The Difference Between Evolutionary and Revolutionary

There is a general cynicism lately about human progress in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm. This week’s South Park had a brilliant (albeit gruesome and disgusting) commentary on contracting the disease, “cynicism,” where everything starts looking and sounding like “shit.” Many individuals (not just me) watch in angst as large companies roll out recycled shlock and menial improvements. A lot of the criticism directed at all companies showcasing video games at the E3 gaming conference this week sang to the beat of “It seemed more like a catch-up game than something completely different.” Nintendo and Playstation announced entirely new gaming consoles, and yet they came off as incremental and uninspired updates in struggle to catch up to the aggressively expanding mobile games market. Only sequels gained traction at the conference, no original game-changing titles. I hold the same criticism of Apple’s latest products: iPad 2, iCloud, OS X Lion, and iOS 5 boast only minor improvements to the user experience that update on and catch up to some superior features of competitors in the computing space. We live in a world farming updates, too distracted by the noise around us to make meaningful, poignant change.

Our world is evolving quickly, but do not mistake evolution for revolution. Evolution is a slow, gradual, step-by-step process that takes time and energy. Revolution is a leap, a blindside, a change that catches us all by surprise. Evolution is differentiation. Revolution is different. Evolution is a hybrid transition between new and old. Revolution does not look back. Evolution is missing the letter ‘R’ at the front, and that letter ‘R’ means business. I have not seen a revolution in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm for some time.

Revolution is a modern virtue. How can you build something revolutionary? Use the Reference Test: can you or anyone else compare your creation directly to another creation already existing?

Hollywood pitch culture is a perfect example. Somewhere in the early nineties, producers made the habit of pitching movies as “this” meets “that.” “Terminator” meets “Home Alone.” “Cool Runnings” meets “Blade Runner.” “Veggie Tales” meets “Godzilla.” The problem? Mixing old shit together does not make it new. It simply makes it old shit mixed together. Can anyone compare your movie idea directly to other films already in existence?

If your work comes off as a hybrid between this and that, or an update to something already in existence, then you have not pushed the button hard enough. Push harder. Twist your perspective. See the light. Open your mind. Forget the world around you. Look deep inside. Be true to yourself. Be human. Be real. You are capable of inventing something the world has never seen.

Stop at nothing to change the world. Start a revolution.

New Media: Producer’s Intent? [Film Friday]

This is the first in a series of posts I announced last week called “Understanding New Media.”

One argument I’ve heard from filmmakers trying to define “new media” favors a producer’s original intent for the material. If the story being told was meant for web and first launches online, then it (by definition of producer’s intent) should be considered “New Media.” I suppose that’s fair – if it was made for web and only ever lives on the web, what else do you call it? Well, I call 99% of it “Casual Video.”

YouTube is the biggest marketplace for “Casual Video,” where users upload literally anything they can capture. Most YouTube videos have no revenue agenda, are authored by individuals arbitrarily, and lack front-end logistics or financing. For a video to transcend “casual” status, I think it must first have at least a little foresight, structure, and craft tied into its execution. “New Media” is a film industry term, so there should be a certain level of “industry” to the content being produced. There is really no “industry” to my friend Jim skateboarding off of a cliff. It’s merely pure, casual fun.

So I’ve raised a little money and produced something for the web. “New Media,” right? What happens when that content syndicates on television? Or premieres on the big screen? Is it still “New Media?” Or has it become more than that? On the flip side, what happens when a feature film, originally intended for the big screen, first ends up online out of failure to platform in theaters? Is it still a “Feature Film” or has it become “New Media” in spite of the producer’s original intent? Tough call.

Moreover, what happens when our televisions and movie theaters are networked through the web? Is a cable show broadcast on Google TV “New Media” or “Television?” I stream Netflix and South Park the same way I stream YouTube antics. Don’t you? So what’s the difference? Well, there is no difference to the consumer, except perhaps the quality and duration of content. The lines between web and other platforms are blurring. Just because something plays online does not necessarily make it “New Media.”

I suppose the “original intent” argument can stand for now concerning content that was financed, produced, and distributed exclusively for the web. But there’s much more to it than that. Does the content play as part of a greater whole? Is it a spinoff or tie-in to another intellectual property on another distribution platform? Should the content then be called “Bonus Material” or “Marketing” instead?

Tune in next week for a discussion on web content’s autonomy.