The spread of digital technology, its pleasures and discontents, has begun to generate its own body of self-reflective work. Drawing on their firsthand experience from years in the creative trenches, co-directors David Dworsky and Victor Köhler set out to make an inquisitive “snapshot” of this moment with their documentary PressPausePlay. Interviews with doomsayers, cranks, evangelists, and artists are cut with ecstatic live concert footage, in an attempt to answer the question, “[D]oes democratized culture mean better art, film, music and literature or is true talent instead flooded and drowned in the vast digital ocean of mass culture?” The loose narrative also follows the composer Olafur Arnalds, a digitally-driven musician and composer who could well be the poster child for this new kind of hybrid artist.
The film launched (along with countless smart phone apps) during SXSW, and has since traveled the festival circuit. Next stop: Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. Back in March, I talked with the Swedish directors about their process, and about finding the boundary between artist and audience.
Who came up with the original concept for this film?
DD: It was a collaboration. We kind of bounced the ideas back and forth.
VK: We had a really old idea of something that turned out not to be so similar to [the final film], but it evolved from that.
Your backgrounds are both in the creative industries. Does this film draw on what you observed going on, the trends, and the sort of panic over what’s changing?
VK: We don’t have any film education ourselves, but yeah, we come from that [creative] background. We felt there was a lot of negative talk about what’s going on right now, and we didn’t quite share that view, so we wanted to give the other side of the story.
DD: You often make a film or write a book about something that happened 10 years ago and reflect on that. We thought that it would be interesting to do something that’s more like a snapshot of today, that doesn’t have all the truth and answers but reflects on things that people are discussing, the different paths that are possible today.
Overall, the tone is a little bit melancholy. There are moments of hope, and people express enthusiasm, but… maybe it’s also the music that you chose. Was that intentional? Or is that something that happened as you were editing and putting it all together?
DD: I think we realized that when we made the film, that a lot of people are very positive but there’s also always that other side, when people aren’t sure, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. And it worked out pretty well in the film, I think, that you don’t have just this positive, Utopian view of what’s going to happen.
What sort of technology did you use in making the film?
VK: We’re 100% digital, but we finished on film.
DD: We recorded everything on the RED [camera], and then we collected all the other material. We just finished on film.
“For some countries, it’s an infrastructural problem. You need an internet connection, you need access to ‘toys.’”
From an editing perspective, did you have a very clear picture of the narrative? Or is it something that developed as you gathered the pieces together?
VK: We had a very rough idea when we started. Then when we went into the more precise editing a lot of it changed.
DD: If we look at a rough storyline that we did back then, it’s nothing like what the film turned out to be.
VK: It kind of reflects the project itself. We went out to investigate this [topic] and we couldn’t really know what the story would end up being. For instance, the negative parts, we didn’t have that in the [early] ideas about the project.
In your film, I think it was Andrew Keen who mentioned this idea of “the ocean of garbage.” What do you think the role of a curator is in all of this? If there is all this content out there, what role is there for someone who has to filter it?
VK: Personally, I think there is a big role to fill, because I don’t have the patience to search through it all. Have you tried Spotify? In Europe it’s a very big music service. Basically you can access all the music in the world. It’s amazing in one sense, but it’s frightening in another, because when you’re there, you can choose any song, but it’s very hard to come up with a song.
DD: So you end up listening to the same stuff anyway. [Laughter]
VK: In that sense, you need someone to kind of guide you through. So I think there’s a big role to be played, but I don’t know if it’s in newspapers, or if it’s in a different format. I think we’re going to see a wide spread of different curation.
You have a lot of nice poetic concert shots of the audience and the lights on stage. To me, that showed the line between the “professional” artist and the audience — even if the audience thinks they’re going there to be artists, they’re paying to be an audience member.
DD: That builds to Andrew Keen’s point that everybody thinks they’re an artist, but there’s still this &mdsah; there has to be, and there is still this clear line between a professional artist and the audience. He says that you can’t have both, that you can’t have the artist and the audience be the same person. I think that’s the best way to illustrate that line: one person on stage, and ten thousand people standing below.
VK: The question now is basically where do you put that line. When we made this [film], we had a lot of discussions about where the professional line should go. We love YouTube, but we didn’t want to make a film about everyone just putting up stuff on YouTube…We tried to find stuff that was good. If it’s made by a professional in that sense wasn’t important, but it needed to be stuff that felt professional in the quality.
“I think we realized that when we made the film, that a lot of people are very positive but there’s also always that other side, when people aren’t sure, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
How did you do your research? How did you find the subjects to interview?
DD: That was a long process. We started out with just a bunch of names, people we knew about and we wanted to talk to, and we went off to try to get them to be in the film. And then when you talk to someone, they tell you about someone else… When we were looking for all the creatives — some whom we interviewed and some we just used their work — we basically went through a lot of websites and picked out stuff that we liked and emailed them.
Were there concentrated times of shooting?
VK: It was spread over a year. We started in August 2009 and finished the last shoots in September .
DD: We went to the US, and we went around to different places in the US, and then we went back home — not continuous travel for a year.
The line between Europe and America was pretty fluid in the film. What about more emerging cultures or countries — do you think this problem or question of digital culture is something that arises in post-industrial Western democracies? Or is this something that we’ll see spreading to other countries?
VK: Maybe in a few years. We went on a pretty long trip to Asia, which [wasn’t] reflected so much in the film. I think they’re a bit behind, if you can say that, but there’s a lot of people recognizing it and kind of following the US and Europe.
DD: With emerging countries, when they start to build their digital culture scene or whatever, they’re going to look at what’s happening here. So they’re going to [start] on that level, not, like, selling VHS tapes. They’re going to jump to where we are now directly.
VK: For some countries, it’s an infrastructural problem. You need an internet connection, you need access to “toys.” [Laughter]
Did you enjoy making the documentary? Do you plan on making other films?
VK: Yes, we plan to do more of these kind of projects. We don’t have an exact idea, we’re trying to do new stuff all of the time, so it’s not sure we’re going to do a documentary next time. We’re talking about doing a narrative feature.