(Cross posted from Dialectical Films, with thanks.)
As research for a panel on the subject of ‘audiences’ at the Radical Film Network‘s inaugural conference earlier this year, I spoke to a number of media organisers and radical filmmakers about their work and how they survive while doing it. This is one of two interviews I will publish, with the intention of inspiring, comforting and galvanising those making political work and no money.
Franklin Lopez is an anarchist video maker based in North America (though, as he noted early on in our conversation, he considers himself stateless) and creator of the video site subMedia.tv. He has been producing quality political videos (from feature length documentaries to collaborations with poets and mash-ups) for over a decade, all of which can be watched for free at the site, and he produces a monthly radical newsreel vlog that can be found there and on YouTube.
Franklin kindly took time to answer my questions, and thankfully gave some encouraging answers about the contact he has with his audiences, being fairly compensated for his work, and refusing to give up his political values in the name of ‘expansion’.
How did subMedia.tv and The Stimulator come about?
Well, subMedia and the stimulator are two different things. subMedia.tv is a website that published anarchist films me and my friends produce as well as other videos, and The Stimulator is the character of a web-vlog we produce called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine” or as we call it “The Fuckin Show”.
subMedia.tv was created as an independent venture, owned and funded outside of corporate media with the goal of broadcasting radical and anarchist films. The Fuckin Show was created to provide radical news and analysis on a monthly basis to an audience of radicals and anarchists, and those who are curious about radical and anarchist ideas. The Fuckin Show is supposed to be funny and provide much needed comic relief to the stuffy real of radical and anarchist discourse.
subMedia wasn’t always radical; we made political films with a liberal left sensibility, but it evolved over the years to be the rabble rousing agit prop propaganda media production house that it is today. So in 2001 while the US beat the drums of war, we felt a need to aid the anti-war movement, came into contact with anarchists and thus began this process that radicalized how and why we make films.
Are you completely independently funded?
150 per cent!
How the hell do you fund this operation?
Mostly small donations from viewers, some from DVD sales and some from screenings.
Is there one activity/source that provides the majority of your funding?
Viewers of our videos.
Do you have another job or source of income aside subMedia?
Once or twice a year I’ll do a gig, usually because it falls in my lap but not out of necessity. Last year I did one video for AJ+, the year before some TV channels bought some of our footage and films. Other people who collaborate with us have freelance gigs or are on welfare.
How many people work for and with subMedia?
Right now it’s three of us. Me on a full-time basis and two others on a part-time basis. We also have about 5 volunteers that dedicate a few hours helping us out with media production – in return, they learn video skills.
You are clearly politically radical. Do you consider your work aesthetically radical?
Sure, but I don’t think we’re breaking new ground artistically. We “steal” most of the footage and music we use, blatantly script in our politics no holds barred, use the language we fuckin want, try new things every chance we get.
Do you consider your way of organising and producing work radical?
Sure, one of the things we do that most people don’t notice is to be connected with movements, so a lot of the media that we produce is done with the hope to aid movements. For example, we take some direction from indigenous groups in so called “Canada” to create videos that will help them further their struggle.
What is your definition of ‘radical’, if you have one?
To get to the root of the matter, to not “sugar coat” or dumb down things, to tell it how it is.
Radical is antonymous to Liberal. Radical is antonymous to reformist.
Do you find any conflict between the work you do and earning money from it?
I’m not sure I understand the question. subMedia has been crowd funding since 2008, and we have never bent our politics in the hopes to generate more income. Sometimes our opinions have cost us viewers, but that’s the price you pay for being honest.
What contact do you have with your audience?
Lots. Emails, Facebook / Twitter / website comments, but my favourite is face to face during or after screenings.
Which social media do you find to be most useful in terms of creating an audience or community?
Unfortunately Facebook. We’ve had some success on Twitter, but we find more engagement on Facebook. It was a bit of struggle coming to terms with it, in terms of FB being a capitalist project with little regard to privacy, but our audience are not purists and I think most of them have fake profiles anyway.
Was there one piece of work or event that led your audience to grow, or has it been mostly gradual/organic?
The 2008 Democrat and Republican conventions. subMedia teamed up with a video collective out of Seattle called “Pepper Spray Productions”, and we cranked out 10 shows in 10 days bringing daily reports from the street protests. People at those convergences would gather to see what was accomplished and laugh a little before the following day of action. Same is true of our coverage of the G20 protests in Toronto.
Do you dedicate time specifically to building your audience, or have you let it happen organically?
We have never had the time or foresight to do a marketing plan, so things have happened organically.
Is it important to you to measure/follow this, or do you just sit back and let it grow?
I think it’s interesting to see where your audience is coming from and yes we would like to grow our audience, but not out of the desire to make more money, or just for the sake of reaching more people. We are more interested in reaching the right people, i.e. people who are most likely to engage and get involved with a movement. We’re not that interested in reaching pensioners who sit at home and watch TV, for example. What we have found is that our audience has shifted over the years, and while we have some hardcore fans, we also have fans that outgrow our content and new fans who are excited to engage with radical ideas. I think it’s a bit dangerous to try to appeal to a certain group based on metrics in order to get more viewers, because you run the danger of bending or softening your discourse in the name of getting more people, instead of staying true to your “raison d’etre” – ours being to disseminate anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas and to aid social movements.
Do you have any particular skills or advice to pass on to others starting their own radical media organisations?
Mainly to be consistent, to be true to your ideals, to honor your audience and not short change them, to the make the best fuckin media you can with the resources available to you.