By Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson Moviecitynews@gmail.com

Is Crossmedia Film’s Next Wave?

At the forefront of one of the film narrative’s many reinventions is a next wave of software developers, gamers, filmmakers, writers and composers; a confluence of independent talent dedicated to creating entertainment which employs a variety of mediums and crosses all media platforms, in order to create immersive story experiences for the general public. Think Steve Jobs meets James Cameron, who meets Joe Papp, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and then Maya Deren. Together they create a multi-use, multi-purpose, story arc that can be accessed via phone, laptop, television or theater.

While Silicon Valley remains the hub of tech, crossmedia entertainment is tracking rapidly on the East Coast. The NYC Economic Development Corporation is concerned enough about crossmedia’s future business development and talent retention, that it’s teamed up with the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment to create and fund a “Media Center” which will serve as the city’s hub for pioneering media, entertainment and allied technology companies to innovate, advance and grow.

The emergence of crossmedia is hardly the death knell of film. It’s just another necessary step in the evolution of entertainment. The next generations are fully engaged in different experiences and plugged into narrative formulas that reinvent at breakneck speed. There have to be modes to meet the needs of the marketplace.

At the center of all the activity is Aina Abiodun and Mike Knowlton the respective CEO and CTO of StoryCode, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the future of crossmedia storytelling. Their CVs are heady and their rolodexes would weigh a ton were they not digitized.

Abiodun’s background spans journalism, film, advertising, branding and social networking. She’s an award winning producer/filmmaker, with an MFA in film directing from UCLA. She created the blog Film Futurist. As founder of Aina Media Inc., she conceives original political and social issue media across platforms and has recently written, directed and produced campaigns and platform extensions for diverse, high-profile clientele.

Knowlton, a digital veteran of 20 years, has a background in design, programming, advertising and filmmaking. He founded and led numerous technology companies including user-interface design firm Nascent State, interactive agency BASIK, and open-source Flash technology Frontal. He’s also led large multi-disciplinary teams in developing complex software applications for name brands. As a partner at Murmur, he consults with brands, studios and networks on using social films to broaden the reach of their existing properties.

Abiodun has been observing and writing on the meltdown in the narrative industries for the past few years. “So many sectors have been adversely affected by the economic crisis, the meteoric rise in tech and shifts in the global economy,” she says via phone. “Publishing has changed dramatically, or look at indie film. Everyone is grappling with a similar problem but no one is seriously asking ‘What does the future look like?’”

Frustrated by the lack of public conversation and seeing a need to provide space for work being created by young, tech immersed artists and professionals, Abiodun founded the NY based Transmedia meetup eighteen months ago: a monthly, public meetup for developers to incubate, produce and exhibit their product. Knowlton was an early adopter and he and Abiodun hit it off. They began to meet weekly to discuss the future of the program and over the course of a year, the meetup expanded from a few enthusiasts to over 700 active, registered members. At every monthly event, they turned away dozens for lack of space and no one seemed surprised by the rapid growth.

The meetup’s events have been hosted by a variety of advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson and EuroRSCG. Past presenters have included Mike Monello of Campfire, Lance Weiler of Pandemic 1.0, Joel McConvey of the Canadian National Parks Project and Marcel Guerra from Showtime’s DEXTER: The ARG.

Knowlton sees the boom as two-fold. “In the New York area there wasn’t anyone focusing on immersive media projects and there was a real desire for that. People wanted to get involved. Also, the city is second to Silicon Valley in having a big start up culture, so there’s an integration of tech that permeates a lot of the thinking across disciplines.”

With growth came a need for greater organizational direction. Abiodun and Knowlton responded by establishing StoryCode and its incubation model of creating mentorships and developing workshops and training programs to acquire the skills needed for crossmedia projects.

On one level, the two see StoryCode working much like the Silicon Valley’s renowned Y Combinator. They want to raise seed money to invest in four to six projects per cycle, during which time, they’d incubate the project and work intensively with their artists to build viable products. The hope is that angel investors will line up to go through StoryCode to reach the best start-ups.

Abiodun adds, “A lot of organizations are disappearing because they don’t offer what’s needed. We can be the indie side of the mainstream system: a crossmedia version of IFP or Film Independent. Regardless of the business or arts sector, these worlds need a place where they can go and develop things outside their parvenu and we’re confident curators of this type of incubator.”

Since their inception, StoryCode has developed programs and created strategic partnerships with Lincoln Center and the upcoming New York Film Festival. Lincoln Center is hosting the organization’s first Story Hackathon on April 28th and 29th. Like the hacks that have been taking place in the tech sector for the last decade, which develop ground-breaking apps, the Story Hack will bring together teams of participants from diverse backgrounds in a challenge to design a narrative from three or more media platforms. The final story hacks will be presented to a jury of well-known creatives, technologists and sponsors.

The film industry desperately needs this infusion of innovation, but the studios and their relations will most likely adjust their footing to shifting ground, express cynacism and remain excrutiatingly slow on the uptake.

Abiodun is ready for the naysayers, “Before you dismiss immersive/cross-platform story as a fad, look in your pockets and purses: anyone who uses a mobile device or tablet has already fundamentally changed their relationship to stories. Recent technologies have fundamentally altered how we experience the world, how we learn, laugh, and play and so we have no choice but to alter the way we get our stories across.”

Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson is a Los Angeles based writer whose work has appeared in the LA Times, Documentary Magazine, Dice.com, Movie City News, and more. Her stories have covered the gamut from IT and healthcare to music and culture.

One Response to “Is Crossmedia Film’s Next Wave?”

  1. I would give special mention to what SXSW is accomplishing in this respect with their rapidly evolving meta-festival. I see SXSW becoming an integrated global media brand itself in the manner of Sundance, only more so. The strength of the musical component of the festival now coupled with the film, interactive, and educational arms all set in the context of a brilliantly dynamic city like Austin is a potent synthesis. What is happening in NYC and elsewhere is interesting, but I think SXSW has lately stolen a march with the bold moves made there towards integration.

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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