Panel moderator Liz Rosenthal, of digital media group Power to the Pixel, opened Independent Film Week's "Transmedia is for the People" discussion by lamenting declines in the time and money that audiences have to devote to media, even as the quantity and variety of content and channels grow. Today's viewers, she said, are fragmented across platforms, where they expect to follow the stories they consume and have those stories follow them. Audiences have also evolved from passive absorbers to active collaborators who anticipate personalized experiences from their entertainment. Seeking to bridge the gap between an errant viewership and filmmakers stuck in traditional creative models, Rosenthal turned the conversation over to a three-man panel.
The hour-long chat between Adnann Wasey, digital director of of POV docs; Eric Brown of production company Kornhaber Brown; and Steve Coulson, creative director at Campfire, highlighted a number of key ideas about building and keeping audience allegiance.
1) Start with story. Rather than clinging to a format-driven model of creativity, try to be "platform agnostic." Consider what medium–film, television, webisode, etc.–will most effectively convey your story and go with it.
2) Invite viewers to immerse themselves in the world of your movie or television show. Coulson, who has worked with HBO and Cinemax on interactive prequel campaigns for franchises like "Game of Thrones" and "Hunted," told filmmakers that they ought to be stirring interest in advance of release. Extending a "story world" beyond the limits of the screen–think of those "True Blood" posters that seemed to advertise an actual faux blood beverage–can help to connect with and energize audiences.
3) Think about how to bring your story world to life in such a way that it can interact with the world outside the story. Coulson's work on "Hunted" has incorporated direct mailings to journalists; a fully interactive corporate web site for the show's fictional firm Byzantium Security International; and politically incendiary advertisements for Byzantium–which drew flak from more than a few gullible members of the Occupy Wall Street set.
4) Change your thinking about your content and your mission. For better or worse, the era of passive, complacent audiences is largely past. Brown encouraged creators to design content based around research that indicates what viewers want, and to build modules for audience feedback into their products. "You are creating for people that you must care about, or else they will not care about you," he emphasized.
5) Cross-media pollination is relevant in the world of non-fiction filmmaking, too. According to Wasey, documentarians chronicling the search for the Higgs Boson particle, for example, should be finding ways to interact with and elicit interest from the physics community outside the film. Wasey suggested using Twitter, status updates, news bulletins and animation as possible ways of breaking out of traditional modes of documentary production and distribution.