artsfwd blogging fellowship

EmcArts_Header

Recently, I was invited to join the ArtsFwd Blogging Fellowship. From now until the end of June, I’ll be offering my suggestions on innovation in arts administration. ArtsFwd is an extension of EmcArts, a social enterprise for learning and innovation in the arts.

From EmcArts website:

We serve as a nonprofit intermediary for many arts funders, and as a service organization for the arts field around innovation. We exist to strengthen the capacities and effectiveness of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, serving their needs in the design and management of innovative change, and assisting them in building their adaptive capacity.

Think of ArtsFwd as EmcArts’ arms embracing the online community. Blogs, podcasts, videos, and interviews give industry professionals’ tools to actively improve their organizations. ArtsFwd even offers a place for you to share your own innovative projects.ArtsFwd_fbook_coverphoto2-1Yesterday, ArtsFwd published my first article, What’s the Value of Transmedia Storytelling for Organizations? Here is a taste:

Transmedia is the art of sharing a narrative over multiple media platforms (print, online, stage, film, social networks), where unique content is delivered through each platform. For example, Fringe, the hit television show, used transmedia to expand its storyworld and reward its biggest fans. To learn more about how Fringe used transmedia, read my case study about the multiple platforms implemented over the show’s five seasons.

Though arts organizations are different than television programs, I believe it is increasingly imperative that arts organizations employ transmedia thinking as a way to expand a story over multiple media platforms.

Read the rest of the article on ArtsFwd.

The ArtsFwd program is inspiring, and I’m having great fun so far. Shout out to Karina Mangu-Ward, Director of Activating Innovation, and Kendra Danowski, Associate Editor, for spearheading this important outreach initiative. Thanks for having me on board.

Excited about the future.

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the transmedia of fringe

After five seasons, two universes, and multiple timelines, Fringe ended its run January 18, 2013 on Fox. I’m proud to say I stuck with this show to the very end. More than anything – like other fans – I connected with the cast’s phenomenal performances. When the sci-fi was good, the show was great. When there was more “fi” than “sci,” the actors buoyed the show to the next peculiar portal.

FringeTeam

For those unfamiliar with Fringe, it follows a team of FBI investigators in the “Fringe Division.” Not unlike The X-Files, Fringe had a case-of-the-week structure with a dense, over-arching mythology spawned from most of the cases. At the heart of the mythology was the story of Walter (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), an estranged father and son who – with the help of FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) – grew to love each other. Add lab assistant Junior FBI Agent Astro…I mean, Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), and Special Agent-in-charge Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), and you have the Fringe team. Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), COO of Massive Dynamic, a corporate entity frequently responsible for the bizarre events the team examined, often aided the team in their investigations. Oh yeah. And bald man who wore a suit and fedora observed them. His name was September (Michael Cerveris).

Now that the show is over, I decided to compile as many of its transmedia extensions as I could in one place. Like Lost, another J.J. Abrams production, Fringe created a rich storyworld in which fans delighted throughout its five seasons. From viral videos and comic books to Easter eggs and science education, Fringe stretched its tentacles around numerous platforms.

I’ve done my best to keep story descriptions vague and spoilers to a minimum; however, there are a few. If you wish to keep completely in the dark, proceed no further. And watch the show.

SEPTEMBER’S NOTEBOOK: THE BISHOP PARADOX

Let me start at the end. My impetus to create this compilation grew after I learned Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams’ company which produced Fringe, is publishing a book from the show. Unlike the “The Lost Encyclopedia,” a post-show summary book about another Bad Robot production, Lost, “September’s Notebook” actually appeared in episodes of Fringe.

Throughout the series, a group of twelve bald men took notes about Earth’s history. Named after months of the year, the one called September followed the Fringe team, detailing their every move in a notebook and gradually becoming more attached to them. The Observers were an enigmatic element in Fringe’s mythology, and Fox harnessed that mystique in marketing campaigns, both commercially and virally. Fringebloggers.com has a great history of the Observers’ appearances.

SeptembersNotebook

Interestingly, the notebook comes from the same writers who created “The Lost Encyclopedia,” Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. Being friends with Fringe executive producer Jeff Pinkner, Tara sent “The Lost Encyclopedia” to him, hoping to do something similar with Fringe. Both Jeff and executive producer J.H. Wyman loved the idea. They assigned Noreen O’Toole, who works as a producer on transmedia projects at Bad Robot, to work on the extension. Together, they imagined several options, and Warner Brothers chose “September’s Notebook.”

