Filmmaking and Gamemaking

How does collaboration differ in game development from film development?

How does collaboration differ in game development from film development?

My son is a game developer and fan of both computer games and films. I am not really a gamer myself, but I appreciate the power of interactive, participatory storytelling and the way some games have become more and more filmic and story-driven. I hope someday to be collaborating on games with my younger friends who are more literate in the medium.

Here’s a brief post that observes the difference in the type of collaboration that happens on film projects versus game projects.

Filmmaking and Gamemaking – The Difference

For the moment, I’ll keep learning and playing with ideas for storytelling that is compelling and influential yet highly participatory. I don’t believe that even the most complex stories in computer games has risen to the level of Shakespeare or Hemingway; perhaps that is not even the goal.

Games are already a larger entertainment phenomenon than film in terms of opening grosses ($300+ million in one day for Call of Duty 2) and active players. I hope to be a part of anything so influential.

Films In Sarajevo: Where Is Redemption?

“Fatalism, Pride, Pain, Mockery, Shame, Apathy… These are the recurring themes in the films that I have been attending at this year’s film festival here in Sarajevo.”

I recently read this blog article from a woman in the Balkans and her thoughts about the place of art in culture. What messages are spoken in our music, films, painting, and dance? They certainly reflect our various stories and can tell of hope and despair, sometimes in the same moment.

“Fatalism, Pride, Pain, Mockery, Shame, Apathy… These are the recurring themes in the films that I have been attending at this year’s film festival here in Sarajevo. After three days of faithfully showing up to my ticketed seat, the heavier I feel inside when I walk out, as if my spirit is hiding from the uncertainty and oppression I am taking in with my eye and ear gates.

First of all, I love where I live, and I truly love these people. I understand them, even though they would say that I have no idea, that I’m just another American trying to come here and help. But behind that, I hear the voice of rejection, abandonment and fear. So attending this film festival has reconfirmed to me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Read more here: films-in-sarajevo-where-is-redemption

Five Stages of Innovation

Five Stages of Innovation:

1. People deny that the innovation is required.

2. People deny that the innovation is effective.

3. People deny that the innovation is important.

4. People deny that the innovation will justify the effort required to adopt it.

5. People accept and adopt the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to people other than the innovator, and deny the existence of stages 1 to 4.

(Thanks to Clyde Taber via Josh Craft via Phil Cooke for the summary.)

Genius or Shuffle?

I believe I am not alone in the occasional quest for just the right music to suit my mood or change my mood. The iPod and other devices like it promise us the world and devise all sorts of ways to help us in this quest for control.

As I was working around the kitchen this morning I found myself in a dilemma. I was searching for the soundtrack for my morning on my iPhone. I believe I am not alone in the occasional quest for just the right music to suit my mood or change my mood. The iPod and other devices like it promise us the world and devise all sorts of ways to help us in this quest for control.

I tried Pandora first, looking through my varied radio ‘stations’ to find one I thought was perfect. For those unfamiliar with the way Pandora and Apples iTunes Genius work, the easiest way to describe it is that they look at the DNA of the music – artist, genre, tempos, tone, etc. to match songs for you. For instance, I have a ‘station’ on Pandora for Benedictine Monks. When you type that in, you pretty much know what you’re going to hear – everything that plays on that virtual ‘station’ sounds pretty similar. The promise of Pandora and the others is that you have control over what you hear, like you own the radio station and don’t have to put up with lousy songs that make you want to change the station.

This morning I began listening to a station based on The Fray, listened a while, and decided it wasn’t working for me. So I went further back in time to see what a Gin Blossoms radio would sound like. I had some vague sense that it would be a little less angst-ridden and melancholy than the Fray and whatever music-mates Pandora would deliver. I’d have to say Gin Blossoms radio was a little more upbeat, but still a little to down for me today. I guessed wrong on what would be the key musical DNA to change my mood.

Was I in the mood for Genius – letting me set my mood and seeing if the miracle of technology would find the right tone? Or was I better off with Shuffle – a musical world that is far more broad, eclectic, and not at all driven by some pre-determined mood I was trying to reach? I love to play random shuffle on my iPod – my tastes in music are very broad and I often laugh or am surprised by the songs that play back-to-back. It could be Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” followed by Chris Tomlin singing “Famous One”. I love to consider those juxtapositions – not as if they are controlled somehow by God to tell me something (though they could be if He wanted) – but I tend to be a person who loves the discovery of things, serendipity.

