The Independent Creative Voice in Media Arts
October 16, 2000, 12:45 p.m.
Commerce and Art
Gail Silva, Executive Director, Film Arts Foundation
Ruby Lerner, President, Creative Capital
Viewing and Evaluating Circles
Robert Byrd, The Jerome Foundation
Alyce Myatt, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Dan Bergin, Twin Cities Public Television
Alex Rivera, Artist Producer
Commerce and Art
Gail Silva, Executive Director, Film Arts Foundation
Ruby Lerner, President, Creative Capital
Silva: The Film Arts Foundation is a little schizophrenic, but in a nice way. It is a membership service organization serving mostly independent film and video makers in the Bay Area and Northern California. We have 3,500 dues-paying members. Next year will be our 25th year.
Since the beginning of the organization in 1976, one of its tenets was fiscal sponsorship. It was a way for artists to be able to go out, look for money, and receive it on behalf of a project that had been selected by our foundation, to have us out there as a fiscal sponsor.
Over the years we have now seen some 500 works completed in that program. We currently are sponsoring 240 projects, although some people have multiple projects. It is a lot of work.
Sixteen years ago, we started the grants program. We started it because we needed to do something, in that very few funders would fund film and video. We knew we would never be able to raise a great deal of money, so we tried to target areas where small amounts of money would make a difference. A great deal of the money we give out is not for very large sums, but it goes to people who call themselves personal filmmakers, mainly because there are very few programs to help the filmmaker or the video artist.
These are grants that say, this is an amount of money, give me an idea for that amount of money. It is not a social issue, necessarily, it is a personal expression.
We also give development grants because that is another place where you just need some money to even get started. We also give completion and/or distribution grants. Those are usually larger, in the $7,000 to $10,000 area. We usually do three to four of those.
We have 3,500 members, most of them in the Bay Area of Northern California, and you can see that there is an enormous pool of people. It has always been a really good area to work in as a video artist or producer. Film as art goes back to the 40s there, and the documentaries—the political and social-issue documentaries—of the late 50s, early 60s and onward.
We also do grants, so we do sponsorship, grantmaking, and re-granting. We have established a fund—I have samples, if anyone wants them, of our grant diagrams, and on the back you will see that we have a combination of funders for each year and funders who have funded an endowment. We have an endowment now that is at just under $600,000. Those earnings plus any other folks we can wrangle in, sometimes it is individuals. For a few years, it was Jerome money—in California there was Jerome money in those years—a small family fund. That sort of thing is pooled into this. We then get into $60,000 to $73,000 in the last few years.
Obviously, the organization does many other things as well. We do workshops, classes, a film festival, and we have a lot of equipment. The joke is that they come in one door and get the check and they go in the other door and spend it on the cameras or something.
We have a new program called STAND—Support Training and Access for New Directors. We were looking to give people who have never gone to film school or may not have had a chance—people from under-represented communities, however they chose to define that—the opportunity to work with a mentor for a ten-month period, and come in with an idea and develop that. At the end of the process, that mentor has helped them make the choices that they needed to make.
We do classes—we do screenwriting and production and then they have a pool of money that they can use on all of our other classes and all our equipment. They have that mentor to talk to or to show their cut to along the way. We are kind of crazy, I guess.
Lerner: I am currently the executive director at the Creative Capital Foundation which many people in the room are supporting. We are a national foundation, getting close to two years old. We provide support to artists working in performing arts, visual arts, media arts, and what we call emerging fields which includes computer-based work. In addition to the grant, we provide individually-tailored ancillary services. This includes a lot of consulting and supplemental financial support as well.
We are also very interested in the relationship between the work and audiences and how to maximize the impact of each of the projects that we are supporting. So we are very interested in helping artists to understand where their work might fit in the spectrum. Whether it is solely in the nonprofit realm, whether there might be commercial crossover potential. We want to help artists make those decisions and build the connections that make those kinds of things possible.
Before I was at Creative Capital, I was the executive director at AIVF, The Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, for six years. It publishes a wonderful magazine called The Independent Film and Video Monthly.
Prior to that, I was the director of Image Film and Video Center in Atlanta which is very similar to Film Arts Foundation although, obviously, it is a much smaller community with not quite the critical mass of artists that exist in the Bay Area.
Because we are focusing today on film and video as opposed to solely talking about new media, we thought we would just lay out the territory. The areas that we are going to talk about are media arts training, support for the creation of work, and then support for the dissemination of work, the distribution, acquisition, and exhibition of work.
So Gail is going to start by talking about media training.
Silva: Many media arts organizations—like the center in Atlanta, like Film Arts Foundation and other centers, media arts all over the country—mostly started in the mid-70s or really came out of the late 60s. It was the whole idea of giving people the tools so they could do it themselves or, if it was the late 60s, it was “Let's film a revolution.”
In these centers, what you have is the ability to teach people who may not want to go to film school, might not want to take the time. They are more interested, for instance, in production than they are in theory. We see media arts centers as an alternative to film and video school, to going to colleges and universities. We also see it as a supplement. There are a lot of schools teaching film, video, and new media in the Bay Area and in some of the schools you can't pick up a camera until you are in your fourth year of your BA. So you can come to our place and take a class on how to use the equipment and take it out and shoot.
The other areas where you saw this course, this training, were colleges and universities, as I have mentioned. Certainly, cable access has been a place where a lot of people got started.
What you see in California, as well, is an artists-in-residence program that is sending film and video artists to schools and community centers. There are a lot of community centers teaching in specific neighborhoods. For instance, in San Francisco, which is very, very culturally diverse, we have had people come out of our program for the beginning maker, and go and teach in centers in the Mission District in San Francisco or at Southern Exposure Gallery. There is a lot of technical information that you could get, the technology is not rocket science material, you can teach it pretty easily. There is a lot of passing on from one generation to the other.
Lerner: One of the things that is important to point out about what has happened in media arts training over the last ten years or so is that there has been an explosion in the number of students who are coming out of these programs. There might be 750 undergraduates coming out of the NYU program every year. The same thing with a place like the University of Texas. You add all of that to the film schools, into the art institutes. There is this incredibly large and growing universe of media makers, people who want to make media. That is just an important framework.
Lerner: That is correct. It is a tremendous opportunity.
The media arts center movement was in a large part helped along by the MacArthur Foundation's ten-year commitment to the field—longer than ten years, but they really made a major commitment, and that's what kept a lot of centers going, of course, along with the support from the NEA.
I think this is a moment where media art centers have to take a deep breath and reinvent themselves for this new era. It doesn't mean that film and video is going away but the fact is that with digital tools, what has happened is a lot of people don't need equipment-access centers anymore. They can purchase this equipment for themselves in their own living rooms. That is really a big change, because people could not afford to buy 16mm, 35mm cameras. Or people did not have the space to have a Steambeck editing machine in their small New York apartment. So that has been a gigantic shift—the economics and the compactness of the technology.
Media centers have to think about what their function is. It is less about being media access centers, but the training aspect is still really important. There is some retooling that needs to go on right now. It does not mean that resources will not still be needed by the centers which have been, traditionally, under-capitalized.
Silva: We started out specifically as a film organization, because the Bay Area Video Coalition started exactly when we did and they were doing video and we were doing film. We have always tried to complement each other and not compete.
But there was a real fall-off in the late 80s and certainly in the 90s and a lot of centers divested all of their equipment because they felt that they could not keep up in the generation of technology. It is important for centers to be good with earned income. We earn like 70 percent of our operating budget, usually, but it has been slipping recently.
Part of it has to do with exactly what she said. We now have the computer systems and people come. They charge it on their credit card and they are coming to us to learn how to use it because they are maybe too lazy to go through the book, the tutorial, or whatever. It has made us rethink how we are doing things.
What we have decided to do, since BAVC is still there providing assistance, is that our facility now is mostly for the people who call themselves video artists and don't necessarily own the equipment, or they are emerging artists. So we have Bolex's, and all six to eight go out every weekend. We also teach computer graphics and all of this other stuff. So we have tried for those who like to work in that way, to keep that equipment and also provide the training in that and whatever the new stuff is.
