October 28, 2010

Dispatch: You Are In Control 2010

[Note: Colin Covert, chief film critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and friend of Getafilm, recently hopped the pond to Reykjavik, Iceland, taking in both the 2010 Reykjavik International Film Festival and You Are in Control 2010, an annual conference on creative technologies. The following is his report on the latter.]

Iceland's two greatest natural resources are geothermal heat and creativity. In fact, Iceland heads the Global Innovation Index, a study by international business school INSEAD and the Confederation of Indian Industry released in March. Despite its deep economic woes, the tiny volcanic outcropping in the North Atlantic topped the international ranking in criteria including patents filed, R&D spending and published scientific research. 

And as ever hipster knows, it has a kickass indie rock and filmmaking scene.

Tapping the earth's natural heat profitably is a pretty straightforward engineering issue. Tougher is the problem of empowering filmmakers, musicians, game designers and others whose creations can be digitally ripped off and anonymously distributed. It's such a pressing challenge that the Icelandic government convened a new media conference earlier this month during the Reykjavik International Film Festival to address the matter. After all, if Sigur Ros and Baltasar Kormakur can be ripped off, it's not just the artists who suffer; their homeland's balance of trade takes a hit, too.

The You Are in Control conference addressed legal, investment and marketing issues but the most engaging presentations came from entertainment industry stars. 

Ian Livingstone, whose Eidos videogame empire spawned such bestselling titles as "Warhammer," "Hitman" and the iconic Lara Croft, discussed the staggering intellectual property value of successful game franchises. Hollywood originally created its own characters, then turned to books, then comics, and now taps popular gaming characters.His buxom "Tomb Raider" heroine was originally introduced to replace a he-man adventurer whose resemblance to Indiana Jones worried Eidos'legal department. Lara's blend of strength and sex appeal made her a fanboy favorie, then a household name, and now a global brand worth $1.5 billion annually. There's a powerful synergy between Lara's life as a game character, a Hollywood heroine and a spokesbot for energy drinks. In one recent personality poll, she beat the Pope for name recognition.

Imogen Heap
Husky-voiced Grammy winner Imogen Heap explained her strategy for constant fan contact, building an army of loyalists through virtually 24/7 connection via social media. There's not much about her creative life that she hasn't processed into a blog post or video communique or online poll. When the English singer-songwriter hand-built her new in-home recording studio, she kept her followers up to date with an ongoing web show detailing the project's progress. She draws fans into her creative process by letting them contribute album art and vote on her concert setlists. Heap collated her official biography Wikipedia-style from their Twitter posts. When she needed a cellist on tour, she invited musical fans to audition for the gig and let the rest vote among the candidates. Far from being selfish about copyrights, Heap encourages would-be DJs to remix her songs and post them with her blessing.

It's not all fun and viral publicity, however. When Pakistan suffered devastating floods, she rounded up her pop star friends and quickly mounted a do-it-yourself 5-hour fundraising webcast. By interactively involving fans in every career step she takes, Heap converts them into teammates with a powerful emotional investment in her success. 

For filmmakers and other artistic types, there were several key lessons. Hold on to your creations; the Eidos artist who conceived and drew Lara relinquished his rights to the company and never participated in the windfall his character created. Don't hold on too tight, though. Encourage your fans to use your original work in their mashups while gently reminding them to give credit where it's due. Learn to adapt your work across multiple media platforms. Finally, be excellent. Everyone has the ability to create and broadcast content as never before. You've got to cut through the digital clutter with something that commands attention. And though heap and Livingstone didn't come right out and say it, it doesn't hurt to have a hot babe rep your product.

For details about next year's conference, visit http://youareincontrol.is/.

- Colin Covert

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