Gone are the days when your favorite TV show would have to be viewed at a certain time and day of the week. You no longer have to get your ass off your comfy couch to see movies in the theatre or rent them from the video store. In fact, the way that media is accessed has changed so rapidly in the past few years that you can now watch TV without even having a TV! Whoa. Yes, using your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPod or whatever other new gadgets are out there, you can now watch your favourite show, movie, or hear the song you want, absolutely anywhere and anytime.
But that’s not the only way in which new media is empowering the masses. In today’s marketplace, anybody can also be a creator or a star. Forget enrolling in film school, taking acting classes, or even getting an agent, you just need access to the Internet. Homemade videos, parodies, and independently-produced short films can now be distributed and marketed by the individual that made it, for better or for worse. Yes, for every borderline new media offspring like the Chicago-based “mumblecore” movement — low budget films about, well, nothing — there are truly paradigm-shifting phenomenons emerging every day.
In 2007, actress Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) found herself struggling to find work in the midst of an economic recession, and decided if she couldn’t find a role to play, then she’d create one herself. She rallied together a few friends and produced her own 10-minute TV pilot entitled The Guild. She put it online, and continued to produce a few more episodes while self-marketing on social networking sites, such as Twitter. After cleverly adding an option on her website for fans of the series to donate proceeds to the production, she earned enough to not only produce the rest of The Guild’s first season, but a second, and now a third.
But Day didn’t stop there. She later stumbled across what became likely her most effective marketing tool: a clever tongue-in-cheek music video that accompanies her online gamer-inspired series, “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?” The video features Day dressed as a World of Warcraft-styled princess backed by an ensemble of similarly dressed gamers (think nerd-minions singing in “Dungeons and Dragons” attire, and you’ll get the picture). It was uploaded directly to YouTube and the mp3 made available for download on iTunes. No one could have predicted that the video would soon rack up over five million views (and counting) and become the No. 1 downloaded song in the world.
Of course, Felicia Day couldn’t become an online sensation like she did without Hollywood taking notice. The single, as well as episodes of her online series, are now being sold on Xbox Live, which subsidizes her production costs alongside donations, income from iTunes, and so on. The success has led to roles in the recent FOX network series Dollhouse and the incredibly popular Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, an Internet-specific creation which surprisingly won an Emmy award without having ever aired on TV. Felicia day may not be “rolling in riches” per se, but she is acting in her dream project, and most importantly, maintains total creative control over the series. Yes, she’s managed all this success while steering completely clear of inhuman network executives, archaic content restrictions, and even continues to own all rights to the series.
As consumers of media, what this all means is that we get as close to a “creatively pure” product as we’ll ever get; where what we see is completely dictated and delivered by the artist. And, Felicia Day’s story is but one example of how filmmakers and other creative types are finding new ways to create content and distribute it to us across a multitude of platforms. Laptop filmmakers are using new media to get their stories told and productions financed. Likewise, musicians, artists, comedians, and “American Idol” wannabes are popping up all over sites like YouTube.com, still hoping to “get noticed” by major studios and talent agencies. In the wake of the self-produced new media revolution, however, the reality is that they may no longer need to.