Indie Stream: YouTube and independent filmmaking

For those who wish to immerse themselves in the world of filmmaking, but without the trappings and limitations of the many studios who produce films that are often, at best, cookie-cutter “safe” products meant for mass consumption, there aren’t many places left to go. Or rather, this was the case, before YouTube.

Like Kickstarter has done more recently, YouTube has allowed filmmakers to side-step the traditional process of creating new cinema. However, unlike Kickstarter, which focuses on funding, YouTube offers a publishing platform for video that also happens to the the most popular on the planet. It’s simple to set up an account, simple to upload your finished work, and even easier to manage your channel, your views, and even monetise your content through advertising.

In a sense, it removes all the money issues you would have to worry about when being studio funded and studio-run. Although you won’t find YouTube shorts making their way onto the screens of your local cinema any time soon, it is definitely a means by which people can showcase their work to a large audience and never have to worry about seat numbers, venue hire, or any of the other intricate details that go into an independently-run cinema tour.

There are some interesting success stories that have emerged from YouTube’s history as the number one venue for people who want to watch interesting content online. One of the most prolific was the Life in a Day project, a partnership between YouTube and The Last King Of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald. The concept? Get tens of thousands of people to submit footage of their daily lives to the director, and he’d choose the best and edit them into a documentary.

When speaking about the project he stated that it was going to be “something unsual, and it [was going to be] something that has a kind of social value to it.” There was some criticism of the project – namely that it wasn’t going to be possible to have a representative documentary given that only people with cameras could contribute. This criticism was swiftly disproved by the production team’s purchase of over 400 cameras that they then sent out to locations around the world to generate good footage.

The final result was a montage of anything from skydiving to things more mundane, but in locales that you may never have visited. Representative, arguably, of an eclectic mix of cultures, locations and lifestyles. YouTube helped make it happen and bring it to their audience – the millions of people per day that visit the site – and they also have the pull to get names like Kevin MacDonald involved, too.

It hasn’t just been good for promoting the work of everyone around the world in a celebration of global culture, however – it’s also been a great way for people to start a career, or even a company. In fact, one company has actually built themselves up from nothing using a site and YouTube channel that is currently one of the most subscribed on YouTube overall, and it started when people used videogame footage to make narrative-driven videos. The name of that particular discipline, and the company? Machinima.

Machinima is actually a deliberate misspelling of the word “machinema”, or “machine cinema”, as it was known in long form. It was misspelled to differentiate itself from the other material that was out at the time using one particular engine. Not long after, more games were used, more users got involved, and the site’s popularity began to rise. A YouTube channel, famous commentators (gamers who talk while they play games, with you watching what they see on screen and sometimes their faces as well) and a colossal following and a business are what results from proving that games are an incredible medium to make films in.

Guns and explosions? Don’t worry, use Halo! Minecraft is also an option should you want to add in anything from castles to fields and don’t mind a block-based look to everything. The sets are laid, and all it takes is a powerful computer, some time, some software and a reasonable monetary investment to get started – the thousands of channels devoted to Machinima and commentary are evidence of this. Machinima stands as a major promoter of indie cinema, albeit in a medium unfamiliar to many – think of it as this generation’s stop-motion animation.

YouTube themselves are also keen on promoting indie film, having given multiple opportunities to filmmakers to showcase their work in YouTube-promoted events and on official YouTube channels. We attempted to speak YouTube themselves to get a better idea of how indie films are being brought into the spotlight by its platform, and what it’s doing to help filmmakers gain an online foothold and an audience. However, it was not to be and we were declined comment by Google, which is a shame given that there were no negative angles in the piece itself.

Their channels enable easy upload, error correction (if your footage is too dark, or shaky), promotion through social media integration and an easy way for your fans to subscribe to your content and give their opinions via the like/dislike buttons. They are dedicated to getting as many filmmakers uploading to YouTube as possible, because there’s a significant benefit there. In a way, YouTube really is a major studio, albeit without a more intimate relationship between filmmaker and film in regards to seeing your content promoted, as they’ll be doing that themselves, most likely.

What YouTube may lack in willingness to talk about what they’re doing, they make up for with a site that speaks volumes about the freedom to create, publish and market film. YouTube is a valuable opportunity for those who are tired of trying to get high-quality content seen by those who generally feed off random selections, hunt for gems reasonably far down in a deep pile or those who simply go on recommendations from friends and colleagues. Indie cinema’s future, arguably, rests on that site, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out for the studios who start seeing incredible projects they ignored appearing on Google’s video hub.

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