Writing is the key to everything.

I’ve been doing a lot of clearing and letting go recently, following my mom’s passing at the end of 2011. (More on this remarkable odyssey later, believe me!)

Today, while sorting through old papers, I came upon some notes from an unspecified film industry talk on Laurel Point Inn notepaper, which dates it prior to 2009 or earlier, when the Victoria Film Festival used to hold its annual film industry talks there.

Anyway, I was inspired – it spoke to something that has been much on my mind.

” Writing is the key to everything.” Arcand

Well, there you have it!

As it happens, I recently dug out my copy of Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones. A most inspiring read that always guides me back to my writing practice. If you are a writer of any kind in need of a kick in the butt or gentle nudge, I highly recommend reading it. It’s helped me find my way back to the page.

What helps you put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard?

 

 

 

Documentary, Reality and the Future

For a couple of years now, we’ve been grappling with the very real possibility of the demise of the Canadian documentary. The industry as we’ve known it over the last 20 years has been dealt a number of life-threatening blows, a lethal concoction made up of  equal parts economic turn-down, cancelled broadcast strands, government funding cuts, the emergence of low cost Reality TV, digital technology and the Internet. The number of Canadian docs being made has been steadily dropping over the last 5 years, by as much as 21% according to Getting Real 4, the Documentary Organization of Canada‘s most recent economic profile of the Canadian documentary production industry. Ironically, for audiences, the documentary has never been so popular. Download the detailed report here: Getting Real.

Getting Real About Documentary

This trend isn’t exactly news. Many doc filmmakers are struggling as the market shrinks and turning to crowdfunding sites such as IndieGogo and Kickstarter with varying success. Over the last couple years, I’ve responded by successfully rebranding as a media-savvy storyteller, educator and social media content strategist. But my heart isn’t able to let go so easily; I’m still set on finding a way forward for the beloved genre.  As part of my involvement with the Documentary Organization of Canada’s National Board of Directors, I’ve helped spawn an audience development campaign to raise awareness about the plight of this endangered storytelling species.

We Love Documentary logo

www.WeLoveDocumentary.com

We Love Documentary launched at HotDocs 2011 and will form part of a longterm campaign in conjunction with DOC’s advocacy efforts. Plus I’m currently developing a fun interactive cross-country roadtrip project that will engage documentary audiences, filmmakers and changemakers across the country: get ready to Get on the DOC Bus!

So while I haven’t exactly been hiding out from the changing media landscape, my experience at last week’s VIFF Film Forum was a rude shock to the documentary ego.

The Beginning of the End Game

The first indication that we’re in an end-game scenario came when Storyville Vancouver was cancelled. We can only speculate why no international broadcast commissioners came to hear BC doc filmmakers make public pitches this year.

The next clue came when I checked out the VIFF Film Forum program: for the first time this year, ‘Documentary Day’ was renamed ‘Factual Day’. What used to be a day of talks dedicated to the genre, this year, was a disorienting mashup of what I might call FactuReality.

Cartoon about Reality TV: chickens watching a chicken roasting on a spit.

Reality TV: It's all about the sizzle

Sessions included documentary’s Pursuit of Objectivity (which the excellent panel agreed was not the point of documentary at all); producing a punchy sizzle reel to upsell your Reality series; CBC’s new online interactive experiences; and the transmedia project Collapsus experiments in cross-platform storytelling. All interesting and tangentially relevant, but I missed the usual networking with my fellow doc filmmaking colleagues, who were, for the most part, noticeably absent.

Good Luck With That

The real sting was delivered during the tail end of the day, at the Industry Networking Cocktail reception. After Minister Ida Chong officially opened the Forum, I found myself in conversation with Don Fast, Deputy Minister of BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “What do you do?”, he asked me. I began by cheerfully replying “Well, I was a documentary filmmaker, when there was an industry…” But before I was able to tell him about my creative re-branding and ask his thoughts on the future, he changed the subject. I heard all about his daughter, the actress. At the end of our conversation, he shook my hand with a friendly smile, saying “Good luck with making  documentaries.”

I’m usually pretty optimistic, but I have to admit I left feeling rather discouraged. What do you think, dear reader? What does the future of documentary look like from where you sit?

Social UnMedia, Filmmaking and the Bigger Story

Scott Stratten doesn’t like the term ‘social media’ and he makes a good point. The word ‘media’ evokes an old paradigm,  a pushy marketing mindset that’s going the way of the Dodo. Traditional media is characterized by a privileged voice broadcasting a unified message to the masses, but now the emerging digital revolution is changing the game and giving everyone a voice. The key to getting heard above the roar is to authentically engage one-on-one, develop relationships and offer compelling content that pulls people into your (story) world.

