Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, April 13, 2007

Collaborative Film-Making: The Basement Tapes And The New Wave Of Online Movie Mash-Ups

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Want to see your online video mash-ups up there on the silver screen? The Basement Tapes is a collaborative documentary all about the changing face of copyright in the digital era, created by its online audience via video-sharing and remixing, an evolving online script powered by wiki-technology, and the rising new media form of the mash-up.


Mash-up and remix culture are redefining the way that we interact with the media. Audiences today are no longer interested in sitting back and passively consuming bland, homogenous mass media, and are instead turning to participatory culture, aided by the new breed of social web applications.

The Basement Tapes is an excellent case in point, encouraging its audience to play an integral role in shaping an evolving documentary movie by submitting or remixing video and audio content over the web. With a thriving online community based at, The Basement Tapes is a project dedicated to using the tools of the emergent participatory culture to explore the history and thinking behind it.

Destined to become a feature documentary in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada, the film is set for release on the Documentary Channel and in theatres in Spring 2008, but is also firmly rooted in the web. This is not a case of a watered-down content-lite version of a movie finding its way onto the Internet, but rather a project designed to grow from the ground up.

The website features both raw footage that users can watch and download, and user-generated remixes of this footage for all to see. Furthermore, The Basement Tapes has a script open to the contributions of its readers, in the fashion of the collaborative culture success story Wikipedia, and even a manifesto for this new breed of web-enabled film-making.

With free culture icons Lawrence Lessig and Jimmy Wales already on-board, alongside musicians including the Ninja Tunes collective known as DJ Food and electronica envelope-pusher Girl Talk, you could be next.

Participatory media take center stage

Whether sharing and remixing videos online, collaborating on music and art projects from different sides of the planet, or entering a global conversation through their blogs, the Web 2.0 crowd are taking media into their own hands.

But while organizations like the Creative Commons attempt to make the sharing, remixing and passing on of participatory culture a legal reality, there are still stake-holders in big media with their own agenda.

If you haven't heard about the RIAA and their endless law-suits against grandmothers, college students and children unwise enough to get caught downloading mp3s, you might well have encountered the MPAA and their fight to rid the world of movie piracy.

The recording and movie industries are fighting a some-would-argue losing battle against changing attitudes towards intellectual property, by suing file-sharers and those that infringe on copyright laws. And in the process, argue their opposition, they are crushing the future of creativity.

The Basement Tapes is firmly grounded in the thinking of Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law professor and father of the Creative Commons movement.

In this first clip from The Basement Tapes open archive, you are given a mashed-up four-minute introduction to Lawrence Lessig, the Creative Commons and the work being produced in the evolving remix-based video culture:

Open Sourcing Cinema

The Basement Tapes doesn't stand alone in embracing this evolving cultural paradigm, however, but is adding something fresh to a growing tradition of films and film-makers taking an Open Source approach to the creative process. The days of the auteur director look soon to be replaced by the mob-authored movie.

Recent examples of cinema opened up to its audience include The Echo Chamber, a collaborative exposé documentary on the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq War; Robin Good's The Weblog Project, an Open Source film created and remixed for bloggers, and by bloggers; Stray Cinema, which has opened its raw footage up to the public via its website; The Digital Tipping Point, an Open Source documentary about Open Source, each segment of which can be downloaded from the Internet Archive for remixing; and ongoing open source feature film project A Swarm Of Angels.

As this growing trend shows, film-makers are increasingly starting to question the Hollywood model as the only legitimate way to make movies, with its top-down approach to both media creation and consumption. The Basement Tapes is no exception, placing the audience at the center of its endeavor.

This is a great example of form following function - a film exploring the evolving participatory culture and its changing attitudes towards copyright law, making use of that very culture to bring its message to life.

So how does it set about that?

''Copyright Is Theft!

Every time we copyright a work, we are robbing from the Public Domain. We are denying others the freedom to share the ideas we have given life to. We are denying others the freedom to build on our ideas.

Yes, Copyright in some sense is necessary. It is an incentive to create, to encourage "the progress of science and useful arts" . But when it is the life of the author, plus 75 years? That's a theft of our collective heritage.''

Brett Gaylor, Open Source Cinema manifesto

So begins the Open Source Cinema manifesto, perhaps the key document of what is fast evolving into an active video-sharing space. The idea is simple - copyright may be necessary in some form, but as it stands today things have been taken too far.

If it was easier to uphold copyright law in the age of mass media, things have become a lot more difficult in recent times. Digital information is by its very nature promiscuous, and the companies succeeding in the evolving Web 2.0 landscape are those maximizing the opportunities available for the easy-sharing and portability of online media. Audiences won't stand for the locked-up-tight walled-garden approach any longer - they want to take part, and they want to share the resulting media freely.