Lerner: We are going to move now to laying out at least part of the landscape in the area of support for the creation of work, and I am going to talk a little bit about that on the nonprofit end. That universe is pretty well known to most of us. There are fellowships, there is project support from foundations, some foundations also provide support through re-granting programs. There is still support at the federal level; it has diminished, as we know, but you still can get a grant to create work from the National Endowment for the Arts. There is still money available at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Again, the support has radically diminished but it is still there. There is still support for media from the Independent Television Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and the PBS Minority Consortia.
There are other kinds of funds that I think it is important to talk about, because I think this could become a growth area, and that is what Gail has done at Film Arts Foundation, which is to wrangle the funds to create its own mechanism to provide grant support.
Another example that I like to talk about is the Texas Filmmaker Fund. Rick Linkletter, who is a filmmaker who made Slacker, Dazed and Confused, The Mutant Boys, and a bunch of other films, was so upset when the NEA Regional Regrant Program disappeared that he decided to create a fund in Texas. He was upset because he got his first grant ever from that fund to make Slacker, which was the film that, of course, totally changed his life.
He created a fund and every year he raises support for the fund. Quentin Tarantino comes to town every year and does a big film festival and all of the money that is raised from that event goes into the fund. They grant out I was on their first panel. We gave out maybe about ten or eleven grants the first year; we had about thirty-some thousand dollars. It is up to $50,000 or $60,000 for Texas artists which, of course, is great! We are going to see more of those kinds of things evolving, more of this kind of micro-giving which I think is very interesting.
One of the other ways that a lot of work gets supported, and I think it is just important to acknowledge it, is self-financing—primarily through credit cards.
Audience: I met the woman from the American Express Foundation and she said, oh, we have been in film funding for years and years!
Lerner: When I was at AIVF I felt like I was running a safe house because half of the staff was running away from their credit card debt.They changed their names and it was really terrible!
This has become, over the years, one of the major ways that media work has been supported: people taking an investment risk on themselves. This is an area where the new digital technology has made it more possible to make a film on your credit card because the shooting and editing costs are so much less expensive. But people were doing it with film,anyway.
What is happening in the digital realm—before we get too seduced about how it has affected the costs and lowered the cost of production—is that many people who shoot their films on video end up transferring to film because there is still—believe it or not, as archaic as it seems—there are still festivals that only show film. Festivals are an important way that people get their work out. I think that is going to change soon, it is on the verge of changing.
A film festival like the Sundance Festival, which is the most important festival for artists in the field in terms of being a marketplace festival, has just put digital projectors in most of the theatres. Once they do it, everybody else is going to do it. But there has been a resistance long past the time when people were really producing on video.
The other thing that I think a lot about is that even though it's true that the costs of producing are decreasing, all of the money that you were putting into production, you now need for promotion. The cost saving on the production end is balanced out now by what you really need in order to gain “mind share” as they say in the new media world.
The other thing that is very important to acknowledge is that even though we are talking a lot about digital media, the new media tools, there are plenty of artists out there who still want to shoot Super 8, who still want to make work on 16mm, who still want to do 35mm work. It's very important that the technology not be seen as the driver, that the artistic, the aesthetic of the work, must come first and the tools have to follow that.
Silva: I always think that it is still about storytelling. Maybe the whole digital revolution has just enlarged the number of people who can go out and shoot. At least when you were shooting film, it was so expensive every time you pushed the button that you had to think about it a little more. Now people are shooting vats of this stuff.
Video is just a tool, it does not mean that you can have a better story or you can show a more aesthetic look at how you do narrative. What you see in the Bay Area is a lot of people who are mixing. There is a very well known filmmaker who is shooting her latest project in Super 16 and PAL Digidata because she wants to have a really good image in case she is able to go to film.
Lerner: Do you want to talk about the commercial end?
Lerner: On the commercial end, now, what we are talking about is support for the creation of work.
Silva: This is a tough one as well, and certainly, a lot of people go out and they make a film and they hope it is going to be commercially successful. I am sure that that was part of what was behind Rick Linkletter's generosity in knowing that these small grants, at a particular time in his career, really made a difference. Then he made Slacker and now he is commercial. Working in the arts center, I hope they all finally do something that brings them at least a living of some sort.
Many people who are doing features still rely on limited partnerships. What they are doing is telling their investors that there could be a return on their money.
Lerner: And people are still falling for that!
Silva: In the Bay Area and I am sure in other parts of the country too, some of these limited partnerships are in the range of $250,000. It is not like we are doing two million. They are a pool of small, small investors.
There is some exposure to money in other areas. Some of the new cable entities are finally doing some financing and producing. But the few that they are doing are mostly for very, very established artists and it seems to be the same three or four, almost, or the same eight or nine. HBO has done this; the IFC—the Independent Film Channel—is now starting to produce.
One thing that has always been good has been foreign television money. In foreign television, what you are looking at is much more diverse viewing habits. They are funding narratives and experimental work and all kinds of things—the things that you don't see here on Public Broadcasting. I think Public Broadcasting is going to have to find an edge again because cable sort of beat them. Now they are more adventurous, in many ways, than PBS.
Foreign television used to be a place where American film and video makers could raise money. The Euro has been in rather bad shape of late, and the amount of money that anyone could raise from those sources is pretty limited.
The other thing is Germany used to provide, probably, the most support—although they rarely funded anything in its entirety. Since the economy there has taken a slide, you are finding that Germany and other countries, if they are funding at all to anyone outside of the United States, it is productions that are done almost exclusively in their own country. So that has definitely made it harder for some artists.
Lerner: One of the things that happens a lot is that people will get their work to a certain point, more or less, on their own. Money from family, friends. Deferrals is another way that a lot of work gets funded, that people defer their fees until a later time. Then they will go look for what are called “finishing funds” for a project, often from the commercial sector.
I think the changes in the domestic television environment are really interesting. PBS used to have the monopoly on independent work and on relationships with independents. Speaking as somebody who ran one of the organizations that was almost always in conflict with Public Television, it was a very testy relationship for a very long time. Then what happened with cable was that cable companies began courting media artists and actually treating them really nicely and inviting them in. It was a whole different atmosphere!
Silva: And paying them!
Lerner: And paying them! Well, sometimes paying them.
It really changed the dynamic in the field. Now you have things like Court TV who are meeting with independent producers and looking at commissioning work.
Nobody can really compete with HBO because they really have the cash. The other places have a lot less money although the Independent Film Channel is now doing some support of the creation of work. But this is an area where there has just been kind of a radical change and an opening up.
The big issue is money—that there is an illusion of money because it is the commercial sector. In many cases, it is an illusion.
Lerner: I don't think there is a typical arrangement. I think those contracts are negotiated pretty much one by one. Obviously, the commercial entity is trying to get everything they can, in perpetuity, in galaxies known or yet to be discovered, forever. That is almost the language of these contracts, right?
Lerner: The flip-side of that, and the good news, is that they put up all of the money. The filmmaker is usually getting paid. Any of the other models that we have talked about, where it is a little here and a little there, are self-financing and all of this other stuff. The only hope they ever have to at least get some remuneration for their work—because the last thing you ever put money into is your salary, it is all going to everything else—is if it is some distribution stream or another. Alice is absolutely right. In many cases, you can negotiate rights and sell them off individually if the money is fairly diverse in how you got it.
Lerner: I know sometimes they will let you retain the festival rights or the things that are not really going to generate income.
Audience: In fact, cost you money!
Lerner: Yes, in fact, cost you money.
Lerner: What happened was that there was a period of time—how many years ago was this—when the Sundance Festival which really is focal in this, came of age, the field came of age. There was a critical mass of makers, a critical mass of critics.
Silva: Sex, Lies, and Videotape!
