It's the story, stupid.
Forget for a moment, if you will, all of the latest 3D excitement and new media technologies. If there's one thing nearly every panelist could agree on at Boulder's 2nd annual Digital Media, or DiMe, Symposium, it's that those who can still tell the best story ultimately will come out on top.
"Brands (another name for money) seek out the good content," said former Saturday Night Live writer Andrew Steele, now creative director for the very edgy "Funny or Die" website and HBO series.
Steele was one of five media experts discussing the topic "Digital Distribution and Monetization." And for every YouTuber, blogger or independent moviemaker searching for answers to that oh-so-elusive monetization question, panelists offered some encouragement.
"You should be making some noise," said David Slayden, executive director of the Boulder Digital Works learning program at the University of Colorado. Students in the program believe "they can become famous," he said.
"You are the broadcaster," said TV and web personality Shira Lazar, co-founder of the Disrupt/Group. As a digital correspondent for CBSNews.com, Lazar discovers some of the rising stars on YouTube. New media technology, she added, "enables you to find your audience and your audience to find you."
But can you break into the big time of film and TV from smaller cities like Boulder or Austin?
Much still depends on who you know and meet, said Steele, and for independents, the real networking side of the entertainment world continues to be New York, L.A. and Chicago. But everyone now has the "means" to get attention, and very talented people are emerging from the smaller media savvy communities.
"Artists want to collaborate," Lazar said. "A lot of YouTubers are moving to L.A. just so they can work together."
At last year's inaugural DiMe, the talk was all about James Cameron's new 3D movie Avatar, and how 3D would begin to change the movie industry.
At this year's DiMe, an entire panel was devoted to The Future of 3D, and the talk was still about Avatar, but everyone agreed 3D is here to stay, especially as the new 3D high-def TVs are adopted by consumers.
In the St. Juilien Hotel hallway, attendees gathered around two 3D TVs set up by RealD, a Boulder-based company in the forefront of developing 3D systems. One one, game players blasted a machine gun as opponents jumped out in 3D; on the other, a 3D demonstration film showed ski jumpers twisting in the air, gold fish swimming around your head and colorful excerpts from the popular opera Carmen, the first opera to be staged in a 3D movie. Carmen, screened at the Boulder International Film Festival, opens in theaters on March 6.
The cycle for 3D adoption, panelists said, will be similar to the conversion to high-def TV, with a good three to five years to go. This difference this time, panelists said, is the transition is "on steroids."
The first 3D cinema advertising is now being released, said Kurt Hall, CEO of National CineMedia, which runs ads on some 17,000 screens across the U.S. And companies like Comcast are learning "on the fly" how to broadcast events like the Masters and the World Cup in 3D.
Shooting in 3D, with higher costs and challenging camera setups, remains a steep learning curve, experts agreed, and getting enough 3D content will be a challenge. Some 35 3D films are in development for this year.
Oh yes, and there's the story thing again, too.
"We're seeing an evolution of story-telling," said Joshua Greer, president and co-founder of RealD. 3D movies won't succeed without a good story.
Directors are learning to use 3D to let viewers look inward, moving beyond the effects that just "punch you in the face," said Don Hain, producer with Stone Circle Pictures with the Disney films Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King in his credits.
Next year's DiMe is expected to be expanded after receiving a $25,000 grant from the City of Boulder's Arts and Business Collaborative program. DiMe organizers, including Project Coordinator Sue Salinger, Kathy Beeck with BIFF and Mary Ann Mahoney of the Boulder Convention & Visitors Bureau, accepted the check between DiMe panel presentations.