It's overwhelming for me to think about cross-platform storytelling and all it may entail. When I get busy with an editing job it tends to be all encompassing. My site, my blog, and the rest of my life gets put on hold until the project is finished and then I come up for air. If I was a producer/director who had a vehicle to market and build momentum for, putting things on hold while I was making my film wouldn't be acceptable. Technology requires storytellers to engage and exchange with their audience more than ever before, and they must do this throughout the filmmaking process and through multiple venues. They have to start early to foster relationships with what will hopefully become a large and interested fan base, while also not inundating that audience with so much material that they won't care about seeing the finished product by the time it's completed. Sounds like a tricky path to maneuver. Last night's NYWIFT's Next Generation Docs: Social Media and Cross Platform Storytelling panel presentation said that digital technology is changing documentary storytelling. The event's focus was on docs with digital offspring and social strategy.
The evening was moderated by Ingrid Kopp of Shooting People (US) and panelists included filmmaker Doug Block (and founder of the D-Word), Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Brandon Litman, a Co-founder of One Day on Earth and Filmmaker Barbara Rick (her film "Envy, the documentary" pictured here) of Out of The Blue Films.
All speakers talked about some form of online community building, whether the community input was literally footage for the actual main product/story, as in One Day on Earth or whether it was additional content to gain and keep interest in the subject matter of a film, as in Envy, the documentary. Each panelist talked about not only how it is essential in building an audience today, but also that in creating additional content, whether it be blogs, interactive online games or contribution oriented efforts, these exercises can sometimes organically steer a project's outcome.
Doug Block used the example of his film, Home Page. An early experimenter with blogging (in the 90's they called it a Home Page - I remember), Mr. Block blogged about filmmaking and as he did, his posts began to get more personal and with that, he audience grew and in turn his filmmaking became more personal. Or at least that's what my read is on his comment. Mr. Block effectively used social media before the term was part of our regular vernacular. Mr. Litman said essentially that early plans for One Day on Earth changed as their online community contributed to it and grew.
There were some amazing examples of online interactive storytelling that was both overwhelming for me as well as inspiring. Ms. Kopp showed websites examples like 18 Days in Egypt, Out My Window and of course, One Day on Earth. Out My Window is one I hadn't heard of and I found it particularly inspiring.
For projects on a less global scale, speakers suggested simple content additions to projects that keep fans returning for more. Suggestions ranged from posting interview clips of subjects that may not be used in the final film or articles that aren't about your subjects but are directly related to your topic or theme.
A more involved but inventive idea came from Barbara Rick who offered a chance to win an Amazon Kindle by uploading poems, watercolors and other forms of artwork onto their site that reflected an aspect of the emotion 'envy', the theme of her current documentary.
Partnerships were brought up as well and that seems to be key, but speaking from my experience this is tricky. For instance, snagging a partnership with a large organization can be challenging. Mr. Litman admitted to many many meetings with the United Nations before reaching a partnering agreement that was huge for their project, One Day on Earth. Barbara Rick mentioned a documentary of hers, Girls of Daraja, that got attention from The Girl Effect, which in turn led to an article about activism and film in the Huffington Post.
Ms. Kopp made a good point about the theme of the evening, that the industry is having to rethink what a filmmaking team looks like now. That being said however, probably the most important yet simple nugget I got from this discussion came from Caitlin Burns when she said that all your offsprings that you're creating to build and keep momentum for your product must support the reason your making the story. I wouldn't be surprised if one could get so caught up in generating content that it's easy to lose sight of the purpose of generating it in the first place. I know when I'm editing I can get caught up in creating a scene and sometimes end up in a direction that is completely off my objective. I have to always keep the goal of the scene and of the entire film in mind or I can get lost in the detail. A person has to be mindful of the core story all the time, or they're just generating content for the sake of generating content. Where was I...