Patton Oswalt Explains That There Are No More Gatekeepers In Entertainment

from the well-said dept

For years, we've argued that the role of middlemen in the entertainment industry has been changing drastically. Most were built up on the basis of being gatekeepers: choosing who would get to go out and perform to the world, and using that gatekeeper status to (1) put themselves (the middlemen) in the center of everything and (2) demand nearly all ownership and profits from the results. But the new world is one in which gatekeepers are obsolete. The natural limits of things like broadcast television or movies are fluttering away thanks to the internet and all the technology that allows anyone to be a creator. That doesn't mean that middlemen aren't necessary any more. They absolutely are. But their roles are as enablers, not gatekeepers. They have to put the content creators back in the center and accept that they don't have full control, and they don't get to keep 85 cents of every dollar earned.

Famed comedian Patton Oswalt took to the stage at the "Just for Laughs Comedy Conference" in Montreal recently and made this point brilliantly in the form of two "letters." (Thanks to Pickle Monger for calling this to our attention.) The first letter was to fellow comedians -- more or less telling them to take control over their own career. They had to stop looking for the gatekeeper to come along and pick them, and take charge. Here's just a snippet, but the whole thing is worth reading:
[Following a brief description of his very successful career] But if you listened very carefully, you would have heard two words over and over again: “lucky” and “given.” Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian. Those two words can put you to sleep, especially once you get a taste of both being “lucky” and being “given.” The days about luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away.

Not totally. There are always comedians who will work hard and get noticed by agents and managers and record labels. There will always be an element of that. And they deserve their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that.

What I mean is: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist.
The second letter addresses the gatekeepers quite directly. Again, a snippet, though you should read the whole thing:
You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival.

Because all of us comedians after watching Louis CK revolutionize sitcoms and comedy recordings and live tours. And listening to "WTF With Marc Maron" and "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and watching the growth of the UCB Theatre on two coasts and seeing careers being made on Twitter and Youtube.

Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone. The model for success as a comedian in the '70s and '80s? That was middle school.
He goes on to talk about how they can stop being gatekeepers and start actually helping (first by being "fans") but then goes on to point out why the gatekeeper role is gone in a very simple fashion:
We can just walk away.

You know why we can do that now? Because of these. (Oswalt holds up an iPhone)

In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orson Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.

I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.

In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. I see what’s fucking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer.
It's an offer so few gatekeepers have been willing to take up.

I think it's great that Oswalt is saying this stuff. For the last few years, as Louis CK has revolutionized various parts of the comedy industry (as we've detailed here), it's been interesting to see how other comics have reacted. I keep hearing about how comedians want a "Louis CK deal," -- which is a deal like the one that Louis got for his show on FX (where he basically has full control over every aspect of the product). The problem, of course, is that no one else wants to give out such a deal -- and even if other comedians got it, many wouldn't know what to do with it. Because of that, I've heard some suggest that there isn't much to learn from Louis, since his situation is one of a kind.

I think Oswalt is much more on the right track, though. Of course, the answer isn't just in "getting the Louis CK deal" or even just copying exactly how he released his last comedy special. It's in recognizing the larger point of Oswalt's keynote: that the old rules and old gatekeepers are meaningless. You can forge your own path, and whereas you used to have to work within the confines of the system, nowadays you have lots of options. Every opportunity is there.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    sehlat (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:29am

    Gatekeeper Mentalities

    They appear to be characterized by two things:

    1. Fear

    2. Inability (or lack of imagination) to envision positive results.

    It's not so much that they're selfish and greedy (that goes without saying) as the poor pakhtash are simply ... limited.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:40am

    Should I make another prediction?

    Culture is being created outside the copyright system. And in spite of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Lowestofthekeys (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:43am

    Re: Gatekeeper Mentalities

    They also perpetuate the myth that they have to be in control for someone to make it in this kind of business.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:45am

    And cue...

    And cue the gatekeeper apologists whining about "trading analogue dollars for digital dimes".

    The gatekeepers are fighting this tooth and nail because there will be less money for them, and they'll lose control (that's what being a gatekeeper is - control.)

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:52am

    'It's an offer so few gatekeepers have been willing to take up'

    and why? my answer is fear! stupidity! greed! control! a combination meant to keep certain people dictating who would succeed, who wouldn't and what their returns would be, that today has become more like a recipe for disaster!

     

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  6.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:16am

    Re: And cue...

