The Future or Nothing New?
Now let me start by saying that I'm of mixed feelings about what, if anything, this means. But whatever we make of it, it is still pretty cool, and worth discussing and thinking about.
I've long been a member of various online communities, but never was one to fully immerse myself in them. I've got a page up on MySpace. When I first started on the internet, back around '93, I started on AOSmell, like so many others have. I was certainly active in chat rooms and bulletin boards on there back then. Even before then, I used to log on to plenty of local BBS's when I was in jr. high or high school. So I guess you could say I'm no stranger to the online community, even though I've always been more into my "real" life than in any "virtual" one.
But Second Life is like nothing I've seen before. I guess part of it is that I've never been much of a video gamer, and I've also never played The Sims. Basically, it is an online community that is a complete world of sorts. Participants create avatars to represent their online personae. They meet each other and socialize, and participate in "parties," games, and other types of entertainment.
But one difference from previous online communities is that there is also commerce. According to something on the site a few minutes ago when I looked, it said that there was over $204,000 spent on Second Life today! And that's in real money. There are just under 200,000 "residents" currently (meaning over $1/resident spent today, of course). This also blows the mind somewhat.
But what does that have to do with us? (And yes, I'm aware that this is the third consecutive paragraph I began with the word "but.") Well, one of the hallmarks of Second Life, and a source of income, is that residents can "do anything" on the site. They are supposedly limited only by their imaginations. And they seem to treasure and value creativity. From one of the pages explaining the Second Life Creations:
Second Life is a place dedicated to your creativity. It’s about dreaming of something one moment and bringing it to life the next. Everything in Second Life is resident-created, from to [sic] the strobe lights in the nightclubs to the car (or spaceship) in your driveway.
And one of the relatively recent developments in Second Life has been the development of short films, entirely created within the Second Life "world." There have been a few "trailers" to promote Second Life. And then there is Silver Bells & Golden Spurs, the first original film "shot" in Second Life. The makers have no misconceptions about what they have really done:
Silver Bells and Golden Spurs is an exploration of the movie making capabilities of Second Life. It serves as a proof of concept for doing such, as well as the need for certain technical improvements.
And improvements it certainly does need. There are a number of awkward images, and/or rough movements. On a technical filmmaking level, the film also suffers on both directing and screenwriting counts. The camera's restless and repetitive spiraling moves are more distracting than anything else, and the poem that forms the film's voiceover narration is trite and silly.
Still, I am not here to discuss the weaknesses of the film, for they are not what I'm interested in. Rather, I want to talk about what Silver Bells means to us as screenwriters.
I've found that the internet offers numerous means for screenwriters to promote themselves, and most of us are not taking enough advantage of the opportunities. There are cheap and easy ways to build websites of our own. There are also blogs, MySpace, the upcoming StoryLink (now in beta testing), podcasts, and numerous other tools. But we also need to remember that we are screenwriters. So what better way to promote ourselves than with films of our writing?
We can create short films or trailers of our work (and if you, like me, don't want to also direct, find someone to partner with). There are plenty of outlets for showing the work. MySpace recently launched a film section, akin to its popular music section that has worked wonders to promote bands. We can upload our videos for free to YouTube and/or Google Video. You can even get them up on Atom.
Still, making a film can cost money. Even if you shoot on DV. And the money isn't always there in return. So what about a film "shot" without using actors, sets, film, DV, or anything else? And in an environment that fosters commerce in exchange for creative acts? Can Second Life offer a potential outlet of self-promotion for the developing screenwriter, and possibly be a source of a small amount of income at the same time?
I don't know. And in fact, I'm not even convinced this is such a new thing. It looks like it very easily could be something old dressed up in new clothes. I mean, digital animation has been around for a while, and that's essentially what Silver Bells is. I think that the "new clothes" here are a ready market for consumption and (perhaps) an easier means of production for the animation unitiated. Which in a way is just another step in the democratization of fimmaking, and the arts in general. DV, ProTools, FinalCut, PhotoShop, etc. These have all been things that helped level the playing field of arts production by removing many of the economic barriers.
So does it mean that there will just be much more crap getting made? Or does it mean it will be easier for creative people to get their visions before the people that they want to see it? I think both, probably. And though I am unlikely to invest much time in developing a film on Second Life, I still find the possibilities intriguing.
What do you think?
Hat tip to Jesse at The Writers Store.
Tags: Second+Life, screenwriting, self+promotion, digital+filmmaking