Monday, December 29, 2008

Is This It? (Yes, And It's More Than Enough)

In my Deck Chairs post, Deep Structure had the following comment:

thank for you giving a clear definition of how the internet is working for artists. that's about the most succinct explanation i've heard yet.

so i understand that. BUT, i still find myself asking, is that it?

it's hard to believe the entertainment juggernaut of tv and film is going to be replaced by 4min videoboxes of askaninja-types or godforbid, rosario dawson-jawing-at-a-screen-types.

surely there's got to be more to this revolutionary new medium than just a refining of the old process?

Well yes and no. (What, You thought this would be an easy answer?)

Let's look at this from a historical perspective and (attempt to) show how refinement and reconfiguration figure into how cool the internet is in comparison to other, "more traditional" media, and how that's making a major difference in how the economics of the entertainment industry is shifting.


In the Beginning:

So, from this historical perspective media has to start with story. That is, communication around the campfire as people begin to connect the dots into imparting information from one person to another. Speaking and singing mainly. Putting together known sounds that always mean the same thing. If you know that sound then you know the idea behind it.

But, then you run into the roadblock that you have to pass your stories down verbally to the next generation so they don't get lost...but gee, they do get lost (in translation) don't they? Nobody tells the same story the same way. Variation and nuance creep in. So how does Alley Oop and co. make sure that their verbal stories stay around for awhile?

They can't. But what they can do is assign a pictogram to a concept and draw that on a cave wall. That way, anyone who understands the pictograms can read the story any time they want. A refinement of the storytelling process.

This leads to sculpture - a three dimensional representation of an idea or story. Again a refinement of the storytelling process. Different, yet...

Eventually, over thousands of years and only in certain parts of the world, pictograms lead to clay tablets, decorative elements on clay pots, alphabets, papyrus and scrolls. Some parts of the world still pass their stories down from generation to generation verbally or through dance. Those stories are told only in groups and you must be presentfor all of it in order to get the whole story. If you are late to the party - you miss out.

Eventually we get to the Middle Ages and the Illuminated Manuscript. Rare things they are. Only for the wealthy or the religious. Locked away from the common man's hands. Until Gutenberg comes along.

Print changes everything:

Gutenberg comes along and invents the printing press, and suddenly books aren't so expensive anymore, and they aren't locked away in nobles' homes or monasteries or cathedrals anymore. They are out in the open for many more people to enjoy and discuss and share.

Then, someone says, "Hey - why don't we print cheaper books, announcements really and we can sell those cheaply to everyone. We'll call them Newspapers. We can have the riders who travel between the towns distribute them."

Eventually that led to a lot of things - more books, more news, newspapers, almanacs, flyers, etc... and of course, the printers needed more content to satisfy the publics need for new and more entertainment. Writers wrote furiously, crafting stories for these papers that were eventually collected into books. The world became a smaller place as stories that were local became regional and eventuallly became national. Ideas, customs and myths were spread all over the planet.

And it spurred people on to read.

Oh, the Drama (and the Music):

Going backwards and parallel a bit... dramatists picked up the mantle and performed their stories taken from myths and scrolls and even clay tablets. Rules began to form on how dramtic stories should be told to best effect...

Butof course, in many cases if you weren't at the play - you missed the story.

But then, when printing finally came around, different theater companies could license a play from the author and perform the work themselves. More and more people could go to their local theater to see a production instead of having to travel far to see some drama of note.

Same goes for music - suddenly a group could buy the music to perform. Of course, as more and more plays, books and sheet music made the rounds via merchant ships, the more culture was seeded and cross-pollinated.

All because a man named Gutenberg decided to refine the process required to create a book.

Creative Engines:

The Industrial Revolution takes hold of the world and as a result, more and more people are working and print costs get cheaper and cheaper as do the costs of shipping a book overseas. Steamships make the journey in less than half the time of sailing vessels. Suddenly, news and entertainment becomes more timely and relevant.