    I would trade 100 analog dollars for 10,000 digital dimes any day.

     

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  7.  
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    HiggsLight (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:17am

    WTF - An Excellent Callout

    I think comedians and musicians have yet to figure out what natural allies they make in the fight against big content's megalomania.

    Their interests are largely aligned and they're fighting differing aspects of the conflict in a largely parallel but separate way. If they were to join forces - like Bandcamp partnering with Louis's tour venue network - they could start smashing some of the bigger complicated gates together in a coordinated, revenue-driven fashion.

    I'm wondering who's going to put Clear Channel on notice. To my knowledge they have yet to have the disruption turrets pointed their way.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:17am

    I usually strongly disagree with Techdirt and Pirate Mike, but on behalf of all the anonymous shills like me who have been posting here on Techdirt for years now, I want to say that I found this article very insightful and I completely agree 100% with everything said in it.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: And cue...

    Remeber to use a lossless format

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:32am

    "that the old rules and old gatekeepers are meaningless."

    What is classic here is you are declaring this, based on statements made at one of the best old school gatekeeper comedy festivals in the world. There is nothing else going on here except specific gatekeeping by the people running the festival.

    You can wish them away, but they still hold almost all the money, and almost all the space, and almost all of the shows.

    Comedians aren't stupid enough to shoot themselves in the foot.

     

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  11.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    You can wish them away, but they still hold almost all the money, and almost all the space, and almost all of the shows.

    You can wish them away, but they still hold a good amount of the money, and a good amount of the space, and a good amount of the shows. FTFY

    It's slowly slipping away ;)

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:54am

    Re:

    How to put this in terms you might understand, to quote Dylan, "The times they are a-changin'."

    Some are wishing the old rules and gatekeepers away. Some aren't. But the fact of the matter is the old rules and old gatekeepers are no longer the ones who are important. Times and technology have changed enough that those who want to have a plethora of options available to them (for the time being, until they're outlawed or shut down that is by the old school) to do as they please without interference and without giving up their artistic rights to gatekeepers and middlemen.

    What is indeed classic here, is that rather than try and point out the errors in the letter written by Patton Oswalt, you go ahead and take a quick shot at only one line written by Mike. You don't even attack it with anything in the way of facts.

    How about disputing anything else that was written. Or is that too hard for you?

    The truth is if they had the power that you seem to think they have, they wouldn't need to fear change as they seem to. And as you seem to. If you're so in the right and the rest of us are wrong, why come here taking cheap shots day in and day out? That to me is something more in line with the actions of someone scared their days are numbered than someone secure in their position and what have you.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:57am

    Here's my guess. Despite claiming that there are no more gatekeepers, only enablers ("That doesn't mean that middlemen aren't necessary any more. They absolutely are. But their roles are as enablers, not gatekeepers."), Pirate Mike will continue to use the word "gatekeepers" for years and years. There's so much perceived bad will in that word that Manipulator Mike won't be able to pass up the chance to use it whilst stirring up the masses.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 11:12am

    they don't get to keep 85 cents of every dollar earned.

    Blasphemy!!! You take that back Mike. How dare the people that actually create and perform the music get to keep 15%? They owe me forever and a day for giving them the privilege of making me rich. 15%, the nerve.

     

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  15.  
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    charlie potatoes, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 11:16am

    Famed comedian Patton Oswalt

    This is the same "famed comedian" who raised holy hell that a Columbia student used "his" joke during a valdictory address? What a charmer he is.

     

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  16.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 11:24am

    Re:

    won't wonders never cease ! ! !

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    gnudist, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 11:44am

    Re:

    Based on what?

    Oh right, nothing. You're just looking for something bad to say about Mike even with nothing to go on.

    Bias, thy name is Troll AC

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 11:55am

    Re:

    One of us! One of us! One of us!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Ruben, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 12:16pm

    Re:

    Of course, you can assert this, but as we all know that doesn't make it true.

    Perhaps you'd care to back up your assertion with some factual evidence?

    Oh, right, that would require that you do actual work in confirming your assertion. Better to run away and hide under your rock.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 12:16pm

    Re:

    There's a difference between keepers and enablers: Keepers keep things, whereas enablers allow things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    techsan, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 12:21pm

    gatekeepers

    Some artists have figured out all that's left of the fence is the gate. Why should new artists use the gate if they can walk around it on their own terms?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    PRMan, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 12:34pm

    Re: And cue...

