Every once in a while, the Internet does something completely unpredictable and amazing. And I love it. I love when someone pushes the envelope with online video and does something truly unique.
There have been plenty of these trailblazers. The LonelyGirl15 guys were really the first to take the idea of user-generated videos and fake them in a convincing way (granted, fake "reality" is not a unique concept, but uploading fake "real" video diaries to YouTube was… at least at the time).
Where The Hell Is Matt is another of those unpredictable gems. Matt decided to do a dance while in a foreign country. His buddies found it hilarious and talked him into repeating the dance—on camera—everywhere they went (over 39 different countries). A year or so and one corporate sponsorship later (from Stride gum), Matt was a YouTube sensation.
And now there's a new contender for the title of Most Ambitious & Unique Twist In Online Video (I just invented that award), and it's called "Star Wars Uncut.” Let me explain the project for those of you who haven't heard about it.
Casey Pugh, one of the developers over at Vimeo, started Star Wars Uncut. The concept is as simple as its implications are huge: individuals from around the world choose their favorite 15-second scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and recreate it themselves… however they want. Some are using animation, and others are using action figures. Some film in live action, and others are even including their own amateur special effects. Some dutifully duplicate the set and scenery as closely as possible, while others film the scene in their kitchens. It's all over the place, in the best possible way.
Once every scene is claimed, filmed, and submitted, Pugh will edit them all together into a remake of the original film—there are currently 82 of the 473 scenes that still need to be filmed . He's even talking to Lucasfilm about getting permission to put the thing on DVD—though you can be sure it'll be all over the Internet when it's launched.
This is kind of groundbreaking, really. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will be one of the worst films ever made in terms of production values—you can see for yourself the trailer below. No one's going to be praising the film for its technical work, the acting, or the costumes… certainly not for its consistency (or lack thereof).
And fan films are nothing new either. You may have read about the three friends who filmed a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the Tolkien fans who wrote and filmed their own Lord of the Rings story (the production values on this film look amazing).
But no one's ever done this. No one has ever crowdsourced a fan film. And I have this feeling that millions will love it—not for what it is as an end product, but for what the process behind it will mean to the fan community. It's probably the largest collaborative film ever, with nearly 500 filmmakers serving as directors. The Star Wars fan community is gigantic, and very supportive of their own. Watch the trailer and tell me that Star Wars fans and amateur filmmakers everywhere aren't going to adore this:
Do I think there's a future in this sort of online-collaborative kind of filmmaking? Maybe… maybe not. But I think that what Star Wars Uncut says about the creative process is that it doesn't have to be set in stone. This kind of thinking can do for filmmaking what distance learning has done for college education… turn it on its ear.
You might think I'm being a bit heavy with the hyperbole. And perhaps I am. But that's exactly the power of this kind of boundary-stretching project… it gets people excited about the medium. It gets people dreaming about what's possible, and inspires them to go for it.
There's something all three of the examples I've mentioned (Star Wars Uncut, LonelyGirl15, & Where the Hell Is Matt) have in common: an unknown person with a passionate creative idea and virtually no budget starts the project against all odds and it just takes off on its own. Not one of these three stories has a big studio budget or the backing of established stars. That speaks volumes, even if I'm not 100% certain what it means. Maybe it means that you, too, can be encouraged to launch your crazy online video idea. Maybe it means that true viral success—true advancement in the online video world—can just as easily come from you or me as it can from Steve Jobs or George Lucas.
Remember when you first discovered YouTube, and your mind was kind of blown by the sheer potential of what this new portal website meant for the future? Stories like Star Wars Uncut recreate that feeling for me, giving me back a taste of that enthusiasm and optimism. What next? If crowdsourcing video production works, even on the most basic level, then what else is possible? It won't be long before someone will show us.