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March 25 2011


SXSW Showcases Rise of Multiplatform Storytelling and Collaborative Filmmaking

South By Southwest (SXSW) is an annual gathering of interactive, film and music creatives, executives and marketers in Austin. It is the ideal setting to explore multiplatform storytelling, multiscreen experiences and projects that reflect the talents of the collective. After several days of knowledge-filled panels and hyper-networking featuring digital thought-leaders, there were a few notable trends that made an imprint once the conference's closing credits hit the screen.

The Two-Screen Experience

The two-screen, or so-called companion viewing experience, was recently implemented at the Academy Awards via the Oscars All Access app, which gave viewers multiple camera angles within a paid app. While laptops, smartphones and tablets are all capable of the two-screen implementation -- basically, using a device while watching additional programing -- the ideal form factor is the tablet due to its screen size and ease of interaction. The rapid emergence of tablets such as the iPad have opened up a new opportunity for studios and networks wishing to amp up DVD sales and TV ratings.

SXSW featured the "TRON: Legacy" Lounge, which allowed visitors to experience Disney's Second Screen -- a parallel universe of interactive features on an iPad in sync with the Blu-ray version of the movie (available April 5). The additional content on display included filmmaker annotations, image sliders, progression reels to show effects in a scene and more ways to immerse yourself in the movie's Grid. Learn more about it in this video:

A separate SXSW panel titled "TV + New Media = Formula for Success" featured executives from USA Network highlighted Psych Vision, a two-screen experience to promote the TV show "Psych." The app enabled viewers to check into the show, unlock exclusive video content, earn points and redeem them for show merchandise.

Telling stories in multimedia

Transmedia, or telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, is in chapter one of its journey to mass adoption. But it has quickly moved from experimental buzzword to a powerful new storytelling genre.

There were several panels focused on transmedia at SXSW, including: "Can Transmedia Save the Entertainment Industry?," "Transmedia Storytelling: Constructing Compelling Characters and Narrative Threads," and "Next Stage: Transmedia: An Interactive Exploration of the History and Future of Production in a Transmedia World."

I attended the "Unexpected Non-Fiction Storytelling" panel, which featured many creative interactive projects, including "Collapsus," this year's SXSW Interactive Award winner in the Film/TV category.

"Collapsus" is a great example of the promise of transmedia. This eco-thriller from director Tommy Pallotta (producer of "A Scanner Darkly") was developed by SubmarineChannel and is based on the documentary "Energy Transition" from Dutch broadcaster VPRO. It is a mix of animation, interactive maps and documentary, presented in three panels and requiring viewers to make informed decisions about energy production:

Collapsus Walkthrough from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo

While a worldwide tour with PowerPoint slides may have been effective in driving awareness on global warming, "Collapsus" presents a compelling new media approach to addressing planetary issues.

The National Film Board of Canada showed several interactive projects, including "Test Tube." It deals with another global crisis -- the exponential growth of the human population (represented by bacteria) within a finite planet of resources (symbolized by the test tube). The site asks visitors what they would do with an extra minute, then environmentalist David Suzuki makes a compelling case on why we're in the final minute of existence. The concept is thought-provoking and the innovation is evident in the various tweets that are dynamically pulled into the site based on your "extra minute" entry.

Out of more than 67,000 entries, the most popular response to the minute question is "sleep" followed by "eat." (Disclosure: I entered "make coffee" for my final minute, which may not have been the best answer to save the world/test tube.)

Crowdsourcing and Collaboration

Star Wars Uncut "The Escape" from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

SXSW also featured award-winning crowdsourced projects and the premiere of one of the most anticipated crowdsourced video initiatives. Creators of the Emmy-winning "Star Wars Uncut" film, which is featured above, discussed how "the Force" of the crowd helped re-imagine one of the most beloved films in the galaxy. More than 1,200 contributors from 100 countries helped build the final film, elevating scenes into the film based on popularity or likes.

Annelise Pruitt, one of the project designers, called it "the largest user-directed movie" in history. She attributed its dynamic playback capability as the main reason that "Star Wars Uncut" won the 2010 Emmy for interactive media.

Another contemporary classic in the brief history of crowdsourcing is The Johnny Cash Project, a music video for "Ain't No Grave" composed of 1,370 frames built from art submissions worldwide. And there ain't no stopping the success of that project as it received another prize at SXSW, the Interactive Award in the Art category.

