This piece comes from an article by Richard Florida. There is a political tone to the article but it is important to think about how our political environment impacts our ability to innovate. The following story about Peter Jackson's film studio in New Zealand is just one example of the shift happening in the world. Richard Florida is the Heinz professor of economic development at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of The Rise of the Creative Class.
From Richard Florida:
Last March, I had the opportunity to meet Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at his film complex in lush, green, otherworldly-looking Wellington, New Zealand. Jackson has done something unlikely in Wellington, an exciting, cosmopolitan city of 900,000, but not one previously considered a world cultural capital. He has built a permanent facility there, perhaps the world's most sophisticated filmmaking complex. He did it in New Zealand concertedly and by design. Jackson, a Wellington native, realized what many American cities discovered during the '90s: Paradigm-busting creative industries could single-handedly change the ways cities flourish and drive dynamic, widespread economic change. It took Jackson and his partners a while to raise the resources, but they purchased an abandoned paint factory that, in a singular example of adaptive reuse, emerged as the studio responsible for the most breathtaking trilogy of films ever made. He realized, he told me, that with the allure of the Rings trilogy, he could attract a diversely creative array of talent from all over the world to New Zealand; the best cinematographers, costume designers, sound technicians, computer graphic artists, model builders, editors, and animators.
For a great insight about why Peter Jackson has succeeded, keep reading.
When I visited, I met dozens of Americans from places like Berkeley and MIT working alongside talented filmmakers from Europe and Asia, the Americans asserting that they were ready to relinquish their citizenship. Many had begun the process of establishing residency in New Zealand.
Think about this. In the industry most symbolic of America's international economic and cultural might, film, the greatest single project in recent cinematic history was internationally funded and crafted by the best filmmakers from around the world, but not in Hollywood. When Hollywood produces movies of this magnitude, it creates jobs for directors, actors, and key grips in California. Because of the astounding level of technical innovation which a project of this size requires, in such areas as computer graphics, sound design, and animation, it can also germinate whole new companies and even new industries nationwide, just as George Lucas's Star Wars films fed the development of everything from video games to product tie-in marketing. But the lion's share of benefits from The Lord of the Rings is likely to accrue not to the United States but to New Zealand. Next, with a rather devastating symbolism, Jackson will remake King Kong in Wellington, with a budget running upwards of $150 million.
For all of you trying to figure out what your customers want: In an in-depth article about Jackson and his past film, Costa Botes hands us Jackson's secret on a slender platter:
"So what's his secret?
I said I couldn't tell, but actually I can. Because it's no secret. Peter talks about it all the time, but nobody seems to be listening.
He makes movies for himself. Or, more correctly, he makes the movie he himself would like to see.
The smart movie executives in Hollywood, the guys with the Harvard degrees where their hearts are, and calculators for brains, they make movies that, "the audience want to see". How do they know what the audience want to see? Well, they count up box office receipts.
So what they ought to be saying is this, "we make the movies that audiences wanted to see last year". Which is fine, except, audiences don't really want to see again what they saw last year, do they? They've already seen it.
If one can say anything that's categorically true about what audiences want, it is this. What they're after is something fresh, something new, something unexpected. No form of marketing analysis can predict that. Even if it could, that would make it predictable. And nobody likes predictable movies.
Now listen to what Jackson is saying again:
He makes the kind of movie he himself would like to see.
What does this really mean? Well, in practice, it means that when he's writing, he's finding bits and pieces, ideas large and small that are surprising. This sequence surprised him, this bit gave him a thrill, this bit over there moved him to tears. And all those scenes did that to a guy who has seen thousands of movies. He's seen it all, yet that script has got him excited enough to spend two, three, or more years of his life making it into a film.
Okay, so lots of us get passionate about what we do. But does the passion of the filmmaker guarantee any kind of satisfaction for the audience? Well, only a track record can tell you that. Jackson's track record speaks for itself. If something excites him, you'd better believe it's going to rock your world."