Recently, Tara and Paul spoke in-depth with the Fringe Podcast about the year-long creation of the notebook. Most of the details I’m sharing come from that interview, which you can listen to here:

The most exciting facet of the notebook is that it isn’t just a translation of September’s writings. The book includes artifacts September collected and placed inside for safe keeping. The authors are attempting to put the fan in September’s shoes. Touch what the characters touched. Feel what they felt. It is a tactile and interactive augmentation on what fans have already seen to give context to the series.

Fringe’s showrunners always tried to honor the feedback their fans offered. After the backlash from the Lost series finale, it felt as though Fringe creators didn’t want a repeat of last time. With the notebook, they’re attempting to thank fans from all over the world by treating them as Easter Eggs. Fans that used #FringeFridays on Twitter get a special shout out in the book.

That is how you connect with fans. Listen to them and speak with them – not at them. Fringe fans have changed how social media affects the longevity of a show. “September’s Notebook” is a way to thank them for going above and beyond.

THE OBSERVER LANGUAGE

One of the more controversial aspects of the show is the Observer language. Initially created by actor Michael Cerveris, who played September, Fringe eventually imbued the random symbols he scribbled with meaning. The producers frame “September’s Notebook: The Bishop Paradox” as a translation of the language written in the notebook.

Fringe fan Drew Crawford wrote a nice post on his disappointment of discovering that many of the Observer words are gibberish; however, the symbols are still a fun frill on the Fringe mythology.

You can even download “The Observer” font at Dafont.com.

GLYPHS

One of the first big Easter eggs Fringe disseminated to viewers starting with the first episode was the glyph cipher. The glyphs appeared leading into each commercial break. Each had a variation of a glowing yellow dot in one of the picture’s four corners.

FringeGlyph

It took the better part of the first season for someone to decipher the code, and Julian Sanchez was the guy who did it. Each glyph corresponded to a letter of the English alphabet, and together, the letters spelled a word that corresponded to a character or a theme related to that episode.

VIRAL VIDEOS

To prepare its audience for the drastic shift in tone of season five, Fringe released a series of public service announcements…er, warnings…from The Observers. They directed fans to the now defunct rewardwire.org, where they could engage with the story.

The videos also included the hashtag #AreYouDonald?, a reference to an unknown ally of the resistance, and who the Fringe team sought for most of season five.

COMIC BOOKS BY STAFF WRITERS AND CAST

Before the pilot even aired, Bad Robot created content to prep their new science fiction series. The Fringe Preview Comic” is the prequel to a six-part Fringe comic book series that cover stories prior to the series’ pilot. From WildStorm Productions, they distributed it for free at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2008.

The second series of comics “Tales from the Fringe,” was a six-issue miniseries that featured a different main character on the show that added to the show’s mythology.

BeyondTheFringe

The third installment did something unique. The producers let Joshua Jackson – one of the show’s stars – write a series of comics. “Beyond the Fringe,” offered alternate universes not seen on the show. There were 12 individual chapters divided between six ‘A’ stories that tied directly to the show storyline and six ‘B’ stories postulate a ‘what-if’ tale. The ‘what-if’ tale even goes as far as to make Peter (Jackson’s character) into a superhero who protects the citizens of “Boston City.” For real.

RedLanternArrowMockCover

One other trivia tidbit I enjoy: DC Comics published the second and third volumes, and the show carried over a shout out to its red alternate universe storyline on television, in which the “Red Lantern” and “Red Arrow” are DC comic characters.

EDUCATIONAL COMPONENTS

One of the lesser known aspects of Fringe is its partnership with the non-profit organization Science Olympiad during seasons 2-4 in which they offered lesson plans for science teachers. “The Science of Fringe” inspired lessons that use the episodes to teach about hard science.

You can download lesson plans here.

ARG & IN-SHOW WEBSITES

Several seeds planted the series back in 2008.

The Massive Dynamic website of the fictional, monolithic corporation that touches everything in the Fringe universe is still up and running. It offers a peek inside this probably sinister company, including mock press releases you can download. It also led to an ARG that Jonathan Waite covered on ARGNet.

Fringe launched a scavenger hunt at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego, and an online sweepstakes began at the now dead, imaginetheimpossibilities.com.

Fringepedia.net. has a detailed list of all the rabbit holes.

FAN ART SOLD FOR CHARITY

If you watch or read interviews with the showrunners or cast of Fringe, fans are almost always acknowledged with a heartfelt thanks. Everyone involved with production knows the opportunity to see Fringe through to a satisfying conclusion was a rare and wonderful television event. Often, the showrunners shifted the plot of the series because of fan feedback. This is most evident in season five, where numerous fan favorite episodes made cameos – or became integral plot points, as in the case of “White Tulip.”

