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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Ilaria Polsonetti Nominated for News & Documentary Emmy

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary school alum Ilaria Polsonetti’s film has been nominated for multiple awards at the 39th Annual News & Documentary Emmys. Made for VICE News Tonight on HBO, “Libya: Intercepting Migrants” is nominated for Outstanding Editor News and for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story. Winners are announced on the first of October in New York City.

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Polsonetti graduated from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program in 2011. She is also a graduate of the 3-Month Screenwriting program, which she finished in 2013. Over the course of her career, the editor has melded her knowledge gleaned at NYFA with her M.S. in Sociology (London School of Economics). After graduating, she worked for Market Road Films, Singer Street Films, and as a freelance editor.

    A screenshot from "Dirty Oil in Nigeria"

    A screenshot from “Dirty Oil”

    Since 2015, Polsonetti has worked for VICE in Brooklyn. With the expansive and ever-growing global media brand, she has had the chance to work on urgent and political topics such as Libya’s migrant crisis and Venezuela’s anti-government protests. VICE’s increasingly diverse and critically-acclaimed documentary series’ have been an ideal place for the multicultural filmmaker to hone her skills. In 2017 alone, Polsonetti worked on “German Hotelier turns Hotel into a Migrant Center,” “Dirty Oil,” and “The Politics of Terror” in addition to the aforementioned Libya piece. Along with her work for VICE, Polsonetti has worked on “The Notorious Mr. Bout” and “First to Fall.” She was also recently editor on VICE’s Raised in the System” starring Michael K. Williams (aka Omar on “The Wire”).

    Documentary Chair Andrea Swift says of Polsonetti’s work,”These nominations don’t surprise me in the least. Ilaria has always been an insightful and diligent editor who demonstrated a unique sensitivity to the human experience. She developed a strong sense of story that is equally evident in this piece.”

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Ilaria Polsonetti on her recent success and looks forward to seeing what she works on next! You can watch VICE on HBO’s documentary on migrants in the Mediterranean below:

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  • Soap Hub Celebrates New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Alum Chad Duell

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Chad Duell has been a soap opera mainstay for some time now and has amassed quite a few fans, but it’s still nice to be spotlighted once in a while. That’s what happened earlier this month when major soap opera publication Soap Hub wished Duell a happy birthday and invited its readers to do the same.

    Duell is best known for his work on popular soap opera General Hospital as prominent character Michael Corinthos. General Hospital is the longest-running American soap opera in production, and second longest-running worldwide, having premiered way back in 1963. It is also the longest-running entertainment show in ABC history, and, with 13 total wins, holds the record for most Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series.

    Duell is also an Emmy-winner, having won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work on General Hospital. Before his critically-acclaimed work on the show, Duell also had recurring roles on the hit Disney show sitcoms Wizards of Waverly Place and The Suite Life on Deck.Chad Duell

    Duell, who just turned 31, was born in Chicago and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’d been passionate about acting from a young age, and attended theatre class in high school while also playing football. 

    In 2007, he took the 1-Year Acting for Film program at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The acting school teaches students the craft of acting with a professional, working faculty and with hands-on experience that allowed Duell to act in front of a camera within the first week of his classes. Located in the heart of Hollywood, where students could shoot their projects on the famed Universal Studios backlot, Duell achieved his dream of making it to LA. 

    The New York Film Academy wishes Chad Duell a happy birthday and congratulates him on his continued success as an award-winning television star!

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    September 27, 2018 • Acting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1056

  • NYFA Alum, Guest Speaker, Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Win Big at 2018 Emmy Awards

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    The most competitive race in this year’s Emmy Awards wasn’t in any specific category. Rather, it was a heated contest between cable giant HBO and godfather of streaming Netflix to see which media company would win the most Emmys this year. 

    Several of HBO’s wins came from its new comedy, Barry, starring Bill Hader, a NYFA workshop alum, and Henry Winkler, who both won acting Emmys. Henry Winkler was a guest speaker at our Los Angeles campus (you can also listen to his guest speaker event on the NYFA Podcast, The Backlot).