From the first moment of landing on the home-page, this participatory, open-sharing dimension of the project becomes evident.


You are immediately presented with an opportunity to create or consume media, to sign up and take part in a film-making community, and a tightly-edited introduction to what the whole project is about. In this video trailer for the project, you have the chance to see if it is something you want to play a part in right from the word go.

In a little over three minutes, this mash-up tour of the issues behind the movie boils down its key ideas in an inventive and highly approachable form. Here we have web video doing what it does best - cutting to the quick and delivering its message with a punch. See for yourself:

If that gets you hooked you can set about:


True to its open, Web 2.0 roots the Open Source Cinema website makes much of user comments, and displays the latest remixes, members, comments and raw footage in a side bar right up there on the home-page. This, along with the encouragement to sign up and take part in the active video-sharing community gives Open Source Cinema a social dimension that will be key to its success or failure as a project.

Judging by the sheer amount of user activity, and the impressive volume of mash-up videos, it seems as if this community has already taken off. In actual fact, even if you are not interested in actively participating in remixing elements of the film, Open Source Cinema makes for a great resource for those looking to check out the latest developments in the mash-up genre of web video.

Beyond the site itself the Open Source Cinema project takes full advantage of the viral power of both a YouTube and MySpace presence in an effort to further reach out to potential audiences and contributors. This is a wise move that could well pay off in terms of drawing attention and traffic from these quintessential social media destinations.

Room for improvement

Open Source Cinema is a totally free service with a strong focus on underground media, Open Source culture and the process of getting a film made collaboratively. I think that it could be a lot more, and outlive the film project that it was set up to promote and create, given that it is fast becoming a destination for video mash-ups ill-served elsewhere on the web.

To really pull this off though, Open Source Cinema would need to smooth out some significant rough edges. For one thing, navigation of the videos is less than intuitive, and by bundling raw footage and remixes together in long line ups, I can't help but feel that this could be better executed.

The other thing that puzzles me is that a project dedicated to remixing video is not making use of a service like Jumpcut or EyeSpot to serve and share its videos. While Blip.TV is well established and capable of putting out good quality video, it has nothing in the way of remixing tools, and even makes sharing and embedding videos difficult. Furthermore a lot of the user-submitted videos are in a mixture of Quicktime and Windows Media formats, neither of which have the browser penetration of Flash video.

Making it as easy as possible for users to both share the videos featured on the site, and quickly set about creating their own remixes, without having to go through the download and upload process seems like a no-brainer to me, but maybe there is something I'm missing.



Open Source Cinema is all-at-once a:

  • Feature documentary movie about changing attitudes to copyright laws, set to be aired on television and in movie theaters in 2008
  • An active video sharing and remixing destination
  • A social network built around the mash-up genre of Internet video and music
  • A bold attempt to challenge traditional film-making practices by opening up the entire creative process to the public, bringing the movie into the Open Source sharing space

Firmly rooted in the emergent underground media bubbling up all across the web, and the re-thinking of intellectual property brought about through the Creative Commons licenses, Open Source Cinema is an effort to explore these ideas from the inside-out.

For rather than trying to discuss copyright and its head-on collision with the remix culture from an outsider, objective perspective, Open Source Cinema attempts to use participatory media to tell the story from the front-line. The idea is simple - users can edit the film script, upload raw footage and edit and remix one another's work, the best of which will find itself aired on TV and playing in movie theaters.

As the Open Source idea spreads beyond software into the realms of cultural production, so we are seeing projects like Open Source Cinema showcasing and enabling the work of their audiences, rather than handing them a finished product and expecting them to passively consume it. Video continues to grow as the defining medium of the new web, and we can expect to see a lot more of this two-way, participatory media in the future.

Open Source Cinema is one of the projects paving the way.

Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about the Open Source Cinema project, and other projects tapping into Open Source culture in the film-making process, you might want to check out the following links:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Online Movie Mash-Ups And The New Wave Of Collaborative Digital Film-Making: The Basement Tapes"

Readers' Comments    
2007-05-16 05:22:39


Yes, it's great to see all our projects emerging into the light. This article picks up on the key need for a platform to help manage, edit and remix this footage.

Brett has been developing it well on the drupal platform. Its great to see the transparency, and immediately delve into the content on the site.

And it's interesting to see mike @ highlighting the integration with eyespot (which we might take advantage of, having opened a channel on blip a while ago)... but the infrastructure/web platforms for creating these open source culture, participatory media ventures (whatever you want to call them!) aren't developed enough yet.

A golden opportunity for someone...

2007-05-15 17:37:24


Yeah, its in there - Mike's obviously detail oriented! But yeah, Matt needs a link there at the bottom. Its cool that there are a few projects emerging - its interesting to see the different takes. A Swarm of Angels is aiming to create a dramatic narrative, Stray Cinema leans to the experimental, and I'm doing a doc.

