The digital campfire – a social revolution with its own beat. (By Mark Ashmore FRSA 29/8/11)
In this essay I will explore how social communications and convergence culture has put a greater emphasis on storytelling, creating a 3rd tier content distribution network, which is unrecognised by traditional broadcast media and its funders, but participated in by an ever growing audience connected directly to the artist.
I will explore how as a content producer or artist (across film, music, art, literature, game etc) you are about to revolutionise liner/ non liner narrative and be part of a new emerging and ground breaking industry.
But only if you move to your own beat.
So you have discovered this article because someone has ‘shared’ it with you, or maybe you where in the digital wilderness and you ‘stumbled’ across it as you ‘searched’ via google, or maybe you saw that someone ‘liked’ it and out of curiosity thought you would check it out, all terms you should be familiar with if you use social media, you have just entered a digital camp fire.
These terms are nothing new, what happens in the online world, the rules, the terminology and more important the actions they represent, are the same as community engagement in the real world, and thus I must stress at this point that online social/community tools and their usage are the same as their real world counterpart,
for example, a 140 character tweet about ‘you need to watch my acting showreel’ is the same as interrupting a group of random strangers in a packed coffee shop and telling them ‘you need to watch me perform like a monkey’,
alas, the constant facebook updates telling the world how ‘great’ you are, are the same as a real world situation in which you dominate the conversation by telling people ‘how great you are’ as you spill coffee down their white shirt.
Nobody likes a show off.
this must be at the forefront of the mind throughout its usage and when reading this essay.
So you have found a start of a conversation, this blog is my opinion, but later you can give yours.
New world, old rules.
Anyway we could spend an entire chapter looking at the fu pars and do’s and don’ts of correct usage of social media, but that’s not the point, as long as you use it, in a good or bad way, you are engaging in the digital camp fire, its just that people WILL decide your status in the online community,
I would also like to stress that your writer here is no angel when it comes to social media, so I’m defiantly not a judge.
Back beat the word is on the street,
I am a story teller,
I use a variety of art to communicate what I have to say, I in turn help others to have a voice (paid and unpaid) and in doing so, the art of story as a medium of communication connects with whoever happens to be in my path.
They either like it, hate it, or are indifferent to it, none the less they have experienced it, heard the story, any reaction is a result.
But its this result, that the story teller yearns for, the point of practising the art form, it is this connection with an audience, that for the past 100 years has been guarded for both power and profit by a small group of individuals, I call them the elite,
for those that control the stories, control the world.
Freedom of speech – stories of the street.
200 years of urbanisation and globalisation has seen the way communities in the industrial world work, rest and play completely change.
Freedom of speech is so full of censorship, propaganda and mis-information, and not to forget all the sources are controlled and distributed by very few people, the artists that work within this construct have had to constantly evolve with these increasing challenges and changes, indoing so, at certain times, moving away from the original expression and intent,
to demonstrate where we are now, we need to see where we have been.
What follows is in no way a definitive time line of human communication, but should at least give you the understanding to the point I will illustrate later in this essay, and for those at the back of the class remember the keywords of human communication ‘Share or pass on’, ‘Search or to look for’, ‘like or have an opinion on’
Cave Paintings are Prehistoric Cinema, highly skilled artists creating images that reflect stories of that time, stories deemed that important that they where painted in caves to be preserved for generations to learn and ‘share’ ideas from,
to this day historians can get a glimpse into pre-history from these paintings. Cave paintings are a valuable story telling tool for an historic, social and artistic view point.
The artists shared these images with their community, but people would have to search for them as they where buried in caves, and if they liked them, their meaning and location would be shared with others, because they liked it, thus creating a cycle of human interaction with the media.
All human cultures have a rich oral or verbal story telling tradition, infact the genesis of camp fire stories is the ability to articulate a story via verbal communication, every story starts with a ‘once upon a time moment’, and those stories deemed worthy enough to be documented are then incased in writing,
At one point in time, only the stories of nobility or religious authority would be written, as it was these sectors of society that had the ability and understanding of the written word, for thousands of years human history if written down was of an elitist perspective. The stories of the workers did’nt get a look in.
Stories shared in a group, re-told verbally as the people could not write. Stories shared in a group where scholars could write then down, where then stored or shared in more elitist surroundings.
The printed word changed this.