    Other members of the NYFA community involved with this year’s Emmy Awards include Emmy-nominated alum Issa Rae (Insecure) and alum Francesco Panzieri, who has worked on Emmy-nominated Westworld. Additionally, Netflix’s critical and commercial hit Stranger Things was up for several nominations. The nostalgic horror’s cast includes alum Matty Cardarople and NYFA Board Member and Master Class Lecturer Matthew Modine, and the show’s iconic opening titles were in part designed by Emmy-winner and NYFA alum Eric Demeusy.

    HBO was the Goliath in this situation — the network has won the most Emmys each year for nearly two decades running. In July, Netflix made headlines when it broke HBO’s 17-year streak of most nominations, with 112 total, to HBO’s 108.

    In the end, it came down to the final award of the night, for Best Drama Series — HBO was poised to lose to Netflix by a single Emmy and lose its record. However, Game of Thrones proved victorious, allowing HBO to tie with Netflix, and landing both at the top with 23 Emmys each. Sharing first place is still a huge victory for Netflix, which has been on an upward trend after coming in third in 2016 and second last year. This continues the cultural dominance in longform storytelling that started when COO Ted Sarandos, who spoke with New York Film Academy (NYFA) students earlier this year, shepherded Netflix into the future of original content.

    Netflix and HBO weren’t the only big winners. Amazon Studios won its first top award when its original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won Best Comedy Series, the first time a streaming-only service has won the category with its own content. Last year, Hulu won the first Best Drama Series Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale. Ironically, for all its nominations and awards, Netflix still hasn’t won either prize.

     

    All told, the real winners are television viewers, as Peak TV continues its cultural dominance. As HBO CEO Richard Plepler put it, “It’s a wonderful evening for us, but it’s an even better evening for the range of quality great work being recognized in the industry.” While many of the award-winners were white, this year’s nominations did represent a large number of people of color, as well as women in non-acting roles. A step, albeit small, forward for the industry. 

    The New York Film Academy congratulates all the nominees and winners of the night and looks forward to another year of innovative, exciting storytelling from the industry!

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    September 18, 2018 • Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1269

  • Oscar-Nominated Doc Edited by New York Film Academy Instructor Now Nominated for An Emmy

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    Heroin(e), a Netflix-produced documentary edited by New York Film Academy (NYFA) instructor Kristen Nutile, has been nominated for an Emmy. This adds to its rave reviews and other major award nominations, including for the Peabody and, earlier this year, for an Academy Award. Heroin(e)’s producers join NYFA alumni, guest speakers, and other NYFA community members with nominations for the Emmy this year, including Bill Hader and Issa Rae.

    One of Netflix’s acclaimed original documentaries, Heroin(e) is directed by Peabody Award-winning documentarian Elaine Mcmillion (Hollow, The Lower 9). The film offers an intimate and harrowing view of the nation’s opioid epidemic through the stories of three women in Huntington, West Virginia — a city now infamous for an overdose rate 10 times the national average.

    The nominations for the 39th Annual News and Documentary were announced on July 26 by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, who also annually distribute the Daytime Emmy Award and Heartland Emmy Award, among other accolades. The News & Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Monday, October 1st, 2018, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Complex at Columbus Circle in New York City. The ceremony will be attended by more than 1,000 television and news media industry executives, news and documentary producers, and journalists.

    Heroin(e) is nominated for Outstanding Short Documentary, and is one of 112 nominations for streaming juggernaut Netflix, who for the first time this year leads all networks in total noms, beating out HBO (108) and NBC (78). 

     

    Heroin(e) Netflix

    Heroin(e) was edited by Kristen Nutile, who teaches for the Documentary School at New York Film Academy’s New York campus, a program featured on The Independent Magazine’s list of Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers. The school boasts both award-winning alumni and faculty.

