Celebrities have lots of cultural power. That’s not new. If Angelina likes a script, the movie gets made. If Perez thinks something is interesting, people read.
But the scattered nature of digital content has increased the importance of distribution: how do you get someone to see what you made? Quality is important, but it’s only the beginning. Even though the web still offers greater access to participation, one wonders sometimes how much greater access to visibility it offers (it’s better than traditional media, obviously, but by how much I wonder?).
This gives celebrities extra power, even in areas that aren’t their specialty — celebs can’t pick presidents, Oprah notwithstanding, but they can pick culture.
Kanye West has been a fascinating case study. West is an aesthete, an insatiable consumer of culture. His blog points out the “best” in fashion and culture. So I wasn’t too surprised when I read his recommendation of the Fede Alvarez’s short film, Ataque de Panico! or Panic Attack! (made for $500!) caused its YouTube hits to skyrocket.
I suppose I wasn’t surprised to hear of Alvarez’s $30 million deal with Mandate Pictures and Sam Raimi. It’s District 9 all over again. And Alvarez deserves it — watch the video, it’s as amazing as Blomkamp’s original short, though in a different way. Neill Blomkamp deserved it too.
These sort of things can happen to independent producers when they have the right people looking out for them. Some day soon I’ll have an expanded post about distribution online, and the power of key curators like the mainstream media, large blogs like the Huffington Post (which itself supports a number of websites, like Comedy Central — Jon Stewart). This site alone has been generously supported by links from The New York Times, NPR, blogs like Racialicious, important Tweeters (Fine Brothers, B. Scott), and large social networking sites like Digg and Facebook (because my friends trust my recommendations!). No one produces content without help! Some of this support happens in private networks and communities, but established curators like Perez and Kanye West can make a hobby into a career in an instant.
Needless to say, the Alvarez situation only underscores what a dog-eat-dog world the web is, and the lengths some creators have to go to get noticed, “make it,” and, hey, get paid! Because, let’s be honest, few companies have discovered systematic ways to cash in on online video, let alone the lone filmmaker or web series producer without an infrastructure, network or money for marketing.