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Immersive Media - Stop Talking, Start Creating

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

by Mike Knowlton

One of the biggest challenges facing cross-platform storytellers today is that most projects of significant note are often conceived as a side product of something more "important”. For example: a traditional movie is completed so the studio then creates a transmedia extension to help market the primary platform.

Original transmedia projects, conceived as truly cross-platform narratives from the start, are still fairly underground and haven’t yet reached mass market appeal. I am an immersive media creator myself and I know first-hand how difficult it is to conceive, fund, produce and build an audience for an original cross-platform project.

Another challenge in our industry is the preponderance of talk. It seems that every conference features the same five transmedia case studies. The challenge is really creating, not just talking about it. For immersive storytelling to take place in the mainstream, it needs to be created deliberately.

To respond to these challenges, my partner at StoryCode and I decided to borrow something that works well in the tech space: the hackathon. A hackathon is an event where a group of programmers collaborate, over a specific period of time, to create new types of software and technology. The mindset is DIY and open-source.

Tech hackathons have become a big deal. TechCrunch Disrupt is one of the most well known events, and it attracts talented developers, press, venture capitalists, and new technology companies who open their technology up to participants.

Unfortunately the "hack" culture doesn't really exist in the entertainment space. Creation and ideation are often a much more closed process. We believe a powerful disruption can occur by introducing tech methodologies like hackathons, open-source frameworks, and agile/iterative development into entertainment. Think of it as "transmedia on a budget.”

To this end we created the first-ever "Story Hackathon,” a merging of storytelling and hacking. The event, called "Story Hack:Beta,” was held over the weekend of April 28th/29th 2012 at the Film Society Lincoln Center. Participants entered as teams of four; a typical team might include a filmmaker, producer, developer and dramatist.

Story Hackers in Action

Teams were challenged with designing a cohesive narrative spanning three or more media platforms. They had to create and execute one platform over the course of the 36-hour event. They could use video, mobile, social media, live performance, web-based and/or gaming (console or live) to tell their story. The common theme for all story hacks was "courage.”

We delivered a set of requirements to the teams one week before the event was held. Each hack had to integrate at least one of the technology sponsors, Kaltura, Logicworks, SocialSamba and Twilio. Finally, all the teams had to incorporate a dress as a prop from brand sponsor, Free People, in their hack. We also threw the teams a wild card on Saturday morning: integrating the Emily Dickinson quote, "Fortune befriends the bold” into their story hack.

The resulting weekend of story hacking was a truly amazing experience for everyone involved. "I think the best thing to come out of an event like this is meeting new collaborators and fostering a community,” said filmmaker and Broadcastr Director of Platform Engineering Mark Harris, who served as a mentor. "Becoming part of this community, and discussing everything from storytelling, to technology, to magic, has been instrumental in helping me determine my own course, in helping me identify exactly how the various activities I do—technology and filmmaking—come together.”

All hacks were presented at a Demo Day event on Sunday. A video of the Demo Day event can be viewed here.

Judges included PGA Members Blaine Graboyes and Craig Singer, as well as other established entertainment industry leaders. A cash prize of $1,000 was awarded to one winning team. However the teams didn’t participate for the potential of winning a prize, but took part because in many instances, this was the first time they had the opportunity to actually create a cross-platform story.

Story Hack: Beta winners, Team Cupcakes and Rainbows

Quite possibly the most inspiring outcome of the event is a quote from a participant named Randy Astle. In a series of blog posts he wrote for Filmmaker magazine he said, "I’ve written sample bibles and transmedia proposals before ... but I’ve never finished an actual project. So this Story Hack is my first chance to develop something cross-platform beyond the page."

From Forbes to the Washington Post and PBS, Story Hack: Beta was reviewed and discussed as a groundbreaking approach to creating cross-platform stories. This focus on developing the collaborative process across disciplines including film, technology, publishing, theater and advertising lays the groundwork for the form to take shape and mature.

Our vision for StoryCode is to develop an incubator that identifies immersive media projects and gives the creators the support, seed funding, and relationships to launch them into the marketplace. Story Hackathons are a key part of this vision.

Mike Knowlton is the CTO/Co-Founder of StoryCode

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Featured Member: Valerie Johnson-Redrow

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Featured Member

Valerie Johnson-Redrow

New Media Council


My early career focus was animal behavior. I began by writing shows and training animals in theme parks, including Six Flags and the Bronx Zoo. After traveling to Europe to work on film projects, I moved back to California in 1987 to pitch my brand of productions to Hollywood. I’ve been there ever since.


