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Embrace tradition, discover a flexible mind.

June 24, 2009

I am sick and tired of hearing the debate between ‘traditional’ media and ‘new’ or digital media. The old guard of the media world are grimly holding onto the term ‘tradition’ to keep themselves afloat in the rapidly changing media landscape. What disgusts me most about the old media guard, the ‘traditionalists’ of the filmmaking, television, newspaper world etc are that they blatantly misuse the term ‘tradition’. They brandish it as a weapon against the ‘new innovators in tradition’, like myself, who are more interested in telling a good story than in the eventual form it takes.  The old guard fire their ‘tradition propaganda’ so they can maintain their balance sheets and/or elite ‘art’. Tradition is being used as a tool to maintain power and money in the hands of a few select individuals. Well, those days are numbered. Tradition is bigger than all of them and here’s why:

One of my great pet hates in life is the way that people buy into ‘tradition propaganda’ and fail to think through issues for themselves. As a result they use tradition to disguise their own inflexible, and narrow mind.

Let’s look at what tradition actually is:

‘The word tradition comes from the Latin traditionem, acc. of traditio which means “handing over, passing on”‘- thanks Wikipedia.

Now let’s split this debate over tradition into its form and its function.

  • The FUNCTION of tradition is to pass on stories or beliefs that represent an important aspect of humanity
  • The FORM tradition takes can vary from the macro level of religious institutions, political systems, symbols and mythology through to the micro level of families, village cultures etc.

I studied architecture for a number of years and there was often the debate over form vs function. There was always a great deal of discussion over what should come first, form or function. The end result was always crystal clear for me. Those architects that began with the function of a building and allowed the form to develop always created the most unique, breathtaking, and engaging works of art. Those that began with the form, were generally left with a showy, useless piece of crap that fell apart in a few years.

So for me, the debate around tradition is fairly simple. Those that start from the position of form are either:

  1. Wankers: largely defined by the way they mask their insecurity through megalomaniacal displays, verbose self-congratulatory language and recycled ideas (think the old guard) Or;
  2. Narrow-minded: and unable to think outside the fear box being broadcast at them. They are scared that if they do start thinking for themselves, those vile, persuasive messages being thrown at them might jump out of the screen and make them so obese that they won’t be able to stop their family being captured by paedophilic terrorists. Or;
  3. Both. These are the worst kind: Wankers, that have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’ll throw the types outlined above into the same category of ‘Dumbos’. These people have an inherent need for the existing superstructures to be maintained. That is, they either have a vested interest in maintaining their own power (wankers), or asserting their own stupidity to make them feel better about themselves (narrow-minded).

It is these very people that tarnish the word tradition. They usurp the function of tradition and then deride innovators or original thinkers for not being respectful of tradition.

Hence pioneers of digital media are often derided by ‘traditional’ mediums as being crass, cheap and unmindful of traditions.

Dumbos are also the ones that can be found arguing that a political system, religion or village culture is inherently good or evil. (Let’s not get into a debate on Fascism etc here). It is the people in charge of instigating the policies in such systems that do good or evil. I believe there are some underlying, basic human morals and innate beliefs that transcend a political, religious, village or family system. These are what together make up the FUNCTION of tradition, not the political, religious or other FORM they may take.

Which leads me back to the story. And digital media.

The medium of delivery whether it be a film, novel, artwork etc is not the tradition. Just as a religious or political system are not the tradition.

They are the FORM that tradition takes.

Let’s start thinking for ourselves again and look at the FUNCTION of tradition. What are we trying to say? What is our story? How are we going to communicate our tradition most effectively to future generations?

By starting from the FUNCTION of tradition some interesting, innovative and engaging FORMS of tradition may emerge.

Let’s embrace tradition, and hand over and pass on the messages and stories that are really important to new generations. Let’s start sharing stories about climate change, cultural diversity and shared growth, how we value an individual’s contribution to society beyond dollar signs, and the mechanism’s we need to not only ‘advance’ but to ‘connect’ as humans. I could add many more stories to this list, but you get the idea.

And while we’re at it, why not embrace the new technologies that allow us to share these stories with the world like never before? Even more than sharing them, we can make them calls to action by getting people involved in the conversation. Yes, sometimes we all want to passively absorb media, but we all also want to communicate and share our ideas.

Welcome to the world of The Digital Wave, the real-time ambient conversation. But that’s another blog.

For now, don’t be scared. You’ve got a flexible mind, should you choose to use it. Within our tradition is your story waiting to be discovered and shared.