Pre 1450, before the invention of the printing press, printing was done in an individual, case by case basis, with printed works placed amongst the elite and not shared with anyone outside of that circle,
this all changed in 1450 with Guttenberg’s printing press, the written word would be available to the masses, if they could read, but more importantly printing, allowed for cartoons, pictures, drawings, images easily understood by the those that can not read to be freely distributed, the next 500 years post printing press would see a revolution in thinking, society, and modern culture, and the invention of copyright and censorship (by those old elitist’s)
along came the analogue revolution
Late 19th century culture saw the emergence of radio, photography and early cinema, more tools for artistic expression, and more ways for stories to be told.
these communication tools would radically begin to be censored, either by licenses, bureaucracy or in a respect to what type of content would be deemed suitable for the person on the receiving end of the artists communiqué, even up until the 1970s the BBC would broadcast in a very distinct BBC voice, aka elitist, where they talking down to the working class?
And this control would continue, with every breakthrough in science which would allow artists to progress their own thinking and expression via invention of new technology, such as television and cable tv, in would come restrictions in the form of censorship or gatekeepers.
This would see a rise in underground or counterculture society, although counter culture has always existed side by side with mainstream culture throughout the ages of communication and art, it is the 1960s counter culture revolution which seemed to breakthrough on all fronts,
from the written word and tradition’s of folk poems/music to rock n roll music, to theatre, art, and cinema, this counter culture change which grew from the various new wave movements (civil rights, war, sexual revolution, equality, social revolution) to name but a few, along with a post war generation of 20 something’s, found themselves in the right place at the right time, to bring the noise.
And its from this counterculture revolution that the ultimate communication tool would arrive, the internet. Built as a communication tool that could be used in the event of cold war nuclear attack,
the internet is a system with no central control, and thus can not be destroyed by being a traditional central target, the internet is an ever spreading entity, version upon version, constantly evolving and changing, and in doing so has now brought with it old opportunities to communicate without the restrictions and baggage of the past.
But with every new technology revolution, comes the old elitist guard wanting to shut down the party, its just this time, we out number them.
Who has the right to tell your story.
Ok so, what I have tried to illustrate, be it rather crudely, is that humans have always communicated via artistic expression as a means of evolving their community, 10,000 years ago, this could have been a camp fire story,
Gathered round at the end of the day, after a hard days hunting,
hunter gathers are sharing the tales of the day
‘don’t go down to the water well in spring, as it is full of lion cubs protected by their angry mother, the lioness will kill you’,
‘why’ someone asks,
and from this, a story is told
‘ a young warrior, brave and fearless, but did not listen to the wise one who told of the lioness and her cubs at the waters edge during spring’,
this camp fire story both a warning in how the immediate surroundings work and that you should always listen to the ‘wise’ storyteller, may come from a tradition the reader might think is extinct, but its still with us, it just that the culture of camp fire is no longer with us, no longer required, no longer deemed necessary, maybe not in practice but at a subconscious level it will always be with us, its human nature, thus control the stories, control human nature, and here is why.
What has evolved now is the digital camp fire, fragmented groups/individuals with similar interests, are being brought together on a massive scale around the glowing embers of social media, this new mainstream phenomenon has only come about in the past 4 years online,
NO you scream, yes sir, cast your thinking back,
my argument is that now the mainstream are all interconnected via smart phones and laptops and endless wifi, now that the mainstream, from grandparents to parents, to younger brothers and sisters and to family friends who can’t work a washing machine but can update a facebook status,
what we have seen that has happened in the last 4 years is that computer science, has gone from the geeky IT crowd, to the mainstream world of celebrity, once the face of computers was Bill Gates with stereotype nerd glasses, his mums knitted sweater and traveling sales men slacks,
Now the face of computing is facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, a 26 year old billionaire, and now movie star, well by default, or Steve Jobs ex CEO of Apple, who turned the humble grey box of a PC into a designer must have item, Jobs is responsible for turning entire shopping malls into star trek conventions, everyone has a communication device, everyone holds a computer set to text, skype, facebook or stun via a flash on the camera phone.
This radical culture change in the past 4 years, has seen a new culture develop, and I would like to declare it the digital camp fire, a place to share stories.
Social media has sex appeal, its rock and roll, its content is diverse, interesting and radical, across all spectrums, it can be as geeky as the code it has been built upon, or it can be cat videos on youtube, its diversity and accessibility is the key to its mainstream success,
and best of all it has been built by the people, the internet is the embodiment of a city community, cities as geographers will tell you, are built as you need bits, you don’t build the shops till you have the industry, and only when do you have industry do you build the homes, the same goes for the internet,
Now user generated content in the form of everything from blogs, video, audio, etc out numbers the output of any major media producer, youtube contains more video than all the major broadcasters put together, it even includes some of the major broadcasters video!.
So what changed, we went from being the served to the servers.
