FESTIVALS: IN RETROSPECT- Parting Thoughts on the Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival
By Kevin Dreyfuss and Tim LaTorre/EB Insider
Now that the dust is starting to settle on the first annual Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival, we can look back and get some perspective on the insanity that just took place. While it would be easy to rant and rave about the growing pains of any festival, the goal is to constructively discuss the issues presented by an event like this and to understand the lessons.
The great success of the Yahoo! Festival is that it promoted a feeling of community and represented a genuine enthusiasm about the next-gen sector from the established entertainment industry.
This enthusiasm, however, created an environment that was difficult to navigate. From the point at which Hollywood figure Peter Guber took to the podium on Wednesday morning to the closing night party Thursday night, the most defining issue of the festival was space, and the lack of it. Because of its status as the first event entirely devoted to this space to take place since the next-gen entertainment entered the spotlight late last year, the festival planners were overwhelmed with the amount of attendees. The result was overcrowded panels, congested walkways, and a closing night party that many attendees (including us) couldn’t even gain access to.
As we raced back and forth along the sun-baked Sunset Strip attending the events and screenings that made up the festival, we were confronted with a couple issues:
Identity Crisis: An Online Film Festival?
What do they say about the Holy Roman Empire being neither holy, Roman, nor an empire? That’s an apt phrase that kept popping into our minds as we attempted to gain access to keynotes, hear speakers at panels, and went to sparsely attended films.
With no major screenings or premieres aside from the well received, well-attended Mike Figgis film “Timecode 2000,” it didn’t really feel like a film festival at all. Festivals are usually sponsored by makeshift non-profit arts groups and are about film appreciation – the gathering of the filmmaking community to celebrate itself. That really wasn’t the focus here. In fact, several high-level next-gen industry leaders noted their disillusionment with the Yahoo! Festival as something that should have been about celebrating the new creative voices and art forms being explored online.
So that’s what exactly was the Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival? A conference? A trade show? Let’s call a spade a spade. With panels packed to the gills with industry insiders, hungry young Hollywood aspirants, and assorted press and booths set up in hotel rooms with companies showing their products and wares, the Yahoo! Festival was more of an industry conference and trade show than a celebration of online creativity.
But that’s not bad, that’s great. The next-gen industry needs events like this to help it define itself. It’s just that the Yahoo! Festival needs to decide whether, at its core, it really wants to be a festival or industry event. Even the biggest film festivals that become industry events (like Cannes, Toronto, or Sundance) have, at their heart, an intense appreciation for film as an art form. The Yahoo! Fest is in a unique position to do the same for next-gen entertainment. [Let’s hope they take the challenge.]
Hollywood vs. Next-Gen Entertainment – Transformationitis
One of the most interesting tensions to pull from the festival was the growing contrast between homegrown, organic Internet entertainment companies like Honkworm, Shockwave, and Atom Films, and the Hollywood players trying to move into the new space, embodied by POP.com and Mandalay.
From the get-go, the event provided a fantastic opportunity for established Hollywood players to paint themselves as next-gen visionaries. Mandalay head Peter Guber was a particular poignant culprit, scrambling and fumbling over a series of non-announcement announcements at his press conference, using key phrases like “investing intellectual capital” and “unique storytelling”. When we asked for an interpretation amongst other listeners, the general consensus was that he was basically saying that they were ready to spend money developing this area.
The Hollywood/Next-Gen debate ranged on the panels, in the various booths and bungalows, over coffee and bad food from food.com, and generous drinks at the various parties. Will the influx of money and high-level talent from Hollywood bring some structure and entertainment experience to the wonderfully chaotic next-gen industry? Or are they clueless, slow-moving stalwarts from a dying world, looking for a lifeboat? As one panel member mentioned, “I mean, come on, have you ever seen a worse business model for the Web than the studios?” If the Internet is all about flexible, grass-roots audience-building, free-floating experimentation building on film and video, gaming, community storytelling, et al, then Hollywood is just about the worst place you can look for inspiration and structure.
And yet, it is impossible to think that people like Steven Spielberg, Paul Allen and Ron Howard are going to allow their POP.com project to fail, no matter whether they understand the Web or not. With all of the money, power, and prestige swirling around it, they’re hoping to mold the Web into their image, rather than the other way around. In very real ways, the whole game could change when POP.com launches, whether anyone likes it or not. In the coming months, we’ll find out whether Hollywood really understands the next-gen space or whether they’re just following in the footsteps of the homegrown Internet entities. I mean, on the surface, POP.com does seem to sound an awful lot like Atom Films.
But it is important to remember that there is a reason why Atom Films and IFILM have been so wildly successful in the Web space. They “get” it. Next-gen companies don’t have the baggage of a Hollywood past to live up to. They start with nothing but an idea of what “could be” on the Web and put all their energies into defining that vision for the user. For perspective on the Web/David versus the Establishment/Goliath, look at some of the great battles of the Internet so far: Amazon.com vs. BarnesandNoble.com or eToys vs. ToysrUs.com. Will the next-gen space be the same? The Yahoo! Festival made this division even more apparent.
Hollywood knows there is something big happening here and they want in, but they’ve spent a hundred years prepping for the wrong world. Will they learn the lessons of the Internet quickly enough? Probably, but the great thing about the Web is that it allows a constant stream of Web/Davids to try their hand at competing with the big guys.
Hopefully, the future of entertainment won’t be so Los Angeles-centric either. With Honkworm and Atom Films entrenched in Seattle, hungry Silicon Alley companies (like Sputnik7) taking off, and new companies from different cities around the world sure to follow, the next-gen industry will probably be more diverse than Hollywood has ever been.
The Yahoo Festival was a success by existing at all. It is the first full step into a larger entertainment world. And for that, we tip our hats to you. Congratulations!
A few parting words from the next-gen industry to our established Hollywood compatriots about how to use your might to (partially) own entertainment on the Web: give us money and we’ll take care of the future for you.
[EB Insider is a free weekly email news source for next-generation entertainment. For more news and information please see http://www.ebinsider.com]