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“White Tulip” by Anthony Petrie

In January 2013, Jensen Carp of Gallery 1988 curated the “Fringe Benefits” exhibition. Known for showing art inspired by television shows, like Breaking Bad. With “Fringe Benefits” co-creator J.J. Abrams and his team asked viewers to judge 31 episodes. The top six episodes acted as inspiration for artists to create work. Limited edition prints were sold online, and proceeds went to The Mission Continues, which awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans.

Fan favorites are sold out, but a couple prints are still available.

JUST FOR FUN

One of the best things about Fringe was its sense of humor. Typically, Dr. Walter Bishop was the character tickling ribs. Having lost his mind and lived in a St. Claire’s Mental Institution for 17 years, his wild perspective was always fodder for fun. Also, his frequent LSD and THC trips made for some of the series most imaginative and goofy episodes.

During the first season, Fringe was establishing their characters. A wild way to share intimate moments with Dr. Bishop was through silly supplementary shorts in the style of Jack Handy’s famous SNL “Deep Thoughts” called “Deep in the Lab by Walter Bishop.”

ALL FIVE COMPLETE SEASONS

At the foundation of all these bits and pieces is a great television show. If you haven’t checked it out, you can watch the entire series through Amazon. The fifth and final season DVD drops on May 7, 2013. Pre-order it here. Amazon Prime also has Fringe Seasons 1 through 4 to stream online at Amazon Instant Video.

If you’re a Netflixer, you can get disks mailed to your house.

SOURCES

I’m sure I missed something. Over five seasons, there have been tons of bread crumbs scattered across the Internet and real life. If you know an aspect of Fringe‘s transmedia swell I missed, please sound off in the comments.

I must thank all the sites dedicated to this now classic television show. They archived tons – tirelessly writing, recording podcasts and observing Observers in the background of scenes – for five seasons. Kudos for your devotion. I enjoyed your commentary nearly as much as I did the show, itself.

fringebloggers.com

thefringepodcast.com

fringetelevision.com

fringepedia.net

seriable.com

fastcompany.com

wired.com

peaking at the new frontier

Sometimes, things just work out.

That’s how I felt Saturday night as I fell asleep on the red eye departing from Salt Lake City. My wife and I just completed a week vacation with her parents and brother skiing in the mountains of Utah, and we capped it off with my first visit to the Sundance Film Festival. We scheduled the vacation with short notice, and it was only after setting the trip’s dates we realized its tail end would overlap with the start of Sundance. We didn’t have tickets to any films, but I knew I wanted to visit New Frontier, the social and creative venue that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, and transmedia experiences.

First, we went to another venue to see if we could get tickets to a documentary, but it (like all the other films that day) was sold out and had a very long waitlist queue in which we would need to stand for over an hour before getting a number to hopefully be selected two hours later, when they assessed open seating and called off numbers. Needless to say, it didn’t sound like our idea of a fun day. We headed over to the New Frontier venue.

WelcomeToNewFrontierSandwiched between one of the park-and-ride lots and The Blind Dog sushi bar is The Yard, a 100,000 square foot multipurpose space that houses the New Frontier venue. Divided into three parts, the main area features a gallery-style space featuring the New Frontier artists. The other two spaces offer a theater specially designed for the venue and a bar/lounge area for press interviews and parties. I spent most of my time in the gallery and saw two short films during our visit.

We arrived at noon, which is when the venue’s doors open. Immediately, I asked for the box office because I knew Coral: Rekindling Venus screened at 1:00pm, and I hoped we could get on the waitlist. Being the first to arrive, we got on the waitlist with no problem. While we waited, the New Frontier volunteer staff helpfully explained the photographs of coral hanging nearby trigger an augmented reality app that takes you “inside” the photograph, animating it as if you are under the sea.

coral2     coral1

You can download the iOS app here or Android here and use the pictures I took to try it out. Click the thumbnails for larger images.

An hour later, we were lying down on mats and beanbags in a small planetarium, which reminded me of a yurt one might find at Burning Man. Inspired by the first collaboration among the international science community to witness the celestial transit of Venus in 1761, Lynette Wallworth’s Coral: Rekindling Venus is designed to nurture an emotional connection between a global audience and the planet’s endangered coral reefs. It has a trance inducing effect as one reclines, opening to ocean animals, including sea lions, deep sea bio-luminescent creatures, and of course, stunning time-lapse coral shots.

Prior to the screening, Evans & Sutherland, the company that created the planetarium, offered a demonstration of the numerous projects using their technology. The demo was almost as interesting as the film, for it included examples of real time, interactive tools for teachers. My mother-in-law, a retired junior high school science teacher, looked like a kid in a candy store and marveled at how this technology will change how we teach science. Way cool.

