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StorytellingCannes 2017

Creative Freedom In Hollywood And On Youtube

Twelve years ago, Laura Dern was working with David Lynch on his last feature film, Inland Empire. For Dern, it was an experience unlike most throughout her career.

“He wanted to shoot it on the fly, in the time that was available to him,” Dern said on Sunday at Cannes Lions. Lynch, Dern said, just grabbed a Sony camcorder and started shooting. Dern remembers asking Lynch, one of the most authentic auteurs in Hollywood, why he wanted to work in a such fly-by-night fashion.

“‘He said, ‘My goal is, any 16-year-old should be able to pick up their grandparents’ camera and make a movie. So why shouldn’t we do that?”

Lynch, ever the visionary, was ahead of his time. More and more filmmakers are not only publicly championing going independent, but doing it themselves. Two years ago during his SXSW keynote, director/actor Mark Duplass said: “There’s no excuse to not make films on weekends with friends…Because it really doesn’t matter what your movie looks like – because if you have a voice and something interesting to say they will like you.” While Martin Scorsese won’t be using a smartphone to shoot his upcoming Netflix-financed film The Irishman, he’ll likely enjoy the extra creative leeway the relationship makes available to creators.

Suffice it to say that the smartphone is a bit more powerful than grandpa’s old camcorder. For living proof, just look at Dern’s panel-mate: Grace Helbig.

To Helbig, Lynch’s let’s-figure-it-out style is just how things are done. In 2006, Lynch was working like a modern digital content creator, free of the rigidity of the studio system with overbearing producers, hard scripts, budgets and deadlines. (Side note: I would pay very good money to see someone ask David Lynch what a “content creator” is.) While every style of working has its pros and cons, this allows the artist to bring out their unfiltered vision. This is the type of creative freedom that digital content creators crave; they know what works for their audience better than anyone else.

That push and pull can be tested when content creators work with brands. Helbig talked about times working on brand videos where the company would sen her notes that didn’t make any sense to her, where she had to fight back.

“I understand the idea of giving notes to feel like you are participating in your career,” Helbig said, noting that the relationship she has with her audience can differ from that of a brand that relies on traditional marketing. “Our audience doesn’t pay us in finances, they pay us in attention. So the relationship we have with our audience is very delicate.”

What content creators promise is authenticity, and that’s what actors like Dern look for too when considering partnering with brands and non-profits. While there is a long history of actors avoiding brand work or ads (as Dern said of the actors of the 60s and 70s: “Part of the [actor’s] brand was the mystique of the actor,”), many obviously take advantage of their opportunities. When Dern considers who to partner with, it’s important that it’s for a product or cause she truly believes in—a sentiment echoed by Helbig and most digital stars.

Will Helbig ever cross over into traditional television and film? Could Dern have a YouTube channel? Neither ruled anything out. But while they have many similarities, one glaring difference one came to the forefront. The panel’s host, Marcus Peterzell of Ketchum, pit the two stars in a 90-second pitch off.

“Ninety seconds is a long time,” Helbig said.

“I was going to say it’s so short!” Dern replied.

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