Traverse City Film Tech Unconference

[Although this post discusses the topic of “film tech,” it might be more accurate to use the term filmmaking technology. However, until I’m more knowledgeable about common terminology in this industry sector, I’ll use film tech because it may be just as correct…and it’s shorter.]

Background: TC Film Tech Unconference

Yesterday, as the result of an email conversation in response to me linking a few people to the “Northwest Filmmakers’ Un-conference 2015,” a serious look is being taken at organizing a film tech unconference in Traverse City, Michigan.

Traverse City, both bays

Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay and Traverse City, Michigan

In the past couple years, the Traverse City (TC) region has seen people put energy and time into connecting and supporting the tech community in that area. Examples include the geek breakfast at Bubba’s, the Venture Up North website promoting tech opportunities in the area, the push for gigabit fiber internet access in TC and, most recently, the TC New Tech group. (I don’t live in northwest lower Michigan, and there may be other equally important tech community activities I didn’t mention because I’m not aware of them — apologies to people working on other tech community initiatives…)

The reasons I linked the TC people yesterday to the 2015 filmmakers unconference are:

  1. TCFFIt makes sense for an area to leverage unique or semi-unique resources when putting time and energy into innovation, entrepreneurism and regional economic development. The Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) is a successful annual event and a semi-unique resource for the TC area. It’s a logical resource to use as the starting point for developing a high-impact niche technology community.
  2. The TCFF is a participant-driven, volunteer-focused festival, so having an unconference related to the film industry seemed like a natural extension of what the community has already created and is continually improving.
  3. I’ve had discussions with TC people about ways to build the region’s tech community and focusing on film technology seems like a perfect opportunity. There have no doubt been aspects of TCFF which involved film tech. But I’m not aware of an intentional effort to “develop” a TC region film tech community. Due to TC’s geographical location, low population, lack of a major 4-year university, and absence of a full-spectrum filmmaking ecosystem, the area is unlikely be recognized by the industry as a top film tech region, but it can develop niche areas of film tech expertise which could keep homegrown film tech talent in TC and attract new tech talent to the area.

Film Tech Online Research

film technologyAfter interest was expressed in seriously considering a TC film tech unconference, I had to do initial research on film tech. I know unconferences and regional tech communities, but I don’t know film tech. A Google search was the starting point, followed quickly by reading the Wikipedia entry for “History of film technology.” Unfortunately, that entry doesn’t really address film tech recent developments, state of the art or emerging technologies. It also wasn’t obvious to me that any other Wikipedia entries gave a good overview of those three aspects of film tech. Next stops were a bunch of Google hits for university film tech departments and recent articles about film tech pointed at by Google News.

The universities with filmmaking departments I plan to initially look at are USC, UC Santa Cruz, Chapman University, Pratt Institute and Michigan State University. Michigan State wasn’t listed on the website which showed the first four schools listed above, but my main TC contact for the film tech unconference said Michigan State has been involved in the film school section of the TCFF.

My film tech research over the next week or two isn’t intended or expected to make me highly knowledgeable on the topic or able to effectively organize a film tech unconference without the help of people actually involved in that field. The research will enable me to help develop a film tech unconference proposal, ask the right questions about such an unconference, (mostly) understand the answers to my questions, and help make me an effective events wrangler for assisting on a TC film tech event.

Next Steps Toward TC Film Tech Unconference

Traverse City region, Google maps Mar 2016

Traverse City region in the Northwest section of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula

At this point, the TC film tech unconference is just a vague concept, a conversation, and a desire to intentionally expand and strengthen the TC region’s tech community. The next steps to move the idea forward appear to be:


  1. More film tech research by me and organization of relevant info in a Google Doc I created yesterday.
  2. Initial unconference groundwork by my TC contact.
  3. Development of a film tech unconference proposal.
  4. Conversations with TCFF people about the value of discussing the unconference at a meeting of TC area people.

The keys to a successful start of organizing a TC film tech unconference are:

  1. Confirming there’s perceived significant local value in the unconference (and that current TCFF activities and plans don’t already do everything that an unconference would).
  2. Identifying and getting commitment from one or several influential TC champions for a film tech unconference.
  3. Connecting an effective core team of unconference organizers.

Whether or not this TC unconference happens, it will be fun and challenging to develop an effective proposal for a totally new event that could have significant long term impact. If the unconference or its direct descendant is still going strong ten years from now, if film tech businesses have been established in TC, or if film tech people have moved to TC to live and work due in part to the unconference, it will be pretty cool to look back at yesterday’s conversation as the start of something worthwhile!

What can you launch a conversation about today or tomorrow to connect, expand or strengthen the tech community in your region?


Here are recent articles which mention emerging filmmaking technologies:

The Untold Story of Magic Leap, the World’s Most Secretive Startup
DJI’s Matrice 600 hexacopter is the go-to drone for Hollywood cinematographers
The Jungle Book Points Toward a CGI Future
Filmmaker Matthew Cherry Leverages Mobile Filmmaking in ’9 Rides’


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