Next to the planetarium was a wall scrawled with graffiti and donning a poster of a large rock. I immediately recognized the rock as the handy work of Yung Jake. Prior to our trip to Utah, I visited the Sundance New Frontier website to check out the artists. I discovered Yung Jake’s E.m-bed.de/d, a wild, truly innovative music video that takes over your browser. Seriously, click on the link above, hit play, watch the video, and then come back and read the rest of this.

yoongjakerockAfter I found Yung’s work, I followed him on Twitter and shared E.m-bed.de/d. Yung DMed me and offered a beta test of the app he’s premiering at Sundance. It’s a trippy, 3-D, interactive music video that plays on your phone or tablet called Augmented Real. You can download the iOS app here. (No word on Android.) Point your device at the rock image above and press play.

I’m only sad we left town before Yung played his live performances. He performed a sold-out show last night. If you caught the gig, let me know how it was. He has one more show tomorrow, January 24. It looks like there are still a few tickets left. You can buy them here. According to L.A. Weekly, Yung Jake, may very well end up being the breakout star of Sundance.

MoreFingerprints

Pulse Index, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Pulse Index is an interactive art piece that does what I love most. It makes its audience into the art. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation records the heart rates and fingerprints of participants and displays them in a Fibonacci pattern. You place your finger into the custom-made sensor, and your fingerprint appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to your heartbeat. Your print then travels down the sequence to join those of all the others who have visited the room. The mosaic of pink prints cover the walls of the room, constantly shifting the energy of the space. It’s breathtaking.

PamChristyHundredsOfFingerprints

My wife and mother-in-law cheesing amongst the pixelated prints.

My favorite piece at New Frontier was What is He Building in There? Inspired by the Tom Waits song of the same name, Ricardo Rivera and the Klip Collective transformed the front facade of the New Frontier venue into a 3-D, projection-mapped parable. Lately, I’m a sucker for 3-D projection-mapping, and this Kafkaesque, existential concoction of live action and animation blew me away. On the surface, the building looks like the outside of a factory, but throughout the film, walls dissolve away and windows slide open, showing the never ending toil of a solitary worker building…something.

“What’s He Building In There?” Sundance 2013 New Frontier documentation from Klip Collective on Vimeo.

One of the best parts of this was when a woman approached the entrance of the building and she waited for the projection to “open the door.” When it “opened” and she tried to walk through the door, she discovered the actual door still blocked her way. A true testament to the projection’s precision.

I didn’t get to check everything out. I heard Eyjafjallalokull, a three-dimensional, audiovisual mapping, optical illusion installation inspired by the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption, was wonderful. We couldn’t get tickets to North of South, West of East which wraps the film around the entire room in a 20-seat theater with swivel chairs. And Cityscape 2095 placed spectators on the observatory deck of a skyscraper, where they take in an imaginary city as it glitters over the course of one day. It was super cool, but I couldn’t stand there all day to watch it change.

Cityscape 2095

Cityscape 2095 by Yannick Jacquet, Mandril, and Thomas Vaquiée

We arrived at Sundance on a wing and a prayer, and as luck would have it, we enjoyed most of the New Frontier exhibition. If you’re in Park City this week, I highly recommend checking these exhibitions out. It’s not a crowded as Main Street, the volunteers are more than happy to help you explore the interactive aspects of the art, and you might just have your mind blown.

It was definitely a high point of my week in the mountains of Utah. The only thing I’d do differently next time? Plan ahead and schedule more than one day at the festival. So little time. So much to see!

the lost children want you

Yesterday, I officially began blogging for Culturadar, an arts listings website for New York City. Here is my first post, which you can also read here.

Have you ever wondered what it is like inside a cult? I mean a true blue, alien believing, doomsday cult that blindly follows a single man anywhere he leads. How do they vet their members? What do they share with their inner circle? What is real, and how do they manipulate science to attract followers to their bizarre beliefs? And, what happens to someone after she is violently extracted from the cult in which she is deeply embedded?

In the 1970’s, if you had a loved one embedded in a cult, a man named Ted Patrick was your go-to-guy. He forcibly broke doors down, tied people up and kidnapped them from cults. The police couldn’t legally do anything about the brainwashed members inside these cults, so they let Patrick get away with it. This went on until the 1980’s when laws shifted, making Patrick’s actions extremely difficult. That’s when kidnapping convictions and lawsuits landed left and right. But that didn’t stop families from hiring extractors to rescue brainwashed loved ones.