Put simply the digital campfire is a way to describe a connected community, that gather on the city scape of the internet, around the camp fire with access to everything. with the ability to act in the same way as a real world camp fire community, where the same value systems and support networks are present, just like the old days! Yes technology for a while took us forward and created a fragmented TV dinner society, but a counter culture revolution took place right under the noses of the mainstream media and the rug got pulled back, back to a place it should always be,
This digital community with all its levels and layers present, instead of a one size fits all, 4 channel TV existence, which could be deemed as a dictatorship or at best an autocratic one by the mainstream global media corporations, we are going back to the roots of a diverse, dynamic community which is interconnected and disconnected, a diverse community made up of ever expanding niches, which debates, argues and has opinion, this now takes us into a world where a thousand individuals can set consumer choice instead of a handful of elite gatekeepers making a choice for us. (well it can if we use a variety of platforms to build our digital community on, and not just facebook)
Established media talks of an ever expanding fragmented ‘media landscape’ they look out and go
‘that was all once a land mass, we could plant out giant bill board advertising Harry Potter in the middle, and all those on that the land would see it and go spend £10 on watching it, now the landmass is split into a thousand pieces, where do we put the giant billboard now!’
But for us around the our digital campfire on our own private island, cut off and fragmented as we wish,
We look at this and go
‘I no longer have to endure that giant Harry Potter billboard in the centre of my eyeline, instead, I can choose to hang out on which ever island I wish, take part in what ever is going off in each of these new spaces, and not be interrupted by Harry Potter’
and most of the time, these spaces at best, don’t have mainstream media involved in them at all, those that truly opt out grow fastest.
So what the hell does this have to do with campfire’s.
Back beat the word is on the street
The word on the street, the word around the camp fire, the word is the word, the word is an expression of an idea, an idea comes from a theme, and themes are explored by a community.
We gather around the safety of a place we know, a camp fire is safe and warm, a digital camp fire is a place of like minds and shared knowledge, it’s a safe place to express yourself, it’s a place online.
This exploration to express can take part in the real world, where groups and individuals can meet, or if they are unable to meet because the community is fragmented by either location or time, then these explorations of theme can take place online in a digital space, either on twitter by using a # (hastag) as a conversation marker, in a facebook group, on a forum or in a blog conversation, or even in video on youtube and a host of new video blog services.
It is this word on the street, this word around the digital camp fire that if interesting enough, will as it is shared person by person begin to form the basis of a new peer to peer content distribution network for a new emerging film industry, it is this now that I have given context to my argument, that I know want to share with you, for the rest of this essay.
In the past 4 years a 3rd tier of a film industry model has slowly been evolving,
I call it a 3rd tier as I see the top tier as being mainly Hollywood film 100 million + budgets, made for the multiplex, sequels, spectacles and star vehicles to service the PR press that sustains them,
the 2nd tier are more conservative budget films, majority can be classed as European/world cinema or art house movies, in this 2nd tier are also the straight to DVD titles.
But what has emerged and has been documented in many indy film-making articles on the DIY scene, is now a new 3rd pier of film-making, which is becoming ever more vibrant as technology progresses,
An Industry that uses a new wave of thinking as its currency, new digital tools of communication and even new types of story telling to get its point across, this vibrant and new film/content industry is so new it is yet to be defined and those that practice it are labeled with a variety of media tags, by the main stream media, cross platform, transmedia etc, but its this 3rd tier which I believe will be the new mainstream in just 4 years time.
And here is why.
The rules of 3rd tier film production
1) Owning the means of production – the DSLR film revolution is the equivalent of the 16mm film revolution of the French new wave, cheap portable cameras, instant digital files ready for editing on portable laptops in an instant. Nobody can tell you what to shoot.
2) Owning the means to distribution free of censorship, 3rd tier film making is censorship free, instead of big brother dictating content, taste and decency its now peer to peer review, if your project does not fit with one peer group, another group might like it, online video is sharable and free to replicate.
3) Owning the means to PR – social media if done correctly is not an exercise in ‘me’ culture, instead your public relationships should be a two way conversation, and at best your public/audience should also become your collaborators, way before the screening, ideally from the idea stage.
4) Digital networks enable the film making process to be outsourced across the world, a film made in London, can outsource its special effects to a group in Texas, amateurs and hobbyists they might be, but with the same SFX packages as the mainstream media the results can be the same or even better.
5) Raising finance – film making used to be a costly game, new producers have lowered the costs of production and distribution meaning less finance is required, if the themes and ideas are not catered for in the mainstream, then finance can be raised in a variety of ways, from the begging bowl tactics of ‘give me £10 to make my film I will give you a DVD when its done’, to more innovative takes on crowd funding. From partnering up with established players in that market, to brand the project, share networks, to negotiating pro bona kit and talent, or sell non film-making goods and services around the film, from t-shirts to seminars to screenings of films that relate to the films subject matter. All sustained by the vibrant community and culture active around your own digital camp fire.