    Nutile is a prolific filmmaker in her own right, having edited two dozen films in addition to directing six of her own. She founded Soft Spoken Films in 2001, and is a recipient of the Albert Maysles Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking. 

    The New York Film Academy congratulates documentary instructor Kristen Nutile and Heroin(e) on its incredible run of prestigious nominations and wishes them the best of luck at this year’s Emmy Awards!

    Interested in studying documentary filmmaking with the New York Film Academy? You can find more information here!

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    July 30, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1269

  • NYFA Participates in Interview with Denzel Washington at Pan African Film Festival

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    Executive Director of the PAFF, Ayuko Babu with actor Denzel Washington

    On Saturday, February 14, Industry Lab students and others—through the Diversity Development Department—participated in the filming of three major events in a row at the Pan African Film Festival.

    The first two events were produced by Kim Ogletree, NYFA Producing Instructor, and executive produced and directed by Neema Barnette, the first black woman to win an Emmy directing comedy. The Director of Photography was Tommy Maddox Upshaw who is a Cinematography Instructor at NYFA. NYFA provided some of our hard-working students and equipment.

    PAF students

    The first interview was the Power Broker discussion with Sony Executive, Producer DeVon Franklin. He is also a film producer and has worked on projects like The Karate Kid, Not Easily Broken, Hancock and Heaven Is for Real.

    Next, the students helped document a conversation with Denzel Washington. Having directed Denzel in Devil In a Blue Dress and Out of Time, director Carl Franklin (House of Cards) was the one who interviewed Mr. Washington.

    Lastly, the students took stills for DGA Panel Event, hosted by NYFA Instructor, Jeff Byrd, Co-Chair of the African-American Steering Committee of the DGA. The Director’s Panel consisted of Ernest Dickerson (Bosch, Walking Dead), Charles Stone (CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, Friday Night Lights), Princess Monique (Seasons of Love, The Call), Janice Cooke (Jane The Virgin, Pretty Little Liars) and Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy, Castle).

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    February 24, 2015 • Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4259

  • Renowned Casting Director John Levey Visits NYFA

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    john levey

    New York Film Academy students gathered this week to view the pilot episode of Showtime’s hit TV series Shameless, and participate in a Q&A with the show’s illustrious casting director John Levey. The Q&A was moderated by NYFA LA’s Dean of Academic Advising Mike Civille.

    John Levey 2

    Mike Civille with John Levey

    John Frank Levey is a casting director for John Welles Productions and is one of the most respected in the industry. Levey has won four Emmy awards (ER and West Wing) and is the recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Casting Society of America. Levey is best known for his casting credits for hit TV shows like Southland, ER, The West Wing, China Beach, Third Watch, and Shameless (currently airing on Showtime). Levey started his career as a theater director with the NEA fellowship at the Mark Taper Forum and continues to direct theater in Los Angeles today.

    John stressed the importance of working with a casting director in low-budget films. The role is often considered nonessential given the restrictions on this level. Although a student film, for instance, may not be able to afford to hire John, the production could work with his assistant who has access to his knowledge. Having an expert to “people” your film (as John puts it) is just as important, if not more, as having a cinematographer, production designer, or digital editor. After all, it’s the characters who keep the audience’s interest.

    When asked what John focuses on most during an actor’s audition he said “the life within them.” John often “plays the fool” in the audition room to keep a light atmosphere in which the actors feel comfortable in allowing their true self to come out. It’s a talent for allowing magic to happen and identifying the right flavor of persona that John has refined throughout his career.

    Actors in the audience were interested in knowing how they could get the attention of a prominent casting director such as John. His answer to this question was simple, “Do the work!” There is no substitute for this. Any other explanation for why an actor hasn’t been discovered, for instance, “I don’t have the right agent,” is just an excuse. It is your hard work and talent that will bring you success and nothing more.

    John is currently casting for his fifth season of Shameless.

