch of popularly produced cinema has eased closer to reality. At the same time, the notion of such wide spread production has become less radical and more commonplace. Garcia Espinosa indicates that this quote comes from Marx. However, a reference is not given. Rombes’s identification of the desire for raw and mistakist cinema resonates strongly with Julio Garcia Espinosa’s “For an Imperfect Cinema.” There, Espinosa argued in favour of an approach to filmmaking that was rough and gritty as well. And like Rombes, the cinema he was describing was a response to over-polished perfection. The difference is that Espinosa was responding to the sleek professionalism of mainstream cinema, while the cinema that Rombes is describing is a response to the perfectionism of digital technology.
Espinosa wrote, “It can be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle. Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in predetermined taste, and much les in ‘good taste’” (Espinosa).
Furthermore, Espinosa imagined imperfect cinema being made by anyone. Cinema and art would not be endeavours reserved for filmmakers and artists, and they would need no justification beyond the human desire to express. “Why does he [the artist] feel the need to have critics (mediators) to justify him, to defend him, to interpret him?” Espinosa asks. This too bears a resemblance to an element of Rombes’s work: self-theorizing media. While it is not a perfect fit, since Espinosa would argue that art needs no theorizing at all, they share the understanding that theorists and critics do not have a monopoly on artistic justification and interpretation.
As described above, we can see how these projects are simultaneously fulfilling both Rombes’s and Espinosa’s ideas. Their delight in mistakist or imperfect filmmaking can be seen as a response to both the perfection of digital effects and of professional and commercial film. The contributors and visitors of the remakes are also taking the artistic rationalizations and interpretations into their own hands, regardless any tastemakers and gatekeepers. No, the irony of describing the lack of a need for outside theorists is not lost on the author. This dream, and the way it can be witnessed within the crowdsourced remakes resembles aspects of Lessig’s analysis of RO and RW cultures.
Vertov’s and Espinosa’s ideal of a culture where more than just the elite participate in filmmaking could very easily be described as RW. Likewise, the systems of centralized moviemaking that they were responding to are a kind of RO culture.
That the collaborative remakes take these RO films*, and open them up to a RW engagement further demonstrates the fluidity of their distinction. They show how Vertov’s and Espinosa’s hypothesized cultures can adapt to existing structures, as RW culture can engage with tokens of RO culture.
*Though Vertov’s own ideas looked towards a RW culture, Man With a Movie Camera itself would remain a token of RO culture for most of its audiences, in terms of cinematic rewriting. That said, the long history of scholarly writing that refers to his films indicates a degree of RW culture existing in parallel, if in a different medium. Johnson clarifies that it is not that liquid networks are smarter than those within them. That is not why they are more productively creative than their members would be on their own. Rather, it is that the individuals within a network become smarter when they are interconnected (Johnson 58).
With is in mind, we might say that media that have a liquid network-like structure are not exactly self-theorizing media, but media that facilitates the theorizing of those that participate with them.
By being participants in the network of a crowdsourced remake, we have the opportunity to be keener observers of the interactions between images. We can benefit from the ideas and uploads of others, as the participants exist in a network. We can also benefit from the way the media content itself is networked in these crowdsourced remakes. Their structures encourage us to try out different combinations of images.
The more network-like it becomes, the more modern media allows their consumers and participants to exercise a more analytical mode of consumption. It may not be self-theorizing media, but media encouraging and receptive of audience theorizing. indeed, one of my own submissions to the Man With a Movie Camera remake was inspired by my association with another network, Star Wars: Uncut. I noticed that the Star Wars remake explored animation and illustration much more than the Vertov remake. So I decided to illustrate a shot from Man With a Movie Camera as though it was a comic book frame. By being connected to peers from different backgrounds across networks, I was able to explore a creative impulse I might not have found on my own. http://dziga.perrybard.net/contributions/show/2653 Jenkins & Lessig
Active audiences & RO/RW Jenkins, in describing the activities of fan communities mentions the academic discussion throughout the 1980s and 1990s that established that audiences were indeed active viewers and not entirely passive (“Interactive Audiences” 135). Shifting to Lessig’s vocabulary, we could use this to demonstrate that RO culture in the 20th century never had total dominance. On some small level, even if only in the audience’s mind, a RW culture persisted. But the open expression of that culture, and especially the sharing of those expressions had been suppressed and forced underground until more recently.
