This article was written by Micki Krimmel in October 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
Can 24 frames of film change the world? It can if animator Nirvan Mullick has anything to say about it. Nirvan has spent the last six years working on a very short film with a very big purpose: to raise one million dollars for the Global Fund for Women, as well as setting the course for a long term project that utilizes collaborative art and social networking to address social issues.
Nirvan began the project in 2001 as a student at California Institute of the Arts, with relatively small ambitions: to bring together all the arts programs at the school to create a community art project through "micro-collaboration," a process of many people contributing in small ways to make something much bigger. Over one festive night of art, music and performance, hundreds of people participated in creating twelve giant paintings, each one directed by a different artist. Each painting was then filmed for two frames, and the frames cut together to create one second of animation.
Nirvan took the film on the road, collecting micro-donations: in return for a minimum of one dollar, the donor would get a producer credit on the final cut of the film. The film gained celebrity contributors including Christina Ricci, Tom Arnold and Kiefer Sutherland. Added to the film's growing list of producers, these stars conferred credibility on the project. So far, Nirvan says, over 7,900 people have donated over $200,000; all will be listed as producers in the credits.
Nirvan now sees "The 1 Second Film" as the first of a larger "5 Phase Plan", which would use his idea of micro-collaboration to literally bring the world together through art. Each phase of the project centers on the creation of a new film, building on the scope of the previous work to include more people and address a wide array of social issues. Nirvan has established a nonprofit organization, Collaboration Foundation, to oversee the project as it grows.
The final phase of the film would be the creation of "The 11,111 Second Film," pairing 90 minutes of animation with 90 minutes of credits and documentary on the making of the film. Nirvan wants to generate the raw material for this film's animation by holding "thousands of simultaneous events around the world...[I]n 24 hours, 65,000 paintings will have been completed around the world, with the help of millions of people." If it comes off, he believes it will be one of the largest collaborative artworks ever made.
But first things first: to complete Phase 1, Nirvan and his crew are trying to bring "The 1 Second Film" to a cultural and financial tipping point. So what do you do when you need a media project to reach critical mass? You visit Oprah!
I caught up with Nirvan in Pasadena earlier this week, at the send-off party for the project's "Road to Oprah" crosscountry road trip . True to form, the party brought together a community of artists for performances and collaboration. (I helped make the world's longest potholder!) I asked Nirvan to tell me more about the collaborative process, how he connects it to social change, and what's involved in financing a film a dollar at a time.
Micki Krimmel: What the heck is microcollaboration?
Nirvan Mullick: Microcollaboration is a word I blurted out when trying to describe this project to a friend. It's like collaboration, but on a much smaller scale. The concept is similar to microloans, but applied to art making.
For this project, the idea of microcollaboration is applied in many ways, from the animation allowing people to contribute a single brush stroke to help paint one of the frames, to a one dollar donation to help produce the film. With the help of thousands of small donations, our website has evolved into a microcollaborative community, allowing our producers to create profiles and upload content to be included in our documentary. They can also help set up events, share ideas, volunteer, tell friends, blog, etc. All these little things add up, and collectively create something larger than any one person could possibly make alone.
MK: How do you think this process ties into the larger social mission of the project?
NM: The larger social mission is to bring the world together, one second at a time, to make art that makes a difference. While making "The 1 Second Film," we are also creating a grassroots nonprofit foundation which will facilitate collaboration on an even larger scale. The process illustrates the potential we have when working together, even in small ways.
MK: When did you decide to build the nonprofit?
NM: I started thinking about expanding the concept shortly after the collaborative animation event at CalArts. That was March 8, 2001. I began thinking of ways to expand the project beyond my school to address politically charged moments. A few months later September 11 happened. I began developing "The 1 Second Film" as a way to address that moment. The potential of the project took on a new meaning to me, and the nonprofit model began to form.
After I graduated, I worked random commercial animation jobs while finishing two other animated shorts, but I kept thinking about how to grow "The 1 Second Film" project. In 2004, after finishing my festival run, I began to fundraise; as the project grew, the idea continued to expand into a five phase plan.
The overall plan is like Burning Man meets Live 8, on steroids. The ambitious scope of the project needed a formal nonprofit structure to provide oversight, accountability, and guidance, so I began to look for help in forming a non-profit. I discussed the idea with Ben Goldhirsh, CEO of GOOD Magazine and Reason Pictures, who I had met through a friend. Ben is all about using media to create social change, so after hearing the five phase plan, he agreed to join my bard of directors. The board has expanded to include Albert Maysles, Stephen Nemeth, and Julie Taymor, in addition to a great advisory board. We incorporated as a non-profit in 2006 with pro-bono support from the law offices of McDermitt, Will, & Emery.
MK: It seems like the project took on a life of its own. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
NM: It starts with guerrilla marketing: figuring out ways to get the idea out there without having any money. I started pitching the film to people I met on the streets back in 2004. I had a Xeroxed flier, a clipboard and a really bad website I hacked together with Dreamweaver.
The pitch was "a one-second film that anyone could produce for one dollar, with the profits from the finished film being donated to charity." People liked the idea -- it made them laugh.
Dollar by dollar, I raised enough to make better fliers. Eventually I was able to buy a camera to record the process for a "making of" documentary which will accompany the credits. I started running into celebrities in random places: sidewalks, malls...and a few began to donate. Suddenly, the film was something anyone could produce alongside stars like Christina Ricci and Ben Harper. Having celebs involved helped the project reach a wider audience.
