Category Archives: Transient Spaces

a course about social media, community and documentary

capturing the elephants

Our baby elephant walk Yesterday, the second day of spring, proved to be such a perfect day for hunting down Melbourne’s elephants. Apparently there are fifty of them roaming about. We caught about 15.
A great day for a safari The reason why our outing is worth a mention in these pages is the iPhone app.
A helpful iphone app to tell us where to find them Sure, baby elephants are great. But how to find them all? How to plan an easy cruise from one elephant to the next?
Knitted elephant Answer: a gps-enabled iphone app called ‘Mali in Melbourne’. Apps are no longer the province of early adopters. Every family I saw was using their phone to get directions to the next baby.
Inevitably the pink one [I'm not sure why, but mainly the Dads had the iphones. I guess cos Mum gets to clean up the drool?]
Showing off The iphone app has more to it than just gps-enabled route creating. But this was the killer aspect.
More subtle Of course, the coda to the event was a little Instagramming.

The lessons of Caine’s Arcade


Why does this act of storytelling work so well? According to Brad Phillips in The 6 traits of great storytelling—in one adorable video, it meets Dan and Chip Heath’s six critical traits that make stories memorable:

  1. Simple. A boy. An idea. Some boxes. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
  2. Unexpected. This video had at least four unexpected things: An unusually creative boy; a video maker who accidentally stumbled upon the boy’s arcade; a flash mob; and Caine’s surprise at the flash mob. Even though the video’s title (“9-year-old’s DIY cardboard arcade gets flashmobbed”) gave away a lot of the premise, it didn’t matter. We wanted to see how the unexpected played out.
  3. Concrete. There’s one moment that stuck with me more than any other: Caine manually feeding prize tickets through a hole in the box. If there’s a second moment I remember, it’s the claw machine. If there’s a third, it’s the calculator he used to track legitimate “Fun Pass” users. All three of those details are concrete, and the story was more effective for its total absence of abstractions.
  4. Credible. Totally. Not a single false note.
  5. Emotional. Before my wife showed me the video, she sheepishly admitted that it had made her cry. I mildly teased her. Then I watched it and teared up, as well. It felt deeply satisfying to see the boy’s industriousness rewarded. And the father’s pride in his son’s achievement? How wonderful to see a struggling businessman in East L.A. enjoy such rich satisfaction.
  6. Stories. Back to the first “S:” a boy, an idea, some boxes. Stories can’t get stripped down much further, proving that good stories don’t require complexities to work.

Maybe this is the same as (5), but we respond more to stories in which we can identify with the characters, put ourselves in their shoes. No, I’m not saying this rules out fantasy [Heaven forfend], but the most fantastic situations have to be met with a recognisably human response, or they’ll leave us cold. I recently read a piece about Breaking Bad , The author didn’t know why he was interested since all the characters left him cold. It came down to the plot — each plot is an intricate puzzle, an intellectual exercise. His motivation for watching was to see how it could be resolved. That’s unusual. We want, I think, our humanity.

Another thing we want is a happy ending.

So live long and prosper, bye for now.

done and dusted


My documentary, Cyclists versus Motorists, has gone live. As usual, I never thought it would take so long. My problem with projects is that I can’t stand doing what I know how to do. I have to try something new. Well, the new thing was the focus on video — I’m not really a video person. Or that used to be the case. But then the new thing about the new thing was I thought I should look into interactive video. Hence, the use of korsakow. I also looked at Popcorn and Klynt. What I wanted to do was combine Twitter with video. You can sort-of do it with Popcorn, but it doesn’t seem to me that it is much better than sticking the vid and the Twitter widget in ordinary old HTML. Now Popcorn is just developing, and combining vids and social media isn’t its only trick, but I do feel there’s a little bit on inventing a new circle going on (and calling it HTML 5). But hey, I’m old.

Other principles that I’ve tried to put into practice are

  • the use of domestic technology — all the imagery and some of the audio was created using my mobile phone, I used free of very cheap editing software, and the only semi-professional thing I used was a zoom audio recorder.
  • use of social media – both to recruit talent, disseminate the doco, and encourage participation
  • A focus on the community. Apart from above, I tried not to editorialise. I wanted the interviewees to speak for themselves.

You can read more about these principles, and how to make your own participatory documentary.

Korsakow and I

Click to play Cycling in Melbourne – 2 locations (You can’t embed these in WordPress, so there’s a popup. and I can’t even get a popup to work in Tumblr, where my doco actually is… grrrfff)

This is a Korsakow movie I made for my cyclists v. motorists doco. The problem it has is the file size – I thought Korsakow would do a better compression job than it did. Is the answer to compress in Vimeo, download, then use them in Korsakow?

The Korsakow production process is not that well explained on their site, but luckily my colleagues Adrian Miles and Seth Keen are very helpful with hints.

directions in transmedia documentary

Storyboard image from Sands of Silence (see below)


Presentation from the Tribeca Film Institute at The New School called ‘Transmedia for Social Documentaries’. Panel includes Megan Cunningham from Magnet Media, Caitlin Burns from Starlight Runner Entertainment, and Vladan Nikolic, from The New School and producer of ‘Zenith’.