    Levey 3

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    October 24, 2014 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 5844

  • NYFA Meets the Hollywood Monster Makers

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    Terminator

    On June 11th, the New York Film Academy Animation department hosted an anniversary screening of The Terminator (1984) to a full house. The film remains exciting as ever as evidenced by the thunderous applause during the end credits. After the film, co-chair of animation Mark Sawicki moderated a panel of artists who created the amazing effects for the film. Guest artists and Oscar nominees Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant were character creators and puppeteers of the Terminator robot for the film. The Terminator was the first film they worked on with the legendary Stan Winston. Upon Winston’s passing in 2008, Shane and John co-founded the Legacy studio to carry on the tradition of excellent character creation and practical effects work on such films as Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park and Iron Man. Also joining the event was guest artist Ernest Farino who was responsible for the main title and graphics work on the picture. Mark Sawicki worked with Ernest as an optical consultant to help devise the look and procedures to generate the robot’s eye view or Termovision. Ernest is a two time Emmy winner for visual effects and is now directing.

    The group shared marvelous stories from the movie such as rubbing honey into the make up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face to attract a freshly refrigerated fly as it woke from its frozen slumber. Another trick shared by Ernest was a shot of Arnold pushing his fist through the windshield of a moving car. This was accomplished with a stationary car with a mechanical battering ram in the shape of Arnold’s fist. The illusion of movement was created by having a truck drive by with a fake wall of plastic bricks attached to its side. The bricks moving quickly behind the stationary car made it appear that the car was moving quickly past a static wall as the fake hand shattered the windshield.

    Terminator posterBoth Shane and John emphasized the importance of story and sticking to reality to create believable effects. John said that to make a believable dinosaur you have to obey the laws of physics and have a two-ton dinosaur move with heft and weight and not fly around like a bumblebee.

    After an engaging discussion of trends and techniques, the panel was open to questions from the audience. Many students asked what it was that made older practical effects more appealing than today’s CGI. Shane suggested that in the past horror and fantasy films were overlooked as small pictures and the filmmakers had much more freedom to entertain happy accidents or try bold lighting and other techniques. Today’s multi million dollar blockbusters have a great deal at stake and much more input is given from not only the studios but other large franchises like McDonald’s who use movies as cross promotional vehicles. One student compared older effects to gleaming silver while CGI was more like polished steel. Mark mentioned that lighting is very difficult to mimic in a virtual environment and can create the impression the student mentioned but there are ways to improve upon it such as the use of HDRI imagery to light the CGI characters. John pointed out that CGI could be exceptional if done well with attention to detail and dedication to realism as exampled by Jurassic Park.

    There was a great deal of interest among students to either pursue the field as artists or make use of these tried and true techniques as directors in their own right.
    The event wrapped up with our guests receiving complimentary gift bags from NYFA as they graciously autographed their names to The Terminator poster that will soon adorn the halls of our school.

    Thank you Shane, John and Ernest for inspiring us all and reminding us all about the importance of story and characters!

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    June 13, 2014 • 3D Animation, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 4948

  • The Importance of an “Indelible” Screenplay

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    Melanie Williams Oram is the department chair of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy’s New York City Campus. Melanie wrote and directed SHOOK, a short film that Showtime acquired and airs. SHOOK won several awards including Best film of the Festival at the inaugural Juneteenth Festival. Her feature length version of SHOOK was an Urbanworld Screenplay Competition Finalist. She has produced several award winning shorts including A-Alike, which won the Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards and a DGA Award. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody for her work at HBO Sports. Currently she is producing her first independent feature film, Indelible.
    Indelible
    I am nearing the end of the production phase on my first feature film IndelibleThis film tells the story of El Bonds, an African American female scientist who races to find the cure for a disease that killed her husband and threatens to take the life of her teenage son. As the producer on this project, I am struck by how important a solid script is to creating a quality film. Yes, the feature film arena is one where the director is clearly the ruling monarch, and I’ve always preached that without a good script, the director, even a great director, has nothing. Now after nearly finishing the production phase of Indelible, I see in practice that a well-structured script is the engine that powers the rest of the filmmaking train.

