Several companies recently
announced they plan in the future to distribute narrative and
documentary videos via the Internet. Sounds great, right? Everyone, it
seems, has a gimmick to help the independent filmmaker. Let me explain
and then you decide if what you see is a publicity stunt or something
more. These companies want to give aspiring filmmakers an opportunity
to present their work where almost no place previously existed. The
New York Times says, “There are more than a million video clips
currently available online,” as if that alone is enough reason to
distribute everything as equal. What are these clips? Where do they
come from? What do they say? What is their quality? Perhaps if these
new means of distribution work, we will find out. Who will watch these
bits and pieces, and why should they make a difference?
I admire these new businesses for
their attempt to open doors usually closed to aspiring artists, and
even to those with some record of accomplishment. I am in favor of
supporting a person’s creative impulse and drive. There is one catch.
Just because the desire is there, it is not a guarantee that talent
follows. In the film world, failure outnumbers success by a huge
margin. That is how it should be. Through these new means of delivery,
we are about to embark on an era of the democratization of creativity.
As business models the ideas are great. Artistically, though, I wonder
about their effectiveness. Our constitution, with appropriate
amendments, says we are equal under the law. It says nothing about
being having equal talent. Democracy does not guarantee great art,
even decent art.
Do not get me wrong. Everyone who has aspirations deserves a chance.
It is part of the “American Dream.” With so many people wanting to
deliver their message through the medium of film, and soon with these
means of distribution available for a pittance, will the unsuspecting
among us ever be able to distinguish good from bad? I am cynical
enough to say no. Guidance is necessary. Though few in our youth
oriented culture trust critics, without standards everything might hit
bottom and stay there, causing the good to suffer under the
overwhelming weight of the bad. We are on the verge of a severe
leavening of talent. With these proposed new means of distribution, we
might lose sight of genuine creativity.
The means of production are now very inexpensive. Anyone with a
digital camera and a desktop editing system can make a film. These new
delivery systems may allow more than 300,000 videos to bloom, but
their survival is a different matter. I would rather a hundred good or
valuable films survive than to suffer the fate of looking at 300,000
videos – the number proposed by one company as its goal -- most of
which will probably be worthless.
My hope is that the marketplace will separate the good from the bad.
Despite the threatened deluge, almost nothing can keep good art down
or from making its way into the market place. Despite what some may
feel, valuable work has a way of rising to the top. We are all aware
that there are times when we ignore genius, and when recognition comes
slowly, if at all. I know that happens more often than it should.
True, valuable film work rarely withers and dies. It sometimes takes a
long time before art receives the appreciation and acceptance it
deserves. Critics notwithstanding, the market place has a way of
determining what lives and dies.
We are about to witness the video clip, of whatever length, entering
and then possibly dominating our lives – if we allow that to happen.
Those with little or no talent will be able to take advantage of the
access they believe has long eluded them. Because the Internet is
limitless, so will the opportunity for everyone who wants to present
us with his or her version of art, however fanciful or mundane. I can
only hope some will resist what will surely be a surge of mostly
worthless films. There was a time not too long ago when quality of an
image or series of images such as in a film, stood for something,
other than simply information on a cellphone or I-pod. That time is
past. All that matters now to the uncritical is the image itself, the
information it contains, not in the seriousness of the image itself.
It is as if we are experiencing the dumbing down of esthetics, and, if
so, it is a sad commentary on how the youth culture sees the lasting
value of a photograph or a set of moving images. In this world of
instant gratification, a quick fix seems to be far more important than
the legacy of creativity.
After all I have said, perhaps we should allow everyone equal access,
and thus the exposure he or she craves. I am sure, or better yet, I
hope, the truly creative will go beyond the mostly empty efforts of
putting their material on the Internet. Using the wizardry that is
part of our new and seemingly unlimited technological age, I hope that
our eyes, hearts, minds and spirit can survive this latest onslaught
on our already battered senses.
At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief
in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on Today and wrote
and produced for Sunday Today. At ABC News Productions, he produced
and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the
History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner award, a
National Press Club award, a International Documentary Festival Gold
Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television awards and
has been nominated for five Emmy's. He is a partner in
Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My
Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in
Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of, "The Soldiers 'Story",
"Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First
War: A Saigon Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.