On August 14, 2013, six weeks after starting at Seed&Spark, I sent an email to our CEO, and BRIGHT IDEAS' future publisher, Emily Best. In it I laid out a patently insane idea: What if our fledgling startup, at a time when we hardly had the money to cover payroll, launched an aggressively independent print publication about American film?
"To build a community of innovators," I posited, "we will profile the people innovating in accordance with our values. We will create genuinely cool, vital, and intelligent content, for and about the people we want to read our work—and with whom we want to work."
When Harold Ross defined The New Yorker in his 1925 prospectus, he asserted that his magazine would "print facts that it will have to go behind the scenes to get, but it will not deal in scandal for the sake of scandal nor sensation for the sake of sensation." In other words, The New Yorker would cover what its editors and writers felt deeply interested in investigating and its readers would read it, because, in short order, they would grow to trust the taste and ethics of the staff.
The strain of idealism Ross first articulated, and that I was parroting, flushes the cheeks and raises the pulse. But it also tends to empty bank accounts. Nonetheless, when Best responded to my email, she wrote: "I have reread this, like, four times—including out loud to my mom. Let's do it!"
To a number of our investors, and even a few founding employees of the company, her enthusiasm smacked of impulsiveness. But what Best identified in my email that instilled in her the confidence to, quite literally, risk Seed&Spark to make a print magazine, was that we weren't making a print magazine: we were launching a laboratory.
In the summer of 2013, less than a year after our site went live, we were only just coming to the realization that Seed&Spark was an independent film ecosystem. We already had empirical proof that our core competency, crowdfunding, provided diligent creators a path to financing. We had, in a sense, solved funding. But crowdfunding is only sustainable in the long term if filmmakers can hold onto and grow their crowd. To develop a true ecosystem, in which creators and audiences coexist and co-sustain, we somehow needed to test out, publicly and transparently, a series of wild ideas and approaches. If Seed&Spark was the factory, BRIGHT IDEAS needed to be the R&D department.
So that's what we're going to be in 2016.
We've identified four primary obstacles plaguing creators: lack of funding, unavailability of transparent distribution, sexism, and racism. Over the next 10 months, we're going to explore each of these obstructions, while profiling filmmakers who've found creative solutions to their problems.
In a truly sustainable independent film ecosystem—where filmmakers can access capital and audiences through crowdfunding, then distribute their films to those audiences without acquiescing their ownership—someone must constantly challenge the citizenry to stay ambitious and idealistic. If Seed&Spark is the great leveler of independent film, giving content creators the tools to build their careers without having to ask permission, BRIGHT IDEAS is the experimental laboratory hell bent on fomenting the revolution.
And if our integrity should remain above suspicion, you the filmmakers and audiences powering this new generation of diverse, fair, and brilliant storytelling, must keep us honest and demand of us an insoluble sincerity and transparency.
We're taking this shit seriously, and we know you are, too.
In 2016, we’ll be testing our most outrageous hypotheses on how to grow the filmmaking middle class. Sign up to find out what we learn.
You're in. We knew you were taking this shit seriously.