DIY Days Explores The Future Of Storytelling

<p>Founder of the <span class="caps">DIY</span> Days conference, Lance Weiler, pulls back the curtain on technology&#8217;s effects on the contemporary film industry.</p>

For the most part, film has always been considered a medium that is not particularly welcoming to the amateur creative. This is mostly due to how expensive it is to produce films and the inexhaustible resources one needs to successfully develop them. However, in the last decade, the advent of digital technologies and social platforms has made the process of making and distributing films exponentially cheaper. New technologies have not only made the film itself more affordable and easier to make, they have also given filmmakers the ability to operate completely outside of the Hollywood model of filmmaking while still achieving a level of success and sustainability. This independence from the mainstream model has also given way to more experimentation, allowing film to rapidly evolve as an art form and expand its reach across different platforms, bolstering its narrative techniques.

DIY Days, which took place in NYC on Saturday, March 5th, is a free, day-long, roving conference that approaches the democratization and transformation of filmmaking head on through a series of panels, discussions, and presentations. The event, created by filmmaker Lance Weiler, gives budding filmmakers and veterans alike a chance to come together, network, find collaborators, and become inspired by new ways to tell stories developed by innovators in the industry. The event features speakers from various fields ranging from publishing and data visualization to near field communications (NFC) and gaming.

The tone of the day was set with Wired contributing editor Frank Rose’s keynote about his new book The Art of Immersion, which discusses the new narrative language put in place by the internet. From there, Weiler spoke about his most recent film project, Pandemic, which spans the platforms of data visualization, alternate reality gaming, mobile phone applications, and other interactive innovations. Speakers throughout the rest of the day included indie film luminaries Brian Newman and Ted Hope, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, Broadcastr founder Scott Lindenbaum, data visualizer Nicholas Diakopoulos, and writer and game designer Chuck Wendig. Between presentations, anyone from the audience was encouraged to come up and share projects they are working on, either to spread the word or look for collaborators.

We caught up with Weiler after the event to find out more about DIY Days and his thoughts on this new practice of transmedia filmmaking.

The Creators Project: Could you explain the “origin” story for DIY Days?
Lance Weiler:
DIY Days came out of a desire to bring elements of the WorkBook Project, a resource and community that I founded to help support a new emerging creative class, into the real world. Since 2008, we’ve staged DIY Days events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. The events are always free and are staffed by volunteers. The goal is to make what happens at DIY Days open and accessible.

There are speakers from a variety of fields. How important do you think it is for filmmakers to look to people outside of the medium for inspiration?
I think it is critical to look at how others are creating and sustaining themselves. For instance, much can be learned by looking at how other industries are adjusting to the connected world that we live in. For filmmakers, who are often the last to adapt to a new technology, unless it’s a new camera or version of FCP, it is critical to take the time to see what others are doing. What DIY Days looks to do is weave together a mixture of speakers working in film, music, gaming, print, design, and software. We’ve found that many of the issues are the same in terms of the impact of technology, but what’s a bit different is how people are dealing with them. But it is also important for filmmakers to realize that their creative world is expanding and with that comes new ways to tell stories. These new opportunities will require collaborations with other creatives working in various disciplines.

Is film becoming an essentially multimedia experience? Are things like video games, transmedia, and data visualization, etc. all things that filmmakers have to contend with now?
I think it’s not having to contend with, but more an issue of adapting to. While it’s not for every filmmaker, I feel it is important to realize that it can extend the stories you wish to tell. Often filmmakers will stay tied to a single medium due to the intoxication of a certain dream of what it once meant to be a filmmaker. But the reality is that more films are being made every day and due to that, more stories flood the world every day. It really comes down to the realities of the attention economy—it is harder today to capture someone’s attention, to get them to the theater to see your film, to get them to actually watch your DVD, and not just have it in their Netflix queue. We live in a connected world and stories can benefit from that and actually become stronger in the process, especially as storytellers understand how to engage with audiences.

How important do you think it is that you keep DIY Days free? Do you believe it has made a huge difference?
We work hard to give as much value as we possibly can at DIY Days events—to have interesting speakers, to hopefully challenge conventions, and to give the microphone to the audience to let them share. There is something about making it free that lets people put their guard down. They feel the organic nature of the event—that we’re not trying to sell anything, but in fact working to inform and hopefully inspire something. For a long time the entertainment industry has been shrouded in secrecy. We’re working to pull back that curtain—to show ‘Oz’ working the levers. Free can be powerful because it sets a tone that I believe helps to set DIY Days aside. We look at it more long term: can the events we stage help people to sustain as creatives, can they make an impact in regards to the sharing of information, and finally, can they help to introduce storytellers to more creative possibilities that in turn aid them to become better at what they love?

In regards to the name “DIY Days,” with an event like this, are you more concerned with creating a sustainable “DIY” film scene that operates as an alternative to traditional Hollywood/mainstream film, or transforming how stories are told on all levels?
We’re storytelling agnostic. We don’t care where someone chooses to work or how they choose to express themselves as long as they challenge themselves to make better work and share elements of their process. It’s not a black and white thing. At the end of day, people need to sustain and for some, that will involve working within a traditional system. For others, it will mean struggling at a job that might not be where their true passion lies. DIY Days is about challenging storytellers to hopefully think differently, and we believe that can have a much longer lasting impact.

Photograph of Lance Weiler courtesy of Raffi Asdourian