The Disruption Revolution: Timoner's Web Portal Links Internet Visionaries with the World
When Ondi Timoner premiered her 2009 film We Live in Public at the Sundance Film Festival, she hadn't quite mastered the social media tools that would create the mass community to see the film beyond the festival circuit. But she learned fast, and the eventual Grand Jury Prize winner became the juggernaut onto which Timoner and her team hitched their Tweets, posts, blogs and blasts.
We Live in Public profiles the rise and fall of Internet pioneer/conceptual artist Josh Harris, who in the 1990s saw the possibilities of an open culture (or counter-culture), connected online; he foresaw the zeitgeist. But Harris was an irascible figure—as I wrote back in
"one whose incorrigible hubris, casual cruelty, self-destructive genius and Jim Jonesian megalomania recalled Caligula, Richard III and Charles Foster Kane."
But Timoner was onto something. In 2011, she and her team launched A Total Disruption, a dynamic Web portal that is chockfull of video stories of the entrepreneurs and visionaries of today who are shaping our future at
multi-terrabyte speed. And now she's aiming big: As she explained to us by e-mail: "The idea is to share the visions of these entrepreneurs and innovators by putting our entire archive online in a searchable database (including hundreds of hours of unseen interviews), and bringing new episodes to the screen. We're training our cameras on The Pirate Bay, VHX, crowdfunding musician Amanda Palmer, and so many others."
I caught up with Timoner around midnight as she was reviewing a film on which she is executive producer. She responded partly on voice mail and partly via e-mail.
Documentary: When you premiered We Live in Public in 2009, you weren't as up-to-speed with the social media tools as the film sort of warranted you to be, right?
OT: My publicists told me to open a Twitter account when I was heading to Sundance with We Live in Public and at first I thought, Me? I am the one firing the warning shot! But then I realized the irony was brilliant. I see the world in frames and so I took pictures and posted them. I had fun with this for a year and really blazed a trail for other filmmakers I think to start sharing in this way as a way to
reach their audience, but beyond that, I didn't embrace the Internet per se. Then I saw what it did for We Live in Public—and talk about irony—the fact that the cautionary tale reached massive audiences via the very thing it was cautioning was poetic and impressive. That made me pay attention.
Documentary: Is A Total Disruption an answer, in a way, to We Live in Public, where the latter was a cautionary tale, and the former is a bright shining universe of possibility?
Ondi Timoner: A Total Disruption is not really an answer, but more like the flip side to We Live in Public. We Live in Public is a double cautionary tale, and A Total Disruption is about the infinite opportunity we have right now to make the world what we want it to be or impact it in some way. We have more power at our fingertips now than we had five years ago, so it's a great opportunity to make things for less money with less people and more efficiently. I'm hoping to make tech more accessible, more human and more emotional so that people can use these platforms to do what they love. I've been interested in people doing what they love, and I feel that we're living in a time when people
can actually do that, whether it's selling their pumpkin pies or coming up with solutions for climate change. There's a range in between.
At the same time that we're sacrificing our privacy and our intimacy, as I warned in We Live in Public, we are forming a collective and there's a transparency that keeps governments in check or they're overthrown, allows people to organize and share in ways they never thought they could before across the globe.
The opportunity is there to share as I go. I believe A Total Disruption will yield several films; this is a massive project. I felt that by sharing the stories that I collect of people using technology in transformative ways, I could inspire other people to take that risk and follow their great idea through or to utilize technology and the platforms that exist now. As technology puts us out of a job, there are incredible opportunities to make a living or to make your own vision happen.
As artists we absolutely need to leverage this and connect directly with our fans, and in that way the
exchange can be mutual and we can fund things and we can distribute our work seamlessly and it's a very gratifying economy. That's why I'm focusing on Amanda Palmer for a new series called CEA: Chef Executive Artists, which is really for my fellow doc filmmakers as well. And that is to really let people know about not not only funding opportunities but distribution opportunities. We're talking about Seed & Spark, we're talking about Flatter, VHX, Zephyr. These are companies I'm going to be shining
a light on—Gumroad, Topspin. Companies that help us connect and market, build a fan base and use this incredible Internet to not only survive but thrive at this time in history. We're all going to have to be artist-entrepreneurs.
Documentary: What have been the challenges of building an audience for A Total Disruption up to this point?
OT: YouTube is a jungle, and I've received no support from them because I started my channel as they were finishing their round of funding channels. I'm much more focused on building A
Total Disruption.com as a portal. I'm also a contributing author at Pando Daily, and I've talked to MashUp and Paste Magazine.
When the piece I did on the the founding of Reddit hit over 100,000 views in 48 hours
and trended to the front page of many, many sites, I thought, This is more people than I have reached with any of my films probably in months! We need to embrace this and figure out how to make a living doing it, because certainly as artists the power to make an impact on the Internet is huge.
Documentary: This is counterintuitive, I know, but once you achieve your goal, are you going to go on the road to the appropriate seminars and confabs to present it? Given that you will have managed to assemble the best minds of our generation into one multi-terrabyte community, you can probably convince some of the real live people behind the pixels to meet and greet the communities they're changing.
OT: I am absolutely planning conferences and even online courses (the first we are shooting and designing now with Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, which has caused a massive movement in the tech world) to apply the methodology of minimal viable product and iterating and staying lean to content providers. This course will turn content providers of all kinds onto the platforms that will help them to fund, organize, produce, distribute, market and monetize their art, whether it's film, music, fine art, multi-media, graphic design, etc. We are going to have focused conferences with some visiting wizards that look at disrupting a particular sector as well—i.e.. health, education, etc. Not all of this will be funded by my Kickstarter campaign, but there is a whole long-form series and film agenda—a plan to build out a model for A Total Disruption to become a beacon of how to create a sustainable company and brand in documentary.
I love A Total Disruption because I get to learn new ways of living and creating from masters in a companion field and apply it to my own life. And I relate because no matter how many awards I win, I am in a perpetual state of start-up. So, I am thrilled to share these stories with my colleagues and the world at large so we can all get smarter together.
Thomas White is editor of Documentary magazine.