October 25, 2006
'Swarm-Based' Collaborative Filmmaking

FresHDV had a report recently on the making of 'A Swarm of Angels', allegedly the first truly collaborative instance of indie filmmaking and online distribution using the Creative Commons copyright model, thus encouraging free download and fan 'remixes'.
The film's homepage features plenty of revolutionary rhetoric, from humbly calling this model of filmmaking "Cinema 2.0" to coining the "remixing cinema" slogan for the intended use of their product (which would, first and foremost, require an interesting film in the first place).
According to FresHDV, the film will loosely fit the thriller genre with a splash of Sci-Fi which is probably fitting for a first experiment in collaborative filmmaking. The production team expects to reduce the estimated costs of $3-4 million to roughly $1.75 million which is still an impressive budget for an amateur project. Their goal is to have ~50000 participants for the final film. Slashdot.org displays a healthy dose of scepticism, raising the question of whether the mode of production proposed by "A Swarm of Angels" will develop into a sustainable financial model, too. At least it is already one of the most formalized 'alternatives' to current Hollywood blockbusters and their relatively fixed value chains.
What interests me most about the project is the technological framework used to enable truly "collaborative" filmmaking at every stage. For instance, the script is supposedly created using a WIKI environment and creative & marketing issues are decided by voting which, at least from personal experience, can be useful but does not compensate for all the inherent difficulties of collaborative authoring. With regard to the research focus of my PhD thesis, I would be interested to find out whether the Swarm of Angels team will also be using collaborative media creation tools and which impact these tools might have on the creative outcome. In the case of music production, 'virtual studio' environments are already developed which allow geographically dispersed artists to collaboratively record and arrange music.
All due scepticism aside, it should be interesting to see if the final Swarm of Angels movie will also produce entirely new filmic syntagms and visual effects; after all, current movie or media production in general is already highly 'collaborative' with production units working at different locations and technologies like version management tools 'bridging the gaps'.



After some deliberation, I agree with Paul Harrill's opinion of the "Swarm" collaborative project.

Firefox, Wikipedia--these are great examples of internet, open-source collaboration. But are 1000 heads better than one (or even 20) when it comes to feature filmmaking? Snakes on a Plane, as one previous example, isn't exactly Exhibit A for the so-called "wisdom of crowds."

So if the filmmakers do indeed intend to fully absorb ideas and direction from the mob, it might prove to be a disaster of a film. But I wonder if this is really just a way to fund a pet project, and if the core filmmakers intend to retain REAL control of the film? Which would be somewhat dishonest to what they are representing, but might create a better movie. We shall see how it all plays out.

Matt Jeppsen