Collaboration Now

"Collaboration" is the catch word that is bandied about when describing the show business industry. We thrive on lunches, conference calls and writers' rooms. You would think with all of these partnerships this would be the happiest place on earth, a community of calm where executives and creatives share suggestions throughout their eight-hour workday. The reality is that the glamour of Hollywood often falls within the sixty plus hour workweek. As for calm, let's just say we thrive in an excitable industry.

The concept of collaboration is nothing new. The act of war is a collaboration as is the art of peace. At its core, collaboration is when a group of people come together to achieve a common goal. Think NASA or the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals, both have mastered the art of collaboration to achieve great feats in their own specific fields. As social beings, people are drawn to collaborate. It is part of who we are. We are social and curious. We are wired to create. Collaboration is the backbone of Facebook, Google, and democracy.

After spending six years encouraging challenged teens to find their own personal narratives and somewhat away from big budget productions, I was invited to participate in a bold new filmmaking experiment that partnered film creatives from all over the world into a single movie. This was a collaborative experiment that could prove enormously ingenious or fall flat on its nose. Via the web, an international group of filmmakers were gathered to conceive a fictional story, then write, produce and assemble the film through post production, all while relying on the internet to merge us together as a collaborative team. As a director and writer, I have been touched by the legendary Frank Capra's career who lived by the belief: "One man, one film". This virtual production was about as far from Capra's ideal as the moon is from the stars (those in the sky). Yet we were eager, hungry and determined. This was the birth of, a film production movement where multiple filmmakers from around the world band together on a single story, from inception through fruition.

For the first of my three films in this model our process looked like an internet chess match. One person would make a move, then this decision would go to committee where we would discuss. From the home office in Michigan, our team was given options that would decide our future assignments. Flow charts were arranged that mapped out story structure, character arcs, the McGuffin, and a series of viable endings. We were creating a jigsaw puzzle with twenty-five different players, all creative storytellers with their own opinions on how the narrative should move forward. Conversations ensued. We cooperated. We collaborated.

As for production, Frank Capra would have been proud. Each segment was produced independently. We were manufacturing our own puzzle pieces. But once we wrapped, it was back to the Collabfeature machine, testing our segments in the whole, questioning whether our cumulative vision looked as good on screen as it did in our collective minds.

My takeaway is that structure, when administered properly, can hone in even the most outlandish of ideas. And that is what is important, as far as I can tell, is to create an encouraging environment that fosters ideas without quelling creativity. Yes, when amassing a group of twenty-five plus film directors on a single production the chatter tends to get loud, yet with the right organization and mindset this experiment is a very viable model and, very possibly, will be repeated and improved upon globally as the narrative of collaborative filmmaking grows to epidemic proportion.

Was the accomplishment successful? The overwhelming response is, yes. In fact, we have already achieved festival awards and are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most directors on a feature film, a feat that I am sure will be conquered in no time. What's more important, however, was how this group of creatives were able to overcome distance, a variety of cultures, language gaps and hands-on experience to virtually assemble, through cyberspace, a creative narrative. Our journey was one of trust, respect, and accommodation as we proved that Hollywood is now a global sound stage. If a group of highly opinionated filmmakers from all over the world are able to collaborate on one single production, I believe that almost anything is possible.

As distant landscapes become more accessible through advanced storytelling technology, I have faith that exceedingly more creatives will collaborate with those who were once geographically and financially restricted. Whether these partners become tagged as collaborators or some other title in the production's end credits will be the decision of those at the top of the pyramid. After-all, even the best committees have a chairman. What I feel is important is to grasp that the deciding factor remains creativity, passion, and persistence, regardless of the process.

Now that the invisible wall of distance has fallen, the only thing separating the accomplished artists from the outlandish dreamers is the decision to move forward. Happy collaborating.