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Immersive Media - Stop Talking, Start Creating
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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