A friend and I then started traveling to film festivals like Sundance, sneaking into parties, and getting spare change from people like Stephen Colbert, Kevin Bacon, and Pierce Brosnan. We recorded some pretty funny video, which we posted on YouTube. One of our videos got featured on YouTube's home page and we raised over $7,000 online in 4 days, which was about as much as I had raised the first year on the streets. I also petitioned to get our producer credits listed on IMDb, and with the help of a video clip of Stephen Colbert requesting it, was successful. 40 million people visit IMDb each month, and mostly search for celebrities. We have more celebrity producers than any film ever made, so people around the world began stumbling across "The 1 Second Film" on IMDb, linking to our website, and seeing that they could participate by donating a buck.
That created a viral situation where people around the world started donating online. People also started sending in photos, bios, inspiring letters, poetic "perfect moments," and video from around the world to be included in our documentary.
After hand-entering thousands of names, bios, and photos, we finally raised enough to build an automated website that gave all of our producers personal profiles, thereby encouraging more participation and collaboration on the site, as well as allowing our project to scale up.
MK: Did you know at the outset that you were embarking on a global world-changing mission?
NM: No, quite the opposite. When I was studying Experimental Animation, I often felt guilty for spending so much time indulging in making my little animated short films. I wasn't sure how what I was doing was making any difference in the world; it felt really disconnected. As I began to see the potential this idea had to create large-scale change, I became really devoted to seeing it through.
MK: What are the five social causes each film will support, and how did you choose them?
NM: Phase 1 addresses women's human rights; Phase 2, the impact of September 11; Phase 3, global warming; Phase 4 addresses 111 different regional social issues; and Phase 5 will address global poverty.
[How I chose them is] hard to describe. The first two chose themselves; Phase 1 was painted on March 8, 2001, International Women's Day, and Phase 2 was a direct response to September 11. The social causes for Phases 3, 4 and 5 were chosen after consulting with my board of directors.
In general, the idea is to find a connection between the moment the films are animated, the images the films depict, and a charitable beneficiary related to the issues addressed. The connections are often poetic.
MK: How will you know you are done with the film?
NM: There is an arc in my mind for the making of our documentary: basically it is a story line that follows the journey of the film from small to big. To that end, I hope to reach a tipping point for the project, allowing as many people to participate as we can. I have set two tangible goals: the first goal is to raise a million dollar budget to finish post-production and build our online community. We have currently raised over $220,000, dollar by dollar. Momentum has started to pick up as companies like Apple and Pair.com have recently gotten involved, and larger individual donations have also starting to come in, which makes a big difference.
The second goal is to ask Oprah for one dollar to join our producers. Getting Oprah involved [would be] a concrete way of knowing a tipping point has been reached. If Oprah joins our producers, we will be ready to wrap principal photography shortly after.
MK: When will you know you've gotten to the next phase?
NM: I need to raise more resources to build a full-time team...I imagine a lot will become possible if we pass the "Oprah equator." In the interim, I've started reaching out to a few artists about directing frames of animation for "The 2 Second Film," and building our non-profit's advisory board to help facilitate the effort. After our "Road to Oprah" tour, I'm planning to start grant writing and fundraising to get the Collaboration Foundation going, and to start developing the sequels. For now, it's all I can do to keep up with "The 1 Second Film;" I'm hoping to finish editing and premiere it by March 8 of 2009, and to have the animation events for "The 2 Second Film" coordinated to take place on September 11 of 2009.
It all depends on how many people get involved and on what level.
MK: Why Oprah?
NM: There is no more efficient way to [reach as many people as possible] than by getting Oprah involved. If she donates one dollar to our film, it would be a perfect metaphor for the power of many small contributions. If she encouraged all of her viewers to donate one dollar and they got involved, our goal for this phase would be reached.
After our "Road to Oprah" tour, I feel we will have put forth our best effort to include as many people as we can, and we hope to have raised enough finishing funds to complete postproduction of the documentary and motion graphics.
MK: How are you going to get in touch with Oprah?
NM: We created a "Road to Oprah" website that we hope Oprah will stumble upon. The site has the standard "tell a friend" button, but it also has a "tell Oprah" button, where anyone can click the link and send Oprah's producers a letter.
We also were able to buy a school bus with the help of our producers; we converted the bus to an RV which runs on biodiesel, handainted it, and organized a 10,000 mile crosscountry road show. We will be presenting and performing at universities and house parties organized by our producers spanning the US and Canada, ending in Chicago where we hope to meet Oprah and ask her for one dollar. A Los Angeles based folk-Americana band, The Evangenitals, is joining us to create songs about the adventure along the way, and will be performing at our events and on our credit-stand caboose.
MK: And if you don't reach Oprah?
NM: Our plan is to have as much fun getting there as we can, even though we know it's going to be a long, hard road. This film is about the process. If we don't reach Oprah, there will be no regrets; we will have given it our best shot, and I'm sure we will have met a lot of other cool people along the way.
MK: Over 7,000 people have participated in "The 1 Second Film" in some way already. This must be a really fulfilling experience. What's the best part?
NM: The best part is the people involved. The film is next to nothing without all of them and everything they bring to the project.
Image: Courtesy The 1 Second Film; flickr/the1secondfilm
Micro-Collaborative Movie Making for Social Change: "The 1 Second Film" is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.