Perhaps another way of putting it is that audiences had long been harbouring the ability and even desire to engage with RO cultural tokens like television shows and movies in a RW way. But the dual restrictions of technological limitations and legal constraints that Lessig discussed curbed their ability to “write” in the original medium. In other words, active audiences could discuss their interpretations through printed and spoken word, but only locally, and not through the medium of moving pictures themselves.
As those technical restrictions have been erased, fan communities have been able to take advantage of the situation and reclaim old tokens of RO culture through RW. Gradually, these practices pass from the most active fan communities into wider circles of participation. In Star Wars: Uncut, for example, we can see some participants who are very practiced in “writing” in the medium of Star Wars fan films, and others who are novices trying out a new form of RW engagement. A Foil for Comparison Around the same time that I began this project, another crowdsourced film began production, Life in a Day (2011). It is not a remake, but an original documentary about human life all over the globe on the date of July 24, 2011. As with the crowdsourced remakes, the organizers of the film invited anyone from around the world to upload their own footage via YouTube.
Beyond that, the similarities begin to break down. While participants of the crowdsourced remakes can edit their own experience of the films by navigating the clips on the websites, Life in a Day was edited by a single professional team.
After an initial streaming on YouTube to coincide with its premiere, it is only available in one-off screenings in theatres in various cities (Howell, “Lifeinaday's Channel”). Unlike the crowdsourced remakes, the film is not available online.
As charming as the film may be, this seems like a cruel paradox. It is a film built on the ability of audience-filmmakers the world over share and collaborate online, but it is controlled in a traditional, centralized, and RO way. There is a single definitive text, created by a single editor for the audience to receive. Despite being made on a model of abundance, it is released on a model of scarcity.
This example, through contrast, helps draw attention to some of the more remarkable features of these two crowdsourced remakes. In them, the audience is invited to contribute footage and to freely structure and edit their own experience of the film. Feldman, Johnson & Rombes
Plafroms & Self-theorizing media Seth Feldman’s “On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Constructivist: Perry Bard’s The Man With the Movie Camera: The Global Remake” provides a perspective that can connect Dziga Vertov, via these projects, to more recent observations by other contemporary scholars. This simultaneously shows that these are not merely new and shallow ideas, and why Vertov seems to resist being pegged as historical and old. For as Feldman puts it, “Dziga Vertov has always had trouble remaining an historical figure. Having died in 1954, he became a participant in: Soviet cultural politics of the Khrushchev era; the founding of cinéma vérité; the American experimental cinema; Godard’s Groupe Dziga Vertov; and, more recently, Lev Manovich’s illustration of the language of new media” (Feldman).
Feldman’s central thesis, “that Vertov’s writing and The Man With the Movie Camera in particular are less historical texts than they are generative forces or perhaps, more accurately, generative grammars for the pure language of cinema that Vertov envisioned” signals the connection between Vertov’s own philosophy of filmmaking and the observations of the other scholars I’m addressing in this project (Feldman). Furthermore, his observation that “Bard’s quotation of The Man With the Movie Camera then is also a quotation of Vertov’s definition of cinema as a plan for making cinema” reinforces the connections between collaborative remakes in addition to Vertov and the other scholars. More specifically, this idea of a “generative grammar” and “cinema as a plan from producing cinema” resonates with Johnson’s description of platforms, and Rombes’s concept of self-theorizing media.
On the one hand, these characteristics that Feldman identifies demonstrate the way that the film text is acting like a platform in the way Johnson uses the term, in that the cinema and its grammar provide a versatile jumping-off-point for further work. In the case of crowdsourced remakes like Bard’s, this is occurring on multiple levels. Dziga Vertov’s own film is a creative platform that others, like Bard and the remake contributors, can build from and respond to. Additionally, the work of Bard and the contributors provide layering and recurring platforms for themselves. Ideas and creativity are fruitfully recycled and repurposed throughout the project. It allows everyone involved to express and discover ideas that they could not on their own. On the other hand, these same characteristics indicate the extent of what Rombes calls self-theorizing media. While I would argue that “self-theorizing” might not be the best label, the idea behind it remains just as relevant. Rombes describes the way digital cinema and television contain within themselves tools for their own analysis and deconstruction more than ever before. Once again, this concept resonates through Feldman’s, Bard’s, and Vertov’s ideas on multiple levels. The collaborative remake is itself a kind of digital cinema that opens up a dialogic relationship with its audience that encourages an analytical approach. Furthermore, the digital structure through which we encounter Vertov’s original film pulls his “generative grammar” into a more accessible reach. In this way, we can see how the digital mediation of old media can generate the phenomena that Rombes calls self-theorizing media. Finally, the fact that audiences of the crowdsourced remake are encouraged to engage with the cinema by contributing to it means that self-theorizing media begets more self-theorizing media; that such media may be best theorized through the practice in its own medium.