Lerner: Sex, Lies and Videotape. There are these landmark events that created a mythology because a few projects achieved enormous success. It, again, created the illusion that this was a possible path for the 750 undergraduates coming out of NYU.
What has happened is that if you look at Sundance, consistently every year, there are one or two pieces that may get picked up, that may end up having a commercial success, where people get other kinds of opportunities. What I think is really happening now is that at an event like Sundance, the commercial sector is coming to that event and not caring about the work that is shown there at all, but looking at it as a place to poach talent. I think it has become a kind of
Silva: It is a marketplace.
Lerner: a talent showcase. It is an audition, in a way.
Question: Have you seen any progressive action in the last five to ten years to let people who don't have those financial resources and those connections and are not of that particular gender to be able to amass amounts of money?
Lerner: It is really hard.
Lerner: Yes, why don't you talk?
Audience: There was only one person of color associated with any of the documentaries. But on the narrative side, there were several films—really good films. How come feature films—which, traditionally, have been harder to do than documentaries? I have some theories about how that has happened and part of it was the rise of the music video.
Lerner: But you are still talking about something that is very male, for the most part. Right? It is very male.
Lerner: That has a lot to do with the commercial possibilities of the urban cultural stuff. I think that is really what that is about. Has Julie Dash made a film since Daughters of the Dust? Where is the support for an African-American woman who made a groundbreaking film? Where is the support?
Silva: She put together a pretty thorough package. She found resources to do some distribution and outreach too. It is not that she did not follow through with it. It was shown in many places.
Audience: It was very, very hard.
Silva: The West Coast is a smaller community, maybe it is not as obvious. It is not that there are a few who get a lot of money and then the rest, probably, are getting less, but they are still making work. It may be that part of it has to do with changes in technology.
Lerner: We are going to move now to talking about distribution, exhibition, acquisition. I am going to talk a little bit about the nonprofit end.
On the exhibition end—again, I think this is all pretty known to you—there are museums, there are media centers, there are college and university film exhibition programs. There are some community film societies around the country, there are visual art spaces which show a lot of video, and there are micro-cinemas. This is a whole movement that has really been evolving over the last few years. Filmmakers like Craig Baldwin, who has been here in residence at the Walker, travels around the country taking his work to these micro-cinemas. Danny Plotnik, who works at Film Arts, is the master of the micro-cinema.
Silva: They are even doing it throughout Europe.
Lerner: I was just at an amazing place in Houston, the Aurora Picture Show, which is just an inspiration.
Once again, as we were talking earlier about micro-funding, it is the phenomena where people are less interested in the institutionalizing of something and really creating more of these ad-hoc opportunities. They are incredibly exciting and really, really generative, and they are popping up all over the place.
The other area which we referred to earlier is the importance that film festivals have taken on. There is now no town with a population of more than about 25 people that does not have a film festival. It's wonderful, on the one hand, because it creates an event around media. But, on the other hand, in some cases it has become a kind of substitute for coming up with an ongoing program of exhibition and creating a way for media to have an ongoing life in these communities. But there is no question, it's become a really important part of people's strategies about how to promote their work, how to move it to the sort of next stage.
There are several kinds of festivals. There are the marketplace festivals, that is a festival like Sundance or like Toronto. Then there are a lot of community festivals and those are, to me, incredibly exciting.
I was just in Denver. To me, Denver has one of the great film festivals that is a totally hidden thing. Nobody really knows about this festival and it is an absolutely wonderful festival, it has been going for over twenty years. They have built the most adventurous audience for media there. It is a real tribute to what you can do if you are in a community over a long period of time and you make a commitment to the exhibition of independent work.
On the distribution end, many people, after their work is exhibited, if it has the potential, can distribute in the educational market and/or to home video.
One of the stories that I like to tell, because we always think that the money is in the commercial arena, but you probably know the work of Andy Culper and Luis Alvarez, two really wonderful filmmakers who have done a lot of political documentaries. I do not know if you have ever seen The Louisiana Boys Raised on Politics? If you have never seen that film, try to see it. It is great! It is about the culture of politics in Louisiana.
They did a film early on called Speaking in Tongues, which is about speech, the way that people talk. That piece, Luis told me they made over a period of quite a number of years. But they made about $600,000 on that piece. It had been broadcast on Public Television. They were really, really savvy self-distributors. They bought mailing lists, they marketed it to every college and university in the country. They went to all of the conferences in that area. They made sure that they got the word out to their constituency. Over a ten-year period, obviously that is not a lot of money—but I can tell you that is a lot more than a lot of independent features gross at the box office. Again, that is fighting the mythology.
This is another kind of growth area. That is when artists can be encouraged to be really smart and really focused about who the constituencies are for the work that they are creating and what are the avenues for reaching those constituencies. That can become a kind of sustenance. That is one of the most important areas that we can all be working with.
Question: The concept of selling to home video in comparison to a filmmaker who could go to a collector is very interesting. So the collector would put all of the money up, which could be $100,000 or $200,000 and then the work would be produced as a very small edition—typically an edition of five. Then it would be sold to five people, which means that she is making half a million dollars too! But the form is totally different because the artist retains the copyrights, there are only five prints in the world. It is not going to be reproducible, it is virtually never broadcast. I am just amazed that the amount of money that someone can make through a mass medium could be the same.
Lerner: That is why we are seeing an increase in the number of artists who want to have their work shown in the gallery context. That is exactly the reason right there.
Gail: We worked last year with Sharon Lockhart and she put together her whole thing for that film, Amazonia. It was exactly like that. But that was the first time that I had ever worked with a visual artist who worked in that way. It was shot in 35 in the Amazonian jungles at an old opera house.
Let me go back and describe two other examples following exactly the same case. They were very lucky because at the time that they made that film they were able to retain certain rights. Now, in order to get on PBS, PBS wants to distribute it. That has been very difficult for filmmakers because PBS is now doing their own distribution.
There are filmmakers who have taken exactly the same model on a much smaller scale. There is an artist whose name is Ellen Bruno who has made a number of very amazing films about Southeast Asia: Sumsara, Sacrifice. She did one about Cambodia. She did one about the torture of Tibetan nuns in China. She did a recent one about young Burmese girls who left Burma thinking that they were getting jobs in Bangkok and other places in Thailand and ended up as indentured prostitutes. She has a very particular focus to her work. The work also does not look like television documentaries.
She controls all of her distribution. She does herown brochures, she does the same thing that Ruby was talking about. She knows who the audiences are, she knows the Southeast Asian studies, she goes out with the film every place. She has done her own study guide and everything.
The film probably did not cost her, in cash, more than $75,000 to $85,000 which is not a lot of money for something like that. The only way that she can pay herself, or get some sort of remuneration for doing this, is if she controls her distribution. In that $85,000 there is no living wage for her. So she has to keep doing that with each of her successive works.
I know quite an experimental film artist, Jay Rosenblatt, whose work you may have seen. He did Human Remains and Paris Times Two. He just had a one-person show at the Film Forum in New York.
He has taken Ellen's model: he has done his own brochure and he does his own mailing; they buy the lists. They have a fulfillment house send the tapes. This is a very, very seemingly fragile work, for a lot of which he has taken material from other sources and reused it in a quite experimental way. He is still telling stories but there is a lot of underneath material that really has to do a lot with psychology and issues in sociology.
So he is marketing that thing and he is going after all of these psychology and sociology departments with this work. Because it is a way for people to look at an image that isn't “the teaching film” and talk about feelings of young boys growing up and issues in relationships. He has not been as successful as she has, because it is not so obvious and direct. But he has sold it to educational institutions, scholars in the universities in different parts of the countries.
He has another distributor who distributes his film to the more usual places. So you can mix it. At least he is getting something back. Most of these people teach as adjuncts.
Viewing and Evaluating Circles
Robert Byrd, The Jerome Foundation
Alyce Myatt, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Byrd: Welcome to this session. My name is Robert Byrd. I am a program officer at the Jerome Foundation. In addition to handling all of our various disciplines—dance, music, theatre, literature, and arts criticism—I manage the foundation's Media Arts Program.
