"If you are using the word 'transmedia,' you have wasted a lot of dollars on business card printing," Elan Lee, chief of design at Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios, said in his keynote speech at "Power to the Pixel," now in its seventh year at the BFI London Film Festival.
Storytelling is evolving so quickly, Lee suggested, that we don't yet have a decent way of describing its newest forms. It's not just a matter of semantics (or as Lee puts it, being able to explain to your parents what it is you do for a living). He made the point that most of us are still trying to define the future by referring to pre-existing formats (such as TV or film), which inherently limits the imagination.
For most indie filmmakers, however, evolution is a big concept to contemplate when you are looking for a way to finance your next project. In Europe, public film subsidies offer a compelling reason to stay in the comfort zone of cinema, and few incentives to become a pioneer.
One of the big attractions of "Power to the Pixel" is its celebration of the daring exploration of new media territories, which really don’t need to be shackled to a clunky name or some ideological movement. What it champions is a world of creative people and ideas passionate about exploring new ways of connecting with audiences. And its annual market and pitching sessions show that there is plenty of innovative work, the best of which is driven by a passion for social change as well as a storytelling instinct. The opening forum speakers offered some clear advice for those wishing to explore new ground.
Here are 3 Lessons for storytellers:
1. Think People. Not Technology.
Nearly every speaker, in one form or other, warned against creative thinking that starts with buttons and screens instead of people and ideas. Or as Ingrid Kopp, Director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute puts it: "We think we are at the mercy of algorithms but we forget that those algorithms were created by people."
If this new world of storytelling has a distinctive position in relation to the old media forms, then it is surely in having a direct and interactive relationship with human beings Paula Zuccotti, founding director of design consultancy The Overworld, made a compelling case for audience-centred thinking in the way that audiovisual media work today. A decade or so ago, she suggests, we all lived in a lean back culture where what we owned and collected was an expression of identity. Some of that was subsumed into a culture of easy access and shared content. But that desire for identity and personal expression has in some ways reasserted itself.
We might have access to vast libraries through services, such as Spotify and Flickr, but increasingly what we want to do is curate and modify content to tell our own story. What has changed is not that humanity lost interest in personal identity but that society is losing interest in ownership as the means of asserting it. That might mean opportunities for filmmakers and storytellers. The idea of allowing audiences to "deconstruct and reconstruct" content to create a fresh perspective has not yet really been explored.
2. Invent Something New.
Post-ownership audience patterns are emerging much faster than post-ownership business models. How do you get paid for creating emotional engagement rather than just selling stuff? Wayne Fletcher, Global Chief Strategy Officer with advertising company Naked Communications Worldwide (with a PhD in Applied Social Psychology), suggested that advertising has made some big strides on that front. Rather than being in the business of collecting eyeballs, advertising has moved more to the head and heart. Stories, he suggested, are now integral and generate big bucks, citing the "Real Beauty" Dove campaign that played with the idea of inner beauty (56 million YouTube hits).
But he warned creative storytellers: "We don't need you." There are new rules for making people believe in a brand and advertising, he suggests, is now full of smart people tuned in to these new consumer realities. What it is always short of is that lateral thinking and sense of perspective that can come from those whose work is dedicated to telling stories that connect. If you want to make money with advertising, or perhaps just follow the lead of the advertising model, the trick is to get yourself "an abundance of curiosity." Never mind what you call it, come up with something that changes our way of seeing.
3. Remember that Genius is 99% Collaboration.
If there is one theme that overrides all
others, it is that collaboration has to become a state of mind and a fact of
life for anyone serious about working with the grain of the emerging on-demand,
That does not come easy in a European film
culture built on auteur theory, of individual creative vision. On a more prosaic level, speakers warned
that filmmakers and storytellers need to acquire the normally scarce
understanding of other areas of creative work that might bring their projects
to life, such as software developers. But the true collaboration is with
audiences, according to storytellers and filmmakers, such as Lance Weiler. It
is about working with, not for, audiences.