Here is my interview with Scott Kirsner, who is the author of Friend, Fans & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age. Scott spoke on various panels at SXSW.
What did you take away from SXSW this year?
SXSW is always great. I tell filmmakers that it’s the best annual event for figuring out how film and technology work together, and how new online dynamics are changing the way people will consume video. As far as what I took away, I did sessions at SXSW with the videoblogger/Internet artist Ze Frank and Gary Hustwit, who makes documentaries like “Helvetica” and “Objectified.” Both of them really underscored for me that if you do something you’re interested in (or even obsessed about), do it well, and let people get involved (giving them ways to participate and support you), there really is a viable way to be an independent artist in these digital times…without being a shameless self-promoter.
How should film schools adapt to a new media landscape?
I think they ought to be encouraging students to think about making new forms of content that take advantage of technological possibilities: short-form stuff that’s linked in new ways, that connects to location, that engages the viewer in different ways than feature-length, cinematically-exhibited films do. What can you make that lives in Facebook, that spreads via Twitter? Does there need to be a boundary between film and games? I’d like to see more film schools encouraging students to ask those kinds of questions.
When you wrote Fans, Friends And Followers what information did you find surprising?
Mostly, how experimental you have to be to figure out a strategy that works for you to build an audience. A remix contest may work for someone, but not someone else. You need to let a thousand flowers bloom.
Will creators have to spend more money on marketing as the web becomes crowded with new entertainment?
Well, spending lots of money on marketing, whether it’s billboards along every major highway or a Super Bowl ad, is a pretty time-tested way to get people to be aware of your product. But I actually think the online world gives creators more opportunities to organically build word-of-mouth about what they’re doing, rather than buying awareness. And when you do buy stuff, like ads on Facebook or Google, you can do it in a targeted, inexpensive way, without needing to hire an ad agency. That’s really revolutionary for individual creators.
How can artists do more to recognize fans who actually buy their content?
Well, crediting or thanking them is one way. Integrating them into the content somehow is another. M dot Strange incorporated images of some of his fans into his debut feature, “We Are the Strange,” and Jill Sobule sings about some of the donors who made her 2009 album “California Years” possible.
Is content still king or have aggregators taken its crown?
I am a believer in democracy, not monarchy. I think great work will always be recognized, will always find an audience, and that there will be ways for its creators to earn a living. People vote with their dollars, and they are still purchasing books, CDs, movie tickets, movie downloads, videogames, etc. And I’m hopeful that content and aggregators can coexist peacefully.
If you were going to be a financier in the entertainment industry what would be the best investment and why?
Well, I’m really interested in companies like JibJab Media or Next New Networks that have been trying to create new kinds of studio models… What would the next Disney or Paramount look like? What would the production costs be? What kinds of stories would you be telling, and how can the audience be involved in new ways? That said, there have been some failures already in that arena— but I also believe we’ll eventually see some successes.
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