Our Media Arts Program, like all of our other programs, is conducted in Minnesota and New York City. People often ask, “Well, why New York City?” The reason is that Jerome Hill, the founder of our organization, who is from Saint Paul, settled in New York and lived a good deal of his life there where he was a multi-disciplined artist. He was a composer, a writer, a painter, and a filmmaker. We have, in fact, an Academy Award sitting in our office that he won in 1956 for a documentary on Albert Schweitzer.
I am also a filmmaker myself. I come from a public television background. I have worked in New York and on some other work outside of public television. I have a great love of media arts and I think that's, in part, the reason why I am at Jerome.
Today Alyce and I, in explaining how our various processes work at Jerome and MacArthur, will convince you, those of you who are not already in media, to give it more consideration. I believe that it's a very, very important form of artistic expression.
So having said that, I will now bounce it over to Alyce.
Myatt: I am Alyce Myatt. I am program officer for Media at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As you probably know, we are a supporter of independent documentary films, social-issue documentary films. We also support media art centers and we are very active in the last NYMAC conference that just ended here in Minneapolis. We support public interest radio networks in that we support NPR and Public Radio International, and Radio Bilingüe, but we don't, as a rule, support independent documentary radio producers. Some of the other programs at MacArthur do provide that.
We make occasional grants that provide support to the field of media or membership organizations such as AIVF and NYMAC. We make about sixty to seventy grants a year. For independent film, the grants range from about $50,000 to as much as $350,000, $400,000. For media arts centers, our grants range from $10,000 to $300,000. Public interest radio varies from $250,000 to $300,000 and we recently, as a foundation, made an institutional grant to NPR to the tune of four million dollars—three million to their endowment, one million for operating expenses.
I am curious, how many of you fund media in the room? Great. Small is good.
We thought we would begin by talking about the different kinds of funding models. There are several kinds of basic funding models. One, of course, is a peer review. That's what the National Endowment for the Arts, and for the Humanities do. Rockefeller, in fact, does a peer-review panel where they invite filmmakers to nominate potential fellows and then the foundation convenes a panel once a year where they review proposals and make their selections.
You can have a fixed group as a review panel, such as the Guggenheim. They have a group of people who annually come together and review proposals submitted to them. That has its pluses and minuses in that it's the same people; they have a sense of what has gone before and what comes after.
You can have an expert review, such as the National Science Foundation's funding process. They put together a combination of filmmakers and scientists to review material that's submitted to them on an annual basis.
Then you can have what we have at MacArthur, which is an internal review. Foundation staff reviews most media projects that come in. One of the greatest things about working at MacArthur is that you can just go down the hall and find the expert in arms reduction; or you could go down another hall and find the expert in women's reproductive health. Internally, there is an extraordinary amount of expertise within the building, and it's really my job to say, well, is there a movie in this proposal or is it all academic? That's how we do it there.
Byrd: Alyce mentioned some things about our program that I forgot to mention.
Our program focuses on emerging artists andthat, sometimes, is confusing to people. Solet me give a shot at trying to explain what we mean.
We don't fund beginning media arts, i.e., people who are just getting started in the field. We do fund people who have a proven track record. Now it may not be a very long track record, but a track record, nonetheless, of knowing their craft. Knowing how to tell stories through their respective forms of media.
We just increased our grant levels. Our upper limit on possible grant amounts went to $30,000 from $20,000, because we recognized that the cost of making media can be prohibitive for some people, and we want to make as much of an impact on the projects that we support as possible. We used to only allow projects with budgets of $75,000 or less to be considered under our program but we have increased the budget ceiling to $200,000, which means that we expect to get quite a few more submissions over the forthcoming months and years. This will probably take us up a notch in terms of the types of work and quality of proposals that weget.
Alyce's program focuses on issues. As Hoop Dreams and Stranger with a Camera will attest, through issues, much of the work that MacArthur has supported has brought out really compelling personal stories. Our work tends to focus on personal stories from which come interesting examinations of issues. We are like opposites of one another. We focus on the artist; Alyce's program focuses on the issue.
Today, Alyce and I will be showing you examples of some of the work that we have supported. Then you can compare the types of work that our different foundations feel are a priority.
Our review process is also a panel but it's not just peers. We like to have more peers than others on a panel, but we also tend to have media arts administrators and curators. We have had Larry Kardish from MoMA and John Hanhardt from the Guggenheim sitting on our New York panel.
We used to have three panel members, and I know that lots of arts funders that conduct panels use the three-panelist model, but I increased our number of panelists to four because I believe in gender parity; I like the idea of two men and two women. I also like the idea of as much diversity on the panel as possible: ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, etc. I just find that that balance creates an interesting synergy in the room and panelists tend to pick interesting work.
On a very, very limited basis—and we don't announce this—we will support some mid-career filmmakers. That's not a panelist process, it's internal, and I review those proposals. If we do that, it wouldn't be more than one, possibly two, projects per year. We'd have to be really attracted to the subject matter, as well as the reputation of the filmmaker. If we support mid-career media artists, their project has to exemplify a major turning point in their career. In other words, we won't support people who are basically doing the same kind of film even if they are great filmmakers. Jonathan Stack, who did The Farm, approached us to support a project after The Farm which was basically in the same vein as The Farm, and I am sure will be a wonderful film, but it's not enough of a departure from his past work for us to consider supporting it.
Jerome's program isn't as big as Alyce's. We devote about half a million dollars per year to our Media Arts program. In providing what seems like a small amount of money, I personally feel, and many people in the film, video, and other media arts communities have told me, that Jerome has made a substantial impact on media arts in our two geographic areas and in the country.
Many of our funded works go on to major film festivals. One of the pieces that I will be showing you today was a prizewinner at the Sundance Film Festival several years ago. Another appeared at Sundance and was later broadcast on HBO. More of the work that we fund is getting on HBO, in addition to PBS, which is pretty exciting. HBO is now devoting more of its time to independent documentaries.
We tend to focus on very personal stories through the documentary work that we fund. We also fund lots and lots of experimental films. Jerome Hill, the founder of the Jerome Foundation, was a documentary filmmaker but he really developed a name in New York as an experimental filmmaker. So the foundation has focused a good deal on experimental film.
We also fund new media and we are still trying to wrap our arms around that in terms of what new media is, because it's so big. CD-ROMs and Web-based work have been funded by Jerome. We cover a pretty broad spectrum of work.
Myatt: We did not want to use up our time with too much of a “how to.” I should tell you that—keep your fingers crossed—the Council on Foundations is going to revise and reissue How to Fund Media, and I am working with a team now to convince them to do that. That will be more of a “how to” on things to look out for, how to review proposals, and how to interact with filmmakers.
The other side of that will be the do's and don't's of fundraising so filmmakers will understand how to approach foundations. We thought it would be good to put it in the same book so that each can see what the others' concerns are.
There are a number of different stages that funding can come in. There is the R&D stage at the very beginning when a filmmaker is looking for money to cover their cost of not only doing the research and perhaps some shooting during that period, but also their costs of living during that work. Those are often very small amounts.
Then there is production: the shooting of the film. Then there is post-production: the editing of the film. There can be distribution costs, which can cover, for example, prints for film festivals, or travel to film festivals with the film.
Lastly there is what is called “outreach.” Outreach should not be confused with promotion. Outreach includes ancillary activities designed specifically for targeted audiences to use the film to change something. I will talk about that a little bit later, but I thought that it might be good if we could go to the Appalshop tape because this was an instance where we got something that was a work in progress. Then I will talk about our decision-making process with this.
What happens is that we ask people to send in a letter of inquiry and a sample of work. It's always best if it's a sample of work in progress because it's very helpful. Ultimately, what we are doing is the film, so I look at the film before I even read the proposal. If what I see isn't provocative, it doesn't matter what is said here. If there are questions about what is on the screen, sometimes they can be answered here and sometimes not, but then the next step is to get the filmmaker on the phone and to begin talking.
