I wish I could watch YouTube videos without getting annoyed. I click the pop-up ads away and try to get back to watching, but I’m left slightly agitated and anxious about when the next ones might appear. I wish I could subscribe, in the way I first understood that word, by paying a regular amount of money to receive my content with no fuss. Not that that was a perfect system either: aside from being charged ‘outside the US’ postage, the magazines would regularly arrive dinged or bent or somehow marked by their passage through the post.
The filmmaker Astra Taylor (on the most excellent Theory of Everything podcast) laments the dominance of advertising as a source of revenue for artists making work for the web. The fact that it’s the default mode rather than one strategy among other is what is troubling. Taylor doesn’t sound optimistic about a viable alternative, at least in this podcast.
Schemes like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and Pozible they can be really effective for artists who have a following and who offer specific projects that need a single burst of funding. The ONDU wooden pinhole camera is a good example. It needed startup funds to establish the factory, and provided a well-crafted product that fit a photographic niche. It’s a lovely object, and the ONDU store is now a going concern. Just recently the cinematographer Chris Doyle successfully funded a documentary project dealing with the stories and lives around the Occupy Hong Kong demonstrations. It’s a smaller-scale experimental project with a lot of appeal for Doyle and documentary watchers (like me), but maybe not something easily fundable via regular channels.
A good Kickstarter needs to be a strong project or product obviously, but also carefully designed with specific and appropriately-priced rewards. But not all projects lend themselves to this form of funding. The film editor Tony Zhou’s video analysis series Every Frame a Painting is an engaging series of essays on cinematic style. If you haven’t seen any of his work you should have a look his examination of framing in Drive. It’ll make you look at movies differently, and if you’re a filmmaker or photographer it might make you think about your own process too. He’s a professional editor and he already puts his videos on YouTube and Vimeo. What he needs is time off from his regular work to devote to the ongoing series. He does this with Patreon. The idea here is that each contributor makes an ongoing pledge, and funds get deducted every month, or in Zhou’s case, after every video.
Zhou asks for a minimum of $1, and for this the contributer gets annotations for the videos. What Zhou is able to do is offer the videos generally without ads. The more funding he gets, the more frequently he’ll be able to make them. So there is a slight benefit for contributors, and a definite benefit for all. But rewards aside, it’s a statement against the hegemony of advertising and a way to affirm the value of these engaging and articulate video essays.