With the 21st Raindance Film Festival in full swing, people have been asking me what our new addition to the festival - WebFest - is all about. For the uninitiated, this year we've decided to celebrate the online work of independent filmmakers with a micro-festival of web series - a first of its kind in the UK.
So why are we doing it? The answer is simple: online media is changing how the film industry works at a really basic level. The internet is breaking down the barriers between independent filmmakers and their potential audiences, just like it's doing for censored dissidents, whistleblowers and unsigned musicians.
With web series going mainstream and hype around Netflix's successes at a high, the timing of Raindance's WebFest this year couldn't be better for new filmmakers trying to break into the online industry.
We're all about backing what's good and what's original, while helping filmmakers go as big as they want, without selling out on their independence. That's why web series are so important now, and so important to us.
We know that members of the newest generation who take control of their viewing habits have no real memory of life before YouTube. They create and share their own entertainment, as well as playing the role of passive viewers. The implications of this shift for the modern filmmaker are groundbreaking - in a good way.
For these guys - and there are a lot of them - television is no longer the go-to place for daily entertainment. The extent to which this generation's lives are intertwined with the internet means that talk about the 'online world' and the 'real world' is making a distinction which doesn't mean much to them.
People are used to getting their entertainment fix on-demand. They fit their viewing habits around the rest of their lives; they don't want to be glued to the sofa watching TV which doesn't quite hit the mark. They definitely don't want to spend their commute trying to read a broadsheet held an inch from their nose in an overcrowded train. A glance around any tube carriage will tell you that mobile technology has amped up the convenience of, and possibilities for, escapism when it's most needed.
Filmmakers need to to adapt to how audiences actually want to watch film. Web TV isn't just for the small screen; it's for the portable screen. We need to develop our work to provide bitesize content that makes a big impression. That's why we wanted WebFest to offer guidance on how to generate and manage content through a series of events as well as showcase emerging talent.
The creative industries have always been innovative - it goes with the moniker 'creative'. The best in the arts and entertainment subvert what's been done before, and these changes in direction inspire and drive new bursts of innovation.
The challenge for the filmmaker is now to adapt to a form which was born in online communities and is being driven by technology, not just artistic inspiration.
Routes to online filmmaking success have been hacked out by web series entrepreneurs such as Tina Cesa Ward, who wrote and produced Anyone But Me and is holding a Q&A after the screening of her new show, Producing Juliet, as part of the festival. The most established series can rack up more than 250million views. The potential for the internet to create global communities united by some pretty niche interests is being recognised, and exploited, in new ways.
Filmmakers constrained by traditional broadcasters and Hollywood studios will really struggle to make the culturally niche commercially viable in the same way. Commercial viability no longer belongs exclusively to writers who pitch at mass-appeal to a national base of viewers, or judgments handed down by monolithic production companies and broadcast giants. Filmmakers who get online now can take advantage of the wider trend for really targeted content, which has been a goldmine for advertisers and consumer brands over the last couple of decades.
As the tastes of the upcoming generation mature, and everyone else's habits adapt, these routes to online success are more and more open to the artistic, the cerebral and the political; as well as to comedy and sci-fi diehards. The new audiences drawn together by technology create opportunities - and challenges - for anyone who wants to make more than generic mass entertainment.
The art of the web series isn't something that you'll learn in a traditional film school, though. In order to be successful, those beginning an online venture in film must be able to market themselves, and the production, independently - and directly - to their audience. That's what WebFest is offering.
Filmmakers who want to address niche topics and subcultures will find themselves up against competition from web users creating content directly from their own lives and experience which, while maybe amateurish, will have an authenticity you just can't fake. The diversity of the creative community online goes wider and deeper than anything you'll find in the ivory towers of Miramax, Universal, and the BFI.
While this huge range of online contributors means filmmakers who go online might be in for a new kind of fight if they want to be successful, it is also an incredible resource. It makes collaboration possible with members of communities, for example those who identify as LGBT, who have previously been poorly served by traditional media.
Filmmakers who start working online can get involved with talent and concepts that are genuinely fresh, and make something that will mean a lot more to their audience than most blockbusters ever will. Social media, Twitter in particular, has created new dynamics in the relations between actors, directors, producers and audiences. Feedback is now part of the ongoing creative process, rather than an afterthought given in marks out of ten.
The relationship between the online creators and consumers of media has always been much closer than in TV, cinema or print. If filmmakers can tap in to these communities to find audience, inspiration, and creative partnership, the prospects for artistic and commercial success are mind-blowing.
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