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Crowdsourcing the Movie-Making Process

This story was originally published on June 24, 2008, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

Once an expensive, difficult and inaccessible profession to break into, filmmaking has now opened up to the masses. With the digital revolution, anyone with a digital video camera and access to basic editing software can make a film.

Along with this accessibility has come a new wave of collaborative, open source filmmaking, where writers, videographers, musicians and producers share their work on a film project — often entirely in the virtual realm. Sometimes these collaborators know each other, and sometimes they don’t.

On the Edge

Solomon Rothman, 27, who runs Solomon Rothman Films, is one of those on the cutting edge of this trend. In 2006, he released a film called “The Boy Who Never Slept,” and at the same time he released all of the footage as open source material, so people could tweak, remix and reshape it however they liked. It was used by teachers in video editing classes, made into a music video in Romania and put on Finnish television.

“I still receive e-mails every week [about that film],” Rothman told LinuxInsider. “People are still playing with it.”

Rothman’s latest project, “Jathia’s Wager,” is an even more thoroughly collaborative project than his first. It began with him posting a seven-page script on his Web site in 2007, calling for people to send in different versions. He now has five versions he’s received back that are ready to be shot, and he’s hoping to have online, open source casting for the different versions of the films, with people voting on who will play what role. Ultimately, he wants to produce all the versions, using the skills and perspectives of the people who are gathering around the project.

“The entire process is being built by the community,” Rothman told LinuxInsider. “With the digital revolution, it’s all accessible. Filmmaking used to be really expensive and inaccessible. Now anyone can make a film if they want. Technology has broken down that wall.”

Rothman said he sees open source filmmaking as an extension of the open source software model, which gives people a chance to collaborate in order to improve the creative product.

“People are really creative,” he told LinuxInsider. “When they work together, they can do so much more than they can alone. It’s done wonderful things with software, making it more efficient, and of better quality. It’s time for that now to go into films.”

Sourcing the Crowd

Rothman thinks of what he’s doing with “Jathia’s Wager” as being more crowdsourcing than open sourcing, since it’s not just releasing footage to be remixed, but harnessing the power of people.

Dominick Del Bosque, owner of the Open Source Film Project in San Francisco, has a similar perspective.

“We don’t view the source as the tangible parts,” he told LinuxInsider. “We see the ‘source’ as the people in a project.”

Launched in 2005, the Open Source Film Project’s vision is to bring together writers, directors, producers, musicians and financiers for the creation of independent films.

“The main reason I’ve created it is to give independent filmmaking a home,” Del Bosque told LinuxInsuder. “I’m talking about a guy shooting a 20-minute short on a Handcam. The quality is there. With a little help and dedicated personnel, maybe we can give independent filmmakers like that a place to go.”

While he’s had good response from the creative side, with 20 films ready to be produced, he’s still waiting to find funding for these projects. He calls this “the draining art of financing.” Still, though, he has hope that eventually investors will step forward to fund these films and others in the future.

Creative Licensing

Creative Commons, which gives users the option of opening up the rights to their work, has done much to facilitate open source creative work, including filmmaking,

“People want to have a new way to experience and create films,” Creative Commons Creative Director Eric Steuer told LinuxInsider. “A Creative Commons license allows you very easily to give up some of your copyright.”

He pointed to some traditional film projects, like an upcoming film called “The Tracey Fragments,” which release footage prior to the release of the film in order to get people playing with it and remaking it.

“A Creative Commons license facilitates a good, legal, viral method to promote a film,” he said. “Any tool that you can use to promote your material and show it, an strongly benefit creative work.”

A New Business Model

Some companies are beginning to build the open source, collaborative model of filmmaking into their products and services. Newfoundland-based Celtx, for instance, provides users with free software for scripting and producing creative film, video, audio and other multimedia projects. They can then post their work on a project page, which can be either open to the public or password-protected for a select group, and the software allows them to collaboratively make changes, revisions, and edits.

“Collaboration is what really interests people,” Celtx cofounder and CEO Mark Kennedy told LinuxInsider. “Filmmaking involves lots of people with different skill sets that join together to create material for a project. We knew that if we could get that information in a digital format, people would be able to share that among themselves more easily. We saw what happened in music with new distribution platforms, and we realized the same thing would happen with film and video.”

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