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The Day the Gatekeeper Died: Patton Oswalt on DIY Creative Careers

This is not new. It is so old, in fact, that it has been on the internet for over two months, so feel free to skip this if you’ve already heard it. However, I’ve found myself sharing Patton Oswalt’s recent keynote speech on comedy with more than one filmmaker/actor/creative over the past few months when they tell me about trying to make it via “traditional” routes. So here it is, because if you replace the term “comedian” with “filmmaker” it applies equally well.

I actually had to go back and search this website to see if I’d posted this speech before; I wrote an open letter to an actor a year ago saying some of these same things, but no, this speech has not appeared on this site. Oswalt may not have said these things first, but he may have said them best — and with the credibility of a certifiable Already Famous person. And then there’s his quote about his iPhone: “I’m holding in my hand more filmmaking technology than Orson Welles had when he made Citizen Kane.”

NSFW language here.

By titling this post “The Day the Gatekeeper Died,” I am not saying gatekeepers are completely useless or are dead entirely — they will always have a place and will serve as important filters. What I mean with that title is: there is often a particular point in history where a general sentiment is crystallized very well and that often makes for a good trailhead/turning point/reverse Tipping Point, and this Oswalt speech seems as good as any for actors/creatives/comedians.

Here’s the rest of Oswalt’s quote on filmmaking technology:

I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your TV network or studio. And in a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. It’s going to be fucking equal… This isn’t a threat, gatekeepers, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make shit all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just, PLEASE, get out of our way while we do it. Because we have THESE now.

One counterargument I often hear to the democratization of media is that most of everything is still crap. Sure, but no one is saying that everything is great. It’s about the democratization of opportunity and the gatekeeper-less ability to get your stuff in front of an audience and find out if it’s good (or not). And if it’s not good, then the motivated among us will use the feedback we receive to improve. Oswalt nails this point:

If you get out of our way and we fucking fall on our face, we won’t blame you like we have in the past. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff that’s being uploaded to YouTube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.

The full speech is below if you can’t watch the video itself (e.g., if there’s a “gatekeeper” at your day job who would be willing to open the gate — to unemployment — if you sit around watching comedy speeches all day). Also, for further Patton Oswalt-related listening, I still think this is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard about screenwriting (extremely NSFW).

Link: Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • inspiring!

    keep stuff like this coming!

    i’m getting tired of this camera hardware tech specs blabla :)

  • Obviously knows nothing about digital production if he thinks an iphone workflow is anywhere in the same universe as Arri Alexa or Red that networks are using…sounds like a guy in a cubicle trying to tell the bigshots in the corner offices what they should be doing…so they can, what…wind up in a cubicle again?

    • How’s the air up there on the horse? he’s not saying an Iphone will topple the Film and TV industry.

      • The guy said the gatekeepers should get a clue from youtubers or some similar insanity…that they should somehow accomodate the 1 billion people with cameras on their cellphones…he made zero sense…I’m happy he’s had a good career…personally never heard of him but his ideas would have been revolutionary in 2006…now they just look like…left-over kool-aid…but there are still plenty of drinkers…long live the gatekeepers…when you make a magnum opus one day you’ll be glad the gatekeepers are there to reward you and separate your stuff from the ocean of crap spewing forth from the masses

        • The gatekeepers are us. Simple really.

        • How oblivious to modern culture do you have to be to not at least know who Patton Oswalt is?

          • Umm, not american? Must admit I had never heard of the guy, but then I’m not, you know… Although the majority of users of this site are probably american, I imagine there are quite a lot of international users as well.

          • Come on… this guy is obviously a hack who knows he’s not a real creator. Only the “brush holder” career-guys are threatened by a speech like Mr. Owalt’s. Since, after all, they’re on their way out with the gate-keepers. They know they are not good enough to compete with the masses on an even playing field, thus, they need to cling to their elite gear and pretends like it makes a difference anymore. They need to pretend that by “owning something” it makes them part of the artistic-process, when in reality, they’re just hacks who own “the brushes”. I’m glad these people, along with the gate-keepers are on their way out for good…

    • Huh? is about right if you missed the bigger headfuck – the reference to citizen Kane.

      We’ve had post-modernism and post-irony… can we call this latest development post-ignorance?

    • I’m not sure if he meant that part exactly literally but I understand what he was conveying. I think he meant that the all mighty television isn’t the only way to get entertaining content directly to the people. Me also thinks it’s cool for the guy in the cubicle to voice his opinion to the big shots about methods that directly involve his craft(job). If you don’t speak up then you probably won’t get what you’re asking for because you’re not asking for it.

  • P.S….The gatekeepers are not in anybody’s way…you are free to post your stuff on youtube all day and all night anytime you want. You can even sell streams or dvds on Amazon without anyone’s permission. What exactly is this guy complaining about? What does he want the gatekeepers to do?

  • He’s not complaining about anything. If you took it that way then perhaps you didn’t get the point of the speech. it wasn’t meant as a way to people to revolt against studios and large production companies. Its just to open peoples eyes that those ways aren’t the be all end all of the old days, and yes its no new news to those who are in the know about digital distribution but even so today there is still a large population of creatives minds with the chain of thought most film makers shared in the 80 and 90s that “i need to get picked up by a big studio and then I’m set” is he putting anything new out there? no. but every day there are new people with creative ambitions who aren’t in the know and still believe..”i need to write a feature film it on 35mm and that’s the only way any one will care”…and by saying 35mm film I’m not just referring to the celluloid way of making films. I’m also referring to those who think that the only way to be known or respected is to pick up an Alexa or Red. Patton used an Iphone as an example not because he believes and Iphone will replace the Alexa but because 99% of aspiring film makers only have access to something as simple as an Iphone.