Now, it was understood from the very beginning that this was a work in process. There are some givens with this. First of all, it comes from Appal shop, which has years of fine reputation in terms of the work that they produce. It begins with a story from Calvin Trillin who, as we know, is one of America's finest storytellers. It is the story about a murder but it is most importantly a story about the ethics of outsiders coming in and how one is represented by outsiders. This is a very important issue to us and it reverberates through not only our media grantmaking but also much of our other grantmaking. We are outsiders coming in to try to help fix the problem. That's probably the simplest way that I can say it.
We thought, This seems like a good idea. We looked at the budget and the total cost of the project is $480,000. By the time they had gotten to us, they had raised $400,000 through sixteen grants; six of them under $10,000; four of them $10,000 to $30,000; five of them $31,000 to $45,000; and one of them was $80,000.
One of the things that I think is very important if you have small resources, it's fine. A $5,000 grant can get something like this off the ground so they can get it to the point where they can get it to us. Then we came in with the finishing funds of $80,000 to get it done. This took years to raise the money.
It's important to not think that, well, what can my funds do to move something? And it's important to ask yourself, who are the people wanting to do the project?
As with any kind of grantmaking, media grantmaking has no mystery. You use your common sense. If they come in the door and they have never done it before, they have never finished anything, they have never gotten anything on the air, then chances are
MacArthur does not support emerging makers. But even with emerging makers, there is usually something of a portfolio. So it's not like you are making an uneducated guess; you are looking at their past work, they are coming in for R&D. What did they do the last time? Did anybody see it? Did it run in any festivals? Was it broadcast? Was it distributed as home video? They are the basic common sense questions. Do they have any past doing this? What did it looklike?
There are two other projects that we brought. I am not going to show them to you. I would ask that you, again, take a look on the in-house system.
One is from 911, which is one of the media arts centers that teaches not only the moving image of media but Web work and other things. The piece that's being shown is called Breaking the Stereo and it's about teenagers and how they have been stereotyped. They made a half-hour film about breaking stereotypes and how teenagers are perceived by adults.
The next proposal came in as a 12-minute clip. The filmmaker had received a $75,000 license fee from HBO. He had shot three-quarters of the film over the course of five years. His plans were to complete the post-production and perhaps, if there was a little bit of money left over, to do some outreach. We gave him a $50,000 grant to start and said to him that we would be more interested if, in fact, an outreach plan was designed and attached to it.
He hired Judy Rabatz at Outreach Extension who, in my estimation, is the queen of outreach. She put together an outreach that's going to end poverty in America. It cost three times as much as the film. She met with our program officers in public housing, around women's issues, around issues of economics, of poverty. She met with their counterparts at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and at the Kellogg Foundation. Annie E. Casey put in $400,000, most of it towards outreach, some of it towards production. We did $150,000 towards production, in total, and $200,000 towards outreach. Kellogg came in at $100,000 on the outreach.
The Outreach Coordinator partnered with the Interdenominational Theological Center, which translates to 70,000 African-American churches around the country. The 35-minute version of this 96-minute film was created and there are facilitator guides that deal with families at risk. There is a piece of the outreach that is targeted to girls and the economics of poverty for adolescent girls. There is a piece that's targeted to boys and girls.
Judy partnered with Generations United; Generations United partnered with AARP. They are getting legislation drafted through the office of Jay Rockefeller, so that grandparents, as primary caregivers of young children who live in public housing, will get a special housing allowance so that they can have space for these children. That's what we mean by outreach.
That's not promoting the film. The film isn't going on the air until next spring. It has been in the marketplace now for about six months. There is The Legacy of Faith—the half an hour—and then there is The Legacy of Community Action, which is The Legacy of Faith without the God part. There are materials that are being distributed nationwide. All of the outreach materials reside on the Website and can be downloaded by anyone—legacymovie.com. And this, too, is on the in-house system, the full 90-minute piece.
No film of this scope can be funded by one foundation, at least not by MacArthur. I know someone at Kellogg and so I could pick up the phone and call the program officer at Kellogg and say, this might be something that you would be interested in because it fits some of your programmatic interests. She has the right to say yes or no or our board won't approve this. What I have tried to do is to work with my counterparts at other institutions, at other foundations, so that we can do these things collaboratively.
Byrd: I am going to speak very little and show you a couple of samples. We only fund production; we do not fund research and development, although we fund some post-production but it depends on how far along the maker is in that process. If they are just a month away from finishing the film, then we more than likely will not support it. However, I will show you a sample of something we actually funded after it was done. It was such a spectacular work that our panel felt that it should be supported.
We also have been very concerned about outsiders coming in and telling stories. I think that a lot of media funders have been concerned about that. Who is telling the story and why? Our panelists have had various and vigorous debates about this and have indeed funded outsiders coming in and telling stories, but only when they feel that those outsiders are very, very sensitive to the communities that they are looking at and that they can prove that sensitivity. In those instances, we find that maybe an even more interesting film might come about because the dynamics between the subjects and the outsider are such that something really exciting and interesting can result. However, our panel has been very interested in funding members within communities who want to look at their own histories because of their belief that those people can tell their own stories the best, as Stranger with a Camera hasproven.
Like Alyce said, this is really much more of a common-sense process than something that requires a great deal of training. You look at the work samples. There are several things that are major factors in determining whether we will support a media arts project.
The first is the proposal, because it's the first thing that the panelist sees. If the proposal excites the panel, then they are really excited to see work samples. We have had really interesting things happen in the past where we have seen great proposals, and then you look at the work sample and it just stinks! It's awful!
Here is an example of such a proposal, which was really compelling. It's all about a woman who attempted to have children through much of her adult life and failed and how this has become such an obsession for her that after her last miscarriage, she wanted to do a film about it. The proposal is wonderful, it's beautifully written. Then we looked at the work samples and they were terrible. So we couldn't support her. So the work sample is the second part of our review.
By the same token, we have also seen marginal proposals from people who, just frankly, didn't have very good writing skills. But you look at their work, and it's spectacular. So these are very sort of common-sense decisions, as Alyce pointed out.
The third major component is past work samples. We have to know what these makers have done in the past to know that they know what they are doing.
Sometimes makers will be very honest with us and say, you know, “I have been, maybe, a producer on a project before.” We only fund the principal creative person in the project, usually that's the director. People have applied here who have been production assistants, or production associates, or producers, or writers, or other people working on a media project, but they haven't really been the principal creator. This is their first shot at that and they have as their work sample a work in progress.
If the work in progress is exciting to our panel, we will give serious consideration to funding. But a work in progress can work against a maker because if it looks too rough, if it looks like it's not going to amount to a really compelling work, then the panel will chuck it out as fast as you can blink an eye.
Myatt: The two pieces that you saw are what are referred to as “Avid fuzzy dubs” and so the quality of the image is not the quality of the image of the final cut, because of the resolution on the system that was used. As he talks about the quality of the work, one has to use that kind of judgment as to whether or not it's shot well.
Byrd: Sometimes works are not beautifully shot, they are not shot by directors of photography who have a long history with the camera. Sometimes they are shot by filmmakers who don't have that great an aesthetic sort of inclination in terms of shooting, but the story is so compelling.
Now the sample that I am about to show you is from a documentary called Daughter of Suicide by Dempsey Rice, which just aired on HBO. It's about Dempsey's mother who committed suicide, and had always been, throughout all of Dempsey's life and her sisters' lives, a depressed person. The family could never figure out why; there was no clinical reason that they could come up with for her depression. She would fall into depressions, she would pull out, she would fall in, she would pull out. She pulled out mostly for the sake of the children, but then there was that last instance where she could not pull out and she took her own life. This clip deals with how the mother first started exposing her depressed face to her children, her infant children. Could you roll it?
This film was Dempsey's attempt to work out her own depression, which she had lived with much of her life, and that she inherited from her mother. It was a state that both she and her sister lived with for most of their lives. This film was a personal cathartic experience for her, which hopefully, through the HBO broadcast, will help other people as well.