Feldman’s work secures these ideas into a deep history. Which, ironically, as he points out, makes it hard for Vertov to feel “historical.” Nevertheless, he shows how these ideas do not only have lateral implications across culture in the present moment, but that they also have a conceptual lineage through Vertov. Furthermore, his work does not only help illuminate the connections between Vertov, collaborative remakes, and the broader context of other scholars. He also helps indicate a connection between Johnson and Rombes that might not otherwise be apparent. There is a relationship between the idea of films as platforms, and self-theorizing media. A film’s predisposition to audience theorizing and amateur analysis is part of what makes that film a platform for further creativity. Likewise, a film that supports a variety of further creativity as a platform will likely be inspire to a number of analytical approaches The Adjacent Posslibe, Reverse Engineered Still, the material existence and use of these technologies are necessary, but not sufficient for these remakes to operate as they have. The cultures and communities that participate in them also need to have an appetite for actively digesting films through their own cinematic production. Furthermore, the act of making and uploading amateur cinema demands a certain level of media literacy. The participation teaches this kind of literacy, but it also requires some of it.
Sites like Vimeo and YouTube also require much of the above cultural conditions. However, beyond the familiarity with uploading videos, these remakes need a portion of the population to understand and desire to do this communally, with a group of strangers.
So far, I have been describing what is needed for the participants who upload videos. Yet only considering those audiences who just stop by to watch without uploading any video, we can still learn something about our current environment. The kind of media literacy required to contribute to these projects is also required just to make sense of them. These remakes would not be intelligible as films to an audience with no understanding of what it means to shoot and share amateur cinema. Similarly, without an appetite for personal and mistakist cinema, it is unlikely that the remakes would be as popular as they are.
Though these are only two cases, it is unlikely that they would have been as successful as they are if these characteristics were not present. Without these literacies, these appetites, and these material conditions, the projects would likely have failed to take off. To return to Johnson’s examples, they would have been the Babbage analytical engine of 21st century cinema.
But these conditions do exist, and these remakes are successful… … Within this changing context, the norms of audience approaches to media are shifting. Both analytical engagement and community engagement are becoming more important parts of the way many audiences relate to media, not just specialized academics and fans. This is not to say that these forms of engagement are suddenly the new mainstream approach. It is hard enough defining what “mainstream” means, let alone proving where it is. Nevertheless, there are changes occurring in the ways that many audiences consume and respond to media.
This has significance across a broad range of scales. Rombes, in his work, shows how these changes are manifested in the digital media itself. Digital cinema is changing. It is opening up to theorization more and more. Different aesthetics are rising in significance.
On a slightly broader scale, we can see how the distinctions between filmmakers and spectators are blurring. Garcia Espinosa described an idealized version of this in 1966, emphasizing the possibility of all citizens creating art rather than just the elite. Feldman shows how this ideal goes back even further, through Vertov in the 1920s. He shows how the first crowdsourced remake, of Man with a Movie Camera, mirrored many of Vertov’s early filmmaking philosophies.
Similar to the breaking down of filmmaker-spectator divisions, Jenkins describes the common ground between academics and fans. As much as the two crowdsourced remakes reinforce these distinctions, they do far more to blur them, and to affirm their common practices. In any case, the theorizations and thorough interpretations that were once the territory of these cultural categories are becoming part of a broader practice.
The crowdsourced remakes, along with all of these scholars are showing how formerly limited and restricted cultural practices are creeping out of their confinements. At the risk of sounding naively utopic, some optimism is warranted. We cannot assume that new technologies will automatically usher in a wonderful, new, and progressive media environment. Nevertheless, we can recognize the potential of those technologies and the cultural shifts that are already underway.
