On Friday, I posted about my distaste at the way Youtube, National Geographic, Cinedigm Entertainment and producer/director Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald were handling the crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day with footage submitted by hundreds of people from around the world. It lead to quite a lively debate on Twitter with my friend Ross Pruden and was referenced on the DocumentaryTech blog and the Chutry Experiment blog.

Ross, Ted and Chuck all brought up great points on what a participant gets out of the crowdsourcing exercise. For the corporations, the motivations seem to be profit potential and an army of unpaid volunteers to take on the work that might otherwise take years and substantial financial investment to accomplish in exchange for a credit in the closing titles. For the volunteers, it is the thrill of knowing they contributed to a film that is getting worldwide attention and, as Chuck says, were part of an ” anthropological ‘project,’ a snapshot of a moment in the history of the world” that serves as part of a legacy to human kind. Even the Youtube channel that houses the trailer for the film offers that “you can be part of cinema history” if you sign up your email for updates. They are also willing to have you remix their trailer for them and a few will be released in theaters to promote the film.

(a side note, I found a couple of screen grabs on Flickr and Picasa of the closing credit roll with the names, but when I tried to repost them here, it wouldn’t let me. So much for being able to share that).

I buy that being part of human legacy and cinema history is a great incentive for wanting to be a part of the film. Too bad the film isn’t going straight to national television (around the world) and/or YouTube so that all could watch it relatively free. If the film is about human life on July 24, 2010, then all of mankind should be able to enjoy it freely. Also, if it were hosted on Youtube, all could pass it around by posting it on personal blogs and publications could host the viewer on their sites. It is that kind of word of mouth aspect that the corporations are asking for when they invite participants to sign up and be part of the marketing team. But it isn’t being hosted in its entirety on Youtube and it isn’t being broadcast worldwide yet. Though the film was on Youtube for the premiere at Sundance, it has been taken down and  only the trailer is available now. So let’s be real, the corporations’ motivation is money not a gift to mankind, or a gift to the volunteers. Money from ticket sales and money that will come from exposure by being attached to the project is their real goal. Oh, and you can help them accomplish this by buying cinema tickets and bringing your friends along to see your name in tiny print as it rolls in the end credits.

Why should it be available for free? Corporations make money right, so why would giving it away for free help them make money?

1)if the film is great, and people know it is because they can see it online for free, then they buy a ticket to the cinema for the communal and cinematic experience. That is the reason every filmmaker gives me for why cinemas will always be the preferred way to see a film so having it online as a “try before you buy” is not going to deter people from going to a theater right? A day and date broadcast on Youtube and every theater in the world with access to the Cinedigm library would have been a better proposition.

2)goodwill. A testament to the wonder of mankind on a typical day (the sentiment behind Thornton Wilder’s Our Town by the way) by having the film available to all would go a long way to attracting even more attention than showing it in select cities for ticket revenue. Attention=money in the long run. Youtube sells advertising on pages that attract tons of views for pete’s sake. They’ll make money from having it available for free online.

3)the ego factor. There is no way those involved will not buy some form of physical merchandise that proves their involvement. DVDs, thumb drives, mugs with all the names of the volunteers, tshirts with the same. A glossy book with stills from the film AND the names in even bigger print would make a great RtB (reason to buy). Make the movie freely available and monetize the other stuff.

Outside of the brag factor, I’m still not seeing a lot of benefit for the volunteers.

Ok so after taking that side road into monetizing free…let’s look at what they could have done to make crowdsourcing mutually beneficial and how independent filmmakers with no corporate support can do it too.

1)A real back and forth. A motivational drive behind this effort was being connected with a high profile effort. Ridley Scott, Kevin MacDonald, Youtube, National Geographic and Sundance were all aboard so it gave the project legitimacy and attention from the start. It also gave the impression that your work would be held up there right alongside theirs. This is very hard for the independent filmmaker to pull this off if she is unknown. Life in a Day wasn’t true collaboration because there was no interaction with the high profile people involved, nor among the other participants, but that is the thing you can offer. There has to be a back and forth and I don’t mean holding contests and polls with 3rd party providers. Holding a dialog isn’t that difficult with the online tools available now. Would it have killed Ridley Scott or Kevin MacDonald to give participants the chance to actually speak to them to give at least a semblance of connection? There are so many online tools now that can facilitate a direct dialog between an individual and a group (Google plus hangouts, Tinychat, Justin.TV, Ustream, Livestream) that I don’t believe these guys can’t take like an hour to live chat (preferably on video for that important face time and proof that you aren’t just speaking with their intern) with those that have donated their time and effort. Giving some personal time just to these participants would be a benefit. A 30 minute session once a month is easily accomplished, people. You can talk about developing the film, the story, individual pieces from the participants that were exceptional, what inspires you, ask questions of the participants. This  is totally doable for free.

