Imagine if Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles brothers, or Errol Morris started making films in the twenty-first century. Would their documentaries need an interactive component: an iPad app, separate from the iPhone app, which links to the Facebook page? Imagine "Titticut Follies" as a role-playing game. Okay, don't. Those filmmakers are, in fact, making films now that exist on their own, with little transmedia flair. But interactive guru Ingrid Kopp says that documentary filmmakers are being expected to develop all kinds of kooky ideas to make their projects relevant in the Facebook era.
But filmmakers need to be careful. "In some ways, I'm encouraging filmmakers to think about storytelling across platforms," Kopp said. " I hear a lot of people pitch me projects, I don't see them downloading the app, going to the website, filmmakers need to think really hard. Yes, we need to be in the digital space, but you need to be careful about it. Sometimes all you need is a really great website, mailing list, embeddable video — in some ways that's taken for granted. It can be expensive, time consuming, people won't play it."
Kopp, the editor-in-chief of filmmaker networking organization Shooting People, recently became the Tribeca Film Institute's new media consultant. As part of this year's Tribeca Film Festival, she put together a full day of programming around interactive media for film and digital media professionals with four themes: funding, gaming, interactive journalism, and education.
Kopp described herself as having one foot in each of two canoes — one in film, one in interactive media — both heading in different directions. She sees her job as being a conduit between independent, specifically documentary, filmmakers and the interactive world. "From where I'm standing, I come from a linear documentary background. Despite all the issues in that space, conventional documentaries aren't broken. So we need to think about what digital media and interactive platforms can add to storytelling.
"We have limited models for this kind of stuff. There's the branding transmedia franchise model and there's quick and dirty, hacked together website stuff. I think it is often counterintuitive to filmmakers. Thinking about this kind of stuff doesn't feel like it's part of the filmmaking craft. Stories can exist in all sorts of spaces. The indepedent film community needs to rethink how we think of ourselves as an industry."
As for alternative models that people have already done, Kopp showed off the Canadian Bear 71 project at Tribeca's Interactive Day. There are also a number of organizations that host hackathons in which filmmakers are paired with coders. The Mozilla Foundation has teamed up with a group of film organizations to launch the Living Docs project, MIT has started an Open Doc Lab, and organizations like StoryCode are providing opportunities for networking in this field.
But Kopp is convinced that filmmakers and coders aren't sure quite how to talk to each other yet, and she sees it as her responsibility to set parameters for more productive collaborations. Key for her is user-centered design, thinking about what the user wants to and needs to do to become engaged with a project.
"The music videos (like "The Wilderness Downtown") are great, because people know what they're getting into. People know that "Bear 71" is a twenty-minute film from the beginning.
"It was revolutionary when we began to shift from thinking to people as the audience to the 'people formerly known as the audience.' But we need to think about what these people want. Sure, we could think about having someone sit in a theater for 70 minutes to watch our film or spend 52 minutes watching it on TV. But people, in their everyday life, are checking their phones when they wake up in the morning, going to their iPad for something, spending lots of time on social media. Designing for user experience design is something I'm thinking a lot more about. For instance, Vimeo just changed their interface. Starting with a full-screen video makes a difference.
"We didn't used to think about. We knew a film was going to a theater or going on television. There are other things we can do."