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Open Source: The Future of Film?

Digital Rights Management is a hot issue nowadays. Labels, artists and producers complain that they’re losing money and being denied adequate copyright protection. This has spurred the development of security measures in an attempt to lock up, or at least control, digital content. The problem (if you’re one of the people losing money anyway): there are more people out there intent on breaking the system than there are those intent on saving it.

Digital Rights Management is a hot issue nowadays. Labels, artists and producers complain that they’re losing money and being denied adequate copyright protection. This has spurred the development of security measures in an attempt to lock up, or at least control, digital content. The problem (if you’re one of the people losing money anyway): there are more people out there intent on breaking the system than there are those intent on saving it.

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The inevitable question that comes to mind: should DRM advocates just accept that the concept, although still relatively new, is fast on its way to being an anachronism unless modified in light of the Web’s increasingly communal culture?

With every new protective technology comes the codes to promptly break it; with every new security measure comes the tools to infiltrate it; and with every step forward, the road to strictly proprietary digital content just seems to get longer. There’s a strong cyber community out there that believes that the Web should be an open forum of shared information. And this community is willing, even waiting, to fight back against those who thwart the course of its mission.

The situation really isn’t that dissimilar to the ideals that spurred on Robin Hood and his band of thieves — take from the rich and give to the poor; or in this case to the greater community.

Of course there are exceptions, and not all artists are against the idea of doing away with DRM. One film project that is actually using the idea of open content to its advantage, and in fact as its basis, is A Swarm of Angels.

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Conceived of by digital filmmaker, Matt Hanson, A Swarm of Angels is a revolutionary, futuristic film project, the aim of which is to create a £1 million film that will be distributed to over one million people using the Internet and a global community of members. The film will not be protected by any DRM, will be freely shareable, and will not be created for profit — all proceeds will go towards the next free community production.

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What’s noteworthy about Hanson’s endeavor is that not only is the film to be freely distributed, but also its creation necessitates a high amount of interactivity and community involvement.

People interested in becoming members pay a fee of £25, which allows them to influence production and development by having a say in creative decisions. They can even contribute more directly by joining the crew if they have the talent.

Two pitches are being developed, based on member input into initial drafts written by Hanson: The Unfold — a story about a disaffected musician who receives a phone call from his mother, who everyone believed died a decade ago, triggering a search to rescue her; and Glitch — a story about a neglected housewife, a voyeuristic cable operator and a videogame artist who all make a connection. The decision about which project will go onto the production stage will be made by the member community.

“This type of participate content is the missing link between the top-down approach of traditional media creation and the bottom-up nature of user-generated content,” writes Hanson.

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The project has been divided into five phases. Phase 2 was most recently completed, during which the scripts and visual development for both pitches, as well as a teaser and promotional material, were all created. Each successive phase aims to recruit more members and correspondingly to raise more money, with the aim for Phase 5 being to recruit 50,000 ‘angels’ and raise £1,250,000.

In keeping with the spirit of the project, Hanson has so far been resistant to publicity through offline media, relying on the blogosphere and online publications to spread the word. So far he seems to be making his mark. Forbes.com has cited him as a person likely to ‘Change the World,’ while The Guardian Guide dubbed the process “revolutionary and fun.”

Once the project is completed, it will be licensed under the Creative Commons, which will allow it to be downloaded and remixed.

Hanson’s reasoning behind creating such a project is: “You can’t control media these days. You need to go with it, rather than fight it. We’re part of the remix generation, with the DIY digital tools to make our own digital media, whether that’s film, music, or whatever.” Do you agree with his ideas? Are interactively created open source films a transitory trend, or do you think a project like A Swarm of Angels could really be shaping the future of film? Are there perhaps any other trends you foresee in this area?