    Since the artists only get 10c on the dollar anyway, what's the difference?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    drew (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 3:01pm

    Re:

    Long may you continue to post and disagree, good discussion keeps us all on our toes and the absence of ad hominems sets you apart from a cetain other AC...

    Getting back on point briefly, there is still a vast amount of value that middlemen can add, in loads of different ways, but it takes a shift from gatekeeper to enabler.
    Fortunately lots of people are waking up to this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    drew (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    Re:

    Here's my guess, when the gatekeepers that survive change their business models to become enablers then the content of this, and many other blogs, will shift to deal with whatever other problems are affecting technology and its users.
    My other guess will be that you'll still be here bitching about Pirate Mike because I think it might actually be some kind of addiction for you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 3:44pm

    In my hand right now Iím holding more filmmaking technology than Orson Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.

    So why hasn't he made another Citizen Kane then?

    Simple. He isn't Orson Welles.

    This dwelling on the progress of hardware is a red herring.

    Gatekeepers aren't holding anyone back. Lack of talent is.

    I can go to Home Depot and buy the same tools used to make fine furniture. Does that suddenly put me in the same league? Of course not.

    It's not the tools, it's the carpenter.

    It's not the gadgets, it's the artist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:31pm

    Re:

    All true, except for this:

    Gatekeepers aren't holding anyone back. Lack of talent is.


    Gatekeepers have always held back talented artists, except for a few Chosen Ones, typically (but not always) chosen because their demographic appeal happened to be such that they could produce massive profits in the short term.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    No One, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:54pm

    I'd like to believe that Patton is right.

    But as of now, who are the Louis CKs that didn't spend years and years and years struggling through those old gates?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 4:38am

    Re:

    "So why hasn't he made another Citizen Kane then?

    Simple. He isn't Orson Welles.

    This dwelling on the progress of hardware is a red herring.

    Gatekeepers aren't holding anyone back. Lack of talent is.

    I can go to Home Depot and buy the same tools used to make fine furniture. Does that suddenly put me in the same league? Of course not.

    It's not the tools, it's the carpenter.

    It's not the gadgets, it's the artist."

    He isn't Orson Welles. But he's making a point, that technology has advanced enough for the next Orson Welles to have an easier time of things solo than with one of the gatekeepers.

    If this dwelling on progress is a red herring, why all the effort to fight and hold it off?

    Since you didn't put who you'd be in the same league of we cannot say. However, just because you can't doesn't mean someone else can't. I know a man who can do exactly that and make the same furniture you find in exceptionally pricey stores. He has the talent and ability. I also happen to have a friend who's father is quite literally a crackhead who can do the same thing. Both are insanely talented individuals when it comes to woodworking. Does it put them in the same league? As each other, yes. As a "professional"? I guess that's more subjective but I'd say yes.

    As for the "it's not the tools, it's the carpenter" bit, I find it interesting you say that. Yet, I'm all but certain that you're one of the same ACs who in other threads will blame Megaupload for this or that and websites for this or that and call for their destruction and the destruction of technology that allows for things like that to be created. Yet when people point out it's not the tools it's the wielders of them that are the problem you'll do some hand waving and go on some kind of rant about something else.

    It's a damn shame you ACs all use the same moniker. Makes it real nice and easy to say, "Nuh uh. I never said that. It must've been some other AC."

    As for "it's not the gadgets, it's the artists", bullshit. I've heard of a few bands that were AWFUL (which is purely my opinion) and who had no musical talent whatsoever (again, my opinion). Yet the "gadgets" and tools like GarageBand allowed them to do enough to become famous. Since it's super early and I haven't had my caffeine yet I can't think of the name of the one band in particular who I know this is true for, but as soon as I do I'll update with another comment.

    Sorry to say, you're just being dismissive. Again, if it's no biggie then why the need to knock Patton Oswalt or take shots at others you don't even know ("lack of talent is" "it's the carpenter" etc)? That says to myself and others quite a bit. You be afraid. And the gatekeepers be so to.

     

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  29.  
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    drew (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 10:08am

    Re:

    Comedy's not really my field but I reckon a bit of time on youtube and facebook will probably fairly quickly find you some examples of people now making their way up.
    I still maintain that there is a massive role for all kinds of middlemen and enablers, as long as they're adding value.
    What both creators and customers are becoming increasingly intolerant of is those entities that serve only to restrict the channels between the two - what Mike would call Gatekeepers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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