Melbourne WebFest Report 2016: Much fun, new friends & the spark of rediscovered community
Now that I’ve had a couple of days to reflect and recover (okay, not quite recover … that may take a few more days yet!), I just wanted to share my thoughts on the amazing weekend just gone that was the Melbourne Web Fest.
Firstly I have to state that this Melbourne celebration of all things digital and web series has to be the most friendly, fun and inclusive festival/conference I have had the pleasure of attending. From the moment I walked in the door of MWF’s Launch Night, just over a month ago, until now, I have felt welcomed, valued and appreciated as a creative and I can’t thank all the team working this festival enough. This feeling intensified over the weekend when attending the various screenings and events and it has been pure joy to be a part of it all.
From the excellent screening of the “Spotlight On Melbourne” selections at Loop Bar, of which Shakespeare Republic was delighted to be a part, to the exuberant and highly professional Closing Night & Gala Awards at Deakin Edge, Federation Square – this festival will go down in my memory as a time of great inspiration, generous celebration of the extraordinary talent and creativity out there in the digital entertainment world, and the event when I met some brilliant new colleagues and friends who truly inspire me with their talent, humour and way of looking at the world. As a result, this weekend felt like a good time to be alive as a creative in the brave new world of online content.
The festival doesn’t just have screenings and parties (although they were all amazing and so much fun). The Friday of the Opening Night was also an Industry Development Day, held at La Trobe University for content creators to explore various areas of working in the digital market with presentations and Q&A’s. Due to a last minute illness with one of the scheduled presenters, I found myself volunteering to help out by running their “Directing Actors” workshop when hearing of this dilemma during the Spotlight screenings – not really thinking that they’d need me to take over, as there would surely be someone else already within the organization who could help.
As fate would have it, there wasn’t, and so I found myself having a restless night Thursday, before heading into the Industry Day on Friday to take my first workshop in five years. Luckily MWF’s amazing Festival Director Steiner Ellingsen, along with lovely Senior Communications Coordinator, Lauren Colosimo and the fantastic team of interns working for them were just so wonderfully welcoming and supportive that any potential panic attacks about being underprepared were somehow avoided. Having the wonderful Shane Savage on hand as moral support also helped (thank you Shane!).
I was lucky enough to sit in to participate in John Cabrera’s session before my own and his information on pitching was enlightening and engaging and I found myself nodding and noting a lot. While I knew that John is an actor and am aware of his credits, I knew more about his work as a writer and producer and was intrigued to hear how he navigated the Hollywood system with his digital projects.
It was a great session and I am really glad that I got to attend. I was also relieved to see that he was being very casual and conversational with how he presented the work, which also, by proxy, gave me permission to do the same in the following session, which was a bonus! And for the record – John is a brilliant human and creative and is great fun to hang out and talk with. Another bonus, although not a surprise.
Sadly I missed Kylie Eddy’s “Lean Filmmaking” session and Yan Chen’s VR Masterclass (which I really wanted to see, but I had an audition and had to leave early), but from all reports both those sessions went over a treat as well. It was a great day and it’s fantastic to see MWF scheduling this type of content on top of the usual screenings and social events. Here’s to more!
What with the unexpected presenting gig, the various social events, the screenings and an impromptu invitation to attend Aunty Donna‘s live show (Amazing! If you get to see it while they’re on tour, then go!), by the time Sunday night and the Gala Awards Evening rolled around, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the event due to lack of sleep, but as soon as I walked into Deakin Edge at Federation Square and caught the vibe and energy in the room – there was no looking back.
The fabulous Shane Savage (who is joining Shakespeare Republic for Season Two), who had been at the Fest most of the weekend as well, was on official interview duties for WebVee Guide in LA, so I made myself useful grabbing people to ferry over to him to chat, while also ending up being interviewed myself, which was a laugh. The awards themselves where hosted by Dash and D’Bree (Hayley and Kat) who were as “fierce” as always and did a great job. Fierce work girls!
