DIY Days, the media conference that focuses on the do-it-yourself ethos (hence the name), is coming back to New York City next month.
The event, founded by transmedia filmmaking pioneer Lance Weiler, is going to be held at the New School on April 27th. Best of all: it is entirely free. Check out the schedule, which includes Turnstyle Transmedia Hangout guest Brian Clark of GMD Studios, here.
The event is also looking for volunteers to help bring it all together.
If you’ve spent any time online in the indie author, genre fiction, transmedia or gamer communities there’s a good chance you’ve run across Chuck Wendig. The Pennsylvania– Pennsyltucky if you ask him– based writer is having the biggest year of his career yet. Multiple novels have stormed into the lives of genre fiction fans. Wendig’s social media presence, thanks to a salty Twitter feed and his writing blog Terribleminds, keeps spreading like a wave of the undead.
The down and dirty novels Blackbirds and Mockingbird feature the character Miriam Black; a young woman gifted, if you can call it that, with the ability to see how people will die. Blackbirds, the first book in the series, became Wendig’s bête noire years ago. That one story that wouldn’t go away and refused to yield up it’s secrets. The drive to solve the mystery he’d created led Wendig down a strange road. One that sees him as a speaker at next month’s StoryWorld conference, a global gathering for transmedia storytellers.
StoryWorld may be the next stop, but Wendig’s path began with one of the least glamorous gigs a genre writer can have: role-playing games. This is also where I first came across his work, as an avid reader of White Wolf Game Studios’ dark fantasy and horror role playing games. When Wendig reappeared on my radar years later thanks to Twitter, I flashed back on those early years of his career. How he made the leap from RPGs to novels was the first mystery I wanted out to solve when we finally settled down for a formal interview after years of online chatting.
“Working in gaming was a way to pay the bills with writing. It wasn’t my end goal,” Wendig told me. (more…)
We’re taking a little well earned R&R this week, but we’re still thinking about you, loyal reader. So we’ve gathered some of our favorite posts from the past year into these handy-dandy Best of Turnstyle News pages. One for every day this week.
Transmedia. A word both loved and loathed by Hollywood executives and Madison Avenue marketers. The art and science, if you will, of making all our disparate media technologies work together to articulate an over-arching vision. Well, when it’s done right at any rate.
What excites us most about transmedia here at Turnstyle is that it is a new frontier. A still uncharted territory that is constantly evolving in practice, content and theory. Even the definition is constantly morphing. Yet that is probably the least interesting thing about transmedia. It’s the work and the people who are doing it that are the most exciting. Here’s some of the highlights from the year so far:
New Media Breaks Through: Fourth Wall Studio Launches RIDES– The Culver City based Fourth Wall Studios is on the cutting edge of transmedia. This report, which was turned into a Marketplace piece, peeks behind the curtain of the studio to show how the creators of the Alternate Reality Game genre are looking to use their storytelling mojo to reach a broader audience.
Transmedia @ WyrdCon: Interviews– Some of the best and brightest minds in transmedia were brought together in Costa Mesa for a series of panels. While there we harvested some quick interviews that reveal the eldritch ties between transmedia and that red-headed step child of the geek universe: Role Playing Games. Featuring Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Alison Norrington of the StoryWorld conference, and Mickey Neilson of Blizzard Entertainment.
CLANG!– Okay so this isn’t really one of OUR best pieces. It’s just a whole lot of fun. Check out the video for a Kickstarter campaign from author Neal Stephenson for a sword-fighting video game set in the Foreworld universe. This is part of a larger DIY-style transmedia project that Stephenson, fellow author Greg Bear and a host of others are working on at the Subutai Corporation. We talked with Subutai CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark Teppo back in 2010, on the eve of their first project being launched.
Unveiling the Mystery of ‘The Institute’– perhaps the best known “art of art’s sake” Alternate Reality Game is the fabled “Games of Nonchalance”. A multi-year project that featured the fictional and sinister “Jejune Institute” that was documented by filmmaker Spencer McCall. We got to sit in on a sneak peak of the film, which should be hitting the festival circuit this year, and interviewed McCall in the wake of the screening.