    Our process on Indelible has been truly collaborative. Our writer, Mikki del Monico wrote the script and asked Randy Dottin, the director to attach himself to the project. Randy and I had collaborated on several short film projects together and he asked me to come onto the project as a producer. As a team our first step was to apply for a production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Mikki already had an established track record with Sloan and had previously won a $10,000 screenwriting grant for an earlier draft of Indelible.We were fortunate enough to win the $100,000 production grant and then our journey to make a feature film began. I worked with Mikki and Randy for about two years on developing the script and getting it ready to shoot. Mikki wrote countless drafts and we had several meetings about how to clarify the want of the protagonist, increase the intensity of the obstacles created by our antagonist, and shape subplots that were both engaging and well-crafted.

    We went into production confident that our script had all the elements of a good drama. We completed our initial shoot and managed to stay true to our original vision. After a fairly lengthy break in production, we cut together an assemble version of the film and re-evaluated the script. It was clear that we needed to do some pick-up shoots. We were facing some challenges as a production because we didn’t have access to some of the key talent that we needed. We wanted to finish the film strong and so we were faced with the task of altering the script again. Our new script needed to create a softer side of our protagonist by deepening some of her personal relationships. This process included broadening the role of some characters, minimizing the role of other characters, and even recasting one of Indeiible’s major players.

    To date, we have completed two pick-up shoots and we plan to do one more in the late spring/early summer.We are editing a new cut of the film that incorporates all our footage from all three (3) periods of our production phase (initial production + two pick-up shoots). We will look at the cut and determine not only which scenes need to be reshot but what scenes need to added to the script to ensure that we enter into Indelible’s post production phase in the strongest possible position. We have pledged that we will not embark on this final pick-up shoot until we believe the newest version of the script is solid. As a team we are still committed to the idea that a strong, well structured script provides a blueprint for making sure that ultimately we produce “a good story that is well told.”I believe that my experiences as a professional filmmaker, and definitely my work with the Indelible project have shaped my teaching in the classroom. As an instructor, I try to bring together theory and practice. I’d be curious to hear your ideas on screenwriting theory and how you’ve put those ideas into practice. What are your experiences with developing and/or producing your own scripts either for shorts or feature films? 

    To learn more about NYFA’s Screenwriting program, please click here.

    Indelible Movie On Set Indelible

    On Set Indelible2

    On Set Indelible3

    All Photos Taken By Gregory Costanzo

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    April 16, 2012 • Screenwriting • Views: 7982

  • Five Viral Videos That Changed the World

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    Andrea Swift is the department chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. She has written, directed, and produced many projects, having been awarded the Scriptapalooza TV Award, Silver at the Chicago International Film Festival, a DGA award, and many others. Her PBS Documentary “In the Life” was nominated for an Emmy three times.

    Has a viral video ever really changed the world? Even a little bit? How?

    As the latest crew of NYFA Docsters begin their first cyber film, I am once again updating my list of must-see viral videos for them to consider. It’s always a tricky list to compile, and even trickier to narrow down. YouTube’s greatest hits make a good starting point. In at least one key respect, they clearly “worked.” Hundreds of millions of people have watched and shared Charlie Bit My Finger and The Evolution of Dance. There’s something to learn there, and something to learn from Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa) and other uber viral music videos.

    Perhaps virally successful corporate advertisements have even more to teach. Somehow the makers of The Force, for example, got well over 50 million of us to willingly watch a Volkswagen commercial without the pay off of “real programming” around it. And then they got us to “share” it with to our friends. That’s an even higher bar to clear. Yet they did it.

    However, the real Holy Grail for us social documentary types is the movie that changes the world – at least a little bit. Not an easy feat. If it was, everyone would do it. Still, I propose that there are several viral videos, mostly micro-docs that have managed to pull it off.

