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Publish or perish?

Michele Aaron from University of Birmingham considers whether you should publish your digital film
© University of Birmingham
Having created and polished your short form film, you will hopefully be pleased with what you’ve made and ready to release it to a specific or more general audience.
You might have been following a narrow brief led by your agenda or set by an employer or competition: perhaps you’re producing a campaigning documentary about a social crisis in your community or an avant-garde short to enter at a film festival. In either of these cases the route and role of exhibition will be fairly clear, at least to begin with.
Alternatively, you might just want to make as big a splash as possible. In the steps that follow, we’ll be hearing from various professionals about how to reach that mass audience.
However before gaining these important pointers it is crucial to reflect, more critically, upon what you hope to achieve and why.

Speed over quality?

As you consider when, where, or even whether, to publish your film, the old adage of quality over quantity proves relevant but so too does the newer one publish or perish. This cautionary slogan, originally from the academic world, describes the increasing pressure to get our work ‘out there’ so as to prove our value or productivity.
Such pressure can compromise quality as well as alert us to the inevitable saturation of the market. And, if you are committed to campaigning filmmaking, the slogan might also emphasise the high stakes involved in potentially effecting personal or social change through your work.
At this point you will want to ask, or rather re-ask, yourself: why do you want to publish your film?
In Week 1, we considered a similar question about your intentions in sharing your story but with regards to shaping its content. Here, thinking about what you hope to achieve through it should help you select the best platform or route or frame for exhibiting and distributing your content.

Which platform?

Broadly speaking, in terms of audience size, YouTube offers the widest ‘reach’ of any platform in the western world.
  • But is your priority to reach as many people as possible or to reach a certain kind of person?
  • Do you want to entertain or educate your audience or do you want to influence behaviours or even policy?
  • Do you want to contribute to a bigger social project (with that community documentary being one part of a larger film campaign) or launch yourself as ‘auteur’ (with that avant-garde short being the first of many)?
Whether your film is destined for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook Video or one of the many specialist channels out there, it will benefit from and support the participatory culture enabled by such platforms.1 That is the social media aspect of sharing and commenting on your work. The digital sphere’s promise of openness, variety and global connection is an exciting prospect indeed, especially when reconsidering those critical questions from Weeks 1 and 2.

But beware…

While we might celebrate and want to share in the freedom, access and equality the web seems to offer, it is not without problems. Critics have written extensively about the imbalances that such a celebration masks. Their racial, geopolitical and industrial coordinates are just some of these issues. These problems include:
“[T]he unevenness of participation and voice; the apparent tension between commercial interests and the public good: the contestation of ethics and social norms that occurs as belief systems, interests, and cultural differences collide.”2
  • How will you know that your film is ready for sharing?
  • Where do you want to publish your film and why?
  • How will you, or others, measure the success of your film?

1. Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009)
2. Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), p. viii.
© University of Birmingham
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Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web

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