Inside the Mind of “Bear 71″– transmedia doesn’t have borders of any kind, really. This interactive documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada was present at Sundance’s New Frontier gallery this year. We spoke with co-director Jeremy Mendes about this moving blend of documentary footage and user directed discovery.
Bonus from 2011:
Storytelling’s Next Step is a Pandemic– still a favorite here at the office, this is a look at transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler’s Sundance 2011 project Pandemic 1.0. If you want to see where things are going, you need to look back at this piece.
Some of the brightest minds in the transmedia world gathered in Costa Mesa, California (of all places!) over the past weekend for TriWyrd, the annual convention for interactive theatre and Live-Action Role Playing. The cutting edge of media making strange bedfellows, but if you know anything about transmedia and LARP– and the people involved– it actually makes a ton of sense.
Turnstyle was there to catch the transmedia panels that were put together by the uber-connected Lauren Scime (@laurenscime) of Witchfactory Productions, who booked the HELL out of those panels. Jeff Gomez (@Jeff_Gomez), CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment. Alison Norrington (@StoryCentral), founder of the StoryWorld conference. Flint Dille– the man who killed Optimus Prime and who has a character in Frank Miller’s 300 named after him. Lance Weiler (@lanceweiler), the transmedia filmmaker pioneer behind Head Trauma and Pandemic 1.0. Mickey Neilson, publishing lead at Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft.
It was kind of insane how much talent was assembled on the far end of Orange County.
Before we wrap up, however, I wanted to give a shout out to Ester Lim (@geekgrl) whose talk breaking down her process for transmedia production was the kinds of nuts and bolts stuff, delivered in clear and concise terms, that make sense out of what often seems mystical. Watch that one. She’s hella smart. [Apologies for the Bay-speak. Feelin' a little homesick at the moment, you dig?]
In the popular imagination, science fiction is a genre about robots and rayguns. The Hollywood tradition of sci-fi movie making has left little room for the subtler aspects of the genre to shine through. For the past few years ITVS and PBS have been challenging that pattern with the series FutureStates, which invites filmmakers to create short works that explore “possible future scenarios through the lens of today’s global realities.”
On April 3rd, FutureStates will begin rolling out its third season. This time around, seven shorts will ultimately be available at futurestates.tv, PBS.org and on the PBS iPad app. For this series, the producers have put a special empahsis on women filmmakers, holding a virtual press conference earlier today (which can be played back here).
The short “Laura Keller” about a doctor– played by Amber Benson (Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer)– who works at facility where forced sterilizations are performed, looks particularly chilling. Along with the seven shorts, this season will feature two interactive projects. The first is Wish for the Future from transmedia producer Lance Weiler (Pandemic 1.0), which uses the framework of a time capsule to get participants to envision a better tomorrow. The second is a digital comic for the iPad from writer/director Greg Pak–Vision Machine– based on his graphic novel. Pak has not only contributed to FutureStates as a filmmaker, but brings hisexperience as the writer of much beloved run on Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk to the project.
With the third season is still a couple of weeks away, there’s plenty of time to catch up with the first two seasons of FutureStates. Fans of short films and science fiction do themselves a disservice by ignoring this series.
It isn’t every day that I wind up crying in front of my computer because of something I’ve seen on the internet. So it was a great surprise that Bear 71, an interactive documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada, reduced me to tears with its beautifully immersive and tragic story of a female grizzly bear narrated in the first-person by actress Mia Kirshner (The L Word, Exotica, 24).
The core of Bear 71 is the website — which takes just under 20 minutes to tell the central story. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival the project manifested as an installation exhibit produced with the assistance of transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler (whose Pandemic 1.0 we profiled last year). While the picture gallery below hints at some of the fun techniques the installation uses to reveal aspects of the story, e.g. iPads that can be held up in front of projected material, which can then be used to as augmented reality lenses, in my conversation with Bear 71’s co-director Jeremy Mendes I found myself focusing on the central experience, which uses the intimacy of audio and the solitary nature of the internet to pull the user into the story.
“There aren’t a lot of ways for a grizzly bear to die. At least, that’s the way it was in the wild.”
