Jordan Vogt-Roberts skull island - Storytelling In The Social Media Age

Last night, filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts went off on a Twitter rant about his worries that content and quality might be the losers in our modern society when it’s the easiest it’s ever been to create and share filmed stories and content. I thought this rant was worth sharing, not just because it comes from a filmmaker whom I admire (this Sundance breakout The Kings of Summer was great) or because he’s currently finishing a big blockbuster franchise film (Kong: Skull Island), but because his point is interesting to consider.

Browsing YouTube or the bevy of short films we get sent on a weekly basis, I often wonder the same things. So after the jump I present to you Jordan’s complete rant in a more readable configuration.

Here begins filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ rant on storytelling in the social media age:

The average vine, snapchat or Instagram comedy video is shocking similar to early kinetoscope films. Just made more poorly 100 years later. Kinetoscope’ that lined the insides of arcades and nickelodeons were often risqué cheap. As crass & sexualized modern social media comedy videos are… Maybe the level of a “cheap thrill” is on par with overall societal growth. Or maybe they’re just really poorly con structured videos with one-note bits filled with pretty people.

Coming up in the comedy world AND film world it’s so easy to be snobby and hate anything you think is cheap yet popular. Judgment is rampant. In the early YouTube days it would blow comedians minds how the shittiest parodies with no comedic merit would get millions of views. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to cut your teeth as a filmmaker or comedian watching these poorly made videos rule the world. So, there’s really three options…

  1. My generation is the “old guard” before we even had a chance to be the “new guard” because of way the Internet disrupted our generation.
  2. An objective 1:1 comparison of the average Instagram video to a Kinetescope would say we’ve regressed over 100 years in storytelling.
  3. Social media is so new that these shitty videos reflect the early growth of film as an art and hasn’t come into its own yet narratively.

Somehow the truth is a dark and twisted mix of all 3 in an age when people are famous primarily for their personality and not their craft. I don’t know what any of this means for the value of experience. The Internet, VR, and videogames are often more compelling experiences to the modern person than film. Its amazing, exciting & terrifying. JOURNEY (PS3) is one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. I believe in the potency and power of VR too. But frankly… I’ve seen how kids react to shit online that I think it’s garbage. And it is incredibly meaningful to them because nothing has value anymore because nothing is special and thus everything is disposable.

This isn’t me debating film vs new media. This is about me spiraling over craft and merit. If something is meaningful to someone it’s not my right or job to say it’s not meaningful. However, we’re allowed to debate merit. I just remember once standing in a museum and being completely convinced a certain painter was a load of shit. I told the person I was with. They said “well, not like you can do better”. I remember seething inside thinking “that’s not the fucking point”. Anything can be judged based in technique, merit, intent, construction, theory, application etc… Just because I can’t make a better sandwich doesn’t make the one I’m eating right now not a bad sandwich. Just because I can’t build a car doesn’t mean I can’t drive a car and say “this thing sucks”

I guess the most insane thing about the world now is that it doesn’t even matter trying to debate technique or value or effort because there are people standing outside of the museum with pictures they made out of glue and macaroni and hair from their neighbors dog. And there’s a mob of people around propping them up on a thrown made of Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and macaroni. Also, making money hand over fist. How does that reinforce a discipline, dedication or desire to grow your craft?

Maybe it’s early days… But in film you needed to be savvy or have money to make your work look good and feel “professional”. Color space, depth of field, slow motion and so many other things were inaccessible unless you had money for expensive equipment which mean CONTENT rises to the top. If your shit was dope it would rise above looking cheap. You played to what you had at your disposal. In the early YouTube days people strived so hard to stand out by having their videos look “professional”. Any video could be funny, but could it be funny AND have technique or intent behind it?

So now… No one gives a shit. Everyone has access to everything. Which should mean that content and quality is king. For a while I was worried talking oranges on YouTube would put us out of business. But holy shit it’s way worse than that now. Talking oranges look like Peckinpah compared to the mentality the landscape now. Because now you can just be rewarded for your content not being good AND being poorly made. Deadly combo.

So. I’m gonna shut up. But here my real summation that I’ve wondered for years and want to ask him about when Francis Ford Coppola said:

“To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out and some…just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart. You know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form.”

I thought about that quote all the time as I saw digital film tools evolving and it always rattled around in my brain… Well, the tools are there. The playing field is equal… So did we really find the new Mozart? Show them to me. Or did we simply lose our ability to appreciate the craft of what Mozart was. All we have is a bunch of people banging pots and pans together being showered with praise and no need to develop the discipline of Mozart. I would love to hear Coppola comment on that quote now. I don’t mean that facetiously, I would love to know how he felt about his dream now.

And this is where it ends. If you enjoyed this or enjoyed Jordan’s film The Kings of Summer, you should definitely follow him on Twitter @VogtRoberts. Now let me (Peter Sciretta) say a few things on this topic:

I was once an aspiring filmmaker, at a time when digital cameras were being introduced. They were thought to be everything that that Coppola quote promised. I spent weeks building a device to put over the lens of my prosumer MiniDV camera. Assembled from parts of cheap electronics, the device would spin a clear sandpapered disc in front of the camera with an attachment for a 35mm camera lens on the other side. This was before the era of DSLR cameras. The light would enter the 35mm camera lens and project an image onto this frosted disc, which would be captured by the camera of the MiniDV video camera. The result made for a more filmic image, and the 35mm attachable lenses allowed you to create scenes like that of movies, with short depth of field or what not.

I can’t tell you how much time I spent trying to get the stuff I shot to look not like video, but like something you would see on the big screen. I probably concerned myself more with this than the content itself. I’m amazed at the technology that is available today on the cheap. I can’t imagine being in my formative years as an aspiring filmmaker having access to affordable tools that allowed me to make movies that compare to those at the multiplex. Now you can literally make a movie in your pocket and post it seconds later on a service where the whole world can watch it. Maybe then I would have concentrated more on the why than the how. Maybe then I would have had more time to concern myself with improving my storytelling skills rather than the technicality required to make something look like how I imagined it should be.

There are some great storytellers on Vine or Iinstagram, but I seem to see more of what Jordan refers to than not. Is this what it becomes? Or is this just a transition period? I wanted to put this out there to you the readers, and hear what you think. Let us know in the comments below.

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