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Editor's Note
For much of the last year, the term "crowdsourcing" has been in vogue in the independent community. But it's important to remember that just because something's crowdsourced doesn't mean it's good, or that even the process of crowdsourcing is automatically a beneficial one when applied to a particular project or field. I'm a fan of crowdsourced funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo because they connect film production to the passions of a community while sidestepping the competitive dealmaking that can sour small projects. But what of other types of crowdsourcing?

Take for example, Internet Eyes. From security expert Bruce Schneier's monthly newsletter, Crypto-Gram: "Internet Eyes is a U.K. startup designed to crowdsource digital surveillance. People pay a small fee to become a 'Viewer.' Once they do, they can log onto the site and view live anonymous feeds from surveillance cameras at retail stores. If they notice someone shoplifting, they can alert the store owner. Viewers get rated on their ability to differentiate real shoplifting from false alarms, can win 1,000 pounds if they detect the most shoplifting in some time interval, and otherwise get paid a wage that most likely won't cover their initial fee." Good, bad, or just profoundly creepy?

In his You Are Not a Gadget, which really is one of this year's essential books, the virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier is critical of much of web 2.0, crowdsourcing and the open source movement in general. One of the themes of the book is how behavior that is looked down upon in the offline world is somehow legitimized when it enters the digital space. Some quotes from his book:

"There's a rule of thumb you can count on in each succeeding version of the web 2.0 movement: the more radical an online social experiment is claimed to be, the more conservative, nostalgic and familiar the result will be."

"The people who are perhaps the most screwed by open culture are the middle classes of intellectual and cultural creation... They get nothing from the new system."

"When you come upon a video clip or picture or stretch of writing that has been made available in the web 2.0 manner, you almost never have access to the history or the locality in which it was perceived to have meaning by the anonymous person who left it there. A song might have been tender, or brave, or redemptive in context, but those qualities will usually be lost."

I thought of Lanier when reading last night the FAQ at Amazon Studios, the new open-source "studio" from the online retail behemoth. If you haven't heard about this yet, here's the deal. Amazon Studios accepts ideas in the form of scripts, writer's pitches (delivered on video), and/or "test movies," which are animatics or even scaled-down productions of feature-length scripts that should have "great acting, sound and music." Once submitted, ideas are developed by the crowd -- that is, other users who are free to suggest revisions, adaptations, rewrites, etc. At the end of the process, some great ideas may emerge, shaped by outsider voices whose creativity would never have gotten through the door of the Hollywood system. If Amazon Studio, which has a first-look deal with Warner Bros., makes the film, the creators even get paid — a not-too shabby $200,000, which is more than WGA minimum.

That's one way to look at it. The other way is: would you give a company with a $74 billion market cap an 18-month free option on your original project? I decided to crowdsource my reaction this newsletter to Amazon Studio through Twitter and here are some of the responses I received: "Terms are a joke. You give up rights to original material in perpetuity and exclusive adaptation rights for 18-36 months." "At first blush, contract seems to leave writer no room for negotiation, no WGA, and leaves credit to Amazon." "I didn't really get past the 18-month free option part." "Understand submitting a script, but why would a producer want to make their film twice?" "We should just try to write some high concept crap overnight to try and get the $$." And, finally, "Contest is worthless to serious writers and filmmakers."

I hate to come down on anything that provides new opportunities for writers and directors outside the system. And I will write a longer entry on the blog that properly goes through Amazon Studio's terms and lists all the potential issues I see so far. (Like: what if you make a test movie that works on its own, like a Paranormal Activity, one that is acclaimed by the crowd, lives on the Amazon site, and generates buzz? You can't take it down and monetize it for yourself, and Amazon gets those free streaming rights.) But I guess my initial reaction is one of disappointment that the potential radicalism of a large-scale crowdsourced development system is being used to simply generate ideas for exploitation by a studio and one of the richest companies on the planet. An idea as provocative as this one deserves to be married to a more imaginative and, yes, generous distribution system, one that finds a form more befitting the open source philosophy underlying the projects' creations.