    5.)  Crush on Obama: This one’s been on the cultural radar for four years now. In their combined incarnations, Obama Girl videos have scored over 120 million views.  And while it seems silly, many in the mainstream media have identified Crush on Obama as a key influencer in the 2008 elections, and beyond. Perhaps the greatest take-away for aspiring viral game-changers is its success as a “meme.”[1]  In fact, in 2010 Newsweek named the video the #3 biggest meme of the decade.

    Elaborating, The New York Times wrote, “That video probably had more to do with shaping Obama’s complicated public image — young and exciting but maybe a bit shallow — than any Internet appeal devised by the candidate’s own aides.”

    I have to admit it’s especially warm in my mind because its director is upstairs teaching a Viral Video class for the Doc students right now. On the other hand, he’s there because it was already warm in my mind.

    4.)  Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent: This micro-doc pulled from a television show, tells a great, authentic story that makes the cyber world laugh, cry and share again and again. For the viral doc-maker, I´d say the major take-away here is story. As the old adage goes, “a great story, well told” is pure gold in any medium. And a great, well-told, cyber-sized, underdog fable hits our biological “share” button like one of those little rubber reflex hammers.

    Granted the first chapter of this particular viral video-making story is luck.  Well-produced luck, I would argue, but still, luck. Even so, her performance would have been a tree that fell in the woods had the producers not met that lucky occurrence with the skill to recognize it, shoot the story beats as they happened, and then carefully recreate them so their audience could experience the moment as if we were in the room the moment it’s going down. Even with all that, however, it would have been a tree that only fell on British TV if someone hadn’t excised the exact arc of that perfect cyber-sized story, uploaded it and set it free to spread itself through our socially networked cyber psyche.

    But what game did it change? It certainly didn’t help elect a president. Someone who’d been marginalized was laughed at and then became an international star. Her game certainly changed, but more to our point, the whole pop culture game changed with it – just a little bit. That story shamed us for the initial pejorative response we probably shared, at least a little. And it opened our hearts and minds to the possibility that a woman who is not young and not so physically attractive could still be worth listening to, could even have a place in the modern Pop Pantheon. It´s hard to measure the exact impact of that change, but by integrating Susan Boyle into our pop iconography, our collective-self image grew just a little more complex, and ever so slightly less scornful.

    Susan Boyle's viral video

     

    3.)  Playing for change, “Stand by Me: This little documentary is my all time favorite viral share. “But that’s a music video,” you say? It is. It’s also a micro documentary.  I only argue this about the original Playing for Change video, Stand By Me. The others really are just music videos. Good music videos, but still, just music videos. “Stand by Me,” on the other hand, tells the story of the making of itself, and consequently the story of the project and its meaning. That’s what lifts it out of the realm of simple music videos and into the arena of viral micro-documentary.

    More importantly for this list, I argue that in rhythmic, gentle ways that are difficult to quantify, that musical documentary changes the world by changing us.  It tells a story that moves us – both emotionally and physically – which helps it work its simple meme deeper and deeper into our consciousness: all our divergent, wonderful cultures can play together and when they do, our global jam session can become transcendent.  We aren’t “others.” We make magnificent music together.

    And being a story with a great beat, and a meme we can sing along with, Stand by Me can reinforce that change, and inspire its propagation, over and over again.

    2.)  KONY 2012: Scoring over 100 million views in less than a month and spawning spin-offs and backlash videos which have generated almost as many views themselves, it is easily the viral video story of the year. Like Zietgeist before it, KONY 2012 demonstrates the incredible power of the web to spread ideas and create movements, along with its absolute lack of controls for testing a video’s validity or veracity before allowing its entry into this burgeoning engine of our collective consciousness. On the other hand, it also demonstrates the new, highly democratic forum that, if stimulated, creates a remarkable after-the-fact control for both the validity and veracity of the memes we launch into cyber space.

    That video’s career also demonstrates the power of simplicity in this realm, as well as our potentially ruthless response to being initially taken by a video what we then start to feel is a gross oversimplification, propaganda or self-promotion. Personally, I found the later pre-arrest video of Jason Russell almost as heartbreaking the original video. Yet I have to confess to feeling a teeny, tiny wave of schadenfreude as well. But why?

