It’s hard to create something original about the remix. Okay, that would seem to go without saying, but I’m not referring to the subject of the remix — I’m talking about the discourse surrounding it. From Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix to Brett Gaylor’s feature doc, RIP: A Remix Manifesto, the creative, social and political issues surrounding the rise of remix culture have been debated with brio. Paradoxically, then, the familiarity we have with the issue of remixing is precisely what makes Kirby Ferguson’s four-part Web series, Everything is a Remix, so compelling. Rather than push a copy-left agenda or hype the latest mash-up artist, Ferguson uses the subject of the remix to discuss the history and nature of creativity. Everything is a Remix deconstructs the idea of originality, exploring the creative but also technological and business memes that recombine from one generation to the next, making us feel that we are encountering something “new” along the way. And it does so in bite-size, six-minute segments that have become a self-sustaining enterprise for its New York-based director.
“The idea for the series started a few years ago, when there were [plagiarism] lawsuits against Coldplay, J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown,” says Ferguson. “I thought they were kind of far-fetched. Why does someone think that anything that resembles their work is an infringement? I thought [these lawsuits] were hypocritical, because you can go back and find [earlier works] that resemble theirs.”
Saying that he thought this “hypocrisy could be explained in an entertaining way,” Ferguson conceived of his four parts, which move from an examination of creative influence in general through, this October in its final episode, “the nitty-gritty legal and political aspects” of the current copyright system. Each episode is something of a mash-up too, as film clips, pop songs, archival material and voiceover combine in witty, succinct and, yes, entertaining ways. In the first episode, side-by-side clips illustrate George Lucas’s Star Wars influences, while Quentin Tarantino gets similar treatment later. But the pieces also touch on the invention of the automobile, the history of the Internet and the rise of the personal computer.
All of this is only half the project, however. Along with the pieces is a website, which acts as both a conversation and merchandising hub. Viewers comment on the pieces, and not only their feedback but their actual filmmaking is incorporated in future episodes. “For part three, I posted a blog post and on Twitter asking if people wanted to contribute, and I heard from a whole host of people,” Ferguson says. Those included a graphics company in Pakistan, who, following Ferguson’s art direction, created a 3D graphics sequence. Every piece of content used in the pieces is linked to and the Amazon affiliate fees are “starting to add up.” The site also promotes Ferguson’s availability for speaking engagements. And, finally, 1,500 people have donated so far to the project. “People want more of it,” Ferguson says, “and they respect the real effort that is going into it.”
The net result is that Ferguson, who has previously worked in publishing and video production, has quit his day job and now makes a living from a combination of these pieces and freelance gigs. “The Remix project is the heart of my career now,” he says.
Up next: an Everything is a Remix book, and then another series, which Ferguson isn’t ready to talk too much about. “It will be sort of similar, but it will be political,” he says. “The intent is to take the same approach: a strong thesis statement, and then exploring that story through history and politics.” — S.M.