Interview with Frank Kelly, creator of the Twitter-inspired 140 film project.

June 10, 2009

I’m excited to share this email interview I conducted with Frank Kelly, the organiser of the 140 project. This is the first, in what is hopefully an ongoing series of interviews with storytellers from around the world.

I’ve mentioned the 140 project before in an earlier blog, but for those who aren’t familiar with the project, Frank has been inspired by Twitter to come up with a new way to make a film. On June 21st, 8pm GMT, 140 filmmakers from 140 locations around the world will record 140 sec of footage each. I’m one of the filmmakers involved, and I’m very interested to see the results of the final product. Find out more about the project here.

In this interview Frank provides some interesting insights into his life, the changing face of storytelling and his own personal quest to find and tell great stories.

Please note, that as this is Frank’s story I haven’t edited any of his answers, so excuse the odd mispelling etc.

What’s your story? (in 140 char. or less)
I make films. I’ve written screenplays for about 10 years, shorts, features, TV shows. Made some shorts and won a few awards doing it too!

How did you start out?
First film I made was Emily’s Song, a short about two brothers which played in festivals around the world. That was the first real step into filmmaking. But I had been writing for years before that, learning my craft as a writer. Before that I studied Animation Production in college, but decided to go into live action when I graduated, live action being my first love.

Tell us a bit about the idea behind this project.

I was frustrated with not getting anything made, I had made a film in a year and there didn’t seem to be anything coming up. Right about then I signed up to twitter, my first thought was ‘I don’t need this,’ I figured it would just be a distraction, but then I started to think about how I might use it to get something going. Seeing how quickly you could communicate with a lot of people and taping into the expedient nature of twitter I started to think about connection and synchronicity.

How do you think technology is changing the way we tell stories?

Storytelling is as much a part of our DNA as the colour of our eyes. As humans we tell stories everyday, perform little plays for each other, try to entertain each other. One of my favourite things to do is watch people telling stories, in a cafe, on the town, one is usually the audience, while the other is the story teller, waving his or her arms around stepping in and out of different characters, retelling some tall tale of something that happened last week, exaggerated ten fold for effect. I think technology will simply be another outlet for telling stories, we’ll tell the same stories, but in another way.

One of the filmmakers on 140 is Zach Helm, the writer of Stranger Than Fiction, and probably one of the most unique story tellers of this generation. He is using twitter in a new way to tell a story. He has a fictional character called Henry Thorpe whose life he is played out in real time as he twitters his adventures, which is an interesting use of the medium.

Do you see this project being fiction, non-fiction or both?
It’s non-fiction, although some filmmakers may chose performance pieces, I’m not sure yet, I won’t know until I see everyone’s footage. It’s a documentary of sorts, an experiment. It will cut together as visual experience that will, hopefully, perhaps have a message, an over all feeling.

What tools are you using to bring the various filmmakers and footage together?
I’m bringing the filmmakers together online, mainly through twitter, but also via email. I’ve asked the filmmakers to shoot on whatever format they have available to them, as the filmmakers come from every degree of experience, from student to seasoned professional. They will then send to footage to me as a file and I’ll upload it and begin cutting… which should be fun!

How will your project be distributed?
I will promote the film on the film festival circuit for about a year and seek distribution.

Is this project self funded? Or do you have sponsors onboard?
There is no funding. The idea was to make something from nothing, using the internet and the ingenuity of the artists involved. I don’t have any money, so I figured there was no point in trying to make something that cost a fortune… or even €10!

What makes a good story?
I’m not sure, something that surprises you. It’s a mixture of Deja Vu and Jame vu, something you know you’ve seen before, but at the same time, something you’ve never seen before. It’s old and new at the same time… tricky!

What’s your favourite story? (can be a film, book, myth etc)
Back to the Future is my favourite film, I think it’s a wonderful film and a brilliant story. His Dark Materials are my favourite books, masterful storytelling. I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. I think I like grand adventures, something I can be completely absorbed and lost in.

Where did you get the name pale stone productions?

Pale Stone is the name of a character in a story my writing partner have been working on for several year. I wont tell you too much lest it spoil some of the plot.

Greatest fear in life?
Losing someone dear to me.

