The Crowd Strikes Back

I’ll start this post by jumping back into memories. Over a year ago, I was on a night flight on my way back to Verona after pitching at the STARTinMED startup forum in Barcelona. After a few hours of sleep I took my car and on a rainy early morning left for Udine to give a talk at the 20th International Film Studies Conference.

There I met my colleague and co-author Marta Martina and on 13 March 2013 we delivered our speech titled The Crowd Strikes Back. Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and the Changes of Intellectual Property. As for all proceedings from international conferences, it takes a while before the talks have the chance to be published and reach a wider public. But here we go: now you can access them by getting the book Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era, edited by Alberto Beltrame, Ludovica Fales and Giuseppe Fidotta. And I will now try to give you a few good reasons to read it…

"Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era".

“Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era”.

The book focuses on the critical debate surrounding copyright and the concept of authorship within contemporary creative industries. Our paper, which is an extended version of the talk, addresses how crowdsourcing and crowdfunding impact new organisational and financial structures. Do you think it is a boring topic? I do too, but it becomes quite interesting and funny if you look at it by evaluating franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter under the light of fan fiction and remix culture.

We used a series of case studies to develop what, according to our idea, could be kept among industrial structures and routines, and what instead should be dropped or changed. We worked on two areas, considering the relationship between fans and franchise, and between prosumers and new models of collaborative productions. Starting with an overview of the so-called Potterverse, we then focused on the Pottermore platform to analyse how much space is given to prosumers within the Harry Potter’s intellectual property.

J. K. Rowling's announcement for the launch of Pottermore.

J. K. Rowling’s announcement for the launch of Pottermore.

Among the crowdsourcing category, we then focused on Star Wars Uncut in order to examine in depth the complexities of the relationship between fans and franchises, and Life in a Day, one of the best known collaborative projects among the ones launched in the past few years.

The official poster for "Star Wars Uncut"

The official poster for “Star Wars Uncut”

Finally we considered the Italian Dark Resurrection saga, a non-profit “homage-project” involving the fictional universe created by George Lucas, and the Spanish sci-fi film The Cosmonaut. They both involve crowdfunding campaigns and quite interesting features, such as Creative Commons licensing and remix options.

The teaser poster for "The Cosmonaut"

The teaser poster for “The Cosmonaut”

What did we discover after this overview? I suppose that now I should say: “Buy the book and you’ll find out”, but I want to share at least one of our findings. Some of these projects involve content that has a complex relationship with the dimension of commodities and free labour within gift economies. In order to better frame them, we need to consider how they change in meaning and value during their “digital afterlife”, because very often they shift multiple times from a commodity culture to a participatory dimension, and it’s in the tension between the two that we can find their true meaning. May the Force be with you while you’re searching for it.


In the Middle of Everything: Dennis Hopper and “The Lost Album”

An American photojournalist gone insane in the middle of the jungle, waiting for the crew of a boat with arms wide open: to me this character from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is still the most iconic among those Dennis Hopper portrayed onscreen. Coincidentally or not, besides being a director and a painter, the actor also had a past as a photographer. The exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, which is on display until 19 October 2014, is here to reveal it.

In co-operation with The Dennis Hopper Art Trust, curator Petra Giloy-Hirtz managed to get together 400 vintage prints found in boxes after Hopper’s death in 2010 and recreated his 1970 first solo installation at Fort Worth Art Center Museum (Texas).

Saying that Hopper was a prolific photographer is not completely true: although from 1961 to 1967 he took something like 18,000 photos, he then stopped using the camera. As his own words quoted on the walls of the Royal Academy tell the visitors, photography was just a phase in Hopper’s multi-faceted career. “I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one…”

Dennis Hopper, “Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt”, 1964

Dennis Hopper, “Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt”, 1964. Courtesy The Hopper Art Trust.

“These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

Dennis Hopper, “Roy Lichtenstein”, 1964

Dennis Hopper, “Roy Lichtenstein”, 1964. Courtesy The Hopper Art Trust.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns are only a few of the artists that Hopper knew and framed with his camera. Intimate pictures or portraits taken in public, they were however only one subject among Hopper’s wider interest in what was going on in the 1960s. Again, in his words: “I wanted to document something. I wanted to leave something that I thought would be a record of it, whether it was Martin Luther King, the hippies, or whether it was the artists.”

Dennis Hopper, “Paul Newman”, 1964

Dennis Hopper, “Paul Newman”, 1964. Courtesy The Hopper Art Trust.

