Social films are films that are pieced together from crowdsourced content submitted by social media users. In the film industry, the crowdsourcing model has already resulted in some critically acclaimed projects. Giving audiences the chance to contribute to the process of storytelling has the capacity of significantly subverting top-down hierarchical paradigms of production and consumption, and creating an impactful expressive platform for the disenfranchised. However, crowdsourcing rarely results in completely horizontalized and egalitarian modes of production.
An example that demonstrates both the constructive and problematic aspects of collaboration between corporations and consumers is the award-winning online mini-series The Beauty Inside (2012), sponsored by Intel and Toshiba, and developed by the Pereira & O’Dell advertising agency. Fans were invited to be part of the 6-week filmmaking process by submitting their own video diaries on Facebook and YouTube, to be included in an episodic film that focuses on Alex, a man who wakes up every day in a different body. According to data analytics, this installment of the Inside series was the most successful, partially because it allowed fans to be part of the ongoing collaborative process, rather than just the final product. The 4,000+ user submissions essentially fill in the gaps of a scripted narrative film directed by Drake Doremus, and the 26 winning entries are prominently displayed on a Toshiba Portégé Ultrabook. The participatory process and the narrativization of social media content provide an alternative model of Hollywood filmmaking that coincides with some of the corporate advantages of crowdsourcing, such as decreased production costs and a cheaper labor force. The fact that all user-generated content is owned by Toshiba and could therefore be appropriated and miscontextualized did not seem to discourage participation, even though in the end some of the fans featured in the film were framed as less attractive than others, and any attempts at presenting a nuanced meditation on contemporary identity were ultimately undermined by the film’s conclusion. Technically, anyone in the world with Internet access and a webcam could audition for the role of Alex and the chance to be included in the film credits (despite not credited on imdb). However, the few “winners” that made the cut seem to be those that collectively amounted to the producers’ idea of what diversity looks like, thus indicating that there are other obstacles in the “participation gap” beyond the digital divide.