Crowdsourcing as exploitation

July 22, 2011
posted by sheric

I have been reading some of the articles about the film project that premiered at Sundance this year, Life in a Day, and is now being released theatrically by National Geographic Entertainment, YouTube and Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. For anyone who doesn’t know, producer Ridley Scott and  director Kevin MacDonald requested anyone to send in footage from the day July 24, 2010; for most a typical day in their life. The team received over 81,000 submissions of over 4,500 hours of footage from which to cut together a 95 minute documentary.

I did not take part in this “experimental” form of filmmaking so anyone who did please correct me. I suppose there was a form to sign that said you agree not to demand any form of compensation or ownership over this work. You agreed that your footage would become the property of the production and they could do whatever they want with it, including copyright it and profit from it. Fine, that was your choice. I think the thing that gauls me is they produced a film from your footage and expect you to sign up for the privilege now of becoming part of the “marketing SWAT team” to promote it and pay to go see it. You’ve received a co director end credit (no credit on imdb that I can see, but there is a large cast list), but are left out of any decision making and do not enjoy any benefits of working closely with some pretty powerful industry insiders. In my book, this is an exercise in exploitation.

This experiment isn’t fan building or relationship building that benefits both sides. You were used to create a profit making vehicle for large corporations and now they want you to help them promote it so they can make more money. If you aren’t considered a close member of the team, you have no decision making power, you aren’t profit sharing in any way, the film premiered on Youtube during Sundance but is no longer available online for you to view a film you helped to create while they take it out to theaters and make money from it, then this isn’t true collaboration. Outside of a credit on a theatrical film end credit roll, there is nothing in this relationship for you.

The point I am making to my indie filmmaker friends is this. Don’t exploit your audience. True collaboration means there is something in the relationship for all parties. Don’t build up a following with the sole intention of using them for ideas, a workforce and profit that benefits only you.

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