How to be a new media pioneer
If you’re interested in online video, journalism or film making generally, you really ought to watch Mark Cousins’ new series The Story of Film – an Odyssey.
It’s a strangely minimalist affair – sparse writing, artistic landscape shots and lots of clips from films you’ve never heard of, while at the same time thankfully free of self-aggrandizing pieces to camera.
I had the pleasure of working with Mark briefly in early 2010 when he was starting work on the series; he also showed us the preview of his quite remarkable documentary The First Movie – a quiet but powerful story about Kurdish children in Iraq.
Episode 1 of this 15 hour series was broadcast in the UK on Sunday and in it Mark tells the story of the first 20 years of cinema, from Thomas Edison to Cecille B DeMille, and all the innovations in between. It was an extraordinarily exciting time of discovery, experimentation and invention, and led to the creation of visual conventions we all subscribe to today: continuity editing, reverse shots, parallel editing and the 180 degree rule.
It’s hard to remember another time when a completely new medium – a new art form – appeared. The equivalent of the invention of the pencil or the piano.
Except, of course, for the period we’re living in right now. The internet, digital film, the iPhone and the HD-DSLR have given our generation a new blank sheet to scribble on. In The Story of Film Mark Cousins describes an early movie where the director shot a boxing match using 63mm film instead of the standard 35mm – an innovation which led to the creation of widescreen.
Now, 90 years later, we have pioneers on Vimeo developing tall-screen and super-widescreen videos. There are foetal ideas about creating layers of video on top of each other, augmented reality, immersive storytelling and more.
Mark tells the story of Florence Lawrence the world’s first film-star; now, a century on, we are meeting the early super-stars of the digital age, who have used Youtube to propel their lives into the mainstream. And the new generation of digital directors and movie moguls, like Jamal Edwards: the 20 something South-London founder of SBTV who’s even been featured in a Google advert.
Yes, I know this feels like a difficult time with revenues down, layoffs up and impossible prospects of getting a job on a newspaper. But in the same breath this is the birth of cinema all over again! The door is wide open for the next generation of innovators, directors, and entrepreneurs.
And most importantly: this won’t last forever. There is probably only a few years before online video, for example, hits the mainstream through IPTV. For those already on board the train, that’s exciting stuff.
But if you’re not there yet – do not delay.