    • In that case his audience must be eight-year olds…because everyone older than that already has their own youtube/facebook/twitter channels

      • Yes everyone has their own youtube/facebook channels (Twitter still hasn’t been monetized) but not everyone understands or has realized that it is now an avenue for commercial success in the arts. Until people like Radiohead and Louie C.K. proved that you can skip the marketing/distribution companies and use the internet as a viable and comparable monetizing and distribution platform most people in the ‘Arts’ didn’t consider the Internet anything more than a way to get noticed. Patton’s point is, Firstly, that CONTENT is king, content is what sells, and you no longer NEED to sell the rights to your content to a distributor in order to make money anymore, or sell your ideas to a distributor/broadcaster anymore in order to get the funds to make your content, there are NOW OTHER viable options for commercial success where in the very recent past there was not (YouTube partners isn’t even 5 years old yet). His Second point is that the first point is now strong enough that it gives you LEVERAGE when negotiating with the traditional airwave gatekeepers. His audience is not 8 year olds, they’re more like 30+ year olds who have spent the last 10 years of their career trying to get stuff in front of these gatekeepers in hopes that they might fund/sell a project of theirs and having to take shit deals because there weren’t any other options out there.

        • Content is not king…marketing is…there is nothing more common than fairly good content with zero audience…and mediocre content with great marketing support can generate enormous profits…Radiohead and Louis C.K. created content for fans who followed them because of great marketing from gatekeepers…basically fan club content…and they are talented as well but their success is not a social media, diy gamechanger.

          • Joe Marine on 11.6.12 @ 6:10PM

            I’m sure you realize by now after leaving over 40 comments (probably more) on this site, that you’ve added almost nothing constructive to any conversation. This is a DIY/Independent site, if you don’t believe anything has changed over the last 5 years or so on the independent spectrum, why even come here?

          • Good point (below) Joe…I’m done with this site…good luck everyone.

          • Actually Joe, he has a point. Marketing is the king. You have to get your stuff seen on blogs like this or already have a fanbase going in. Louis CK did well because he is Louis CK. He was known before he cut out the middle man. He was known because of that middle man.

            Great content isn’t hard to come by. However, it’s hard for one to rise because gaining viewership is hard. Marketing is the one thing us “internet folks” are lacking.

  • Idol-Maker on 11.6.12 @ 5:58AM

    Good post, Koo. Thanks!

  • That comment about iPhone and Orson Welles is about as ignorant comment as you could make about filmmaking. I’m sure Gregg Toland’s ghost would like to kick his ass (and that would be a pretty entertaining short).

  • I think these are noble sentiments but I’ve been hearing the same thing since the internet came out. Content is king when the sample size is low, but that maxim holds less weight when you get to the point of saturation we are with filmed entertainment. Lena Dunham….just got a crazy traditional publishing contract, Louis CK has not decided to take his show strictly to Youtube. I think people get irrational exuberance around technology and should just be a little more circumspect. The internet did not all of a sudden change human nature.More choices does not all of a sudden mean the choices people make will be higher quality. I have seen people play a PS3 with composite cables and talk about the awesome HD graphics. Or the infamous online video of people admiring a Iphone 4s that they were told was a Iphone 5. Gatekeepers exist because to the majority of people brands matter and unless you are the top of the top, their brands will always have more weight than the intermittent output of individual creators. Their influence will wane as everything changes but there’s always going to be a gatekeeper of some sort. Unless you’re fabulously wealthy you will need money to make your movies, that person is a gatekeeper. Basically, the more likely scenario is that we see the trend of the past decade or so increase where the superstars who may or may not be the most talented continue to grab greater shares of the pie once internet content can be properly monetized. Of course, I hope I am wrong but a quick survey of Box office mojo will show that no matter how much people ostensibly bitch about the comfort food the studios cook, they shell out the money to see them.

    • How long did it take you to write that response vs. how long would it have taken you to actually read the post?

      Me: “no one is saying that everything is great.”
      Patton: “some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.”
      You: “More choices does not all of a sudden mean the choices people make will be higher quality.”

      Where did anyone say that? …

      And how do you think Lena Dunham got discovered, anyway? She had a YouTube series, she shot a feature on a Canon 7D, then she signs a traditional publishing contract and that’s an argument AGAINST the internet and democratized tech?

  • Incredible that we are all after the a similar goal and instead of being supportive and constructive its one childish criticism after the other.

    • Yeah, the answers to success in today’s entertainment industry aren’t clear, but that’s a plus to those willing to venture out and try new things. Perhaps rather than accepting something uncertain, like an unexplored frontier, some people feel more comfortable digging in their heels into something they already know.

  • I loves me some “The Heart, She Holler”!

  • “How oblivious to modern culture do you have to be to not at least know who Patton Oswalt is?”
    Now THIS guy is funny ! He actually thinks if you are not tied into to this weeks current Pop Culture Cycle, you are somehow not a worthy human. Cause modern Culture is so Important and relevant . Sure. For this week anyway.
    My wife is SO outside the Pop Culture that I ( who is interested to a degree) constantly update her when she says – Who? / What? – while I am mumbling on about some actor or movie or some such nugget which will be TOTALLY forgotten in mere months if not weeks. She is too busy living a nice life and working a brilliant career. She isnt interested and doesn’t have time.
    So , mister – you don’t know who the current Host of “Favorite Bass Fishing Holes ” is ? On the Fishing network? Man , you an irrelevant idiot. EVERYONE knows. Or so my fishing Bro-In -Law thinks. Multiply that by Autos / Guitars/ Sports/Game cards/on and on and on. And it is the center of each person’s universe. Ya get it Mister?

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