The "Central Organizing Principle," Curators, One Story With Multiple Authors, and How an Audience Will Find Your Film Online: Lessons of We Feel Fine

Here's how one Jonathan Harris project is described online:

"Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.).

Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 - 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of ...interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions like: do Europeans feel sad more often than Americans? Do women feel fat more often than men? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? What are the most representative feelings of female New Yorkers in their 20s? What do people feel right now in Baghdad? What were people feeling on Valentine's Day? Which are the happiest cities in the world? The saddest? And so on."

According to We Feel Fine co-creator Sep Kamvar (Sep worked on this project with Internet artist Jonathan Harris, that's Jonathan in the video above): "There are thousands of stories waiting to be told collaboratively by millions of people who don’t know each other. When we talk about this kind of scale, the most appropriate way to tell these stories is by building tools — tools that allow individuals to tell their personal stories in a meaningful way, and tools that collect, curate, recombine and edit these stories to form the stories of the collective."

We Feel Fine is only one of the experiments that show the way for a new collaborative form of story creation. When you search for evidence of this collaborative storytelling, you'll find that what Egri calls the premise (what I call the central organizing principle or COP) recurs in the way these stories are created, curated and accessed by the viewer.

I am very eager to see the evolution of films produced for the online environment. I am convinced that the collaborative possibilities and the enormous market that the Internet is creating for niche filmmaking will change the world permanently for all filmmakers - from James Cameron down to the guy who makes wedding videos in your town.

So where's the money?

Indie filmmakers haven't quite cracked the safe, but there are promising revenue models out there. Soon multiplatfrom shows, like MTV's "5 Dollar Cover," will really hit. And once a show becomes a global hit online and then earns the enormous sums that advertisers will pay to capture a youthful audience on numerous platforms (e.g., phones, Internet, cable TV, theaters, etc.), things for quality online filmmakers will quickly heat up. I suspect it won't be long until a show produced for under $100,000 (I'm guessing it will have universal themes, wonderful actors, beautiful music and compelling visual storytelling) delivers a huge audience for advertisers, and then the online universe will change forever.

I may be wrong, but I think that the first real money for online motion pictures is going to come from advertisers. Even the most conservative estimates say that the revenue from online video ads (e.g., "pre-roll") will dwarf what was spent last year on text and display ads online. Maybe by 2012.

Video ads are going to need a context, and user-generated content on YouTube can only take you so far. Some video ads online will appear on pages of text. And some ads will wrap around recycled TV shows and played-out theatrical movies. But some of the video advertising online will support original motion picture programming for the web.

We are just at the beginning. Think TV before Lucy or even Uncle Milty. It took TV 44 years to go from Dick Van Dyke to The Office. And 59 years to get from Milton Berle Show's last episode to the premiere of Mad Men.

It's perhaps overreaching to compare Google and YouTube in 2010 to CBS and DuMont in 1948. After all, CBS is still a successful TV network. On the other hand, DuMont didn't last five years on TV. Maybe it is a fair comparison.

And it's not just the channels. Motion picture storytelling itself is evolving on the Internet. Soon online video will be integrated into ALL your devices. You and your kids will have access to motion pictures in ways that we haven't yet imagined. Accordingly, the nature of storytelling online must also evolve.

What next?

So what does this mean for entrepreneurial digital filmmakers? Perhaps some of you will find roles as curators, organizing the collaborative work. But even if you just want to make films on your own, without any collaborators, you need to understand how your film will ultimately become part of the ocean of content available on the web. Even if you're not interested in collaborative storytelling, you need to understand how people are searching for and accessing stories.

In the past there were just a few distribution companies acting as curators. Now each member of the audience can curate their own experience. This fundamental change requires a new way of thinking about story creation and distribution.

It's a pretty safe bet that a one sentence statement of premise (along the lines suggested by Egri) will remain an invaluable tool for making stories meaningful. Drama will still be drama - even online. But I also suspect that the COP will become an increasingly important tool for finding stories (no matter how they are created). In the future, the premise, whether typed into a search engine or used by a middleman to curate content, will probably be a key way your film becomes ACCESSIBLE.

Here is a link to Lance Weiler's article in Filmmaker Magazine about how data and the use of a COP (to guide data filtering) are at the center of emerging models of film distribution.

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