Bear 71 begins with this statement, and right from the start we know the story will not end well. How can it when it is about the life of a bear, living in a valley that is bordered by heavily populated areas?
Mendes told me that his co-director Leanne Allison came to the NFB with thousands of trail-cam surveillance photos and “a story about one bear in particular named Bear 71 who was captured and collared at the age of three and was monitored virtually her whole life. They’d watched her, and she’d come close to people and once they cross that line they get collared. It is in the interest of the bear and the people just so they can keep an eye on her. She wound up keeping her nose pretty clean. She didn’t eat anybody. She reared like three sets of cubs and irked out a living in a very difficult place to live.”
The story and images inspired Mendes, but not just on the level of a compelling narrative about nature.
“It just to me seemed like a story about surveillance. About watching and how bizarre it is in that area: the necessity to watch wildlife closely for their own well being and ours, but mostly for theirs. And I immediately thought of ourselves. I thought about people. I thought about cameras on street corners in Times Square. So I got really excited, I was like ‘this is a technology piece, this is about the state of our affairs with technology and communication.’”
Online, the story takes place within a computerized representation of the Bow Valley in Banff National Park that is referred to as “the grid”. While the audio portion of the story plays out, with an immersive sound design by Josh Stevenson, the user is able to navigate around the colored dot-matrix aesthetic of the grid with mouse and keyboard.
“Right from the start,” said Mendes, “I like to design an interface with nothing. If you do a good job you don’t have to tell people what to do.”
The user is able to explore the virtual valley, which is teeming with wildlife and the artifacts of civilization like trains and cars. Clicking on objects that reveals photos, videos, and facts as the central narrative continues to unfold.
The experience takes a step further by using the user’s own webcam to become part of the story. With permission granted to the app, an active stream of video is fed back into the experience, which contextualizes the user as another tagged and tracked animal in the valley.
“You’re cruising around and you’re looking at all this content, all these trail cameras and sequences. If you click on yourself it’s almost like a surveillance wall inside a security office,” said Mendes, “and there’s a tile of images, anyone who’s online at the same time you’ll see them and you’ll see yourself and you’ll see images of animals.”
What impressed me the most about Bear 71 was how much information was condensed into the twenty minutes, all without sacrificing the “human” element of the perspective of Bear 71, who for the purposes of the story “knows about YouTube, knows about Foursquare, knows about wireless communication, also knows that animals use all sorts of different ways of communicating like electromagnetic fields and talks about platypuses smelling electricity. So you’ve got this bear that is telling the story of her life but has an omniscient view, this almost god-like view of knowing everything we do. So essentially it’s us.”
The script by J.B.MacKinnon and read by Kirshner conspire to give the sense that this is a confessional. Somewhere between a bedtime story and a final testament. It’s a rather extraordinary performance that benefited from an untraditional production technique. Instead of isolating Kirshner in the recording booth, Mendes was right there with her.
“It was Loc Dao the producer’s idea to get me in the booth with her. It was a great call, because we just had a very casual relationship so it was quite relaxed. She was telling me the story more like a one a one than through the glass and that separation.”
In a similar way, the structure of Bear 71 removes the barrier between the wired world and the world of nature, revealing that there are mysteries of the nature that humans are still very much a part of, like “rub trees” the communication towers of the forest.
“There are some really great clips in there too of animals just coming from all directions to rub on this tree: squirrels, elk, deer, grizzly bears, joggers. Everyone coming to check this thing out. I learned a lot about that. There’s a real nice symbiosis in the story where it’s not just about animals, it’s not just about technology. It’s really about both. It’s about the human being an animal still.”
Bear 71can be experienced online. The installation version of the experience will be on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City through April 19th, 2012 and made it’s debut as part of the New Frontier at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
“The grid” of the Bow Valley. Image courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.
Entrance to Bear 71 at the New Frontier, Sundance Film Festival 2012.
A video wall shows the faces of festival-goers and online participants “captured” as part of the experience.
In the Bear 71 installation, the iPad acts as a window into the story.
