There is still a level of uncertainty in regard to new media, but it seems more related to understanding the term, than anything else. One point many agree on, however, is that it's only going to continue to grow, and for media makers this means opportunity. For independent artists, it opens up possibilities at a time when theatrical venues for the non-blockbuster (and even for mainstream films in some cases) are shrinking. This past Wednesday night Women Make Movies, a nonprofit feminist media arts organization, hosted From Idea to Implementation: Multi-platform Storytelling with Theresa Loong. The workshop, led by Loong (multi-media artist, founder of FORM360), explored examples of successful new media stories in both documentary and fiction, as well as new online platforms and resources.
The evening began with Loong asking her audience to introduce themselves and offer a brief description as to what brought them to the workshop. Most were there as documentary filmmakers and a few were in stages of a new media project. Some were just there to learn more about the subject. As one audience member said, ad agencies have been doing this for years. Independent filmmakers have caught on to the potential of multi-platform storytelling more recently.
Loong talked about how she approaches her projects. She collects artifacts, such as music, photos, diaries, finds the setting and the place, and then starts asking questions. She begins with a basic story idea and then looks at the cultural context. Henry Jenkins was brought up several times. Loong quotes him as saying that each medium makes its own unique contribution to the story. This felt like an important point. New media is not just an added venue for the same story put up on a theater screen or watch from Apple TV, but it offers specific ways to consume and interact with stories that are different than passive watching. It's smart to consider how each story might lend itself to these different arenas, such as whether the audience member will be their own character within the story, or what additional information would be interesting via Easter eggs.
A lot of time was spent on exploring examples. One was Walking Cinema, an interactive app available for purchase on iTunes that walks the user through a historical murder mystery. The participant interacts through by making choices on the information to explore, but also has the opportunity to physically go to some of the locations in Boston that had to do with the murder and/or characters within the story. This project received funding from National Endowment for the Humanities.
Feed Me a Story is Loong's own project which works with youth and seniors to create a cross-generational experience through recipe sharing. The project invites site visitors to share their own family recipes and sense memories around food.
All these examples are impressive but how do the creators monetize their project and make a living? This question came up and Loong admitted that the jury is still out. A workshop goer shared that eventizing one's content is the way to bring in revenue, for instance, teaching or special events with partner organizations. The content itself may not generate monies, but how you communicate it can. Loong agreed and practices this in her work. My own outreach experience through the nonprofit world and documentary has taught me this as well, but building those partnerships and creating awareness around events is a full-time job. You also have to be patient. Building relationships can't happen overnight and it's done creatively as well. A collaboration has to be appealing for both parties and targeting the right partners is critical.
Resources were mentioned, for funding, support and services. A few of these are, Tribeca Film Institute, which offers a new media grant (submissions now open). Their festival brings (albeit kind of pricey, the program does look pretty amazing) Innovation Week, April 21-26. Storycode, a community of cross-platform storytellers, conducts events and meet ups across the globe, Upcoming happenings in New York City include Inside David Cronenberg's Head with Lance Weiler on April 15th and Immigrant Nation and NannyVan Launch Party on April 24th. Rather than starting from scratch, there are existing online platform structures available too. Loong brought up Racontr, an interactive storytelling software. Beta sign up is available now. I explored the site a bit and thought their project examples impressive. There are other software platforms that have put their hat in the ring, but in my opinion they vary widely in terms of quality and usability for professional media makers.
Around the second half of the workshop, Loong took everyone through the practical process of preparing a proposal for these types of projects. Presenting to an investor or applying for a grant is not just about showing meaty scenes or an emotional extended trailer to accompany your written treatment and budget. One should be able to show and tell what the user experience will be, whether it's an immersive interactive documentary, such as Hollow, or a historical mystery app, like Walking Cinema. She encouraged creators to remember the four "D's" when thinking about a project. They are, 1). Discover (refine the idea) 2. Design (think about the interaction as well as the idea) 3. Development and 4. Deployment (think about rolling out in phases, especially for bigger projects). Mock-ups are important. Sketch it by hand if needed, but have a professional make it look, well... professional. Wireframes which show how the user will navigate the site, or the app, is essential too. Set up all aspects of the stage properly and research the kind of support needed for the platform. Staffing may include Producer, Director, Developer, Interactive Designer, Visual Developer, Advisors and others.
Overwhelmed yet? It's easy to be because even though commonalities exist between a traditional movie watching and multi-platform experience, such as story and quality, there is a lot to think about, plan for and implement. Just like any project, however, it's about one step at a time, while keeping in mind the end goal. New media and multi-platform storytelling are here to stay. There are a million ways to tell a story, and there are also a million ways to experience and interact with them.
Check out Women Make Movies' next workshop - a masterclass with filmmaker, Dawn Porter, Monday, April 14, 2014.