    There was an almost classical Greek symmetry to this flash tragedy playing out before our cyber eyes. Here a well-meaning hero sets out to save the world. But his hubris taints his self-told tale with just enough reckless oversimplification and self-aggrandizement that its instant mega-success breeds a near immediate aftershock of denunciation. And the laceration of that backlash wounds him so intensely that it sends our hero out onto the street, naked and beating the ground, seemingly driven mad by the extremity of his near simultaneous fame and mass rejection.

    It’s a cautionary tale for would be viral world-savers. However, read carefully, the story of the KONY 2012 video, can also light the way for making cyber media that matters. I rate it an unparalleled success, though perhaps not in the exact form its maker intended. April 20th will not find me graffiti-ing in favor of increased military support for a regime that now kills people for being gay; nor wheat-pasting in support of American military adventurism in Africa.

    But it did get us talking about KONY and the Jacobs of the world.  It did get young America interested in the mass kidnapping, rape and forced soldiering of children in central Africa. It did create an atmosphere that led the ratings-driven American media to devote the kind of airtime to the human toll of central African turmoil that it usually reserves for freeze-frames of Lindsey Lohan’s underwear, or purported lack thereof.

    So regardless of how many people hit the streets on April 20th, it’s already changed the world – a little bit. It could arguably have changed it more and more lastingly, and caused significantly less pain to its maker, if he had been a little more careful with his facts and little less certain that he knows best for Africa. But the equivalent of one in three Americans listened to Russell’s idea for a full 30 minutes, shared it, and spent an hour or two considering it, arguing about it, telling other people. And as a culture, we decided, at least, that what happens to children in Uganda, matters to us.

    1.) It Gets Better: You may remember that in 2010, American news reported four gay teen suicides in rapid succession. Each boy had clearly acted in response to relentless bullying. Trying to form a response, the nation could only seem to mutter inchoate disapproval.

    Meanwhile two men, Dan and Terry, decided that they had to reach out the hundreds (maybe thousands) of other teens who were experiencing similar fates. The men sat on their couch, in front of their home video camera, making a low quality, YouTube message-in-a-bottle for those kids. In it, they just shared the stories of their own terrible, humiliating experiences being bullied as teenagers, and about the thriving lives they have built since. With their stories, they offered the simple hope that “it gets better.”

    Well, the rest is history, that video tore around the internet spawning countless replications and morphing from a simple, unassuming offer of hope into a national rallying cry for reform. Hollywood, the Secretary of State, even the President stood up to be counted in their own, It Gets Better videos. And reform we did. State after state and school district after school district has changed its laws and policies. Anti-gay bullying is no longer simply swept under the rug of the collective cultural consciousness, with a “kids will be kids” wave of the hand. Like any other form of violence, it is now a crime.

    This one changed the world, in obvious ways – both political and cultural.

    And the big take away? For me, there are a few. One is that the law of unintended consequences is turbo-charged in cyber space. Set an idea free in the wilds of that vast neural network and there’s no telling what it will do. But the nature of your initial offering is crucial. It may replicate and morph and go places you never could have guessed but all of that will be defined by the essential nature of your meme. In this case, the voice of that selfless, authentic, first person “true” story carried throughout the entire movement it spawned and moved people to truly change themselves, and thus to change their policies.

    So what do you think? Have I convinced you that viral video can change the world – a little bit? Which videos would be on Your Top 5 list?


    [1] When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he wanted a word like gene that conveyed the way in which ideas and behaviour spread within society by non-genetic means. Since then the word has been picked up to describe a piece of information spread by email or via blogs and social networking sites. A meme can be almost anything—a joke, a video clip, a cartoon, a news story—and can also evolve as it spreads, with users editing the content or adding comments. Common collocates in the Oxford English Corpus are spread, pass, and transmit: as with the Internet sense of viral, meme uses the metaphor of disease and infection.

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    April 2, 2012 • Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 2524