Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Collaborative Film-Making: A Swarm Of Angels Challenges Traditional Film Production

Open Source film-making experiment A Swarm Of Angels aims to create a £1,000,000 movie using only digital media, and then release the collaborative effort into the wild, so that it can be remixed and transformed by anyone.

This ambitious project sets out to challenge the Hollywood machine's choke-hold on the production and distribution of movies, tapping into the power of social networking and online collaboration.

Photo credit: (cc) A Swarm Of Angels

The premise is simple:

''A Swarm of Angels is a new way to create cult film. The project is a giant new media experiment to gather 50,000 people paying £25 each to create a new type of movie.

This feature film and associated original media embraces the flexible digital-age copyright of Creative Commons, because we want people to freely download, share, and remix the original media made for this project.

You can remix and use the film for any non-commercial purposes. You can also use parts of it for your own commercial work, under our additional Sampling Plus clause.''

(Source: A Swarm Of Angels Website)

In handing over the power of production and distribution to not only the people involved in making the movie, but also to those that view it, A Swarm Of Angels is a project that embraces the evolving Web 2.0 landscape, where the distinction between producer and consumer is dissolving. As the mass media, top-down model of content creation and delivery continues to fail as a business model, participatory media and user generated content move center-stage.

How does A Swarm Of Angels fit into this landscape, and what exactly is the thinking behind it?



Towards An Open Source, Collaborative Media

Photo credit: (cc) A Swarm Of Angels

As Web 2.0 opens up the possibilities for online collaboration and open source culture, the media are being seized by the ''people formerly known as the audience". With collaborative efforts transforming the face of news media, music and video production, and even film-making the possibilities for everyday people to create independent media are growing exponentially.

In the wake of this surge of user generated content, the mainstream media are struggling. Newspaper sales are dwindling, DVDs and CDs are becoming relics that no one is interested in, and TV viewing figures are feeling the impact of YouTube's success.

Hollywood Cinema never fails to disappoint. Weak generic plots, draped in as much money as studios can throw at the screen, overpaid and under-talented stars demanding their fat cut of the profits, and elaborate but somehow unsatisfying computer graphics are no longer enough to retain our interest, and the box office receipts prove it. Add to this the bloated price of DVDs and the new wave of DRM-crippled movie downloads, and the future of mainstream cinema looks bleak. This is a business in need of a new business model.

Collaborative Film-Making

Photo credit: (cc) A Swarm Of Angels

A Swarm Of Angels hopes to approach film-making in a different way, embracing the power of the open web and the open source culture that fuels it. The Swarm Of Angels website describes the three part process, that is already underway:


  1. Fund the project. Call for collaborators. Publicize and create marketing materials. Gather the first 1000 members through targeting niche online communities and parts of the blogosphere. Develop the project and infrastructure. Start script development. Open the project up to more members.
  2. Film. Collaborate. Develop scripts using a 'wiki'. Crew through The Swarm. Funding drive for pre-production/production/post-production. Create marketing and final materials.
  3. Flow. Master materials. Create spin-off materials. Publicize. Burn. Upload. Seed. Download. View. Remix. Share.''

(Source: Swarm Of Angels Website)

As such, the project not only attempts to fund itself by engaging a participatory audience that shape the way it grows from the outset, rather than through advertising, or studio backing, but does so that the end product is not owned by a commercial entity, but effectively the property of the commons.

This is a radical idea in the age of ubiquitous copyright run rampant. With the business model behind A Swarm Of Angels, the issue of Copyright is side-stepped, however, and a movie is produced that can be freely distributed, mashed-up and even transformed beyond recognition within the commons without fear of a law suit.

Utilizing Web 2.0 collaboration throughout, decisions on marketing, the creation of the script and even the shooting of the movie are open to the contributions of those involved. But the film-makers behind the project are keen to stress that this does not mean that the project will descend into chaos - while the process is set to be very much one of close collaboration and community involvement, it will nevertheless be driven and held together by its director, Matt Hanson.

The Man Behind The Swarm

Photo credit: Matt Hanson

Matt Hanson is a film futurist; a writer and filmmaker described as an "International film visionary" by Screen International magazine.

Previously he founded the massively influential onedotzero digital film festival in 1996 at the pre-dawn of digital filmmaking, which he directed until 2002. The writer of a series of digital-age cinema books including The End of Celluloid, and Reinventing Music Video, he lives in Brighton, England.

Describing the path that he sees A Swarm Of Angels taking as it evolves online, Hanson writes that:

''The further we get into the evolution of A Swarm of Angels, the more I think we've found a third way between 'old media' and 'user generated content'. Think of it as participative media: a model where filmmaker and fan get closer together as part of a member-only entertainment community.

Unlike user-generated content the director drives the process and vision of the project, and members get to guide and input into the creative process along the way (eg. a collaborative script doesn't mean everyone edits it with equal weight, but everyone has the option to submit material to it which then gets filtered and either rejected or accepted). ''

(Matt Hanson, A Swarm Of Angels Blog)

The "Third Way" and New Audiences

Photo credit: (c) DJ Shadow

This ''Third Way'' that Hanson speaks of, draws on the boom in user generated media and online collaboration, while maintaining the creative cohesion of the director-driven movie. In short, when members put up their £25 to join the swarm, they are buying - for the price of a couple of cinema tickets - an experience that involves them throughout the process. This is a lesson that mainstream media is slowly catching on to, and a lesson that will be learned a good many times again in the future.

Not content to take a back seat and have media dropped into their laps at the point of marketing hype and final release, new audiences are keen to participate in the media they were previously only allowed to consume.

This engaged new audience, or what might be called Audience 2.0, is already being tapped into across the Web - see for example the video making and remixing contests put out by mainstream media on video remixing sites such as Jumpcut and Eyespot, or calls for music video talent on MySpace.

A Swarm Of Angels takes this idea to the next level, involving users in each step of the massive undertaking that is the production of a feature length movie, but the idea is the same, and is one that every media producer should be paying attention to:

Your audience are your collaborators. Engage people in your production from the very beginning, and you will have a far more involved audience than any amount of marketing will buy you.

By investing not just their time or money, but also their creativity in your project - be it a blog, a movie, a piece of music you release into the commons - your audience become committed evangelists for your cause.

More on A Swarm Of Angels:

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posted by Michael Pick on Thursday, November 2 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




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