DIY Days 2011

Yes, I am exceptionally late in posting this. But teaching, interviewing, conferences, World of Warcraft, Web development for charity organizations… And here we are, very late ;-P  Here’s the recap of DIY Days that took place in March 5th:

Over the weekend, I attended a fantastic convention, DIY Days started by Lance Weiler as a side-initiative of The Workbook Project. It is in these types of gatherings that I remember why I love doing what I do: Great people, great ideas, great conversations… simply put, great time.

The conference is designed to create an environment conducive to sharing among those who create content. So attendees are mostly independent filmmakers and game developers, and well… people like me who are interested in hearing about new projects. Best part? Independent content developers share their projects with the crowd and seek assistance and help from others. Needless to say, there was much networking to be done. As for me, it was a great opportunity to meet up with my friends in the transmedia world.

If there was a single idea that came out by the end of the day, it was this: Stop griping about the “have nots” and do something with the “haves.” Nowhere was this more apparent than in Molly Crabapple’s talk where she portrayed herself as an anti-establishment punk artist and author. Apparently, she was kicked out of her school because she was “diagnosed” with some such “aggressive” disorder. Her reaction? Simply put: “Fuck you very much!” She went on to found Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School which quickly transformed from a local drawing community in Brooklyn to a movement with outposts in over 100 cities. In effect, it became a DIY Empire.

Artists and amateurs alike swarm to these experiences in droves (both nationally and internationally) to draw glamorous underground personalities that range from burlesque dancers and fetish models to drag queens. She challenged her listeners to stop bitching about the cool stuff that just won’t happen in their community and just go ahead and do them themselves. “Because, really,” she continued, “if you’re not going to do them, they are just not going to happen.” Underneath this daring attitude was the implication that DIY is no small potatoes. It’s hard work.

The reason why her presentation stuck in my mind more than any other big names who were in the lineup was that her work embodied the true DIY spunk. Let’s face it, as big of an idol as Ted Hope had been among the DIY filmmakers back in the day, he appeared to be a bit too established within the context of the emerging DIY movement. Bluntly stated, he spoke from a privileged position of authority. He was, in effect, too “tamed” so-to-speak.

In a similar fashion, Frank Rose, whose recent book The Art of Immersion talks about the emergence of a new form of narrative native to the Internet, didn’t seemed to offer much clues regarding the variegated facets of this “new form.” In effect, his presentation on world-building and storytelling, while quite informative, followed a rather conservative approach that reinstated and built upon some of the basic premises that was set forth by Gerard Genette in the 80s (such as characters, universe, plot, audience). He argued that authors need to find the right grammar for the right media and that it will probably take around 20 years to figure out the right grammar for emerging media. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long…

Lost was given as a case study for an innovative world-building and storytelling initiative. As several people had effectively argued before him (such as Ivan Askwith and Steven Jones), he explained that the roots of Lost could be found in the 18th century serial fiction. Undoubtedly, Lost is a daring example of a television show going against the established conventions and rules of the television industry. Nevertheless, while it challenged the industry from within and asserted an innovative business model that refused product placement by creating its own fictional brands, I would argue that it still played within the parameters of Hollywood, and as such, didn’t really offer much to the burgeoning DIY movements that was started by the likes of Molly Crabapple and Lance Weiler.

Brian Neuman, in his most vibrant presentation, traced the roots of the punk movement and the DIY. His talk emphasized the importance of the role of the artist and the DIY movement in bringing some balance into the equation within the capitalistic system. And he finished his talk with a call to arms to protect and defend Net Neutrality… a topic very near my heart. Amen!

Lance Weiler gave an excellent presentation on his recent transmedia initiative, Pandemic, that was launched at the Sundance Film Festival 2011. I think the scope of the project left everyone in the room astounded. The project’s goal was to create a storytelling pandemic.

His film short “Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259,” played in the festival’s narrative section, was about two children dealing with their mother’s mysterious “sleeping sickness.” This film was also the key part of “Pandemic 1.0,″ an immersive and multi-media project that was showcased in the festival’s New Frontiers section. He explained the project as something that played across the idea of changes in media consumption and changes in authorship and how audiences became collaborators. And that involved a variety of physical objects from around the world that they hid throughout Park City. Additionally, they had a variety of things that ranged from different types of info-graphic posters and a mobile application that they ran, to 50 phones with hand cranks that they released in to the wild.

Of course, the convention had other great speakers and panels as well: Douglas Rushkoff appeared as a recorded presence, Andrea Phillips gave an excellent presentation on the ethics of transmedia (the recap of her SxSW presentation can be located here, Faris Yakob and Brian Clark (whom I’d like to refer to as the transmedia trouble maker, or the TTM) had important contributions to make.

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