The Emerging Path

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Posted by Charles on November 10, 1999 at 00:00:38:

Things may be tough in the traditional studio environmnet, but it isn't stopping the emergence of new media. The activity behind Internet entertainment is picking up speed. It is obvious that this is going to be the new realm of entertainment production as every major studio and their distant cousins are jumping into the arena.

Deborah A. Lathen, the chief of the cable services bureau at the Federal Communications Commission was in Los Angeles today and the topic of discussion was whether or not broadband Internet access should be regulated. The cable companies want to see some sort of regulation as it would benefit them. But the FCC believes that imposing any specific regulations would slow the deployment of these high-speed services into consumers' homes. Whether or not broadband can deliver to the level of the entertainment industry's expectations, there is no doubt that an all out effort on the part of major and minor players to position themselves for this new frontier is well under way.

What does this mean for our community? To begin with, the success of any Internet entertainment venture depends upon one major component of any hypothetical or upcoming site - creative content. And that, my friends, is where we come in.

New and unique opportunities are going to present themselves to animation artists. The point that was being made and the concensus that was reached at our historic Animation Nation meeting on April 1st was independence and the best chance for the success of independent studios will very likely emerge in new media. All of the doors that have been closed to us in traditional media are going to swing wide open in the world of new media. An aspect of broadcast entertainment which is so new, nobody really knows just how it's going to manifest itself. Over the next few months, models are going to be created upon which others will be emmulating. Regardless of the face that new media finally presents, the fact that cannot be ignored is that content is going to be everything and in order to have content, you have to have artists and their work.

There will likely never be an opportunity like this for artists to reposition themselves in this industry again. Any disenfranchisement that has occured in traditional media can be effectively dealt with in new media, but only if we are prepared. It is already apparent that almost every new company that I am aware of that is being set up to compete in this field is being set up according to the same model as the traditional studio. In other words, business men and women, non-creative producers, former production personnel and of course the major studios themselves are all setting up shop as I write this. Where does the artist fit in? What's going to be the interface between executive management and the creative element? There are indications that it's going to be just the way it was before only with a new twist or two.

For example, one fast moving company, eager to get content up and running, secured the services of a well known artist to develop a property for them. They supposedly can't afford to pay a salary, so they issued this artist stock instead. Once the artist was ready to get rolling, it was obvious that they intended on art directing this person - the same old idiotic nonsense that quickly killed any enthusiasm the artist originally had for the project. To top it off, the artist was expected to sign a non-disclosure agreement that included a $50,000 penalty the artist had to pay if news about the concept leaked out prematurely. (Congratulations, guys. You got off to a great start. Thanks for showing your true colors so early.)

Equity participation is going to be a key factor in new media, at least in the beginning. Something that traditional media doesn't like to offer. The plan is to launch new properties that can be broadcast on the Internet, gauge which ones are building a following, then make the transition to traditional media. Many companies that are setiing themselves up for this are expecting the artist and/or creators to fund the production of their own projects. Others will be funding them in the usual way but with budgets that are far smaller than one would normally expect for animation.

Regardless of the situation, this is an exciting new world that is on the verge of evolving. If you've ever been inclined to do your own thing, your chances of having the rest of the world see it are better now than at any time in history. A word to the wise - be smart and stay sharp. Be careful of sugar coated promises we've all heard before. Artists today are not what they used to be in terms of professional savvy. If you want to contribute to the development of another aspect of this industry fashioned after the same model as before, you only have yourself to blame and don't come griping to me 'cause I don't want to hear your laments. Be a responsible business person. Don't sign one sided contracts unless they're equitable, in your favor or in your best interests. Pay an attorney for an hour of their time to read it first if there is any confusion on your part. Don't be too eager. Don't screw over other artists in the process. Visualize your position in new media as something you would like traditional media to be. Don't let the pseudo-producers, the animation brokers, the Walt Disney wannabees, or anyone else that can't draw or can't create control our collective destinies. In time, if we do this right, the standards that we set up in new media could very well spill over into television and film. And that, brothers and sisters, is a prospect to look forward to.

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