Here are my salient points from some of the Q&As – sorry I haven’t attributed them to the different speakers – probably just as well since they’re not verbatim:

What is transmedia?

Multiplatform storytelling, with a relationship between the content creator and consumer

A transmedia producer works with ‘multiple narrative within the same story world on different platforms’

The way that you expand the story world of an idea … you take a narrative and have the opportunity to tell the story on a wider canvas.

We’re in an environment where one medium is broken up onto various different platforms. What transmedia opens is another way to tell stories and for independent filmmakers its very important to open up other opportunities.

Transmedia is still a very fluid term, it really depends on what your project is. EG, social media is necessary for what you do, but if you repeat the same information through all different media you’ll turn people off.

Each platform has its own dynamic, how you tell a story that engages. You can have an audience that feels like its part of something. You need to create a following for your film by engaging them.

MTV’s study on digital natives and their consumption patterns illustrates how the audience has become enabled. There is no longer such a distinction between audience and amateurs and professionals. There has been a huge uptake in coviewing / second screen experience, 60% of broadcast audience does it.

This means that all content is competing with all other content, on all platforms and in all mediums. That’s the sort of thinking you have to build into what you’re creating. You have to build in all the medium/medium possibilities for different parts of the story.

How can you use transmedia to create change via documentary?

Doco filmmakers have always fostered change, but now you can get you message out in different ways. You don’t have to depend on the best 90 minutes of film.

A word of caution: just pick 2 or 3 platforms to build community in, don’t try to do everything. Best to do 2 or 3 properly, respond to comments, create a substantial presence with a volume of community members you can engage with sincerely and consistently. If you know your story well, that’s your focus, focus on the most compelling execution of that, its very easy to get overwhelmed.

How to effectively use transmedia with your narrative?

Vladan: Zenith is a fiction film but is appealed to a specific cultural moment + clever social media marketing so it went viral. Many different entry points into the story. Transmedia also incorporates the method of distributions. EG, with Zenith, they released the first 30 minutes of the film on bit torrent and got donations to make the rest.

People have a lot of shared stories, and those stories become the rallying points to find ppl who are similarly interested. UGC, collabs between producers / writers and UGC. The more you can build trust and relationship with the community, the more loyalty you will accrue for future projects.

The question is how do you reach your audience? Other question: what is your particular angle?

My observation: it’s interesting that the default product is still the 90 minute stand-alone film. All paths still point to this. Hopefully one day we can have a stand-alone Tumblr site. Maybe the film can be the marketing to drive people to the Tumblr site? :)

Situated Documentary via Augmented Reality

Have just done a little investigation of the documentary possibilities of Foursquare. In sum, you’d have to use it in conjunction with other tools — a still and a line of text doth not a doco make, even if you repeat the trick many times. The posts need to be strung together. Whack the whole lot in Tumblr with an introduction and you might be nearly there.

Project examples

1. Walker–combining storytelling and social causes.

“WALKER is a new “Social Benefit” TransMedia Entertainment Property produced by The Legacy Productions. We invite you to become a part of the experience in this rapidly expanding new genre of entertainment which combines narrative, significant social and environmental causes, with mobile interactivity and commerce. YOU, our audience is given the opportunity to affect real world changes: from the environment — to education — to health – to the economy . . . all by applying your unique abilities, talents, networks and passion as an active part of the story. ‘In the fictional TransMedia StoryWorld, WALKER is a solo journalist . . . a SOJO . . . WHO JUMPS OUT OF HIS FICTIONAL WORLD AND IS NOW PARTICIPATING IN OURS. He’s alone in the world investigating stories which have global impacts environmentally, socially and economically. In the fictional story, many of the hidden puppetmasters behind WALKER want to “silence” him AND ANYONE WHO HELPS HIM. WALKER is not good for business . . . their business.’ WALKER develops and encourages a global movement for change driven by a series of webisode stories he begins and posts on-line.’

Blog entries provide further back story and additions to the story. Fiction and reality are blurred. The audience becomes a part of the story and a participant in it. Clues are provided integrating augmented reality, SmartPhone capabilities and QR Codes across multiple digital platforms , twitter, facebook, foursquare and other social media portals. The audience participants have the ability to become a SOJO with WALKER and impact the outcome of these stories . . . and enhance the dialogue on the stories. Currently Climate Hacking, NanoTech in the Food Chain, and Water Wars are the focus.”

2. Sands of Silence

Trailer (embedding not permitted)

A cross-platform project which includes a video clip for SANDS OF SILENCE documentary, a visual overview of SOS_SLAVES: Changing the Trafficking Game, and interviews with the SOS_SLAVES crew. Produced by BAVC Producers Institute for New Media Technologies.

Sands of Silence machinima

sandsofsilence.org
facebook.com/sandsofsilence
twitter.com/sandsofsilence