I confess that, in the end, I’m more of a shuffle guy – seeking to discover the story of seemingly random things – than a genius guy – knowing exactly what I want and enjoying that measure of control.

Delivering to the tribes

I will argue that ‘evangelical Christian’ is a term that can hardly have meaning any more in America. I think there are many tribes of people who share some common beliefs that make them Christian, but there are many other passions that make them very different when it comes to creative things like music, art, and film.

I’ll use a term that is used regularly among missions folk and one I also hear guys like Seth Godin using – tribes. These are identifiable groups of people with certain affinities. They like the same music, food, hobbies, politics, religion, etc. Something or many things join them together. For the new world of marketing, guys like Godin tell us that we must think in terms of tribes. There is almost no such thing as mainstream anymore; everything is niche. Some niches are larger than others, but there will never again be a cultural effect where the whole country stops to watch an episode of a TV sitcom. A few lowest-common-denominator shows like American Idol can come close, but they don’t compare with I Love Lucy or the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in gathering audience share. A big hit now means something entirely different than it did in the 1960’s.

There are more and more films being created by Christ-followers that are not what anyone would call ‘mainstream.’ That is, they don’t fit into the mold of family-friendly, didactic, films that get a lot of attention among evangelicals in America right now. The call has been, “Let’s stick it to Hollywood” by creating G-rated, wholesome entertainment that can mobilize audiences who want to “…stick it to Hollywood.” And there has been some success with movies like Facing the Giants and Fireproof as the models. However, I wonder what influence these films have had outside of the core audience of a certain kind of evangelical Christian. I will argue that ‘evangelical Christian’ is a term that can hardly have meaning any more in America. I think there are many tribes of people who share some common beliefs that make them Christian, but there are many other passions that make them very different when it comes to creative things like music, art, and film.

For instance, I have Christian friends who genuinely like the films I mentioned. But I have many Christian friends who are softer in their support. They tend to support them because they don’t want to say anything bad about the message or the good people who produce the films. Then, I also have Christian friends who are not shy to say, “I think those films just suck – from an aesthetic point-of-view.” They would never go to see them. They eagerly await quality films from whatever source, non-Christian or Christian. And their standards don’t make exceptions for the good intentions of the filmmakers.

I, too, want to be careful not to be in a negative mode. I want to be about casting vision, not casting stones. I hope to be following obediently what I am called to do, just like every other filmmaker who is looking for direction from God. Films that speak more directly to Christians, to teach and encourage them, have their place and I am involved in making them. I also know that there are some people who are not following Christ who are touched deeply by those films. I applaud what the folks at Sherwood are doing to encourage marriages, present good morals, etc.

But what if that’s not the audience that I feel called to have a conversation with? The main rub of all this is that the Christian film industry, just like music and books, is a business like any other. Success is measured by things like sales. Broad, easy-to-reach audiences are favored. I’m OK with that and understand that, coming from many years in marketing communications work.

Here’s the point (finally!)

In the broader world, there are systems, companies, and channels that exist for the smaller ‘tribes.’ Think PBS, Landmark Theaters, the many indie film distribution companies, cable channels, etc. These understand niche audiences for documentaries, public service programming, classical music, jazz, dance, and culture. They have found a way to nurture creative human expression and yet make the system work. Some are non-profit by design; some are for-profit but lean and mean to survive. But they do survive and they do speak to definable, targetable audiences. This is what I am looking for within the world of Christ-followers.

Where are the indie, underground, alternative, film labels for films that fall into the cracks, but do have an audience that can be reached? Where is the equivalent of PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts? When the mainstream Christian record labels ignored the harder-edged grunge, speed-metal, hardcore, techno-industrial bands that were populated by Christians, the bands and fans created their own labels, concert tours, and fan networks.  They survived and got the music out. Or think of artists like Sufjan Stevens, David Wilcox, Anathallo, and others who write out of their faith. Most will never be the cash-cow that the Steven Curtis Chapmans, Mercy Mes, or Third Days are for the big record companies, but they inspire tribes of music lovers who are deeply Christian but deeply not into what they hear on the Christian radio stations. More importantly, they speak much more broadly to alternative music lovers who don’t yet follow Christ – there’s a tribe that can be identified.