As you easily realise while walking through the rooms of the exhibition, Los Angeles in that period was the place to be in the US. Featuring an active art scene, the film industry, the turmoil of the music, fashion and architecture, the city was also the epicentre of social tensions and clashes between young people and the police because of strict curfew laws for nightclubs.

If many of Hopper’s photographs of artists were commissioned for invitations to openings at the L.A.-based Ferus Gallery, his eye also caught a wide range of themes and events unrelated to the world of “rich and famous”. These instant portraits range from the members of the motorcycle club Hells Angels, to life in Durango, Mexico; from the homeless in Downtown Los Angeles, to the Civil Rights Movement March; and from a quiet and lonely Mexican cemetery to a tense bullfight or the chaotic riots on Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood.

Dennis Hopper, “Double Standard”, 1961

Dennis Hopper, “Double Standard”, 1961. Courtesy The Hopper Art Trust.

The exhibition at the Royal Academy also features excerpts from some of his films. A few final quotes close “The Lost Album” and link the moving images and the motorcycle as a symbol of what he was chasing with his art. “The movie to me was about freedom and the responsibility that you have of being free. I was involved in the hippie movement and the free speech movement… I was never a biker, even though [they] were a symbol of freedom to me. Bikers were the modern cowboys.”

What I Got From My One Day at “Learn Do Share”

I usually say that crosspollination is the key to today’s creative landscape: film and digital media, storytelling and coding, multi-platform worlds and social innovation, smart cities and interactive stories, gaming technologies and journalism.

I couldn’t then resist when I heard that Learn Do Share was coming to London for a free two-day conference packed with keynotes, labs and workshops at Ravensbourne, on 5 and 6 September. Unfortunately I could only attend one out of two dates, but even so it was one of those not-to-be-missed events.


Since one of my academic research areas covers how digital media is reshaping the way we produce and consume audiovisual content, I was particularly interested in the projects developed by BBC and presented by Chris Sizemore, Executive Editor of the BBC’s Knowledge and Learning product. His overview included the participative film Britain in a Day (a localised version of Life in a Day) and the combat drama series Our World War.

After Alex Fleetwood’s overview of today’s digital economy and free-to-play games (have you heard of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood?), we switched to the topic of web docs from the point of view of one of the best media outlets for the genre, The Guardian. Francesca Panetta, who is their multimedia special projects editor, is one of those keynote speakers that you really need to listen to when it comes to interactive documentaries, given that the online version of the newspaper is working hard to build cutting edge projects.

During her talk on “Interactive Stories in Newsrooms” she introduced the audience to some of the rich media developed on their platforms. The Shirt on Your Back traces the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry; First World War is an interactive guide to the global conflict; and London panorama is a 360-degree augmented reality view of the city from the Shard’s public observation deck.

The beginning of Chapter 2 of the interactive documentary “The Shirt on Your Back”.

The beginning of Chapter 2 of the interactive documentary “The Shirt on Your Back”.

Given that technology plays such an important role in today’s way of telling stories, I was expecting some case studies involving the hottest piece of tech out there. This is what Matt Ratcliffe from Masters of Pie provided as he focused on the endless applications of Oculus Rift platform in gaming, architecture visualisation, medical training, heritage and film. According to him, virtual reality is finally reaching the most exciting part of the Gartner Hype Cycle, which means the stage between the “Slope of Enlightenment” and the “Plateau of Productivity” (see the image below).

The Gartner hype cycle.

The Gartner Hype Cycle.

As another of my research topics involves the business models related to creative content, the holy grail in media industries, in the afternoon I took part in the “Funding Your Digital Media Project” workshop run by Jason DaPonte from The Swarm. So for the next three hours we went through sources of funding, monetisation options and hybrid business models divided in start-up and post-launch funding, as well as in-kind support options.

As a final thought I’d like to leave you with some of the tips that Lance Weiler shared with us at the end of his presentation on collaborative design. Co-founder of Reboot Stories and recognised as one of the finest specialists in mixing storytelling and technology, Weiler gave an overview of My Sky Is Falling’s immersive storyworld and updates on the Lyka’s Adventure project (if you were at Power to the Pixel last year you might remember the latter). This photo is a summary of the critical aspects you need to check while designing stories, products and services. Definitely, not bad at all for a warm Saturday of September.

Lance Weiler's final tips at Learn Do Share, 6 September 2014. Photo credits: Nicolò Gallio.

Lance Weiler’s final tips at Learn Do Share, 6 September 2014. Photo credits: Nicolò Gallio.