My first traditional production job was with Ralph Andrews at his game show production company. I supplemented on-the-job training with UCLA courses, which led to a production coordinator position for Columbia Pictures. I have 2 mentors: Producer David Brown taught me volumes about film production. He referred me to Irwin Winkler- who I worked with in Paris and New York on Round Midnight, for which Dexter Gordon was nominated for an Oscar.


Shortly after arriving in LA, I took a job at Disney, where I was when the personal computer took over. I soon heard about Imagineers and how much fun they had. I applied and was hired on the team for the Disney/MGM studios in Florida. They needed interactive media producers that knew about traditional media. I was hired as a Show Producer.


I came to the PGA after meeting Debra Hill when she worked on the Disney/MGM Studios project in Florida in the late 90s.


After the new group was created for Special Venues in the New Media Council, I increased my participation and I’m now on the Board. I try to work with people in the Guild whenever I can.


For me, it’s now about immersion. That’s my current interest – to create more immersive experiences than even King Kong 360-3D. For that experience, you feel like you’re being knocked around by the creatures, but it’s actually all just digital media. I find it thrilling to suspend belief using immersive media. As a producer, you have to know how to figure it out, to define the goal and how to get there. You don’t know the technology you’ll need until you imagine the show and its requirements. My ultimate goal is to promote nature and conservation in general and incorporate that love of nature into highly immersive experiences.


For my first project at Disney/MGM Studios, I developed an interactive show called Superstar Television. The venue married a live feed of guests on stage being videotaped with playback from a laser disk for the canned part of the show. The live action was composited with the feed. For example, we incorporated guests appearing in I Love Lucy. I had great fun at this new career, that’s for sure, even altering existing show footage and shooting new footage for Golden Girls for one of the experiences.

My last film compositing project for Disney was Body Wars, a simulator ride where the guest was shrunk to participate – similar to the environment in Fantastic Voyage. For this project, I produced content with ILM.

I left Disney in 1995 to be a media producer for Metreon, where I produced location-based entertainment for Sony Development. I seem to prefer the science projects. I produced a 3D film with David McCauley about his hugely successful The Way Things Work combining film, cell animation and CG - 3 screens with 3-D in the middle! I was thrilled to work with Maurice Sendak to re-envision Where The Wild Things Are. I also produced the pre-show for an interactive game called Quaternia.

I went back to Disney in 2005 and produced a prototype that used handheld devices at the theme parks.

Since then, I’ve worked with WETA Digital to produce Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3D experience for Universal Studios. It opened 2 years ago and was my last theme park project. It was supposed to be a redo of the original animatronic attraction, but at Universal’s suggestion, Peter loved the idea of making it an all media experience. He was in agreement that digital media was ahead of animatronics. We created a 3D attraction made entirely from WETA digital media. My favorite experience was smuggling vials of scent to New Zealand for a review with Peter. Jennifer Sauer (the Creative Director) and I met with Peter so that he could make a decision on what the jungle and the dinosaur breath should smell like!

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Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More From SilverDocs 2012



By Renee Rosenfeld

Each June, filmmakers and audiences converge in the Nation’s Capital at SilverDocs, the internationally renowned documentary film festival spun from a unique alliance between the American Film Institute and Discovery Communications. The festival has been dubbed "Non-Fiction Nirvana" by Variety, and the "premiere showcase for documentary film" by The Hollywood Reporter. This year’s festival kicks off next Monday, June 18th and runs through June 24th at the AFI’s Silver Theater, just steps away from Discovery headquarters. SilverDocs offers an opportunity to see new documentaries combined with a robust conference that connects producers with key decision makers in non-fiction. SilverDocs staff reports that HBO and The Weinstein Company have made pre-festival inquiries and anticipate the festival will provide a fertile environment for acquisitions.

Producers Guild National Capital Chapter is hosting a Happy Hour with Women in Film and Video on Tuesday, June 19that McGinty’s Public House around the corner from the theater. In addition, the chapter is putting the finishing touches on an Insider’s Breakfast, its signature event, with Snag Films’ Rick Allen. Details to be announced in the coming days.

