Stop Making Features

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The awesome Sheri Candler tweeted yesterday to STOP MAKING FEATURES and turn that energy to other formats. In the tweets that followed, she contextualised her argument, all of which made sense. However, as someone who has always championed features over other formats, I figured I should say something.

Firstly I should go through some full disclosure.  I mentioned that Sheri is awesome because she commented on this post that I wrote for Ted Hope three years ago. Secondly, I designed a masters course called Digital Feature Film Production, which obviously doesn’t want people to stop making features! Why?

Well, I have various reasons. Let’s take the communal view; I think feature film production is a valuable method of forcing people to collaborate collectively in a way that other art forms don’t always encourage. In the same way that the rise of digital music has meant that bedroom musicians have emerged, digital technology has meant we see a similar rise of bedroom filmmaking too. I don’t think the content is all that bad, but there is still a value in the collaboration towards one artistic goal. In a society where we champion ‘connectedness’ and ‘social media’, we are in fact witnessing a bizarre reversal of that.

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Collective problem solving, interpersonal relationships, trust. There are so many qualities that come from working together on a feature project. Why does it have to be a feature? Why not any other form? Well, the volume of work with a feature is difficult to do alone, especially within the context of the 72 project, where it is impossible. The educational value of working collectively upon these projects often develops different skills than simply working individually,  and a lot of these skills are transferable to any form of project management.

If I steal Nicholas Carr’s arguments about books and applied it to feature films, I imagine there is a synaptic response to the constant stream of disruptive short form media. It doesn’t encourage us to immerse ourselves in more complex story lines, it doesn’t encourage us to reflect. However, I’m hijacking an theory on books and applying to features.

Then there is the economic argument, which I understand independent filmmakers are struggling to make money, all the way up to the top producers, like Ted Hope and Christine Vachon. However, studios are still making money (allegedly, depending who you talk to), and for as long as the other possible formats don’t prove the potential for money, new entrants to industry will still strive for features.

However, it is a pertinent point that Sheri made, and what better way to explore it than a bloody big discussion. So, next week, as part of Stoke Your Fires film festival, we’ll do just that. At 2pm, we’ll ask, ‘why make feature films?’. We may even film it and put it up here. Can’t say fairer than that.

James

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4 thoughts on “Stop Making Features

  1. Thanks James for mentioning the Twitter discussion, which did get quite heated. I’ve been reading the (online) news recently about some very high profile figures in film world who are either investing in short online content networks or leaving their posts at the studios to run some of these networks.

    To me, it is a very early indication that the future does not lie in long form, feature films and the theatrical experience. It lies in the online global reach of short content found on MCNs and independent channels. Disney just lost an exec to AwesomenessTV while investing $33mil in it last Spring, Canal+ just invested in MCN Studio Bagel, Maker Studios is now headlining the MIPTV Digital Fronts, Zefr raised $30mil for its digital rights management company…the future is not in the cinema, not in long form.

    But that doesn’t mean storytelling as an art form is in danger. And it doesn’t mean that collaboration is dead either. Freddie Wong and RocketJump just used crowdfunding a 3rd time to make their episodic Video Game High School (total raise for 3 seasons in 3 consecutive years? over $1.9mil) which one single person doesn’t make. There is a team.

    That isn’t the only money they make either. That kind of crowd support makes his work very attractive to sponsors and he also distributes it via Blu-ray DVD, iTunes, Netflix, Microsoft Xbox Live, and Sony’s PlayStation Network which is revenue.

    What I hope to encourage is thinking beyond one format, beyond one budget level. It is entirely possible to create new material EVERY DAY. What feature film director can do that? And you can make money at it as opposed to the constant begging for investors or film fund money and waiting for the yes before creating and hoping someone will distribute it and you see money from it That is very dated thinking, now there are many ways to get work out there, create it for very little, and many more ways to make money at it.

    Stop clinging to the ideas from childhood, thinking that storytelling is only legitimate if it is in feature form. That will be a one way ticket to Irrelevant Town.

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