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CONTENT, FORM AND CHANGE

by
in Filmmaking
on Dec 7, 2008

Virginia Heffernan’s column in the Sunday Times Magazine this week, titled “Content and its Discontents,” is a must-read, concise summation of the issues facing content creators today. (Yes, that means you, filmmakers.) What I like about the piece is that it deals with not only content but form, and, particularly, how it acknowledges the relationship between the form a piece of content is embodied within and the method by which it is delivered and, particularly, advertised. She discusses how, for example, a magazine article on volunteerism is shaped by not only the perceived reader base of its audience but also the tagline used to promote that article on the magazine’s cover. And then she goes on to talk about how this piece would be differently expressed if it were to appear on a blog, or a video diary.

Before that, she efficiently marches through the three main arguments traditional media creators (and yes, that means you filmmakers) use to position their work within an increasingly internet-dominated culture. I’m going to skip to her conclusion, but please go back and read the piece.

People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

I hadn’t gotten to this piece in the Magazine yet, but I was alerted to it by an email alert from Ted Hope’s Truly Free Film blog. There is a lively debate over there about just these same issues. It springs from Hope’s participation in a Workbook Project DIY Days dinner conversation. Filmmaker Brent Chesanek has posted there several long entries in which he argues for the enduring relevance of the art-film narrative filmmaker and resists calls to splinter his production into webisodes or games or to morph himself into some kind of slick e-huckster. All of this is tremendously relevant, and it echoes conversations we’ve had in Filmmaker in many posts and articles, including here, here, and here.

Obviously, much more on all of this to come…

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