What is your idea of freedom?
I akin freedom to happiness. And not sure happiness exists as a complete and constant state, we have moments of happiness, but we could always be happier! We’re still tied to so many worries and anxieties: bills, dept, health concerns, car payments, mortgage, credit cards, all of us struggling to make something good, make a living, make a mark. Freedom, or happiness are not things I feel everyday, whereas I feel worry everyday, and freedom is life without worry I think, which is impossible. Maybe only when we’re dead will we really find freedom… Happy answer!

Your greatest ambition?
To provide a good living for my family, make sure they are looked after and safe.

Your tips for spreading the word and getting online support for your projects?

The network theory. I tell everyone I know and ask them to tell everyone they know and so one, hopefully soon everyone will know! We’re all connected now, so it should work.

'Broken Wall' by Frank Kelly

'Broken Wall' by Frank Kelly

The favourite photo Frank Kelly has taken called ‘Broken Wall’. You can see more of Frank’s photos here.

I took it in a place played as a child. I later found out it is the factory where my grandparents worked and indeed met, so it has a strong significance for me.
It was part of an exhibition I did called ‘Old Shoes and Broken Walls’ about the crumbling factories around my town and simbolises, for me, how easily we forget, and how we get so fixated on what’s directly in front of use that we forget about where we came from, who made us, how we got here, and there is no reverence for that. I think there should be.

Why are you drawn to storytelling?

Simple answer; I don’t know. Something to do with the fact that I like being surprised, I like feeling part of something, I like making people feel surprised and making them feel part of something. There’s a big hole in all of us, something we strive everyday to fill, with food, money, cars and all the material things we want. I don’t think any of those things are as satisfying as a good story, when we hear a good story, whether in a film or a book or from a friend, we feel complete for a few moments. It’s something primal.

If you had to live by a motto, what would it be?

I have no idea!

– Many thanks for Frank for sparing the time to answer a few questions. You can also find out more about what he is up to at his blog.

Storytelling independent of medium.

June 10, 2009

I’ve have been getting a number of responses to my previous post on Ag8 and the future of storytelling. I believe a lot of people seem to be confusing the medium for the message. I simply believe that paradigm is outmoded. The internet, by its very nature lends itself to discussions around technology. I want to start hearing more conversation around our story.

Storytelling throughout history has been independent of the medium. Sure, as a result of the medium certain forms, genres and archetypal characters of storytelling emerged. An incredible history has built around the shared myths and symbols that have emerged from the various mediums.

However, a good story usurps any medium.

When you read a great book, the story doesn’t stop there, you tell your friends, you discuss the book with others, and a myth is built around that book. This will largely be shaped by your close networks, what you have seen/read/heard about the book in other media etc. While the audience may not be actively communicating with the author, they are certainly shaping the subjective story that emerges. For the story, once read, becomes independent of the page and subject to the experiences, views and symbolic belief systems of the audience.

In a sense, nothing has changed. Their are still people creating and people consuming. However, the crucial aspect is the currency of openness and speed. The creator must now use the feedback of the audience to refine, defend or promote their story and be clear in their reasons for producing the story in the first place.

If story is truly about educating as much as entertaining then it is up to every storyteller out there to be clear in their convictions. They must tell stories that connect meaningfully with their audience. This doesn’t mean they ever have to lose sight of the story they are trying to tell. It’s just that instead of telling stories in a linear, clear-cut way, storytellers must now develop multiple levels of meaning. They must create, or allow the audience/creator to create, through-lines that are more human in nature than traditional narrative structure.

The story needs to embrace worlds to truly reflect the many worlds that make up our existence (e.g. internal, local, national etc).

Humanity will always require leaders to balance the needs and wants of society. As such, it will require creative leaders and storytellers to guide these communal stories. However, sometimes the best stories come from the most unexpected places. It might just be that we all have a story to tell. This may come as a shock to all the history saturated, culturally elite, traditionalists out there. I’m not interested in tradition for tradition’s sake. I’m interested in the human story. Aren’t we all?

Respect where the story has come from, but also be open minded enough to see where it may go.

The future of the story is out in the wild world. You better get ready.

What’s your story?

NB: While all mediums were created equal, we needed the internet to bring our story together.

Agent Blank has a new (v1.0) home. Check it out www.agentblank.com.

June 9, 2009

I’m pleased to announce that Agent Blank finally has its first online home. www.agentblank.com.

Like any new home, it will take a bit of time to settle in, but we’re confident that in time it will grow into a dynamic destination devoted to telling great stories.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

We want to find out about you and your story. We’re keen to start the dialogue with independent artists, businesses and educational institutions about the stories they are trying to communicate online. So feel free to contact me via Twitter, Facebook or via the contact form on the Agent Blank site

Stay tuned for some very exciting announcements soon around how we’re planning to help independent artists.

