Saturday, April 26, 2008

Making it Big

In front of us are a panel comprising:

So, the panel comprises folk who have hugely popular online comics, videos and machinima, and the purpose of the this panel is to explore the panelists current relationship to popular cutlure now that they've "made it big." In what follows, we summarise a number of key points made during the session--unfortunately, the pace was too fast to record "exactly who said what, so apologies in advance to the panelists individually for representing them collectively in our following account.
One of the key things about "making it big" is to put it your stuff out there on the internet, and not wait for folk to come to you – you have to give it up for free and see what others make of it.

You also need to make the most of accidental contingencies; to go with what is there. Like making a video and giving it to someone. “I don't do computers much. I just do- do-do and get away with it, and people fucking dead people, cos that's about life. I make a video and just give it to people. You can make whatever you want – so long as it works. It doesn't have to appeal to conventional structures" (Brad Neely).

A question from the audience asked if the panelists ever feel "stuck" with the characters they create. "Not really, 'cause there are so many different ways to tell a story and use sound and vision. Internet is great for media diversity." Others talked about how the universe they create for and by their comics or videos does allow some scope for inventing new characters, too, as the fancy takes them.

Burnie Burns commented on how part of the fun working with limits (e.g., of 4 by 3 frames, and the sets and props offered by "Halo" to create a machinima video (e.g., a tank, a couple of characters) is being creative within these limits. For him, the limits of using games to create movies are in no way limiting.

Other panelists talked about how this stuff simply grows, too. That us, by constantly aiming at making things funny and entertaining means that the stuff grows with its creators.

In a similar vein, the Cyanide and Happiness blokes talked about how their stick-figure characters actually provide lots of scope for telling jokes: "You aren't limited by dimensions that larger resourced characters have."

There was a general consensus that having your own website means you can do whatever you like and not have to answer to others. You can, for example, run a web site for 8 years and never run a single ad on it (Chaps Brothers). They have stayed solvent through selling t-shirts to fans. For the Chaps Brothers, if fans hadn't bought t-shirts, then "we'd have just had to give up otherwise cos would not have dealt with ads." For Bernie Burns, ads are the worst thing on the internet. Not everyone agreed with this position, though. Others accept ads that don't intrude on the content. And they ensure that ads support the content, and not content that supports the ads. Brad lives with ads – he gets paid by Turner communications.

Bernie Burns is a big fan of internet, and regrets that MySpace has taken over from personal web space. He wants to tell folk at gigs like this that you don't have to go to MySpace, and can create your own space online.

What's next for each:

Everyone agreed that increasingly affordable bandwidth is a huge benefit. they explained how after time, bandwith costs the most for ordinary, everyday producers.

Each of the panelists placed a general emphasis on low-end tech. The Brothers Chaps were still using Flash 5 six months ago. The tinny sound of the phone line on a call from Puerto Rico set the tone for Red Rooster's voice recordings for Red vs. Blue due to one of their voice actors moving to Puerto Rico for six months. Burnie Burns also explained how their machinima sets were only updated when the Halo game-makers issued new versions of Halo. Others found that their bedroom closet, stuffed with clothes, helped their sound recording quality. Brad explained that he didn't have a clue about Flash; "I just draw and feed into i-movie."

Both the Brothers Chaps and Burnie Burns talked about how some fans give them good constructive feedback on their work, and even end up collaborating with them to, say, improve their sound recording etc.

Key themes addressed across this panel include:

Some of things we ourselves came away with included the sense that "smarts" might well be the new "digital divide" (between those that have 'em and those who don't). Each of the panelists was very funny and keen-minded, with no-one seeming to have been overly institutionalised by schooling.

What struck us as particularly interesting was out of all the conferences we've attended in the past 5 years--including the over-rated AERA--ROFLcon is the closest yet to being all about new literacies (even though that wasn't the theme or the organisers' intention!).

The other thing that struck us by the end of this panel was what a celebratory conference this is. There seems to be lots of collegiality among the panelists themselves, with no back stabbing or one-upmanship on display. This kind of celebration of lives online extended to the conference-goers, too, with lots of smiles on faces and easy conversations with strangers, and the cheerful sight of quite grown people running around getting their bright red ROFLcon lunchboxes signed by online celebs.

Photo from Brennan Moore.

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