As Jenkins and Lessig have pointed out, these kinds of active and creative media engagement are important for learning media literacy, both as an individual, and as a community. Lessig goes even further, describing the way that these practices help people learn to be more responsible citizens. People who participate actively in cultural production, as in the crowdsourced remakes, have a stake in their own culture by contributing something to it, rather than just purchasing a piece of it. Johnson gives even broader causes for optimism. The social structures that allow for this kind of audience engagement are indicative of healthy creative environments. He shows how historically, when humans, and even the natural world, have found these structures, they have been very successful at exploring new ideas. This may sound teleological, but it is quite the opposite. Rather than progressing towards a single goal, Johnson is describing forces of omni-directional and open-ended exploration. This is a process of increasing complexity, not reductionism.
Finally, the conditions and changes described here, the popular proficiency and appetite for amateur production and theorization are still present, even when they may not appear to be actively engaged,
In other words, the audience that knows how to participate in a crowdsourced remake still knows how, even when they’re just watching a movie in the theatre. This may sound like a blatantly obvious point, but it has important implications.
The cultural and technological changes and the changes in audiences’s approach to media do not only affect those situations where audiences are able to participate actively. Even offline, they are the same audience, with the same skills, tools, and cultural appetites. This means that any agent in the word of cinema, from a filmmaker to a studio executive, to a copyright lawyer, can have no excuse for basing their views on old assumptions of docile audiences.
As Jenkins pointed out, we have long accepted that audiences were never passive (“Interactive Audiences 135). They were actively making their own judgements about media. But for most of the 20th century, audiences were localized and voiceless, regardless of how active they might have been personally. They did not have access to means of sharing their interpretations with anyone outside of their immediate contact. Moreover, they had even less of a chance to communicate through the creative production of the medium of cinema itself.
Now, we can see that assuming any audience will be inactive in that way, even within the confines of a movie theatre, is a mistake.
This is important because, as obvious as it sounds here, it may not be so obvious when standing outside of the discussion of crowdsourced remakes. The participants of these films are fairly obviously occupying the multiple roles of filmmaker, spectator, and theorist. What is not so obvious, but no less true, is that when those same people are spectators sitting in a theatre, they are still filmmakers and theorists. The results of the interaction of cinema and the internet are here to stay. Once stirred, they cannot be un-mixed. The clash, whether amicable or hostile, also has the effect of blurring the distinctions between the two sides, something Jenkins notes here. Just as amateurs can get slicker and more polished looks in their films than ever before, commercial media makers are catching onto the attraction of rougher, fan-like aesthetics. Jenkins notes the two stop motion television series Robot Chicken and Celebrity Death Match as examples (Convergence Culture 152).
Jenkins leaves this essay with an open-ended question about the future relationship between fan productions and the commercial media industry. Within the example of Lucasfilm alone, he notes causes for both concern and hope that media corporations might find a way to accommodate or even respect fan production. One thing Jenkins is certain of though, is that fan cultural production will not go away (Convergence Culture 162 ). More on Chance-Based Research More on Mistakism & Julio Garcia Espinosa Liquid Networks & Self-THeorizing Media Popular Filmmaking & Lessig Lucasfilm and Star Wars Fans Works Cited Bibliography FIlmography Bard, Perry. Man With the Movie Camera. Perry Bard. n.d. Web. September 2010.
Espinosa, Julio Garcia. “For an Imperfect Cinema.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 20 (1979): 24-26. Web. September 2010.
Feldman, Seth. “On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Constructivist: Perry Bard’s The Man With the Movie Camera: The Global Remake.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Medai 52 (2010): n. pag. Web. September 2010.
Howell , Peter. “Howell: Tears Flow During Sundance’s ‘Life in a Day’.” The Star. 25 Jan. 2011. Web. June 2011.
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University, 2006. Print.
---. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University, 2006. Print.
Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010. Print.
Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art ant Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.
Levy, Pierre. Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cambridge: Perseus, 1997. Print.
“Lifeinaday’s Channel” YouTube. n.d. Web. June 2011.
Rombes, Nicholas. Cinema in the Digital Age. London: Wallflower, 2009. Print.
Star Wars: Uncut. n.p. n.d. Web. September 2010.
“Star Wars Uncut: The Force of Crowd Sourcing: SXSW 2011 Interactive.” YouTube. 17 Mar. 2011. Web. July 2011.
Terdiman, Daniel. “Star Wars Uncut Creators Wow SXSW with Crowdsourcing Tales.” cnet. 13 Mar. 2011. Web. July 2011.