Talent vs Popularity: The Dark Side of Social Media
Every contest has its limitations and more often than I wish, if you want to get into a Festival it’s more about who-you-know and timing than mere talent or work quality. But if the traditional way of doing it isn’t perfect, it still leaves a small window to unknown and isolated filmmakers to find their way, get selected into Festivals, and be seen by professionals and gain an audience.
Of course unknown and isolated filmmakers have more obstacles than, let’s say, the guy who is best buddy with the programmer, the programmer who also happens to be a filmmaker, the A-List actor who became a filmmaker or the son/daughter of-someone-rich-and-maybe-famous-but-mostly-rich who had a Super 8 for his/her first birthday and became a filmmaker. But every year, you always discover diamonds in Festivals from people who managed to stand out next to all these people thanks to their breathtaking talent.
Today there is a tendency to replace the first filter that programmers were by a popularity contest: you no longer need talent to get selected you just need friends or followers. But you need a loooot of them, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on whatever is your third horse.
Few weeks ago, my sister participated to a contest organized by Talenthouse for Paul McCartney. You had to create a piece of art for the ex-Beatles, submit it, have your friends vote for you, and the 50 people with the more votes got to be in final and be seen by a jury and Sir McCartney. In other words, you were not even going to be considered if you couldn’t get into the top 50.
More than a thousand people participated to the contest so things got pretty mad voting-wise and to secure a spot within the happy 50, you couldn’t just upload your work and hope hundreds of people would be amazed by it and spontaneously vote. For four days it became an exhausting job to first kindly ask and then, as the deadline was coming up, to harass people to vote while seeing my sister getting in and out of the top 50 for the wrong reasons.
You can see the whole irony behind Talenthouse name. The website is not about talent but wants you to believe that if you don’t manage to mobilize enough people behind your work, then it must mean that you are talentless and not even worth considering. Not the most charming message in those troubled times.
Today I discovered that the ArcLights Cinema is organizing a Documentary Film Festival. There is no fee and to enter you don’t need to submit a full length documentary, you just have to upload a 2 to 4 minutes trailer and wait… for your friends to vote for you. The 10 most popular trailers will then be kindly considered by a jury.
As I write this, my stomach is twisting. Yes, it might be because it’s really early in the morning and I already had too much coffee, but I am also having a physical reaction to marketing departments new strategies to gain more visibility on their Facebook fan page and who don’t hesitate is to play with our need for recognition to move to the next professional level to have us become their ambassadors for free.
Promoting popularity over talent is the saddest way to exploit Social Media. It’s pushing desperate people to take the easy road, it’s lowering quality level in production and it’s making people feel like whores.
Obviously I won’t prevent companies from using this way to make more money, and it is also a way for a filmmaker to make money or add an award to his/her résumé thanks to his/her social skills so in a twisted way it does benefit someone who might deserve it. But I as long as I have a choice (that is, as long as there will be festivals that won’t use that system), I will no longer caution and participate to festivals or talent contests whom first filter is a popularity vote.
My work and my friends deserve better and our power of vote shouldn’t be reduced to that.
Where would be Soderbergh if he were to come out today? I wonder…