What would Scott and MacDonald get out of this? Connection to a personal fanbase that they really aren’t in touch with. Increasingly, consumers expect a level of personal interaction with the “brands” they buy. If Scott and MacDonald would like the chance in the future to break free of the corporate bonds that hold them tightly now, this personal interaction will be crucial. Also, god forbid, if they should ever fall out of favor with those corporate entities, they can continue in their careers. See Kevin Smith for pointers.

What would an unknown filmmaker get out of this? The same freedom of having direct interaction with an audience so that you aren’t dependent on being picked by a corporate entity.

What would the fans get out of this? Strong idol worship at play here. The chance to really speak to those they respect, perhaps even become valuable to them which can lead to personal worth. Not just self esteem, though it can be that too, but may lead to real paying work.

2)Build a sustainable and engaged community. As Life in a Day doesn’t seem to have it’s own website (there’s a YouTube channel and a Facebook page), they have taken the typical disposable audience angle that all studio films take. Get audience attention only for this project and then start all over again from the ground on the next one (totally ignoring the business idiom of being cheaper to keep the audience you have than to keep going out finding new ones). Admittedly, it is damn hard work to keep a community going and since there is no real ownership of the project going on here (all involved seem to be participating for different and very finite reasons), there is no clear mandate for any one group to nurture a community. If it isn’t nurtured, it will die quickly.

You, dear filmmakers, cannot afford to keep doing this and now you don’t have to. Part of community building though is to provide a place where like minded individuals can hang out and communicate with each other. You have to build that place and entrust a few people as well as yourself to keep it going. I was heartened to see that director Robert Rodriguez is proposing this on his film Heavy Metal. He wants audience participation in the development of the story, the characters and the world of the film and is going to launch a website where international artists can come together and share their work and ideas. I really hope he will actively communicate with participants and enable them to showcase ALL of the work, not just the ones that make the cut. Please Robert, don’t just use these ideas and cast the participants aside until you need them to market for you!

Make the community as much about them as it is about you and your work. Let the members of your community shine, highlight their businesses, their accomplishments, these are all real people who all have lives just as deserving as yours of some kind of attention. Let them have it. A great example of this can be found on the Grateful Dead site.

3)Make your work a mission. People love being part of a mission especially if you can give small, actionable steps toward accomplishing the mission. This works really well for documentaries. If your participants feel like their efforts will go toward the good of the mission, they are more likely to want to contribute. Life in a Day does have this, the mission of recognizing the beauty and hope in the world that we largely ignore in our every day lives. It celebrates the humanity of us all and in this way the film is meaningful and makes a meaningful statement about those who participated by sending in footage for consideration. It naturally lends itself to sharing by the participants so you don’t really need to get them to sign up for a marketing SWAT team. They will spread the word anyway if the film turns out to be excellent. Also tying proceeds from your work into a charity that helps a larger community than your own perpetuates that mission feel.

4)It wouldn’t kill you to pony up some cash. Life in a Day has some pretty deep pocket companies behind it. Would it have been a hardship to pay a licensing fee to those whose material you ended up using? The amount would be far less than the typical licensing from, say, a music corporation or photo library or archive. Yes, people aren’t always motivated by money, but I think most would gladly take a $100 check for the use of their work in a film you are hoping to make millions from. They are providing you with the bulk of your film’s material after all. Did Ridley and Kevin get paid? Did the editors? Do all the executives who work at these corporations who came up with this idea? I’m thinking yes. So why should this exercise mean those who contribute get no compensation? Providing a mix of financial and non financial incentives would have made this crowdsourcing effort a little less one sided.

For the indie, is there a way to profit share? Could these sweat equity investments in your film be repaid in some way? Yes, it will make the paperwork more complicated, but if you are asking people to donate their time, effort and talent to your work, they should have some kind of financial compensation if YOU are going to receive financial compensation. Make it a flat fee to make math easy “when I reach this level of compensation, you receive xx if your work was included in this project” and don’t make it after everyone who had any part in working on your film gets paid in full either. Some may tell you to roll their amount into your next work, some may say they don’t care about compensation. Follow their wishes, but make some form of compensation an option.

These are just a few of the ways I see for the crowd to receive benefit from your crowdsourcing effort. Remember, the crowd isn’t there just to serve you and your goals. It has to be a two way street. Can you think of more? If so, leave them in comments.

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