Music seems an easier nut to crack for indie distribution. It’s usually cheaper to produce. Cheaper to distribute. Comes in small packages that can be easily passed around (even with torrent sites, it’s an effort to share feature-length movies). People will have thousands of songs on their iPods, from hundreds of different artists. But it seems less likely that they’d have thousands of movies or even short clips on those players. Bands also make their money by touring rather than by CD sales. You don’t often hear about indie filmmakers touring with their film in an old van. Could happen, but it’s not the norm.

What if there was a Miramax, Zietgeist, or similar ‘label’ for indie films with a Christian worldview? It could run a web site where people could come to chat about film, ideas, art, music, and learn about new stuff. It probably would not aim for taking films to wide theatrical release. It would focus on segments of audiences like bands do with their music. Not everyone likes reggae, techno, punk, or country; and not everyone is drawn to thrillers, romantic comedies, or foreign-films. But, if you could identify the tribe and let them know that you had something they might like, you could gather them. If it is low mass, tribe-driven, and innovative I just think it could survive.

If this exists, I would love to know. My sense is that that films that can deeply touch people who are currently not being touched need a champion, a home, to be nurtured, and to be delivered. We need to be with those tribes and I think our stories need to find a place among them.

Movies I Wish I’d Made – “Ushpizin”

Ushpizin (2005, New Line Cinema) is a combination of great characters, deep and authentic spirituality, humor, and a fascinating world. I can’t think of more I’d ask for.

First in an irregular series. I’m trying to identify the kinds of films that resonate with me in a special way. I don’t mean that these are my only favorite films, but they represent the kinds of films that reflect what I want to do and are usually films I think I could make if given the opportunity.

dvdimage_ushpizinUshpizin (2005, New Line Cinema) is a combination of great characters, deep and authentic spirituality, humor, and a fascinating world. I can’t think of more I’d ask for. The story takes place in modern-day Israel, Jerusalem, to be exact. The story centers on a couple who have become Orthodox in their Jewish faith later in life. The husband, we learn, has a past where he was less than religious. They struggle with obedience to God and their rabbi. They wonder why God has dealt them the hand they have – poor, childless – despite their attempts to be right with Him. When a friend from their ‘old days’ shows up during the Feast of Booths, the reality of their faith and their new life is severely tested.

Here’s the official blurb from the DVD release: Marks the first film made by members of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community in collaboration with secular filmmakers and provides a touching and unique look at the daily lives of ultra-Orthodox Jews as they question and explore their faith. Breaking the barriers between cultures, the film holds a universal and human appeal that transcends any religion or belief. Writer and star Shuli Rand (“Moshe”), winner of the Israeli Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor and the Best Actor Award from the Israeli Film Academy, stars with his real-life wife, Mechal Bat Sheva Rand (“Malli”), as husband and wife whose love is tested and faith is challenged when a secret from the past reveals itself during the Jewish holiday of Succoth.

I appreciate the unashamed sincerity of the faith of Moshe and Malli. The film gives a glimpse into the lives of modern ultra-Orthodox Jews as they seek a path in a modern world. The film shows an appreciation of ancient faith and traditions that are rich with meaning and provide actual answers in crisis. I believe the film is a celebration of authentic faith that is rooted in tradition but not made obsolete or anachronistic. This couple really does believe and trust God. They really do doubt and almost lose it. They fight. They pray passionately and from their hearts. They sin. But none of this feels clichéd to me, nothing syrupy or simplistic even though it is often simple and straightforward. It made me wonder if someone could do a remake of this story but set it in the U.S. Could someone do evangelical Christian characters that are sincerely, deeply people of faith and make it so natural and genuine? I don’t remember seeing it yet.

I wonder if it works because it is set in Israel and there’s something different about Orthodox Jews. Can they seem more authentic because they are just so different than I am? I feel like you could almost use entire dialogue scenes verbatim and place them in the mouths of Christians in America and it would be real. But would it work? I don’t know. I just know that, when I watch Malli pray and sing praise songs in her kitchen and as she pours out her heart with love to God, I just think of her as a sister, not as a Jew. Her faith challenges and encourages me.

So, I heartily recommend Ushpizin. You can get it on NetFlix and probably anywhere else. It never had much commercial success in the U.S. because you have to read subtitles, but it’s an easy follow and flows beautifully.