Now there is one other thing that I want to show you real quick because we have been dealing with very heavy-duty subjects here. This is a short animated film and this will attest to the power of humor in helping audiences look at serious issues as well. It's a film called Everybody's Pregnant.
Byrd: This is a young filmmaker. She reaches young people through dealing with the issue of fertility drugs and pregnancy and how do you deal with not being able to get pregnant? She uses humor to deal with that subject. Just so you know, this film did very well at film festivals and Debra was asked by the Cartoon Network to do a film on any subject she wants for a 30-minute piece and they gave her $600,000 to do it. That gives you an idea of how an emerging filmmaker, through a program like this, can see their career get started through the provision of a small grant.
Myatt: Can we do questions?
Question: Have you ventured into the non-traditional areas of media work?
Byrd: Yes. For us, it has been a little problematic because it is so new, Web-based work, CD-ROM work, etc. Our panelists have a hard time, sometimes, evaluating it because they are more mainstream, traditional media artists. We are trying to figure out how to open up our program to those new media artists.
One thing we may do is create a re-granting program in New York through a new media organization that will provide money to just new media artists. It would be a panel process of new media people so that way it would be much more equitable.
Question: What do you think about the fact that a lot of this work comes very close to the commercial realm of film? Is there a clear separation for you between the nonprofit and the for-profit?
Myatt: Do you mean that the work looks like it could be on a commercial network?
Question: That the filmmakers go on to fame and fortune in the commercial arena, that they sell their product to a commercial network, that that is ultimately an outlet for many of them.
Myatt: Number one, the mission is for the widest possible dissemination of information. For us, it doesn't really matter whether it goes on PBS or HBO. Particularly when we made support for Legacy, HBO's demographics were—in their prime time—30 percent black and Hispanic. PBS can't claim that. Our interest is getting the work out to an audience where it will make a difference.
Everybody deserves to be able to pay the rent. Everybody deserves to be able to buy little niceties. As long as they keep their creative and personal integrity, it doesn't matter. I have worked for Nickelodeon, and for ABC News. I have also worked with PBS and Children's Television Workshop. I am sitting right here. It doesn't matter. That's not the issue.
Byrd: Most of the makers we deal with live hand to mouth. Even people like Dempsey—and I did not get a chance to show you Julia Lockhead's piece, Moment of Impact—but even people who have seen a fairly high level of success with a particular work, that's only one example, and they may get a good payday out of it from HBO. But then they have, usually, all of these other debts that they accumulated making the work and that payday pays only a portion of the debts. Most people are in this for the love of it, not for money, not for fame.
Myatt: The filmmaker for Legacy, for example, finished Legacy a year ago. It premiered at Sundance. He has not gotten another film since. In the meantime, he has worked for CBS, he has worked for UPN. He has to make a living.
Byrd: Right. That's the future for artists—having a job and making the work.
Question: Do you have a high percentage that aren't completed?
Myatt: No, we have a high percentage of projects that get finished. But there are some projects that are languishing on the “grants enforced” list and we look at it and it's like, “Well, what are you doing?” But they are a very small percentage. We won't make another grant to that organization until they have completed the previous work.
Byrd: That's true of us as well. We don't mandate, we don't even require that the grantees finish their work. But most of them are so dedicated to it and passionate about it that they do finish. We will find a few who don't finish.
Question: What is your turnaround?
Myatt: For us, it's changing. All of the funding decisions are made by the board and we make recommendations.
In the case of media, our board used to meet seven times a year and, unlike the other programs at the foundation, we could bring media grants forward at any board meeting, so we were able to do a really quick turnaround.
But now we have changed our process and can only bring grants forward four times a year. Depending on when the proposal comes in, they get “no's” really quickly, the “yesses” are much longer.
Byrd: For us it's about, I would say, four months.
Question: I want to ask about outreach. I know a producer who says that for every one dollar of production you have to have one dollar of promotion to let people know what you are doing. That was his outreach from a commercial point of view.
Myatt: Right, right.
Question: Really, you have to think of the overall objective for what you are trying to achieve. I just want to congratulate you and your project because it was really courageous and a great investment.
Myatt: I thank you very much, sir. I think that's true. Interestingly enough, there is another project working its way through foundations now called Senior Year. It examines the senior year of the students at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. The filmmaker, rather than make the film himself, hired graduate students from USC and UCLA to actually do the shooting and working with the high school students. He has a team that is working together and he oversees the team. This was the Class of 2000. He oversaw the production team and is overseeing the editing. He called in Judy Rabitz to do an outreach package for him and all of the issues of youth development are in this outreach package.
As a society, we claim that we are very concerned about our young people, we are concerned about their alienation, we are concerned about the activities that they find themselves engaged in. Throughout the film, the thing that resonates is the lack of parenting that the students at Fairfax High School are experiencing across ethnicities, across class. How much these kids want to engage with adults, and first and foremost, parents.
What Judy is doing is creating outreach materials to target adults. Not adolescents, but targeting youth-serving organizations and parenting organizations and educational institutions.
There is actually, through the U.S. Department of Education, the Commission on Senior Year. And so it's quite possible that some of these materials will become curriculum to be used in schools.
Fairfax High School had an intervention called Impact. What Judy is trying to do is to now get it replicated in high schools around the country. They deal with substance abuse and sex and depression. But she is having a hard time raising the money because she isn't raising the money for the film. We have limited resources; we supported the film because it's easier. We thought it would be easier for her to get youth development money than for the filmmaker to get filmmaking money.
This is how you try to place your best bets. We know the film is going to get made but we are asking that others step up to the plate from the youth development area, not from the media programs but from these other areas and foundations.
Byrd: I just wanted to say one thing, make an impassioned plea for those of you who are not in media. I can't think of a more powerful medium. It really transforms audiences. A good documentary can really change the way people think, the way they view others, and the way they view themselves. Because oftentimes, we look at ourselves in comparison to others. I can't plead loudly and strongly enough for you to at least give this more consideration, because it's an area of the arts that could use a greater infusion of money.
So on that note, thank you for coming and I hope you learned something!
Dan Bergin, Twin Cities Public Television
Alex Rivera, Artist Producer
Bergin: We can get going. Maybe we could start by giving personal bios, areas of interest, areas of support and funding. My name is Daniel Bergin and I'm producer of Twin Cities Public Television here in town, a real active public presenter of local production, as well as some national productions. Beyond that, I do work in the media literacy realm in the city here and throughout the state. That's always interesting as an Artist in Residence, which is another one of the ways that I try and do my media literacy work.
Rivera: My name's Alex Rivera. I'm a New York-based digital media artist. I work in video, film, the Web, a variety of media. That is my part time thing, and then by day I also run a small business in New York, where we do professional work, post-production, editing and computer graphics for a variety of clients. I have a schizophrenic existence, half in the world of grants, and then half in the world of the more commercial work in order to survive. A lot of artists survive that way, too. We wanted to hear how you guys survive—what your relationship is specifically to Youth Media and in Digital Media—if you are already funding some of those interests, and where you are coming from.
[Each member of audience/roundtable is introduced.]
Bergin: Well, this is great. It sounds like we have a good cross-section so I think we'll have a good dialogue based on that. Alex and I thought the way we could do this is that I'll talk and show some work, some of it based on our Youth Production Project here in the Twin Cities at the Public TV station, and talk about the role of new technology and emerging technology in institutional settings. To set it off, my friend Alex is going to start, and this is going to begood!
Alex, it sounded like you set a nice tone for this discussion when you described to us earlier this idea of the tools and the talent in the media—the mechanics and the spirit of art striking a balance of what's important.