What do you think of Amazon Studio? You can email me at And make sure to join our Twitter feed.

See you next week.

Scott Macaulay

P.S.: If you have been considering subscribing to Filmmaker, we'll be launching at the beginning of December a great subscription drive with a load of free stuff. You might want to wait until then.

Upcoming At IFP
BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU SCREENING SERIES BEGINS TODAY The Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Screening Series, presented in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art, begins today at The Museum of Modern Art. The Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award, sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, is given annually as part of the Gotham Independent Film Awards™ to the most outstanding independent film of the year without theatrical distribution in place. The five nominated films - singled out from the 2010 festival circuit - will screen at MoMA from November 18 - 22. Screenings will be followed by Q & A's with the directors: Robert Greene (Kati with an i), Mike Ott (Littlerock), Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood (On Coal River), Lynn True and Nelson Walker (Summer Pasture) and Laurel Nakadate (The Wolf Knife). Nominees for the award were selected by the editorial staff and contributors to Filmmaker, and Josh Siegel, Associate Curator, MoMA Department of Film from recommendations by critics, festival programmers and curators. See MoMA Screening Schedule..
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MADE IN DAGENHAM The TV show Mad Men has sparked a renewal of interest in not only the study of 1960s society, but the women's rights movement. Made in Dagenham, a new film by Nigel Cole (Saving Grace, Calendar Girls) revisits the 1968 Ford Dagenham assembly plant strike in England, where female sewing machinists walked out in protest of sexual discrimination and a lack of equal pay. Film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. WHITE MATERIAL In Claire Denis' new film, White Material, the great French director revisits the themes of her 1988 film Chocolat, examining the legacy of French colonialism in Africa. White Material stars Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Lambert as a French couple in an unnamed African country who run a faltering coffee plantation. Civil War has broken out, and the couple become ripe targets for the rebel soldiers. Despite protests, Maria (Huppert) refuses to leave, putting her family in great danger. Tensions are further raised when Maria tends to the wounds of an injured rebel officer known as "The Boxer" (Isaach De Bankole), putting his allegiance in jeopardy. Featured in this week's Director Interviews, Denis says for her to make a movie she needs more than just an idea. "Starting with an idea is fake. It's a dead form. An idea for a film is, in my opinion, nothing," she says. "For me, there must be a sort of illumination of something that will crystallize in me. You can change ideas like you change t-shirts. It must be deeper. It must be a conviction." Read our interview with Denis below. ME TOO Me Too, written and directed by Antonio Naharro and Alvaro Pastor, is an inspiring story about the deep friendship between two outsiders in Madrid. Daniel (Pablo Pineda) has Down Syndrome while Laura (Lola Duenas) finds escape in the arms of strangers. Despite others telling them they won't have anything in common, Daniel and Laura find a kind of solace with one another.
Recent Blogs
This week on the blog, indie stalwarts Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson (pictured left) host the Gotham Independent Film Awards; Scott Macaulay celebrates the Criterion Blu-Ray release of Night of the Hunter; the Carthage Film Festival lights up the old imperial capital; and filmmaker Joe Infantolino discusses his drama Helena from the Wedding.

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Plenty of associations come to mind when one thinks of a Claire Denis film; the French auteur's work is intelligent, nuanced, and frankly, often slow. Denis approaches her films like a sculptor, beginning with the giant block of matter that is a life (or lives) and whittling the irrelevant away until she finds a character's essence. So it comes as something a surprise that the final act of Denis' latest, White Material, plays out as something of a suspense thriller; Denis has worked in genre filmmaking before (notably Trouble Every Day), but typically inverts and eschews genre convention. However, while the suspense does truly build as White Material revs up for an unforgettable climax, nowhere in the film's taut narrative does Denis lose track of her passion for character study. read more

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Final Deadline: March 16
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