"AFI-Discovery Channel SilverDocs, celebrating its 10th edition in 2012, is the only event in the U.S. that combines the experience of a documentary festival with a professional conference, fusing the art and business of nonfiction storytelling,” said Sky Sitney, Festival Director. "This year’s Conference offers an extensive program of advanced sessions that explore today’s leading topics in the context of a relaxed and intimate setting ideal for creative and business connections to be made.” Among the highlights of the conference is Silver Sessions. Silver Sessions are small-group meetings with development, programming and acquisition executives, program officers from funding agencies, theatrical, DVD and international broadcast distributors, digital media innovators, marketing and PR consultants, producers’ representatives, legal advisers and industry leaders. Other conference highlights include panels on pitching with PBS, Discovery and other major networks as well as funding opportunities in the digital landscape and with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Notable filmmakers presenting their work include Yung Chang (China Heavyweight); Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Detropia); Eugene Jarecki (The House I Live In); Ross McElwee (Photographic Memory); and Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost Trilogy, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legend of Sun Records, Crude, Under African Skies), who will be honored at the festival’s Charles Guggenheim Symposium for their collective and individual contributions to the documentary genre.

You can follow @PGAontheHill and @SilverDocs for updates throughout the festival and search these hashtags for the festival and conference on Twitter:

#Silverdocs and #SDConference12

Members of the National Capital will be posting news to The Networker during the festival. If you plan to attend let National Capital members know you’re in town!

More From SilverDocs 2012

Stay tuned for more updates.

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SEEKING TRUTH: SilverDocs 10th Edition is in Full Swing

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More From SilverDocs 2012



By Renee Rosenfeld

Neal Schon on the red carpet with the Don't
Stop Believing filmmakers
The 10th Anniversary edition of the SilverDocs festival kicked off with Don’t Stop Believing: Everyman’s Journey, the emotional story of Arnel Pineda, who was thrust into fame after the iconic rock band Journey’s lead guitarist, Neal Schon, spotted the Philippine cover band singer on YouTube. National Capital member Katy Jones Garrity reports, "As a DC producer, [SilverDocs] is one week I look forward to every year.” She opened the festival viewing this week by attending a screening of The Imposter. Directed by Bart Layton, known for his work on Nat Geo’s long-running series Locked Up Abroad. "This film employs many of the same techniques that made that series such a hit: fantastic interviews with characters whose story is a bizarre twist from normal life, recreations that flow seamlessly into the storytelling, and camera directing that is clever and revealing,” says Jones Garrity.

Kc Shillihahn attended The Guggenheim Symposium--one of the festival’s special events. Named for the pioneering filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, the Honor is meant to identify and reward filmmakers that have brought the power of documentary to bear in the human experience. No other trilogy of films demonstrates that power like those created by this year’s honorees, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Early in his remarks former Arkansas prison inmate Jason Baldwin turned to Berlinger & Sinofsky and thanked them for the films that ultimately saw him released after nearly 18 years of unjust imprisonment. Jason Baldwin and the saga of the West Memphis Three is the ultimate demonstration of the power of non-fiction to advocate, report and shed new light on issues.

Alongside the festival is a full conference connecting filmmakers, educators, broadcasters, business leaders, distributors, private and public media, and funders that began with the keynote delivered by 18 Days in Egypt’s Jigar Mehta. Mehta recounted how he broke the rules by bringing together various forms of media from last year’s Egyptian uprising and using the storyteller as the source to create a more authentic and richer experience. His use of social media sources serves as a real-time walk through the events that changed the world.

"Meet the Broadcasters: The Dish On Docs On TV" moderated by Crowdstarter co-founder Liz Ogilvie, brought together execs from Discovery, PBS’s POV, A&E, The Documentary Channel, ESPN Films and HBO. Among the panel's revelations: In Discovery’s competitive environment, the network has shifted to more series. Discovery receives about 400-500 submissions each week through their Producers Portal. The good news is that execs look through submissions about once a week. The Documentary Channel’s demo skews male, ironically. HBO produces twenty-five to thirty docs a year but only one-third come through acquisitions. HBO is looking for documentaries with impact and press that are standout contemporary social impact films. If your genre is sports, ESPN Films is more likely to be interested in your piece if it lives on every platform and reflects a human story within sports. A&E suggests looking at Withoutabox to see what’s popping.

