At first glance, comedian Russell Brand, street artist Shepard Fairey, and cabaret punk rocker Amanda Palmer seem like strange company (and no doubt they are). Yet these creative, often polarizing figures, each working in different artistic media, form three legs of a documentary stool in a trio of short films directed by Ondi Timoner, two-time winner of the Grand Jury prize at Sundance (Dig! and We Live In Public). The project is titled “Chief Executive Artist,” and it’s an exercise in thematic packaging, and disrupting indie distribution. You buy the three films together, and they are best watched in close succession.
“Organizing hundreds of hours of footage and interviews across themes is jut a natural thing to do,” says Timoner. “The films have all been theatrically shown and had their own life as independent pieces, but when bringing them to the public, I thought they would make a satisfying meal.”
The CEA bundle is also the latest project to be launched through A Total Disruption, a web platform that Timoner created to showcase the struggles and achievements of entrepreneurial innovators. Previous ATD series have included short docs featuring the likes of Jack Dorsey and Moby. Now with Brand, Fairey and Palmer, Timoner is focusing on the artist’s ability to harness social media, not only to reach large audiences, but to include them–to make the public feel like an active part of the artistic process. (They’ve also also faced reprobation for their innovative tactics). With the Obama Hope poster, Fairey made a piece of art that people could use in their daily lives. Palmer’s ninja gigs allows for her to crowd source band members on twitter. “Suddenly people who never had a mic are singing,” says Timoner. And Brand has built a massive twitter following and become a voice of the people through active engagement.
“Why do people play video games five thousand times in a row but only watch a film twice?” asks Timoner. “Because the video game is interactive. Even just pulling back the veil on your emotional state while you’re making art makes the audience feel included.”
Timoner believes that giving the public such free access to the creative process, as these three artists do, will ultimately help the artists “buy their freedom.” In other words, heavy audience involvement allows the artist to break free from corporate structures. Timoner remembers selling her film Dig! at Sundance. “You just turned your baby over to the big boys and they did whatever they wanted to distribute and market it,” she says. “There was no avenue for feedback from the filmmaker.” But as Brand, Palmer and Fairey demonstrate with their own work, there are other ways to connect the creator and the consumer. “Technology and the internet has empowered us to take our work all the way to our audience and make a sustainable relationship with them. We don’t need a green light from the gatekeeper anymore. Now the crowd speaks.”
Which is exactly Timoner’s plan with the CEA Bundle. She has released the films on her own for $10. For every one purchased, $3 will be donated to charities chosen by the featured artists: Honor The Treaties, HeadCount, Freehab. But Timoner is going further than simply making her films available without help from distributers. In the next six months, she will make all footage from the bundle and a number of other shorts available to the public. You’ll be able to search the raw interviews, download transcripts and even remix the footage to make your own films. “I made certain choices as a filmmaker,” says Timoner. “By making things interactive, you can follow your own agenda. If it works, it’ll be a great model for storytelling in the future.”
Amanda F*cking Palmer on the Rocks, Obey the Artist and Russell Brand the Birds, are available as a package at Chief Executive Artist: The Bundle. The raw interview footage will be released on A Total Disruption.