'The Story Beyond the Still' hints at potential of large-scale collaborative filmmaking

Vincent Laforet is a still photographer turned filmmaker, who approached Canon recently with a contest idea designed to bring more still photographers as he put it, “into the fold” of DSLR filmmakers. The result is The Story Beyond The Still contest, which began accepting submissions yesterday.

The idea: begin with a still image, and use it as inspiration to create a 2-3 minute short film, which itself ends on a still images. Filmmakers use the ending still up which to base the creation of their own 2-3 minute film. The best film wins, and the next chapter begins, and so on, for 8 parts.

“It’s an ultimate huge social experiment of filmmaking to see what a community can ¬†bring to this, and where they can lead to,” said LaForet. “I have a feeling that with the right ingredients, it’s going to lead to some very interesting end film of all these chapters that is going to be quite fascinating.”

While certainly not a new idea (writers have been doing these kinds of serial works for a long time fueled by the internet), it’s the first case I’ve heard of this being applied to filmmaking (although there have already been successful collaborative films like War Tapes based on submissions from many camera operators).

I’ll certainly be watching closely as the episodes unfold, not only to see what happens with the story, but to learn what I can from how the films are made.¬†

One critical observation: the first film, made by Laforet with a small army of a crew members, has VERY high production values. In the making of video, I spotted a $4,000 gyro stabilizer being used for the car scene, a $15,000 Steadicam Flyer operated by a very experienced operator, a jib arm mounted on track, and crazy lighting equipment.

If their goal was to set the bar high, and encourage high-quality submissions, they achieved it. But Laforet’s stated goal is to make more filmmakers out of still photographers. In that case, the first film should have emphasized creativity within reach. It shouldn’t have included carefully scored music, when the contest rules expressly forbid including third-party music in submitted clips. I suspect setting such a high standard with the example film will have a chilling effect on beginner level filmmaker submissions.

But I’m more interested in what this type of filmmaking could hold in store for inventive filmmakers looking to push the limits of technology to make films that were not possible to make before.

It seems to me that collaboration technology is equally important as camera technology in trying to understand what technology makes possible for filmmakers looking to do inventive work. Motivated with the right balance of incentives, perhaps tackling a huge social issue, filmmakers could use a similar approach to harness the collaborative efforts of filmmakers or anyone capable of operating a video camera, to create documentary films that have never been made before. What would be the elements of such a project, and what might one look like?

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