Film Fund-amentals: Social Networks: The Motion Picture

Whenever I feel lonely, I just remember that I have friends. Lots and lots of friends. People whom I have never met, never talked to and could never pick out of a line-up. Yep, they are almost like family.

The social network revolution has become the major historical marker for the first quarter of the twenty-first century. More than anything else, it has become the strange connecting link between people across the globe, as everyone from the President to the Norman Bates-like guy next door has a “personal” page on the Internet. With so much traffic, no wonder Hollywood wants to muscle in.

It started slowly with various folks like Steven Spielberg setting up FaceBook sites that were largely a substitute for the old school notion of fan clubs. There is no real interaction with the named figure, and most of the site is simply provided as a venue for people to make goo-goo eyes over the artist — strictly a one-way street that was less informative (and even less personal) than an old edition of Photoplay magazine. It was clear that Hollywood sort of knew it had to somehow deal with this new medium but really was unclear as to what that meant (and not really very comfortable with the prospect).

Then things began to get interesting. Young indie filmmakers began using social sites for everything from fund raising to information networking. Various film festivals began using such sites as a base for PR and contact. Various businesses and consulting services related to indie production began sprouting across the globe. A whole new world of interactive communication was taking place, and the average Hollywood player was still on the sideline.

The one major part of the commercial film industry that learned quickly was, as usual, the porn trade. Various major porn “stars” began setting up their own FaceBook and Twitter sites and, as Netherlands “actress” Bobbi Eden recently demonstrated, were prepared to begin steering social networking toward a new and more interactive level. As usual with the porn trade, it’s all pretty cheap, sordid and outrageously obvious. But it sure makes Spielberg’s site on FaceBook look blander than vanilla yogurt.

Then came the last straw. The current hot idea is that you can predict a movie’s box office by assessing the amount of time that it is favorably mentioned on Twitter. What started out early this year as a theory has become an established system currently in use by such sites as and various film studios. Despite the MPAA’s recent (and successful) political squishing of film future derivatives predicated on their argument that nobody can predict a movie’s opening box office, everyone in Hollywood is scrambling to do just that, and they are heavily focused on various versions of the Twitter approach.

Which also means that Hollywood wants a slice of the social networking market. Oh sure, it’s a very up-and-down relationship. Last October they were telling Hollywood stars to stop using Twitter while working on a movie. Then a networking site for professional filmmakers came into being. Last year, Paramount Pictures salvaged a mediocre season with the surprisingly successful release of Paranormal Activity, a movie that was a testament to the raw power of Internet activity. This October, Columbia Pictures will unload a direct barrage against Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of FaceBook via the movie The Social Network ( which is sort of unnecessary, since Zuckerberg does a pretty good job of trashing himself every time he opens his mouth).

So what accounts for this Jekyll-and-Hyde approach to social networking sites? Simple — they are out of Hollywood’s control, and as a general rule, Hollywood fears anything it can’t control. Sure, it also doesn’t understand this social phenomena, but big deal. Nobody understands it. The real problem is that Hollywood doesn’t control it, and yet finds itself having to depend on these sites for PR and box office purposes. Hollywood has always existed in a tight little bubble, and the Internet is an incredibly intrusive pain in the rear for these folks.

Hollywood finds itself in a bizarre relationship with the thing it hates most (kind of like Mel Gibson’s relationship with the rest of humanity). As it storms aboard the Internet and social networking sites, it wants a top-down system in which Hollywood provides only the information it wants to give, and everyone just laps it up. But the system doesn’t work that way (case in point being the recent failure of the viral campaign for Knight and Day). Hollywood has to adapt to an interactive approach in which anyone with a laptop can jump in and say rude things that reflect poorly on the bloated piece of brain-dead garbage that the studios are always peddling. Good grief! It’s like a war out there.

An old-fashioned range war, to be exact. Once upon a time, the Internet was like an open territory, full of promise for those who journeyed across its uncharted lands. But those days are over as civilization has moved in (well, sort of, if you call Perez Hilton civilized). Now the old money is rolling in and desperate to take control. It all sounds just a bit like the background to the infamous Lincoln County Range War.

So I guess we are now waiting to see who emerges as the Internet version of Billy the Kid.