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Some thoughts on a crowdsourced movie

A few months ago, I posted a link to the trailer for the documentary The People vs. George Lucas, calling it possibly the world’s first crowdsourced movie. (I have no data to suggest that is either true or untrue, btw.) Now io9 has done a long, interesting interview with the director and three producers of the movie. I think it’s worth a read if you’re in the media business.

To me, the meat of the piece is in this question and response, which I’m going to quote at length:

This documentary really explores the social contract between artist and audience, what did you learn about this contract, what has it become today because of the internet? Has it changed?

This is a difficult question because you can approach this question legally or morally. I’ll approach it from a moral perspective. I think we live in a age where culture is rising. The fans are rising in a powerful way, perhaps also in some dangerous ways. But also in ways that reflect where culture is now. In recent years the fans have been expressing this sense that George these are not just your movies, these are also our movies. They belong to our culture. The fan editing movement as a whole is an embodiment of that. Henry Jenkins talks about Alice In Wonderland and how Lewis Carroll, by [the author] giving it to the people made and allowing them to remix it, allowing people to play in that sandbox, was precisely what made Alice one of the most popular texts around. Even considering the resistance that Lucas Film has had, the fans have remixed made fan films it and continue to play with it. It’s a shared thing. I understand that there is legal ramifications and copyright laws and that is all fair. But when something, like Star Wars transcends, it’s not just a story it’s something that touches most of us in a very profound way. It’s a reflection of culture, of our own selves. Therefore I believe that culture is entitled to it. I feel very strongly about this, that the fans are entitled to a restored, pristine trilogy the way we saw it.

(Italics are mine)

I think one of the reasons why people feel so strongly about Star Wars is that it’s participatory. You can make all the snarky comments you want about consumerism, but in my generation, getting Star Wars toys and recreating the events of the movies (or, more importantly, creating our own) creates a powerful sense of ownership. You are using the characters of his narrative to create meta-stories out of what’s given to you on screen, and you’re essentially starting the remixing process on a small scale. Not that kids realize they’re doing that, of course, but it creates a sense of connection to the characters and their character.

To make an analogy which I’ll freely admit might be strained, Lucas’ treatment of the people who remix his movies or clamor passionately for the original edit reminds me a lot of how media traditionalists look at commenters, citizen journalists, bloggers, and the like. Instead of viewing them as people who want to participate in the creative process, he’s basically saying ALL YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN. Obviously, he’s got money involved in Star Wars, but it’s not like he’s going begging here.

Similarly, publishers seem not to realize that the people posting comments or linking to their work are folks who have a stake in the news (even in an unofficial way) and who are giving you a very valuable resource: attention. You can lock the doors, or you can invite them to participate … and if you invite them in, strange and unexpected things can happen.

There’s probably more to be said, but spring break looms. Check out the io9 article and also the trailer below. Looking forward to seeing this when it’s in wider release!

Posted in New media.

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