Who's going to do the first open source comedy?

Viva Open Source Cinema!

2007-05-14 15:28:28


Great post. I love Brett's project, but you forgot to mention probably the leading open source film project at the moment: A Swarm of Angels (

We've been quiet for a while since you and others featured the site, while our community are co-creating some content ready for the next phase, but all is going to plan to create the first seven-figure creative commons-licensed open movie.

We've just started getting member video interviews for our UGC documentary to accompany the project.

Thanks, Matt

2007-05-14 02:42:54

Michael Pick

Hi Brett,

Thanks for the feedback, that really has given me some food for thought.

In my obsession with web video as a medium, and its democraticizing effect, I had totally overlooked the cross-over nature of the project you have created. Now that I think of it, and you point out the issues, it seems quite a ask quite a lot to be able to convert 320x240 (or 640x480 at best) footage generated in a Flash environment to the silver screen;-)

I also concede to your point that participants are likely to have some level of active interest in filmmaking, and are therefore likely to have at least basic home editing capabilities.

Looking forward to catching up with you soon. Good luck with what looks set to be a real eye-opening project. I for one will be first in line when the movie comes to completion.

2007-05-13 21:01:08


Wow, I wish I'd found this article a few weeks ago! Thanks for the incredibly detailed review, Mike!

As far as your comments on re-mixing - its something we've been in discussion with various social networking sites about, including EyeSpot. At the moment, there isn't an easy way to integrate their service into a drupal based install (which I'm running)

At the same time, I'm also not certain that web based editing is fully matured to the point that users could make edits that could easily be integrated into a broadcast quality film. If you like at the remix sites, you'll quickly notice that the editors can at the moment offer simple edits of short, flash-based films. This leaves all sorts of challenges for more complicated, layers based editing and for the eventual re-capturing of the HD footage. Not to say that this isn't possible, but it isn't here yet. For this reason, we've held off on rushing to adopt these new services, although its clear that with a lowered barrier to participation, we'd have a lot more remixing going on.

There has been some thinking, however, that the truly engaged users will likely be those with their own editing systems. Whether this proves true or not remains to be seen! In short, we're looking into it!

Thanks again for this detailed review, it was a pleasure to find!

Brett Gaylor

2007-04-13 16:35:38

Michael Pick

Hi Mike,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your feedback. I should definitely clarify some of my criticisms, and fear that I have poorly communicated my concerns in the post.

Most of my issues are with the implementation of video in OpenSourceCinema, rather than the Blip.TV service, which I have both used and recommended myself.

My first problem with the video on OSC was that it is delivered in WMV and MOV in places, in addition to FLV. This isn't an issue with Blip.TV, but rather the choice of OpenSourceCinema, and I want to make it clear that I have been nothing but impressed with the choice of formats over at Blip - especially given that you are the first on the block to support Ogg Theora.

With regards to remixing, thanks for the heads-up on the Eyespot partnership. I certainly don't think that all video sharing destinations should implement remixing capabilities, it just seemed sensible to me that a project dedicated to user-generated mash-ups might consider making it easy on its end-users by tapping into this feature-set.

My one genuine gripe with is connected to the sharing issue. From the website you have some of the best sharing options available anywhere - bravo for instance on the ability to connect directly to the source file.

The issue I have is with the embedded player. Correct me if I'm wrong here but the player allows viewers to play, pause,scrub through video and adjust volume. Nice and minimal to look at, but what I would really like to see is a way of sharing the video built right in.

I understand that this might be something that some of your pro-roster might want to switch off - Ze Frank, for instance, wanted folks to go his site rather than spread his videos around, but for the rest of us having that instant way to grab or share videos is high on the agenda. This seems like a bare minimum in the highly portable world of web video and widgets.

My two cents.

I hope that clarifies my criticisms, which as I say are mainly aimed at the choices made by OpenSourceCinema rather than at Thanks again for your feedback and information.

2007-04-13 14:44:15

Mike Hudack


Just wanted to make a couple quick points if I may about (I'm a co-founder of the company and the CEO).

While we do host a wide variety of formats (including Quicktime and WMV) we always make a Flash version of the video available for viewing in the Web browser. We offer these additional formats as a service to the content creator and viewer because they're often higher quality and more widely compatible with devices like the iPod or other portable media players and software like iTunes and Democracy Player.

In terms of remixing, we don't offer any remixing tools of our own but we are partnered with the folks over at Eyespot -- you can easily upload video from to Eyespot, and then automatically send it back to blip from Eyespot's service.

I'd very much love to hear what we can do to improve ease-of-use around re-sharing and re-blogging of videos. Drop me a line at -- we're always looking for ways to improve our service.

posted by Michael Pick on Friday, April 13 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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