6) Exhibition – the cinema was once the preserve of the elite, but the modern 21st century cinema is not the multiplex, digital HD projectors and blu ray players mean that cinema can be anywhere, from a park or beach, to cave or scout hut, a cinema can be anywhere where people gather, a cinema is a story being told around a camp fire. Get your community off online and into the real world, meetup’s around cinema are great ice breakers.
7) Exhibition networks – social media allows for groups with their own cinema spaces be it pop up or established venue, places and people with their own audiences to now link up with 3rd tier content creators, to play a gig circuit, film-makers become like a band, the film-makers can either turn up and show the film themselves, or at best the themes and ideas of the project will have been known by the exhibitor group since its inception via social media interaction, and thus they will be able to introduce the project to an audience, the great thing about this is that screenings can take place anywhere in the world, and the content can be e-mailed, shared via yousend it, or even given to them as a bit torrent.
8) You and your audience operate in the same space, your audience have the ability to create as you do, and thus must be treated with respect, why share or show them a story or piece of artwork that they can easily create or manufacture themselves, story is key, this is a great place for the art form to progress and this is why we see the constant rise of artistic expression via transmedia and ‘new wave’ cinema being explored by artists from around the world, artists no longer asking permission, if the audience can make it, share it themselves they easily could be part of the 3rd tier, so if you want to be the best you can be, you have to raise your game and experiment.
9) VOD is the new DVD, itunes for so long ruled the roost on VOD and very few platforms allowed for producers to make a decent return on their content, with Daily Motion now trying to attract high quality videos and sharing advertising revenue, you tube gearing up for its evolution on google tv by publicizing its partnership program more and more and the likes of dynamo player and distrify allowing for producers to control all the distribution and price point for content with really good splits, means that video producers can now put VOD into the business plan. And more importantly share directly with their digital camp fire community at various stages of the creation process.
10) The most important rule of all, is don’t treat your audience as dumb, the 3rd tier has been created as a reaction to the elitist mainstream who feed their audiences with the same reality TV, films based on theme park rides and tv shows and recycled remade stories, dare to be different and if you allow the conditions on social media, your audience will support you, they might not like what you make, but they might like you as a person, as an artist, it’s the personal, the knowing you, that will allow you to thrive and survive around the digital camp fire.
And you know you have a thriving 3rd tier film-making industry when you see 1st tier and 2nd tier attempts at copying the underground from the way the film is created, its marketing, its distribution etc,
but like a good goldsmith, you the audience will be able to spot a fake a mile off!
Does this make sense, we can talk about this tweet me @futureartists
Ok so what I have tried to illustrate is that you as a storyteller and artist are free without restrictions except for the baggage that you bring to your own art practice yourself,
we have come full circle in the evolution of the camp fire, from small community groups sharing ideas, themes and stories around a nightly camp fire in real time, to the 21st century digital space, that allows for global fragmented groups and individuals to gather and converse in storytelling in whatever media form they choose, whether it be the written tweet, the tagged picture, the free youtube content or the VOD that has value to a community, the gate keepers have now gone,
What exists is a very interesting and vibrant 3rd tier of film makers a list of which I will provide at the bottom of this essay. This 3rd tier is looked down upon by a film industry only interested in making a financial profit to support a large framework, and a lot of people in it purely for the profit and not for the art of story telling, in my heart I wish to see this crumble, an industry that treats its audience as idiots giving it substandard fare at a high price and starving the competition out of the game via a monopoly on supply and distribution, is not a very cultural diverse place to be,
I feel its our job as 3rd tier film industry to win over our audience and turn them into supporters and educate them as best we can into the choices they have available to them, and with more and more film-makers realizing the power they now have, its time to stop chasing down what was, and start working on what can be, so start ‘sharing’, ‘like’, and search for new voices and support them with ideas, encouragement and pay for their work, on DVD, VOD or at a screening near you.
I hope to see you at our own underground culture Oscars one day, celebrating a new wave of cinema, created from global culture, a meting pot of stories, presented in new entertaining and thought provoking ways,
Ways that the mainstream will have to copy one day to keep up.
It will do us all a world of good, in times of great change new opportunities arise, a new beat if you will.
The digital campfire – a social revolution with its own beat, and spread the beat, please RE-TWEET, POST ON FACEBOOK and E-mail the URL to your own camp fire community, the more the word on the street gets out, the better the art that emerges from the 3rd tier becomes.
Mark Ashmore FRSA Co founder of Future Artists LTD / Future Artists live creative Co-Op.
Tweet us @futureartists
Further projects of the 3rd tier film-making revolution, projects of note
Just do it: a tale of modern outlaws (Emily James)
Project Lost Generation (By Articles writer Mark Ashmore)
let us know about your and we will add it to the list! @futureartists