A mock trail camera acts as a tagging device: unsuspecting festival-goers were “captured” by the cams.
Exhibit visitors watch the tragic ending of Bear 71.
A mysterious virus is turning the adults of Park City, Utah into sleepwalking zombies. So goes the premise behind Lance Weiler’s Pandemic 1.0, an interactive storytelling experience that unfolds over five days at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In a twist on the festival’s theme of “Be Here”, Pandemic 1.0 offers those not at the festival a chance to participate by playing along with people at Sundance. Together they have 120 hours to stop the spread of the disease, and time is running out.
The physical hub is the festival’s annual New Frontier gallery, a cutting edge collection of digital art and new media narrative experiments. Located in the hundred plus year old Miner’s Hospital, Pandemic’s Mission Control can be found in the purportedly haunted basement. Here the public encounters a set that looks like a Starfleet crisis control room, complete with a Microsoft Surface table and data projections of the realtime Twitter feeds where the story emerges.
At random intervals angry red “Quarantine” warnings flash, putting the room in lockdown. The Pandemic is spreading.
Beyond the lights of Mission Control a dark room lit only by flashlight beckons. This is the “Memorial Room”. Here visitors discover examples of the golden objects that have been scattered around Park City. If they choose to fight the Pandemic they must scour the city to find the objects and bring them back to Mission Control. Here they can connect the object to the image of it’s owner, and learn their story.
Weiler is no stranger to Sundance. His feature film script HiM (Hope Is Missing) was accepted into the 2009 Screenwriting Lab and is moving steadily towards production. Pandemic 1.0 is another learning experience for Weiler and his company Seize The Media. They view the hybrid game/installation as a Story R&D experiment, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible using disparate storytelling techniques- short films, web clips, and a cooperative online and real world scavenger hunt involving GPS, Twitter, and mobile phones.
The point isn’t to overwhelm the audience with technology, but to offer multiple entry points into this world and the individual stories of the characters trying to survive the pandemic. For Weiler, character still lies at the heart of storytelling; without strong characters an audience can’t connect to the broader themes at play.
The most immersive part of the Pandemic 1.0 experience comes in the form of specially prepared Android phones that are being released into the festival population. Wrapped in plastic biohazard bags and coupled with a hand-cranked phone charger. The phones ask players to answer a series of morality questions and then seek out other festival goers to complete simple tasks like taking pictures. One task involves shooting a short 30 second video answering the question “Is hope missing?” Not only a play on the title of Weiler’s feature script, it’s a central theme of the stories. In the face of large scale crises, what keeps people moving forward?
Just like in a real pandemic, not everything goes according to plan. Technical hitches delayed parts of the rollout, and the active participation of the online community sowed confusion. Our own experience of the scavenger hunt was twisted into a wild goose chase, thanks in part to conflicting messages coming in over our Pandemic phone. The number got listed on Twitter, and soon we were inundated with phone calls giving us conflicting information. In spite of all that the experience was still exhilarating, creating the feeling that we were in the middle of an action thriller where we were the protagonists.
Players on the ground in Park City need the help of online participants. Golden objects are unlocked because of actions taken at the Hope Is Missing website. The Twitter hashtag #pandemic11 forms the spine of the story, and the Facebook page acts as an at-a-glance snapshot of current events.
Not that this is all fun and games. Weiler is sharing the data collected as part of Pandemic 1.0 with Medic Mobile who give SMS devices to doctors in third world countries to track the spread of disease like cholera. According to Weiler, they’re interested in “morality over time”– how individual choices change as the scope of a crisis is revealed — and how valuable information is spread between strangers.
Sundance isn’t the end for Pandemic. More outbreaks are planned for London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Barcelona.
Director Lance Weiler’s storytelling project, Pandemic 1.0, is one of the most talked about experiences at Sundance 2011. The project takes the ideas of interactivity and collaboration to another level, as we learn more about the concepts behind this sprawling work.
Produced by Noah Nelson and Kai Hsing. Shot and edited by Kai Hsing.
