How to Blur the Lines Between Legacy and New Media Filmmaking

'Dread Pirate Roberts'Credit: Daniel Algarin
How do you make a short about a famous true crime story while also addressing changes in filmmaking?

This post was written by Daniel Algarin.

I've been fascinated by Ross Ulbricht’s story ever since I first heard about his arrest. He was of the same ilk as many other young tech founders, but it was his critical difference in dogmatic ideological thinking that landed him a life sentence for founding the Silk Road website, rather than a spot on the Forbes 500 list.

I knew I wanted to dramatize his story for the internet audience, but I wasn’t sure how.

Rather than telling his story in the traditional “biopic” fashion, I decided to go non-linear—mixing news media footage with original photography. I also wanted viewers to hear Ross’ authentic voice, not something made up or Hollywoodized. So I used his real blog posts as narration.

This approach created something that I believe is closer to the truth and more intriguing for modern audiences. You can watch it below.

The Past

One could argue that the history of Hollywood up until this point has been predominantly about showing audiences things they’ve never seen before. Whether it was the space exploration in 2001 and Star Wars, the photo-realistic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or the mind-boggling visual effect sequences in modern superhero movies; everything has always been about giving the audience a new visual experience.

But what happens when every visual trick has been seen before? Some creators think the answer is to dive deeper into 3D or virtual reality headsets and offer a more immersive experience. That is certainly an exciting new frontier, but I think the more interesting frontier is a cinematic language that offers a deeper, more unfiltered, glimpse of truth.

Credit: Daniel Algarin

The Present

We currently live in an over-saturated media landscape. Between streaming apps and smartphones, video content is being forced down our throats at all hours of the day. As Martin Scorsese would lament, the power of cinema is truly being lost.

As depressing as that may sound, there is hope. These new platforms allow new forms of visual storytelling to be told. Runtime has always been a roadblock for many creators. A traditional film is two hours, an episode of TV is one hour, and everything else is worthless. That formula requires a very specific approach to production and distribution and is a financial non-starter for many independent creators.

In the new media landscape, this is no longer the case. Today, a movie is however long it needs to be to get its point across. Whether the experience you’re trying to create takes two minutes or 22, there are no rules.

To that end, the story gatekeepers are also increasingly a thing of the past. In today’s world, you can make a movie about almost anything, and as long as it doesn’t trigger big tech’s content moderation policy, you can get it in front of audiences. We can share stories with the world that would never be allowed through mainstream channels in decades past.

We’ve never been closer to breaking free from the “media matrix” and it’s up to us to handle it responsibly. 

Credit: Daniel Algarin

The Film

I filmed Dread Pirate Roberts with all this in mind. Despite knowing that most people would be watching it on their smartphones, we still shot it in 4K with anamorphic lenses from the 1970s, and mixed and colored it for the largest display possible.

We left it up to the viewer to decide how and where they’d watch it.

Credit: Daniel Algarin

What was the goal?

To offer a fresh cinematic language and approach for digital audiences. To deal with political themes that the traditional industry is too afraid to touch. To profile a complex character with morally ambiguous actions and let the viewer make their own ethical judgments.

To shed ourselves from the boundaries of legacy media and dive head-first into the unknown abyss of filmmaking’s future.      

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