National Capital’s Rebecca Howland reported from the session, "Discovery: From Pitch to Air." Execs there suggest that when preparing to pitch the Discovery family (e.g., Discovery, ID, TLC), do your homework. Study the specific network that you're pitching to and be sure your concept is a fit for their brand. All pitches, regardless of whether you’re a newbie or the most seasoned producer, must be submitted through Discovery's Producer's Portal. What you submit must be as complete and buttoned-up a submission as possible. Discovery is looking for big, fascinating characters or subcultures that haven't been previously seen on television. A good piece of tape is expected if you want to be considered seriously. It doesn't have to be a pricey sizzle reel or pilot. It just has to demonstrate the characters' appeal. TLC bought four shows last year just from seeing Skype interviews with the talent. If the character is "big," they'll pop off the screen no matter what the format. The exception is Investigation Discovery, which is story-driven, not character-driven. It's okay to pitch ID with paper; tape is not necessary.

In these digital times, no producing conference is complete without a session entitled, "How To Make Noise in the Digital Forest." The exec’s best advice was to think beyond the finished piece and create additional content as if it were going to live in a DVD extra. Rolling out extra information is key to a complete digital package. They know that this is probably the last thing on your mind, but turning the camera around and capturing that behind the scenes footage makes a big difference. Think about your audience and build relationships with partners and ambassadors because they will help create the buzz that will sell your film. You can’t get started with social too early. The digital aggregators want to see what you have beyond the program itself.

Los Angeles PGA member Ruby Lopez joined National Capital members at a happy hour at McGinty’s Pub. Lopez is taking advantage of one-on-one pitch sessions to get her in-progress, animated full-length documentary in front of decision makers. She’s gathering intelligence by attending small group "Silver Sessions” with key players at Crowdstarter, Working Films and Discovery, among others. Lopez is finding that marketing early is key and using social networking is critical to engaging fans.

-Stay tuned for the final bulletin from SilverDocs, to be published soon.

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Life Now Playing: SilverDocs 2012, The Take Away

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More From SilverDocs 2012



By Renee Rosenfeld

After six days of programming and some 27,000 documentary enthusiasts, filmmakers and industry leaders consuming non-fiction storytelling, what’s the take away from the 2012 SilverDocs Festival? With packed theaters and panels, one thing is certain: non-fiction is thriving and there are audiences to prove it. There’s power to inform and change but there’s also big business in real life stories. Each of the major cable outlets maintained a large presence at the festival, either in pitch sessions, premiering content or sharing intelligence.

Kc Shillihahn reports from the pitch session that filmmakers utilized a variety of tactics to impress network execs including distributing five minute DVDs. The funders delivered presentations then offered producers ten-minute one-on-one pitch meetings. Tribeca Film Institute has a number of funding opportunities. Most of the institute’s grants start at $10,000 and cover various stages of the process from development through post-production. PBS is looking for affinity programming that fits with or dovetails off their network’s primary brand. One example is the net’s Wednesday’s nature programming.

It’s no surprise that gaining theatrical release for a documentary is tricky at best. Distributors suggest understanding the entertainment value of the shared experience for an audience before looking for theatrical distribution. In most cases, theatrical is expensive and difficult. The biggest value may be to support your VOD or DVD distribution. It’s tough to profit from a theatrical release, so having a clear vision of your goal and knowing whether your doc is strong enough for a theatrical release is critical. In the case of Bill Cunningham New York, the film won numerous audience awards at festivals, so when the filmmakers were approached with a television deal that would preclude theatrical distribution, they passed and it paid off.

Be certain to hire a thoughtful booker who is knowledgeable about markets to ensure that your film is booked in the right places. Coordinating events with a release may help boost exposure, as was the case with Marley’s release coinciding with Ziggy Marley’s tour. Perhaps the most interesting new release option comes from start-up Gathr. Gathr is TOD or "theatrical on demand,” allowing audiences to aggregate their interest and pledge funds to see a particular film in the theater.

As with all great narrative, non-fiction storytelling demands structure. Rebecca Howland reports from the session "How to Keep Your Story from Falling into a Structural Pothole," that ITVS executive Richard Saiz emphasized that as with fiction, narrative documentaries also need a strong three act structure. Without it, the inevitable mid-point slump can derail the film. Here are the four deadly sins to avoid in constructing your story: 1) Thematic Haze, 2) Lack of Backstory Breakdown, 3) Character Weakness, and 4) Plot Drift.

Probably the most obvious sign of the times was the prevalence of Kickstarter in conversations about the architecture of film financing. Producers reported that Kickstarter was instrumental in either getting their films off the ground or getting films completed in the final stages. Kickstarter also provides a base of supporters that will help get the word out on social platforms and helps you identify early evangelists that create the buzz you need to find your audience.

The National Capital Chapter welcomes colleagues from everywhere to join them next June in Washington, DC for SilverDocs 2013.

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