Alex: The title of my presentation is “Youth Media—How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Love Napster.” What I wanted to talk about was about how young people—and some of us might not call ourselves artists, but we're young people who make culture, basically, who claim culture. You were mentioning the hip-hop artists of Oakland, who are producing a vital and necessary culture for that community, but would never apply for a grant—they are in a different economy. Some of the work I'll show is going to come from young people who do think of themselves as artists and some not. But in general, you see a lot of young people making media and breaking rules, really smashing the categories without even knowing that they are doing this.
I'm going to be brief in my comments and just screen a few pieces. It's hard to make generalizations about young people in media, but I think one of the things you definitely can say is that we don't think of media in boxes anymore. Many of us work on the Web, in video, on print, on CD-ROM, making comic books, often manifesting maybe one idea or one project in multiple medias. We're doing what a lot of the corporations are doing where they will have a film and a Web tie-in, and a Happy Meal at McDonald's. Today with all the options and all the implications in terms of distribution that each media has, a lot of us have come to the conclusion that in order to get our work and our ideas out—the stuff that is at the core of the work—we will spin it out in various media.
In the older ideology or framework, someone might introduce themselves as a sculptor or a painter. A lot of us have a hard time even with that first sentence in terms of what we are, because we work in multiple medias and are equally interested in spinning ideas off like that. We don't think of it as authorship in the same way. We grew up in such a media-saturated culture as young people, that you will see a lot of us using media in our media and recycling and somebody could definitely come up and say, that's not very original—why did it look like that other thing I just saw or how can you steal from this other movie and put it in yours? A lot of it has to do with the intimacy that we have developed with the media from a very young age. Thirty or forty years ago someone would take a camera out and shoot the world because they had a relationship with the world. We don't really have a relationship with the world; we grew up with six hours of TV—that is our world. So, for us, stealing footage from a Hollywood movie and putting it into our movie or taking someone else's Web page, downloading it, twisting it, and uploading it, that is how we comment on our world. You will see a lot of young makers doing work that is made of recycled material.
A lot of us are interested in politics and activism but it doesn't look or smell or sound like the politics and activism of the previous generation. A lot of us are interested in using humor, a lot of us do very cynical work, and basically are interested in working in culture and art but finding new audiences and making crossovers between those audiences and politics and activism. I don't know how to explain it very well.
To sum up, through all of our rule breaking and playing with form, what we're really seeking to do is engage new audiences. A lot of us come out and are not content to work in just the gallery or pursue just film festivals but want to reach new audiences. This comes from an impetus to reach new audiences and our discontent with the audiences that exist in traditional spheres of art.
Without any further ado, I'll put on a video. I was told by the organizers that I had to show my own work. It's not a shameless self-promotion. I'm just carrying out my duties. I'll show a little bit of my own work and then some work of people who I consider my colleagues.
The first piece is a one-minute-long satire that I did. I think you'll see in a lot of the work that I was trying to break it down and you'll see the use of appropriation and recycled materials. I can talk about activism and politics. Unfortunately, or fortunately, all of them seem to cross-pollinate and reference and do a little bit of everything. This is one of those pieces.
With that piece, I actually worked with a cartoonist in L.A. who does an editorial cartoon in the newspaper there. He and I were in touch and we decided to make this video.
In that video, I didn't use a camera for one frame of it. It was material from War Games, stuff I took off of CNN, material from Ghostbusters, some still images I downloaded from the Net, some graphics I generated entirely inside the computer, and the audio track I did with a friend one night. Again, that is a tongue-in-cheek example but it's that concept of making media entirely out of scraps of stuff that already exists and how hard that would've been for me to do if I'd had to go out and shoot audiences, people screaming, and disaster in the street. I never would've been able to do that. It also has a certain strategy of—not of poverty—but a strategy of wanting to get it done quickly so it's still current and without being slowed down. Anyway, when I teach young people I always encourage them, if they have a story they want to tell, to go to Blockbuster and find their footage.
Question: What about copyright and all of that?
Rivera: This is How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Napster!
Question: I just want to know how you do this!
Rivera: What I always encourage my students is to think of it like this: if you're making a lot of money off of it then you're in trouble. But, we're not making a lot of money off of it and we also have a leg to stand on in terms of fair-use, sometimes. A lot of us work in an informal economy of screening the stuff in galleries, screening it at festivals. This little piece, because it has a sort of pop culture edge to it, I was really happy that it screened in L.A. at a rock concert in a stadium before the band went on. They put it on and there are 20,000 fans cheering and because it makes reference to pop culture and has that spirit and it's short—it can be used in a lot of different contexts. I don't think I've made a dime from it. I think that for a lot of us it's a trade-off. This piece is not going to be bought by anyone to be broadcast; it's totally made of illegal collage materials. But because it's made of those collage materials, it also gets seen by a lot more people in these informal spaces. It's almost like a trade-off.
Bergin: You used the word “pop” and “pop culture” a couple of times. There's a direct connection with pop art and even Warhol-esque borrowing from the mainstream. I see that a lot in the work that I do with young media artists. In the piece I'll show you later where they know to tell the story, they begin with this familiar image in the media and then divert from that so they've reappropriated the image. It's really common.
You're right, in terms of the presentation, that's where it gets prickly. But I find it's interesting you do that because every piece that I do with young people, there's going to be that pop culture reference.
Rivera: Just to wrap up, when I speak to young people about making media I tell them to practice the art of storytelling. Really, if they're interested in doing film or video, that's really what it's about. If you're working with stuff you shot or stuff you got from the videos at Blockbuster, either way—in terms of storytelling, editing, structure—those are all very similar. I encourage them, strategically, just to get their hands wet as quickly as possible.
Some of you have probably already seen this piece. It's not as funny as mine but it's probably better.
You just see the camera become, basically, a peripheral element to filmmaking right there. So that's interesting.
I want to also talk about the genre—which is becoming a genre that maybe you guys could consider funding entirely on its own—which is the corporate spoof. In the context of what's happened to our society in the last ten years and definitely with the Internet going, in basically five years, from being this utopic, totally democratic media to becoming a brandscape—the Internet becoming synonymous with eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon. You see a lot of artists stepping into the world and trying to use the vernacular of the corporation as a way to address new audiences.
This is a video news release by a collaborative called ®ark (pronounced “artmark”).
These guys are a collaborative of artists who were all working in the genre of media hoax of corporate groups. I'll show you their Web site. What they do is they run a Web site which is a programming feat, really. It's almost like a Napster where you can upload your idea for what they call Corporate Sabotage projects and then they organize them into what they call Mutual Funds. They try to get celebrities to administer the funds. Basically, they're like the fund managers, using the mutual fund metaphor. Again, it just looks like a financial site, each project gets its symbol to be traded and what they are trying to do is broker relationships between people who have money that they want to sink into what they call Cultural Profit, rather than financial profit. So, money goes into ®ark and then gets disbursed into these funds of projects. If there's any legal problems—the same way that Union Carbide or Dow Chemical never gets put in jail because they're a corporation—®ark asserts they will never be put in jail because they're a corporation.
These guys are tremendously successful. The projects have been covered on CNN, repeatedly in The New York Times, they were in the Whitney Biennial. This doesn't look like art, at one level, but it's really a hybrid of video, Web, being used as part of a performance. If they ever were to apply for grants, what category would they fit in? It's really impossible to say. They did get a Creative Capital grant.
One of the people who founded it is a sort of hacker/programmer type who makes a lot of his living making commercial programming. He did the hacking in of some homo-erotic soldiers into a military video game that he was working on as his first act of sabotage.
This is a piece that I did. It's five minutes long also.
When I first made that piece, it was a satirical gesture trying to get at this particular time in history. At the same time that the global village and Internet were being celebrated as a unifying force, affirmative action was being cut, the Mexican border was being sealed and militarized. Prop. 187 was being enacted in California at the same time that the global village was being celebrated. To get at that irony, I made that piece. But since then, it went from being satire to being more of a business model.
Screening that piece around, people have told me stories about how it's not that far into the future. For example, it doesn't really relate to youth media—but someone told me a story about Wackenhut, which is the private prisons and security company. For the security cameras that they had in New York, they used to have somebody in the building in New York watching the feeds from the cameras. Now, they send those video feeds overseas to Haiti and they have someone watching them there who can hit a button and send the call to the police in New York.
