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Tiffany Shlain Explains How and Why Non-Profits and Others Can Crowdsource Film Production for Free

By Tiffany Shlain | Indiewire May 6, 2013 at 11:01AM

Tiffany Shlain, who has been a player in the Bay Area tech scene for over a decade and who directed the 2011 Sundance film "Connected," is currently promoting her cloud filmmaking project, a way for organizations and others to get filmmakers all over the world to contribute to collaborative film projects on specific topics. Shlain also recently announced that she would be creating a web series, "The Future Starts Here," about connected life, for AOL
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First, when I say “the cloud” I mean the Internet, anything that connects us. So principal #1 is to use the cloud collaboratively with people from all over the world. Second, create films about the universal things that connect us. There’s enough stuff in the world about the things that divide us so let’s focus on what connects us. Third, give back to the cloud as much as we receive. Fourth, translate them into as many languages as possible because that’s really how we reach and impact the most people and places. Fifth, with every film, whatever new technology is out there, we always ask, “what can we do with it? Anything that’s new on the scene “how can we use it to push the boundaries and incorporate this into cloud filmmaking.” 

Cloud filmmaking in a lot of ways really combines two major strands in my life -- the Internet and filmmaking. And there are exponential possibilities that happen from this intersection. So in the first half of the talk, I'm going to talk about the background with my career because you’re going to see the seeds of Cloud Filmmaking. And then in the second half of my talk, I’ll show you more examples of Cloud Filmmaking and what we have been able to do with it.

All of my work comes from asking questions like “What’s the history of our connectedness and our co-evolution with technology?” People talk about technology as if it’s this other thing, but it’s just an extension of us. When we couldn’t see far enough we invented a telescope, when we wanted to talk to people in other parts of the world, we invented the telephone, and now when we want to combine ideas from all over the world, we’re all creating the Internet together. So what is the potential of this superpower that we have? This new extension of connecting us.

But I’m also really interested in the other side, I’m not like, “oh everything’s fabulous, technology’s going to save the world.” I’m interested in the good, the bad, and the potential of all of this connectedness in the 21st century.

I need to take you back to the 70’s - Northern California to be specific. My mom’s a psychologist and my father was a surgeon and also a writer. Both of my parents were very interested in the mind and the brain - my mother more from the heart, my father biologically - he even brought a real brain to my classroom in 4th grade. And I was supposed to be a doctor. I was given the book, “The Making of a Woman Surgeon” on four separate occasions growing up. And I was very interested in the brain as you can imagine with that DNA, but really my first love was filmmaking.

Shlain's favorite movies

Every Sunday night growing up we went to the movies. These are some of my favorite movies from the 70’s this was my family’s focal point of discussion, using films as a discussion point for conversation. So we would go to the movies, and go to Chinese food afterwards and break it down -- like traditional Judaism, breaking it down, analyzing everything, only the old bearded men would be Coppola and Vincente Minelli --that was our temple.

Even when my parents got divorced, it was the one tradition that stayed. It would be with separate parents, but it always happened. We used the movies as a trigger for conversation, a trigger to talk about what it means to be human, what are the morals of society. They were all these really interesting portals into the important issues of our day.

The other big event, I told you my parents got divorced, which totally sucked, but I was given an Apple iie. How many had an Apple iie? Then I was given a Mac in 1984. I want you to remember this was before the web. It’s really interesting to just look at what the world used to be like before the web. I want to take you back to that framework.

You know if you feel alone today, you have the web. But I was an unhappy, insecure teenager in high school, my parents had just gotten divorced, and I was alone alone. And then I got this Mac. This Mac was literally like my lifeline. I got to connect, not to people because then it was literally 1984 but I got to connect to libraries in other parts of the world which was like hugely exciting for me.

It was the 80’s and my family was from the Soviet Union (Russian Jews) and of course my best friend in high school’s family was from Iran. We were both really into these computers and from enemy countries and we thought, “what if we could create a program, where students all over the world could connect over the computer and we could talk about how we’re not so different.” We wrote this one-page proposal and we sent it to Barbara Boxer, who was a congresswoman at the time. The name of our proposal was Uniting Nations in Telecommunications Software (UNITAS).  From that proposal, I actually got invited to be a student ambassador to The Soviet Union in 1988. I was desperately searching for my roots, so I thought I’d find my family -and my identity. But, I went to the Soviet Union and it was the 80’s, it was very depressing, and they did not have personal computers, they did not even have enough food. But that whole trip was the beginning of my yearning for some kind of technology, a framework that would connect people all over the world.

Then I went onto UC Berkeley. I was supposed to be a doctor, you all remember that? I took a lot of sciences, which I was really interested in, but then I took a film elective class, not thinking I would ever be able to be a filmmaker. I took The History of Film and I had one of those professors who had this crazy excitement and she was that teacher that just lit the fire under my tush. Her name was Marilyn Fabe. She talked about the reason you could see a moving image and the science behind that, called the Threshold of Flicker Fusion, which is the illusion of making you see things in your mind even though they’re not really there.

She talked about how inventions in film would radically change how we recorded reality, radically change culture and the way we share ideas. I was totally hooked! So I was like, “I am going to be a filmmaker!” and my father was like, “I am not paying for you to go to college to watch Woody Allen movies!” And I’m like, “Dad, at least I’m not dating Woody Allen!” And it went back and forth, and fighting, fighting, fighting, and it was my first time standing up to him.

The one problem at UCBerkeley was that there was no film production. That was all at UCLA. So I was constantly looking for ways to make movies. What I would do is look for footage and equipment outside of the film studies department. There was a city planning department that had a flatbed editing table. I don’t know how many of you remember a flatbed editing table? And I would find old film footage from anthropology and other departments and I would edit together old movies to tell some story about society. So I got to re-contextualize. A lot of people ask me today, why do you use so much found footage in your films and I think the most creative moments come when you have constraints. I didn’t have any equipment so I learned how to tell stories through old films that I’d find. Remixing out of necessity.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Technology, Filmmaker Toolkit, Documentary, Crowd Sourcing, Crowd Funding, Kickstarter , Indiegogo





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