Lights, Camera, Open Source!

The Open Cinema Movement is trying to change who, how and when we view movies

I love to find cases where the open source model is influencing other types of businesses. So it is with Open Cinema movement. Using open source fundamentals people are trying to change how films are made, how we view them and the revenue model behind them, according to an article on by Ruth Suehle.

Proving once again that there is more than one way to skin the open source cat there I discovered two companies each using a different model in open source film making: and Stray Cinema.

Open Source Cinema
Stray Cinema is probably the easier one to get your head wrapped around.  Stray Cinema was founded by New Zealander Michelle Hughes. Stray is making raw footage available from film shoots worldwide. Each year raw footage shot from a different location is made available. Anyone is free to take that footage and re-edit and arrange it and make their own film. People can submit their version to be judged. The five finalists will have their versions shown in public at the Stray Cinema screening event. The screening event is held at the city where the footage is shot.

Stray gives away the footage for the same reasons that open source developers and committers contribute back their work on software projects. Here's the explanation in the Stray folks' own words.

We believe that traditionally films are created by a tight network working towards a singular vision, and the footage is only released when its owners can control how it is interpreted. ... We grow by community. A project that brings ten people on one problem will progress far beyond what those ten people could each achieve alone. This realisation gave birth to the open-source paradigm: the idea that our project will grow far beyond our expectations if we allow you to tinker with it freely. ... We wanted to marry film and the open-source ethos. We wish to give everyone the opportunity to have a say over what story is told with this footage. We don't know where this idea will take us, and that's why we're excited about it.

Another open source film project is MoviePals is a bit more ambitious. Clearly there is a power-to-the-people element to its message and they even ask that you sign their manifesto when you enter the site.  Here's a copy:

Open Cinema Manifesto

Digital technology, online distribution, and the power of social media are fueling a revolution in the way we tell stories.  You are a part of this revolution and an active player in deciding what movies, music, and art mean to you, how they're made and who profits. 

Primary Beliefs and Tenets

  1. Collaboration makes things better.
  2. Individuals should be recognized and rewarded for their contributions
  3. Teams of artists can jointly “own” works while still maintaining individual authorship.
  4. Together we can make better movies for less money than any one of us could by ourselves.
  5. Those who do the most work on a project should have the most say in the direction of that project. If votes are used, they should be weighted by participation (called a Meritocracy).
  6. Any revenue earned from artistic creations should be split fairly with its creators.   Most of the revenue should go directly to the people who did most of the work.
  7. Artists should be empowered (not forced) to be as open with their work as they are comfortable. 
  8. Everyone has something to contribute; great movies are rarely the product of sole genius, but collections of talented individuals working together.
  9. We will work with whatever resources we can obtain and are not afraid of failure.  It may take many tries to make something worthwhile. 
  10. Stop wishing, stop the “what ifs”, stop critiquing, and start doing.  When passionate people work together, anything is possible.

The Control

The Control wants to own everything.  They believe quality is maintained by giving power to the elite, to the proven, or to those connected. Every yes decision a big risk. Every green light costs enormous amounts of money.  In this world, every completed project is a rarity.  In the land of film-making, people on the bottom clamor to have a chance to even get in the game. 

To offset the enormous risk and financial burden, the Control reuses the same proven gimmicks until they no longer work. They exploit people as much as possible to increase profits. They tighten down access to the content and leverage each resource to its fullest.  They stifle innovation in favor of status quo profits. They are slow to change anything until they absolutely have to or risk extinction.

Open Cinema Characteristics

“Controlled” Cinema Characteristics

  • Accessible.  You can watch it, share it, and experience it freely.
  • Allows for collaboration which may include:
    • Audience Participation
    • Artists or Creator Collaboration on the movie creation
    • Artist, Fan or Audience Reinterpretation or modification after release
    • Artists and Creators can maintain authorship over their work while others are free to modify, recreate and change them.
    • Self-organized and based on a system of , decentralized power, knowledge sharing, and freedom.
    • Shared outcomes through loose voluntary associations
    • Resources available dictate budget and scope of projects, exploratory and experimental.  Start small build on what works.
    • Small or no financial investment is required.
    • Open collaboration opportunities for everyone. 
    • Opportunities are based on ability, availability, dedication and passion.
  • Production is done in secret by restricted teams
  • Protection and security against copying and distribution are employed.  Employs lots of lawyers.
  • An elite group control which projects get made and by whom, artists and creators are commoditized and often lose complete control over their work.
  • Strict management and authoritarian organization structure built around financers (producers) of expensive content.
  • Huge capital intensive initial investment even before a project begins shooting.
  • Can’t afford to try new things, because of the huge capital intensive initial investment to launch new projects.
  • Employs just a small elite group of artists, creators and business people.
  • Opportunity is based on closed casting and hiring processes and connection to the industry elites

Cinema is changing and together we are fueling a creative revolution.  We can empower artists, encourage more films to be made, and foster creativity.  The old system is slowly failing and being challenged by creative people from all over the world.  By reading and singing this Manifesto you are declaring your support for open cinema, collaboration and intellectual independence!

Now this may be a bit too radical for some. appears to be very much centered in the LA/Hollywood area. It is calling on the entire community of film enthusiasts from writers to actors, camera persons to editors to participate and give their work to the project. 

However, MoviePals also has more of a "commercial open source" model. Clearly the end game here is to create cinema which can generate profits. Any profits would be divided between those who contributed. After reading through everything, I am still not a 100% certain how that would be divided fairly, but fair is the intent.

MoviePals clearly has a problem with the current "film establishment" and sees open source and the web as a way to turn the present model on its head. The group's ongoing Mob Mentality Series, which is billed as the first crowd-driven series, is bit out there but you should feel free to give it a looksee. It wasn't my my cup of tea, but whoever accused me of being cool?

I may not like that particular work, but I don't snicker at the idea of crowd-driven cinema. It is the viewer who wields the power in this equation, the same way it is the user in traditional open source software. An oft cited example is the movie "Snakes on a Plane". The story goes that the studio wanted to call the movie "Pacific Air Flight 121", but early screeners disagreed strongly and the snakes on the plane name stuck. They also requested more violence and "spicier dialog".  The studio gave in to each request.  

To some in the open cinema movement, that is the real goal. Make movie makers more responsive to what the audience wants and give the audience more power in choosing and directing their movies.  We are seeing alternate endings available on some DVD disks already. The Open Cinema movement may be accelerating this trend.

Also much like developers in the open source software world, Open Cinema is a great opportunity for those looking to a career in film or better yet, video to cut their teeth, make their mark and give back to community hungry for open source!

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