The piece, like I said, originally was a metaphor. Now I'm trying to make it more of a public art piece to try to divert attention to that new economy. It's not done yet; this is a work in progress.
I'm going to wrap up with a set of questions that I've encountered moving from being someone who works primarily in film and video to someone who's trying to work on the Web and the unique challenges there for artists and, potentially, for arts funders. The Web is a really unique space where audience and aesthetic converge and mingle in really singular ways. For example, with a Web page, the more graphics you use, the more video you use, the more sound you use, the less people can see it. It would be as if a painter had a constraint that the more paint they used, the less people could see the painting. It poses an interesting question.
Also, the fact that because it is the Web, the most powerful uses of it are ones that build communities and allow the users to communicate with each other. That's really the unique appeal of the Web. So we see a lot of Web pages like rtmark.com that allow the audience to communicate with each other and become a part of the fabric of the Web page so that the audience becomes part of the art. Again, making a comparison to painting, what if you had a bunch of markers near the painting and said mark on it, draw on it and make it your own! So is it still really art if the artist doesn't control it and it becomes more of a community? If you want people to see your art on the Web, you have to have that connection because people will not come back more than once, people will not tell their friends to go.
If you go to a site like this one, for example, which is a set of narratives about two young women in high school told by an artist who found a box of notes that she had passed to her friends in high school. She read them as an adult, and said, this is great, and wanted to make a Web site out of them. She took the notes and used them as a foundation to tell the story of these two girls and their relationship. You can follow the story along in video, in audio, or just as text. Here's the note. It is one of, I think, twenty notes. Then you can also click to post a message about passing notes. So you can contribute your comment about the story. Here you can see the things that people have put up about passing notes. Again, it's a way that you have to engage the audience very differently and incorporate them into the artwork if you want them to come back, if you want them to send their friends, if you want it to be a Web site worth visiting.
In terms of a unique space where funders could step in, is the promotion of these sites. Developing a Web site is really expensive in terms of your time, but everywhere else it's relatively cheap. To make a metaphor to a museum, there is not a museum for Web art. You have your URL and if people know it, they might come. If they don't know it, they're not going to come. It's different than in a museum. I want to go to MoMA; they go to MoMA and they see thirty different artists' work. There is no such thing on the Web and so an artist is very alone working on the Web and it's entirely about promotion, press, and getting the word out. In terms of funding, maybe there's an interesting conversation to be had there around the potential for arts funders to turn Web sites into art by participating in the promotion of them.
Question: Can we ask questions?
Question: What does this do to the notion of my experience of viewing art? This is a challenge to the notion of a traditional artist.
Bergin: That's a really important point. The Walker Arts Center—I was involved in the Education Advisory Committee, and they're doing some amazing things with new technology. One of the things they demonstrated for us was a virtual sculpture garden. What you see in the sculpture garden is certainly one of the nicer of such settings in the nation. We are watching this virtual reality walk through the sculpture garden and I suggested that's nice, but you may want to put a little something in there saying: Please come to the real one. This hardly substitutes. So, I think that is a really important question.
I also think there is, sometimes, that synergy of the audience for the artist. For Alex to see his work in front of the rock audience was very different, probably, than for him to hope that people are enjoying it with these autonomous interactions.
Question: The other challenge for me involves work on the Web where many writers are creating works in which we, the viewers, are supposed to add a chapter. That chapter is then edited and then it goes on to someone else as a chapter. So, authorship and “whose work is it anyway?” are pertinent questions.
Bergin: Maybe this is a segue into some of the work that I've been doing because I think that part of that, at least at its basic level, is about the interaction and whether it's adding enhancements—and we've seen some interesting demonstrations of that—or at the very least what you described: How do we, as audience, access the art? There are some things that, certainly, we're at the precipice of, for better or for worse.
Just to switch gears over to some of the work that I'm doing. This is a tough act to follow. Alex is really at the cutting edge of this, and you'll find that I'm a tad more earnest in some of my art.
The idea of working at a Public TV station has always been difficult for me because as an independent artist and filmmaker, it's been hard to strike that balance and to keep my own work a priority with the pressures of being in a nonprofit or profit—however you want to look at it—entity. One of the things that's been important to me recently is to talk about some of our stories in our community and in particular some of our local histories. I've often had to struggle in some of my recent dialogues with my management in trying to prioritize local Black history in Minnesota, which is a fascinating history. Sometimes I think I should just do it on my own. There are a lot of very generous funders out there who would see the wisdom. But then I stop myself and I say, but it's a story that deserves—with or without Ken Burns' attention—the support, the comfort of creation in a well-resourced entity like Public TV.
One of the things that I produced a few years ago was a documentary based on a local literature collection. It's this really voluminous and interesting Black literary collection that a local group bought from New York and it's housed at the U of M. For us, it was an interesting approach to a cultural and literary history documentary. It's very traditional history documentary fare in a lot of ways but in some ways it diverts from some of the standards and in part because, I think, the content was so potentially dusty—you know, library stuff—that we really needed to bring some new tech tools to try and add to it.
What we have here is an experiment that we did recently on what that might mean to a U.S. audience, and certainly the U.S. funder also in terms of what promises you might get from a maker on how the piece will ultimately reach its audiences and its goals. In this case, it was an experiment that an engineering firm did for a local conference. They wanted to show what digital TV could be. This experiment is hardly that yet but it does give you a sense in that the idea is that the documentary itself—the hour long program—for this demo was put onto a CD. So there's a lot of DVD aspects to this. The idea is that it's a model for what would be signal—not a disc—but a signal you'd receive and then you could have the same kind of interface that I'll show you. We've got the disc here and it's unzipped onto this computer. Again, imagine you would be receiving this signal.
We don't have to get into all of the minutia about DVD; you could do some of the same things you can with a DVD. So the documentary included some traditional aspects of history documentary with some contemporary elements to make it a little more relevant to younger viewers. Then some dramatic reading sequences built with some of the new tech tools that Alex and others use.
Even if this was a broadcast signal in digital TV, the idea is that if I'm really interested in Harriet Jacobs and her work, I could have this immediate and more eloquent interface to the Web. I could leap to her Web page—again, this is all with the broadcast signal—that we created. I could watch some more real video clips. I could read some e-text and, in fact, I could do the old-fashioned thing and actually read her brilliant work. Imagine that!
So, that's some of the potential. For an artist—an independent filmmaker—the idea of these new tech tools and creating a composited sequence like that is really exciting. And that was fun to do.
Audience: I just want to encourage you to keep up this kind of work.
Bergin: That's good to hear and, hopefully, we will do more of that. That's one of the struggles. If I have to strike out and do it on my own, if the priorities of Public TV don't mesh.
Question: Were young people involved in this project?
Bergin: In this case they weren't. But I'll show you some of the work that the young people produced that I work with. Hopefully—and we aren't there yet—but we can create similar ways of exhibition, distribution, and interaction with their work. We haven't yet but we need to.
Of course, this would've looked a lot better on tape. You can see this was a rough version of the documentary. But that's the kind of work that I do. Again, even in a documentary realm, even dealing with traditional subject matter, I try to bring a level of aesthetic through the tools of the new technology. What kind of impact will it have? I get caught up on that maybe too much sometimes, but it's important.
Question: Has the documentary aired already?
Bergin: Yes. The documentary aired locally a couple of times. Struggling with the PBS system, we tried to get a PBS-plus distribution. It has actually, almost underground, made it around to different venues but then that just kind of relies on the instincts of programmers. There's a tour that the Givens Foundation is doing. Usually when the tour goes to a town and they see some of the documentaries, they're like, oh, we'd like to show it! So, this has, for me, really highlighted some of the challenges of PBS to keep up to speed. Again, what you were saying earlier, the new technology is fine but what about the storytelling that it's trying to do?