The YouTube project "Life in a Day," produced by Ridley Scott (Oscar-winning director of 2000's Best Picture "Gladiator," as well as "Alien" and "Gladiator"), also relied on the submissions of the collective. The project received more than 80,000 video submissions from people in 140 countries who wanted to share their personally documented story on July 24, 2010. The film made its premiere at Sundance earlier this year and was screened at SXSW last week. National Geographic Films picked up rights to the movie and will distribute it in theaters this summer.

JuntoBox Films.png

For filmmakers looking to develop and distribute full-length features rather than a slice of a larger project, JuntoBox Films is a new collaborative film studio that merges social media with traditional film production. They plan to finance five films in 2011 with a budget range of $200,000 to $5 million each. Filmmakers are encouraged to "get junto'd" after creating a profile on the site and having their project rated by their peers in order to be considered for the film assessment phase.

"Junto" means together in Spanish. The interactive storytelling, the two-screen experiences and the collaborative initiatives showcased at SXSW reveal that projects built together and experiences shared together are worthy of the highest rewards.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and Web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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September 22 2010


How to Build a Website: One Piece at a Time

The likelihood that an online video editing site, a 21st century technological innovation if ever there were one, would draw inspiration from a 34-year-old Johnny Cash song about a broken-down, piece of junk Cadillac is, admittedly, a tad anachronistic.

But as my partner, Nonny de la Peña, and I roll up our sleeves, crawl back under the hood and start fine-tuning Stroome, one of this year's Knight News Challenge winners, it seems we've found our muse in the most unlikely of places.

"One Piece at a Time"

Released in 1976, the Johnny Cash song "One Piece at a Time" tells the tale of a Detroit auto worker who watches wistfully day in and day out as one shiny Cadillac after another roll past him and out the door. Realizing he'll never be able to afford one himself, the resourceful auto worker recruits a co-conspirator and together they devise a rather envious plan: Create their own by stealing the parts, one piece at a time.

Unfortunately, after assembling all the pieces (the smaller ones are snuck out in the worker's lunch box; the larger ones in a mobile home), the men quickly realize the car is a little more than they bargained for -- literally. The transmission is a '53. The engine is a '73. As for the headlights -- there's two on the left, and one on the right.


Can you imagine if websites were designed this way? Don't laugh. As it turns out, many are.

Take the best feature from this site; take the best feature from that site. Why censor yourself? Why limit your developer? Build it one piece at a time. Let the user decide what pieces she wants.

But there are dangers in letting functionality drive your build, rather than designing the site as a whole. Sure, you've got all the bells and whistles. But what good does it do if you can't figure out how to turn it on?

And so, with the words of that disillusioned Detroit auto worker ringing in our ears, three simple guidelines come to mind as Nonny and I ponder the next iteration of Stroome:

Three Rules to Build By

1. Don't build for yourself.
Sounds contradictory, I know. It's your site, after all. You know what you want better than anyone, right? Wrong. Unless you're the only one who's going to be using the site (and if anyone can figure out how that business model works, let me know), you need to take yourself out of the equation. You may know your demographic better than anyone else; you may know the competitive landscape better than anyone else; you may even be the world's pre-eminent expert in the field. But chances are you are not a web designer. So do your due diligence, then do yourself a favor: Get out of the way and let the guy you hired to build your site actually do his job.

2. Don't give your users everything they ask for.
Admittedly, consumer input is invaluable. But so, too, is consensus. So rather than kowtow to your customers' every whim and fancy, take copious notes. If you find you're writing down the same thing over and over, only then should you consider adding it as a feature. Otherwise, write it off as a distraction.

3. Don't try to be different; be distinctive.
Creating a batch of features just because no one else has them isn't always a good idea. There's a difference between being "different" and being "distinctive." You want to be distinctive. And the best way to distinguish yourself from your competitors isn't necessarily building a better mousetrap; it's solving a pain in the marketplace no one else has solved. Or better yet, that no one else has anticipated.

Looking back on it, when Nonny and I sat down to build the first iteration of Stroome last September, we did a lot of things right. But we had our fair share of detours, too. Enamored with what we could do, we probably did too much. Enthralled with all the options available to us, we probably opted for too many.

And while the current version of Stroome hardly resembles what Johnny Cash jocularly refers to in his rockabilly cult classic as a "Psycho-Billy Cadillac," it's not without a few misplaced headlights, either.

Of course, we have a plan to get rid of those. And we'll do it one piece at a time.

Want to hear the song that inspired this post? Click below:

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