You don’t have to be in Park City to experience the most intriguing work being put on at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Pandemic 1.0, the story of an outbreak of a mysterious sleeping sickness, will be unfolding starting Saturday at midnight (Mountain Time Zone). For the following 120 hours attendees at the Film Festival will work together with participants online to fight the spread of the disease.
Festival goers will get to hunt down special golden objects which hold the keys to the mystery. Special hand-cranked Google phones will also be in circulation at the festival, revealing the world of the Pandemic story. Everyone else will be able to do their part at hopeismissing.com. Actions taken there will unlock elements of the story in Park City.
More Pandemic shorts are coming this year, with London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Barcelona all scheduled for outbreaks. The story, created by Lance Weiler (The Last Broadcast, Head Trauma), will unfold across multiple platforms and culminates in the planned feature film Hope Is Missing. Yet Pandemic is more than entertainment, as the data collected during the “outbreaks” will be used by epidemic researchers to help model how disease is spread.
We’re psyched about Pandemic, and will be bringing you more– including behind the scene exclusives- as the story unfolds.
The 2011 Sundance Film Festival kicks off on Thursday and Turnstyle will be there covering the action. Before we get to the big show, we’d like to give you a glimpse of just some of the films and trends we’ve got our eyes on.
A tale of two teenage girls falling in love in the big city’s underground art scene sounds very 90’s Sundance. Change that big city to Tehran, the capital of Iran and all of a sudden you have a high stakes picture like no other. Not just for the characters in the drama, but the filmmakers themselves. Iranian filmmakers have been catching all kinds of flack from their government for pushing the boundaries of the kinds of the stories they’ve been telling. Which is a polite way of saying that Iranian filmmakers actually risk their freedom and lives to make their movies, something very few American filmmakers can honestly say.
Maryam Keshavarz’s film about two young women’s very much forbidden romance was such a risk that she didn’t film it in Tehran, but used Beirut as a stand-in. Expect to hear a lot about this film in the coming weeks.
Celebrating it’s fifth anniversary this year by moving into a bigger venue, the New Frontier is Sundance’s space for experimental shorts and multimedia projects. This year’s theme is the “Liberated Pixel” and the projects on display will show how artists are stretching the boundaries of interaction between audience, performer, and the moving image. Some of the most exciting work at Sundance this year will be found in the New Frontier- whether it’s the transmedia experience of Pandemic (see below), Miwa Matreyek’s hybrid of animation and performance, or actor turned artist James Franco’s remixing of Three’s Company into a drama.
We’ll be taking an in-depth look at the borderlands of the New Frontier, with an eye towards discerning where the future of media lies.
Everyone who makes- or wants to make- movies has the same question on their mind 24/7: how do I raise the cash? The landscape of film finance is changing, well truth be told it’s always changing, but new options are opening up. Matthew Lessner’s feature film The Woods marks a first for the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, as it is the first film accepted into Sundance that was financed in part by donations taken through the website.The Woods may represent the future of how indie films get funded- not on by maxing out the filmmakers credit cards, but by getting thousands of small donations from film fans eager to be part of something new.
As mentioned above, Pandemic is what is known as a transmedia experience. An interconnected set of stories told over multiple platforms. In this case it is the tale of a mysterious disease that is turning the world’s adults into monsters, leaving the children behind to fend for themselves.
The outbreak begins in Park City this week, in the form of a alternate reality experience (dubbed Pandemic 1.0) that invites the audience to enter the world of Pandemic and help fight the spread of the disease. “Mission Control” for Pandemic will be located in the New Frontier gallery space at the Miner’s Hospital (so very appropriate). In addition, the short film Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259 will be screened as part of the festival, and has actually already gone online as part of the Sundance Screening Room on YouTube. This short, by Pandemic creator Lance Weiler, sets up the tone of the world, and is one of the most effective horror suspense shorts we’ve seen in a long time.
This is truly the new frontier of storytelling, and Pandemic’s debut at this year’s festival is a major breakthrough for the community of transmedia storytellers who have been honing their craft for the last decade.
And That’s Just For Starters…
The biggest thrill of an event like Sundance are the unexpected discoveries. With the Turnstyle team on the ground posting all week and weekend long you’ll want to keep checking in to see what we turn up!