Reel Changes

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ReelChanges allows the public to contribute to documentaries (or other forms of journalism) at any stage of production or distribution. Launching today, in honor of May Day. [Warning: live blogging, mistakes ahead]

Hal Plotkin: “Currently, decisions about what gets produced are made by .001% of the public. Maybe they always get it right, but we don’t think so.”

Foundations didn’t want to fund us; they see us as competition. Instead named our new thing “AFM” – “Audience-Funded Media and approached business supporters. Found technology company to fund based on the ability of creating a for-profit side. One for-profit project in the works: a large commercial TV network will offer audience opportunity to fund additional episodes of their favorite TV show.

Plotkin unapologetic about being a gatekeeper for the projects that are allowed on the site. Question from the audience “What about for example Michael Moore, not what I would call journalism but could be called quality polemics?” Plotkin sticking with producers he’s convinced are high-quality, reputable, etc. in order to avoid getting scandals in his first year or two, can’t afford it. The first 100 films can’t get us in trouble. Q: But ok to have a point of view, I work with ACLU, would you take a film produced by us, on say the death penalty? Hal: Yes, I would, if I know it’ll be produced to quality standards. Q: But what about neutrality? Hal: We’re also looking at a group who are making a history of the conservative movement, and even though they’re not my political tribe, we’re happy to do it if it’s journalistically sound.

Discussion about non-traditional journalism styles, i.e., Errol Morris, Michael Moore. Hal: If he’s paying sources, then no. That’s not how we do journalism. We might eventually make exceptions, but not now. All donations are public, on the site and also on all versions of the film. I’m focused on journalistic standards.

Great story about dinner with friends where he describes project to them and wife says “that is the stupidest project ever, we can’t get people to pay for good journalism that does exist, who would pay for journalism that doesn’t even exist yet? He asks her, is there no topic in the world that you would 10 dollars to see covered in the media, that they don’t cover well enough or at all? And she immediately says that given that she is an obsessive scrapbooker but can’t afford to go to the scrapbooking conventions, she says I would pay ten dollars if someone would make a video of the convention, with a few interviews and coverage of the exhibits. Hell, I would pay $50 for that. We researched it, and found that this scrapbook thing is huge: there might be 30-70,ooo people willing to pay for that video. So multiple 50,000 times $10. You could cover a couple of conventions for 500 thousand bucks. Question from me: Are you going to do the flip side – where people can suggest the topic they want covered?

Examples brought up: Brave New Films, Chris Allbritton’s Back to Iraq where he successfully gathered donations to support his work in Iraq. Does he work with for example the MediaRights site? Heard of them, will take a look.

Final story (thank goodness, the smell of lunch out in the lobby is about to overwhelm me): Experiment I did in school – give people an obviously biased piece of journalism, ask them if it’s biased, great majority (95%) of them say of course it’s biased and I wouldn’t believe it. Then ask them if they think other people would believe it and 70% say oh yeah I think other people would. We need more respect for everyone else’s intelligence. Changing that mindset could help newsrooms and it’s the philosophy of my project.

Do one thing for us, says Hal: spread the word, tell journalists and producers to apply! I’m doing my part.

Tags: ReelChanges, newstools2008, documentary

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