The awards themselves were all handed out to varying responses from recipients – some giving essentially short comedy routines, to a truly beautiful speech given by Daniel Tenni for web series Greenfield‘s win as “Best Australian Drama”. I had enjoyed spending some time with Daniel while he joined us here from Perth over the festival and he is a gem of a human with a lot of creative love and soul. Jeremy Brull’s speech when receiving “Best Director” for The Justice Lease Season 2: The Dorm of Justice was also fantastic and had us all cheering (Jeremy is a gas, and so good at what he does – I was surprised this was his first award, but I do not think it will be his last!).
Jenny Wynter accepting the “Pitch Perfect Prize” for her work in the Pitching Competition held earlier on the Sunday with Viking Mama had us in stitches and also cheering (Love Jenny, keep an eye out for her in the future, she’s going to keep going strength to strength). And I was delighted to see Kate Madison take out the Grand Jury Award for Ren: The Girl With The Mark. Kate is truly lovely and so talented and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next. Just inspirational and I congratulate all the award winners on a job very well done!
I’d like to thank Steiner, Alex, Lauren, Richard, Harrison, Shaye (and all the other interns), everyone on the MWF Board and all the volunteers who make Melbourne Web Fest happen. You guys are doing amazing work and providing such a creative, supportive and engaging festival for online creators to immerse ourselves in. This is my first year attending, with my first web series, and the time spent with all of you this past weekend has got me inspired and wanting to do more. So thank you for providing us with ideas, enthusiasm and a sense of community.
When I first began playing on the internet, back in 1996, that’s all we had online – communities. I was a fledgling web designer and programmer and went out to find my tribe on this new thing called “The ‘Net”. We congregated on message boards, built websites to reflect our interests and personalities, we discussed the things that affected our respective industries, we supported each other, we encouraged each other. We created our own Internet design awards, and as the designers became more experienced we joined Juries and assessed our peers’ work and handed out much-coveted digital badges to be displayed in the “Awards” sections that every website had back then.
I had the privilege of working on several international juries at that time and we all took our jobs seriously, knowing that we had to encourage talent and confidence if we were going to survive as a community in that wild, wild web. We assessed and were assessed, we conversed and exchanged ideas. We praised and suggested. We worked together to create beauty, entertainment and a chance to learn something different that we didn’t already know. We collaborated and we shared resources. We were a community.
Bad behavior happened – it was a community of humans, after all. But if someone “flamed” someone else (as it was known back then – now called “trolling”) – they were called out for bad behavior by the rest of the tribe and held accountable for their actions. We self-moderated and people played by the rules. There was no place for cruelty, unkind teasing or garden-variety nastiness in those days. For those of us who grew up being different, it was a haven as a result. I used to think of the Internet as some kind of Utopia because of this, the almost perfect world, and because of that, feared that it would not last. And it didn’t.
But this weekend some of that original spark of community returned to me. And the beautiful thing was that it was in real life as well as online. Finally, all those ideas we had twenty years ago about what the Internet could do for community, I was seeing happening in front of my eyes, in person, created from a shared love and appreciation of content made of pixels and bytes (with a good dose of real world blood, sweat and tears), uploaded onto that vast web we call the Internet that now is so much a part of our daily lives. I feel that I found again many of my own tribe that I had been looking for since the Web became a place I no longer recognized. And that is truly a gift.
John Cabrera put it best in his beautifully crafted and right-on-message Keynote Speech on Opening Night: “Stop thinking of your work as content and start thinking of it as a haven for community.” I believe that MWF will be making that speech available online in the coming days, so I won’t go into any more detail here about it, except to say it resonated with everyone in the room and it is definitely worth watching. This idea is something I’ve known since my first forays onto the Internet all those years ago and yet it was the first time I had heard it described and explained in such an eloquent manner. Erudite, funny and smart with great passion and heart. Watch it when it’s available.
And so now, we return to life post-MWF and get back to the next lot of content we intend to create for viewing online. I wish all my fellow content creators a successful remainder of the year and look forward to seeing you all again at MWF 2017. Safe travels and joyous creating my friends, and thank you for the love, fun and palpable sense of community.