Stratten, the dynamic speaker and author of the best-selling book ‘UnMarketing’ was one of the awesome Keynote Speakers at Victoria’s first Social Media Camp (#SMCV10) on October 3rd, 2010. About 500 people gathered for a full day of speakers, roundtables and networking opps, exchanging digital tools, tips and techniques — plus a whole lot of joie de vivre! The buzzwords were ‘content’, ‘engagement’ and ‘relationship’.  That sounds a lot like filmmaking to me. Or maybe we could call it ‘storytelling technology’. Let me explain…

Social UnMedia is All About Relationships

According to Stratten, the outdated concept of marketing as a job or distinct task no longer applies. “STOP that!” he scolds, jumping up and down like an adorable nerd. UnMarketing is the new normal;  everything  you say, do, don’t do, watch or ‘like’ online contributes to the persona, character or brand you are offering up to the digital ecosystem. Good relationships have always been a key to good business; except now they’re the lock, the key, the door and the entire treasure box itself.

Social UnMedia, (to borrow Scott’s UnSemantics!) is making it possible for everyone to be a broadcaster, and even better, you can now connect with each person individually, so you don’t have to shout.

‘Now Hear This!’ becomes Once Upon a Time…’

Social media amplifies everything, so it’s not a quick fix for anything. “If you suck at business offline, then you’re just gonna suck harder online!”, warns  Stratton. “People only spread awesome frickin’ content!” What makes awesome content? Great storytelling.

I’m ready for my Close-Up, Mr. DeMille!

The invention of social media tools to the evolution of the Internet is equivalent to the discovery of the close-up to the history of filmmaking. The movies came of age in the early 20th century, graduating into a true storytelling medium when D.W. Griffith, the father of narrative cinema, decided to move the camera from it’s proscenium arch wide-shot to a close-up of the actors for dramatic effect. At first the Hollywood producers were horrified, worried that audiences would demand their money back having paid to see the whole actor! But as we all know, the close-up led to the art of editing and the evolution of the language of film: a set of ever-evolving conventions that offer precise creative control over the story’s dramatic narrative, fact or fiction.

Overacting was the norm in turn-of-the-century silent-era films. Grand exaggerated gestures were necessary for actions to be noticed in the fuzzy wide shot. But acting styles were forced to change with the advent of the close-up, which accentuated subtle nuance, unspoken backstory, laser intimacy and vulnerable authenticity. The tiniest facial twitch can suggest a rich personal story, such as Marlon Brando’s performance in The Godfather or Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

So what does this have to do with social media? Like it or not, social media is the contemporary digital hearth around which our stories are being told. “It’s a social forge, a fiery pressure cooker that transforms (or destroys) everything that is fed into it.”  So says Julien Smith, #SMCV10’s other awesome Keynote speaker and co-author of the best-seller Trust Agents with Chris Brogan. Smith nailed it: “We are being called to expand our role and tell a bigger story.”

The Internet Moves in for its Close-Up

Social media is telling this bigger story in digital close-up. Echoing the cinematic revolution,  almost exactly a century later social media etiquette favours authentic human gestures over bold, brassy proclamations .  Conversation and engagement is what it takes to be a star in the social media universe, everything else is likely to find itself on the cutting room floor.

Storytelling Technology for Reinvention

I’m continually amazed with the ways in which good social media strategy mirrors the filmmaking process. As a filmmaker, I live in the realm of story and I’m very excited about the opportunity for transformation and reinvention that this new storytelling technology offers. What’s the bigger story that is calling you?

It’s all about story

When I was 8 years old, I started writing a novel about a young tomboy’s adventures and I decided that I wanted to be a novelist. A year later, I was given an instamatic camera and I fancied myself a photographer. Later I took up singing and I dreamed of being a musician. I always adored art classes and at age 14, I was commissioned to make a series of silk batik scarves for sale at a chique shoe store in Brussels – it was an artist’s life for me!  I spent much of my teenage years working with school plays and by the time I played Juliet, I was convinced that my real future was in the Theatre.

Finally at age 18 I found myself at film school, almost by accident (that’s another story!). Now 30 years later, I’ve enjoyed a fulfilling career in the film and television documentary industry only to discover a passion for social media’s kaleidoscope of creative engagement apps and opps. Now that I’m putting it all together, it’s clear that when  it comes down to it,  I’ve really been exploring different aspects of one thing my whole life: storytelling.

I’ve wanted to get back to writing and get this blog out into the world for a while. Blog posts have been writing themselves in my head for a few months now, so it’s a relief to finally be here at the keyboard.  The outcome is unknown, dear reader. But here we go…..

What place does storytelling have in your life? I look forward to exchanging all manner of tales with you around this virtual campfire…where will it take us, what will we learn in the process…? Let’s hope there’s some fun along the way.

Sheesh, what happens next…?