But those geniuses of the time think faster than the speed of print, and invent the telegraph. Suddenly, you don't need to ship news - you can wire it to a place that's hooked up. Eventually, telegraphed news is sent to towns and then printed up by the local papers for distribution.
A refinement as to how papers received their news. Driven by innovation and technology and someone who could make the connections as to how they could use this for their media (an entrepreneur).

Same goes for the phonograph - people suddenly had access to sound the same way they have had access to books. All they needed was a record player. Hmmm... still expensive, but that would change too.

Modern Times:

So here we are in the early 1900's and telegrams give way to telephones (though not right away). Books are classed into two different areas - hardcover books and dime novels. It's not surprising that dime novels are outselling hardcovers about 6 to 1 -- they are cheaper, they come out every month and feature the same characters and they are written and designed with entertainment in mind.

As this is happening, radio comes along and becomes the means of mass-communication for many of the richer folks in the city (those that can afford radios). The newspaper is still the major form for the common man.

That is, until they start playing records on the radio... Then everyone wanted a radio. Wow! Free records! The phonograph industry was in an uproar. "Why, they can't do this to us! Giving songs away for free? Who will want to buy records if they hear them for free on the radio?! It's an outrage!" (and an eventual lawsuit the record companies lost because they failed to prove they lost sales. In fact, their sales tripled within that first year).

Then radio had run through all of the old stuff so they had to create new stuff to take the place of it. Readings of older plays adapted for the radio, Novels read every day. Vaudeville acts. Then of course, they realized they had to create new content - specifically for radio. New plays, new bands, new comedians, new vaudeville acts.

And advertising took off. Soap Operas were born. Sitcoms were born. Radio dramas were born, but all of them had their roots in other media, other storytelling forms.

And of course there was the Nickelodeon. So named because it cost a nickel to turn the crank on the machine. This "new medium" was a refinement and hybrid of stage drama and photography. Thomas Edison tried to get the independent (thieving) film companies to pay him a royalty every time they used his projectors and cameras. So these "entrepreneurs" packed up and moved west to get out of Edison's reach. No more copyright infringement.

Hollywood was born. Those guys who fled the east, became the gatekeepers of who saw what and where. You didn't play ball with them, then your movie would get locked out of many of the theater circuits around the country. They actually became the thing they were fleeing from.

Then television - a hybrid of movies and radio You buy the television you get the programs for free thanks to advertising. Families of several houses would get together and watch programs together (kind of like huddling around the campfire-eh?). This was different than radio and yet the same. We saw things we used to only hear before. Plays were produced on television and ways of producing those plays for the camera (and a live audience) were developed.

But for the most part, if you wanted to make a living telling stories in media, you had to work with these guys somehow someway. You had many hurdles to go through before your show even made it to the air. Things that didn't fit within the narrow margin of the networks wanted were excluded.

Also, as in previous centuries the media was kept separate from one another. Books were books. Radio was radio. Television was television. Movies were movies (unless they were shown on TV and then they were Million Dollar Movies). They each had to be exported or licensed to another country in order to share those stories.

Then it was all refined again.

Welcome to the Future:

The internet is all those media and more, hybridized into this massive web of information and connection all around the world. It has no borders nor boundaries. It is:

Text fiction, art, music/sound, video, animation, communication, information and game play. It's also software and functionality and organization. It's always on. It's free (for the most part) and somehow it all works together.

It is a refinement of all the media that has come before... and it's growing and evolving all the time. It's immediate. It's interactive... and it's mine.

And yes, it's yours.

It's affecting how we tell our stories, and to whom we are telling them. It's affecting distribution because we don't need those networks or studios in order to tell our stories - we are our networks and our studios. And we have access to many experts in many arenas to help us accomplish the tasks we set forth... to tell stories and get paid for it. The business of making media - any or all media - has been refined to this point of being a complex body of story. Remember:

Any body is more than the sum of its parts.

If that isn't more. If that isn't innovative, then I don't know what is...


Rashad Ferguson said...

Now link, print, post and copy this to everyone you know. Wow!

deepstructure said...

i doubt he comes from a pulp background (seems more a critic), but this guy:, seems to have a lot in common with your points.

Cunningham said...

Ted Hope has produced numerous indies: