One boring afternoon in high school, hanging out in a friend's backyard, someone, I think it was Eric Pullier (maybe it was Andrew Goldman, but I'm not attempting to Google someone with that name), came up with the idea of filming a Kung Fu movie with a home video camera. We filmed a few scenes, which was both memorable and entertaining. I don't recall that we finished the film, but Eric seems to have done alright.
That was more than 20 years ago, when creating your own independent film was just a dream for a bunch of high-schoolers. Now my kids walk around the house with my mobile device, filming the cats and disappearing magic acts. We can publish anything we want to YouTube, as soon as I can figure the right resolution on the mobile device (it comes with 3 built-in resolutions, every time you film, apparently).
The online content catching my attention lately isn't the home-made, YouTube type. Two major trends have emerged, trends that make it hard to imagine paying for content in the future.
One trend is entertaining propaganda. Corporate advertising is one example, but increasingly you get clever people entertaining you with important messages. The Story of Stuff is one of my favorites, because, honestly speaking, it doesn't say much I don't know; it would be faster for me to read in text; but it's still entertaining and I watched it all the way through, and showed it to my kids.
The other trend is independent filmmakers are creating content. Some of them are hoping to get funding or looking to merchandising. To some degree, watchers have become tolerant of buffering, and an advert or two before or after a program is no more intrusive than the adverts on commercial television. Everything from worldwide live television to independent films is available free.
What all of this means is that entertainment is becoming more and more free. The concept that the digital world is becoming totally free is relatively mainstream these days with Chris Andersen writing a book about it.
I know a fair number of people who are trying to make a living or raise money for various ventures involving video or animation. I have to wonder about that. I'm not saying video can't make money. In fact, my searches came up with clear advice on how to monetize video on the net. But it's not easy these days.
What's happening with video is pretty much the same as is happening with all kind of art. A lot of people in my family are artists, as in painting and sculpture. They create these works of arts primarily for themselves and their families, as a form of self expression. You know, like people who write poetry for themselves and never publish. All of these fairly talented artists make a living doing something else, and they create art for pleasure.
We've been seeing packaged and popular art, video and music, for so long that we've forgotten that developing art as a form of income is a relatively new invention. Throughout most of human history, the primary form of entertainment was music or storytelling that people made up for themselves and their neighbors. Few and fortunate were the artists and performers who found a patron or made a living from it.
The movie and music industries may find themselves horrified by the idea that anyone can produce a movie or music, and that there will be an increasingly smaller market for their wares, but truthfully, for most of human history, that's how it's been.
Modern society is global, meaning that some media will continue to be global. A small proportion of movies and music will still reach very large audiences, becoming the foundation of our common culture. Increasingly, however, our communities will be creating their own media, bonding our closer ties at the expense of some of the broader ones.