EVIEIn the 1990’s, a young woman joined a cult, and her family hired a professional like Patrick to extract her. He forcibly kidnapped her and put her through a rigorous deprogramming process. She tricked the extractor into believing she was deprogrammed so she could return to the cult, but the cult rejected her because they believed she had been deprogrammed. The woman lost all her friends and grew exceedingly lonely. To deal with her loss, she sued her own parents for destroying her life – and won.

Inspired by this true story, director and story architect Mark Harris wrote The Lost Children, a film that tells the tale of Evelyn Hamilton, a party girl turned would-be messiah of the secretive Lost Children cult that believes they are aliens from another world and their mothership, hidden within the Tioga Comet, is approaching Earth. The film follows Evelyn’s journey from The Lost Children, to the hands of obsessed cult deprogrammer Jared Allen Tyler, a character inspired by Ted Patrick.

Once Harris completed the film, he decided to dive into the themes of belief and faith. He expanded the story world of the cult through a live, immersive event in which the audience moves between two spaces. The first space offers a fictional cult recruitment session where some audience may be targeted for advanced psychic testing. The second space is an interactive science lecture in which authentic scientists discuss the nature of comets, as well as the real possibilities of alien life in the universe.

CONVERGENCE

On January 22 and 28, Harris will fully realize his plans when The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents the New York premiere of both the film and immersive theater extension of The Lost Children in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater.

Bouncing between cult mythology and hard science, the audience will see two sides of this strange world before viewing the aftermath, which is the film. When I spoke with Harris, he shared his hopes for the New York premiere.

“I kind of want this big argument going on in everyone’s head,” said Harris. “More importantly, I’d like the argument going on in person. Then, they kind of come together in the film with that argument in their head already.”

When finding distribution for the film became challenging, Harris sought a way to get people’s attention. The film doesn’t show the inside of the cult, so he turned to immersive theater to tell that story. By putting the audience in the position of the protagonist, they discover a unique perspective that deepens their experience. The live event also helps with marketing the independent film, which doesn’t have the big PR budget of studio movies.

“I didn’t want my movie to get lost,” said Harris. “You can’t compete. I wanted to do something really unique to make it stand out.”

UntitledDepending on the event’s reception, Harris might return for more showings in the spring. There is a possibility of digital distribution of the film, but he anticipates he will retain the theatrical rights, which gives him control over the live experience and allows him to pop up cult recruitments wherever and whenever he wants. For now, there are only the two showings at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. If you want to find out what it’s like inside a cult, Mark Harris is offering a limited peek at the secrets of The Lost Children.

Just tell your family where you’re going, so they know where to send Ted Patrick if you disappear.

The premiere of The Lost Children is now sold out.
filmlinc.com/lostchildren

thelostchildrenmovie.com

biscuit! the super power of touretteshero

About a year ago, my friend Matthew Pountney introduced me to Jessica Thom. Well, he virtually introduced me to her alter ego, Touretteshero. Jessica was born with Tourette’s and does not medicate (aside from muscle relaxants) because of unwelcome side effects. As a result, her tics are frequent – she spouts the word “biscuit” 16,000 times a day – and they strain everyday relationships. When Matthew shared Jessica’s website with me, I was inspired.

Aside from Jessica’s obvious bravery, I’m extremely impressed with her transmedia approach to share her story. She embraces Tourette’s as a super power and uses this narrative to teach children about the syndrome. Thus, Tourretteshero was born. Jessica offers workshops for kids where they can embrace their own super heroes, and she’s got a YouTube page featuring fun videos about her work and causes she supports.

Her website shares interactive art created by Touretteshero fans based on Jessica’s verbal tics. She posts the tics and allows fans to vote for their favorite tics. Fans have created illustrations based on the tics, including some of the hilarious R-rated drawings you can see here.

I’ve got ninety nine problems but a bear ain’t one.

Quirky video art duo chris+keir re-enacted a number of Touretteshero’s tics as performances.

She remixed soundbites into a song featuring actor and comedian Stephen Fry, and, of course, a multi-platform campaign wouldn’t be complete without social media, which you can follow on all the typical channels. My favorite is TicBot – the only bot on Twitter I will endorse – which randomly injects tweeted tics into your feed when you least expect it. Follow @ticbot. Fun stuff.

And now, Jessica is publishing her diaries, Welcome to Biscuitland: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero. You can read some excerpts from the book on The Mail’s website, and pre-order the book on Amazon.

The more I see from Jessica, the more I want to meet her in person. An ocean divides us, but I’ve hope Matthew’s virtual introduction will someday lead to a face to face meeting. Jessica’s creativity, humor and bravery inspires me to not only make good, fun art, but create important work that educates and enlightens.

Tourettshero.com

Welcome to Biscutland: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero