Photo by Gene Driskell, Gel Conference.
Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson rose to prominence in 2010 when his four-part documentary series Everything Is A Remix debuted. The series employed a graphically rich, visually inventive style to tackle mash-ups and the role they’ve played in pop culture. And now he is back with a new series entitled: This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory.
What Mr. Ferguson is doing differently this time is that he has offered the first episode of this series online for free. But future installments of the series can be purchased for the pre-release price of US $12 (it will be US $ 15 later on). Existing fans and new viewers are essentially pre-ordering content that will amount to a feature-length documentary.
Watch the introductory episode below:
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Everything is a Remix and am very interested in how This Is Not A Conspiracy Theory will unfold. Also, as an independent filmmaker myself, I am intrigued by Mr. Ferguson’s business model so I requested an interview. This is what I learned:
Let’s start with Everything Is A Remix: was it as successful as you expected it to be, or were you surprised by the audience response?
It was way more successful than I expected. I just made it because it interested me and I thought it might appeal to a modest number of nerds, but it went well beyond that pretty quickly. As soon as Part 1 dropped I knew it was a bigger deal than I’d thought.
Was the success of the Remix project instrumental in your attempting This Is Not A Conspiracy Theory? Or did this idea come first?
Yes, I had to do that one first. It was a smaller, simpler project, but at the time it was big for me. I would have never taken on something like this without having that experience first.
You make a powerful–dare I say bold–statement when you posit that the death of Lee Harvey Oswald is what gave birth to the modern day conspiracy theory – how did you arrive upon that idea, and the idea for This Is Not A Conspiracy Theory in general?
Marking Oswald’s death as the beginning of the modern conspiracy era isn’t a very original argument really — others have said similar things. It’s clear that after that is when conspiracy culture took shape. It was before Watergate, before Vietnam — the big signpost before it all began was the JFK assassination. And Oswald’s assassination assured that there could never be real resolution.
The premise for the series isn’t specifically about conspiracy theories, it’s more about the search to find hidden order behind events. And that quest has taken many forms over the decades, some reputable, some not. I think it’s a very human thing to do, to try to find deeper sources of causality. I certainly try to do it, and I always empathize with others who try, regardless of what kinds of results they get. I think I just wanted to understand that process better.
Do you subscribe to any conspiracy theories yourself? Do you have a favorite one?
I don’t, I find them mostly incomprehensible. I dig what they attempt to do — to reveal hidden order — but they’re almost always totally disappointing.
How long does it take you – on average – to produce a single episode of your work?
For Remix, they averaged about five months each, but that’s not steady work. I had to do a variety of other things to make ends meet. This one will likely be similar, and I’m striving to find ways to speed things up. I’m even considering shooting interviews for this one.
Tell us a little about your editing style: how long did it take for you to evolve this style that you think of as your ‘voice’, because second only to your ideas, that is what is a huge selling point in your work.
Well, I’m about to turn 42. I’ve been doing graphic design work since my late teens, and I’ve been doing video work since my late twenties. It took a really long time, I’m a very late bloomer.
You are experimenting with a (relatively) new distribution model for This Is Not A Conspiracy Theory, did you consider other alternatives before settling on this model?
Yeah, it took a variety of forms. At first I thought it’d be free to watch a medium resolution version of it, and you pay to watch the high-res and get some membership perks. But it just seemed confusing to pitch. I think when settling on a format it’s gotta be dead simple, so I went through a few iterations before settling on something that I thought had some novelty, enriched the experience, and was easy to understand.
As most truly indie filmmakers realize at some point in their careers, the real trick is getting distribution and achieving ‘sales’ of one kind or another to enable them to continue to make work. What is your objective with this distribution model – to break even, make a profit, or something else altogether?
I’d be happy with it running a little below making a profit and then doing speaking engagements or occasional commissions to get to a decent level of income. I don’t anticipate it making a lot of money in this episodic format. I think most people likely just want to watch it one piece and it’s at that stage that I can see it becoming more profitable. If I’m lucky.
The Everything is a Remix project took a significant amount of time to complete, how do you feel about This is Not A Conspiracy Theory, will it go quicker? Or take longer?
Phew, I’m not sure. I’m amazingly bad at projections. And it depends on how well it sells. If it doesn’t sell well, it’ll take longer because I’ll need to do other gigs. I suspect it’ll take about two more years.
Would you ever consider just doing a straight-ahead feature documentary that you release as a single unit?
Nope, I love to put something out there, get a reaction, then incorporate that into what comes next.
You’ve spent a significant amount of time building an audience for your work. If tools like Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest go the way of Facebook and extract a fee from independent creators to promote their work, how do you think that will affect filmmakers like yourself?
I can’t see it mattering. There will always be other platforms. We have access to so many amazing platforms now. It’s a great time to be independent.
What would be the one piece of advice you would offer filmmakers starting out today?
I don’t like the sound of the phrase but “follow your bliss” is definitely the best advice for anyone doing anything.