Ag8: finally someone is cottoning onto the future of storytelling.

June 7, 2009

For quite some time now, I’ve been pondering how storytelling will change with the rapid advances in digital media. I’ll always have a soft spot for films as a great medium to deliver a story. However, I have come to realise that filmmaking as we know it is changing forever.

While, they’ll always be some great auteurs or traditionalists out there making great standalone films, more and more we are going to see the development of stories with no clear beginning, middle or end. Let’s face it, this traditional narrative structure was really only invented due to the limitations of the mediums being used. Clearly, no one is ever going to sit in front of a movie screen watching a film for five hours (unless you’re a masochist), that’s why the standard 90 minute film became the norm. It fitted in with people’s attention spans.

Now, however people’s attention spans are becoming shorter than ever. With the inundation of social media feeds, and the various sites we all subscribe to, we are barely able to keep up with the information being thrown at us.

This is creating an interesting phenomenon. It means that we want small, bite sized pieces of information that we can consume quickly. However, the web has also played nicely into humanity’s innate curiosity. There is still something fun and magical about discovering a new interesting piece of content or story on the web that you can send onto your friends etc.

Where is this leading?

The future is clear. Storytelling will no longer be one person trying to shape a story to an audience. There will be no separation between the ‘creator’ of the story and the audience. The audience will be creating the story as much as the original creator.

This calls for a very different mindset than the capitalist way of thinking that has been so dominant over the past few decades. The individual is no longer paramount, the collective is. Stories will no longer be shaped in isolation, and be protected through archaic practices like copyright. Stories will be created through various ‘entry points’ on the web, be that a blog, a video, a facebook page etc. The audience themselves will then shape the story and even be contributors to its creation.

For the first time since ancient cultures, where stories were passed down from generation to generation through verbal communication (around fires etc), the world has now found a new, communal space to share and grow its stories that represent humanity. What’s more, if we plan this right, we can have a trail of websites that archive and document the development of these stories.

In other words, stories are no longer simply stories, they are world views that will evolve with discussion, creation, and review.

So I welcome you to the new world of digital storytelling, where everyone of us are creators, audience, and critics all at once.

The only question left to answer is what does this human story mean to all of us? What does the future hold?

I think Tom Himpe and David Bausola, with a little help from  Ridley and Tony Scott, have struck the nail on the head and are set to be leaders in the digital media space. I encourage you to go and explore their site. The future is here.

Transparency and freedom of information in Australia

March 25, 2009

I have been too busy to follow the latest developments on this issue, but I find it extraordinary that the Rudd government has just released new, seemingly more transparent Freedom of Information laws. I’m curious as to how this reconciles with the strangely archaic attempts to censor the internet in Australia.

The attempts to censor the internet by Senator Conroy represent one of the greatest threats to the right to freedom of information that Australia has seen. I strongly urge everyone whether you are from Australia or not to help raise awareness of this issue. As part of doing this, I encourage any talented, creative people out there to participate or send in ideas to an ad campaign being run here:

Get Up Campaign

It is the internet that has allowed such great collaborative efforts such as the campaign above. I cannot emphasise how important it is for our individual freedoms and right to information that the internet is not censored in Australia. Without accountability, important information about controversial issues that lead to informed discussion and debate may be removed from the Australian people. This is not about censoring kiddie porn. The research shows that such material is now circulated off the world wide web in closed rings of deviant people. This is about our right to information.

If Australia is to keep up with the rest of the world, we also need decent internet speeds. The filter proposed will throttle these speeds and turn Australia into a technology backwater.

It is even more concerning when police start conducting raids on the homes of people that are trying to make the blacklist of censored sites available for public scrutiny:

Police raid wikileaks home

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on these issues.

Innovative ways to get noticed on google.

March 25, 2009

Firstly, I must apologise for being just like all the other wannabe bloggers. I started this blog with noble intentions. Like a new years resolution, I vowed to write each day and educate, inform and inspire people on digital storytelling. Like a new years resolution, it fell apart within a week.

However, I am back to show you innovation in digital storytelling. It could be argued that the link below isn’t to an innovative digital story. I would argue that it is a simple narrative story that effectively uses new technology to send a message to the world. I will leave the meaning behind this message to your own interpretation.

Innovative ways to get noticed by Google Earth