experience true convergence: the 50th new york film festival invites you to play

People often ask me, “Transmedia storytelling? What’s that?”

Usually, I point the questioner in the direction of Henry Jenkins’ often cited definition:

“It is a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.”

I share how I crafted Feeder: A Love Story, a play that extended to blogs and online video. Then, I tell them about my current project, NY_Hearts, an immersive experience that guides participants through New York neighborhoods with the iPhone app, Moveable Feast. Generally, people are interested, fascinated, skeptical or confused, and, often, their minds are blown.

It’s a new thing for sure. The Sundance Institute, understandably, embraced this futurist story form, offering a retreat for creators called the New Frontier Story Lab. Tribeca Film Festival has the TFI New Media Fund that offers grants, and this year it launches a new transmedia program honoring creators who use innovative, interactive, or multi-platform storytelling tactics. Film festivals aren’t the only institutions supporting this trend. The Global Cyber-Narrative Project from Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Black Women Playwrights’ Group, and Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment and Technology Center offers residencies to playwrights of color to explore ways of expanding stage works to digital platforms. Until now, these institutions offered residencies, grants, mentorships, and project case studies, which are all vital to incubating new creative forms.

The missing pie piece has been audience engagement. It’s wonderful to listen to creators offering case studies. Other story architects learn new techniques, and it spurs audience to seek out more transmedia work. But only a few programs offer a place where audience can truly engage and play.

The 50th New York Film Festival aims to let the audience play at Convergence.

More than just a series of killer panel discussions with top notch transmedia creators, Convergence has several events on the roster for the audience to play with. Check out these four fun experiences offering more than just panels and discussions.

RENGA
Presented by Adam Russell and John Sear

Renga
is about finding a way home. Attacked and left for dead, our hero must carefully marshal their resources to build a new ship, confront their nemesis and finally return home. Only this hero isn’t visible on the screen – it’s the entire audience, working collectively to control the action using laser pointers directed at the screen. Turning the traditional hero’s journey on its head, Renga asks the question – what if the ultimate reward can only be grasped by many hands? The show combines real-time crowd interaction technology, retro videogame aesthetics and a wry sense of humour to bring the audience together and leave them feeling a deep sense of camaraderie. The title refers to a form of collaborative poetry with 100 verses that blossomed in 15th century Japan.

WHISPERS IN THE DARK
Presented by Jeff Wirth


Whispers in the Dark
is an immersive fiction experience in which a non-actor participant will become the lead character in a story that plays out over 24 hours in settings throughout New York City. A young psychic spends the night investigating a room that has recently become haunted in Lincoln Center. Her encounter with the ghost sets her on an odyssey through the hidden worlds of New York City to uncover a dark secret. A professional cast plays the characters that appear and engage with the participant in the real-world locations, while an invisible crew captures the entire experience in one extended 24-hour “take.” The experience culminates at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where highlights from the adventure will be screened on September 30, 2012 during a live presentation.

MCCARREN PARK:
HIPSTER DINOS, TRANSMEDIA, AND PRODUCING SOMETHING FOR NOTHING

Presented by Caitlin Burns and Steele Filipek

McCarren Park
is an interactive educational transmedia experience available on phones, the Internet and even a card game. In this session, a selection of scenes in the first half of the narrative will be combined with lessons learned creating the feature for under $3500.00 How do you inspire collaborators to engage in your story world? What are some tactics that worked on this project and others to build an audience and to get that audience to add their own content into the story world? How do you create a story that can translate from one platform to another? How do you do that without a huge budget? Finally, what are the barriers to production on a miniscule budget and how can you overcome them?

TRANSMEDIA TEST KITCHEN
Presented by Brian Fountain and Matt Bolish

Two teams enter, but only one will leave victorious. Witness this first-of-its-kind exhibition-style transmedia showdown. Over the course of an hour, two teams of elite storytellers will conceive, build and pitch their best cross-media story. Not crazy enough for you? Wait! There’s more. In an unforeseen and dramatic twist, which you will already know about because you are reading this now, the teams learn they must also incorporate a secret ingredient. Spoiler Alert! The secret ingredient is you, the audience. That’s right you will be part of history. And who will decide the fate of these two teams? Some Ivy-league eggheads? Nope. Some B-list celebrities? Not happening! Those guys are way too expensive to book. In a stunning conflict of interest, you (yes you!) will be casting your vote to decide the outcome of this event. One team will be crowned victorious. The other will suffer the deep humility of having to watch the other team being crowned victorious.

Of course, there are plenty of professionals speaking about the evolution of storytelling. Collapsus creator Tommy Pallotta offers the event’s keynote address. Steve Schultz (Moveable Feast), Andrew Evans (National Geographic), Bill Plympton (Animator), and Amy Neswald (Indie Filmmaker) head up a panel on sharing stories in a geo-tagged world. Plus, the woman who literally wrote the book on transmedia creation, Andrea Phillips, discusses new roles audiences can have in storytelling.

I’ll be bringing NY_Hearts to the festival in a conversation about the Lower East Side experience that launched this past July and teasing part two of the story hitting Park Slope this fall.

I am also one of the participants in the Transmedia Test Kitchen, so if you want to see me get silly and try to make a multi-platform experience in 45 minutes, come by for a laugh or ten.

If you’ve ever wondered what transmedia is or want to play in new creative sandboxes, get a pass to Convergence in The 50th New York Film Festival on September 29th and 30th. It’s gonna be loads of fun.

Buy your festival pass here.

where’s the dough go? to a heckofa show called ny_hearts: les.

Inspired by Amanda Palmer’s blog today about where the hell all the money she’s raising on her Kickstarter will go ($801,825 as of this writing), I thought I’d break down my own NY_Hearts: LES budget and share where my campaign for $5000 will go.

THE BUDGET

$2100 covers production expenses. I’m paying actors, a sound engineer, and an associate producer. It’s a shoestring budget, and because the theater space is the Lower East Side I don’t have the overhead of theater rental, which would typically add another $15,000 to the budget.

$2878 is goes to hiring a press agent and printing. You may ask, “Why isn’t this line a round number?” It’s because I must cover the payout to businesses of goods and services for each journalist or reviewer who takes the journey. The press ticket is free, but I still have to pay for food and classes for any person – including press.

Finally, Kickstarter takes 5% of the total raised. In reality, I must raise about $5500 to cover all my expenses. Obviously, Kickstarter is a make it or lose it situation, so if I don’t reach my $5000 goal, I don’t get anything, which means I’ll be footing the bill for most of it and I will end up doing my own press hustling. It would be great to not have to personally take on the financial burden or hustle of garnering press so I can spend time creating the best experience possible.

WHAT DO YOU GET?

Some have asked what you get for the experience, and I think it’s a great deal. Participants get a yoga class, a drink from a bar, a special from a coffee shop, an item from a retail store, and a meal at a restaurant. They also get what I think is a sexy and provocative story that kicks off an 18 month transmedia narrative. It costs less than dinner and a show, and you get so much more with NY_Hearts: LES.

THE BIG PICTURE

In comparison to what Amanda’s raised my goal is meager, but it all goes somewhere and I don’t see much back. The monies from ticket sales in July go straight back into the project, which is an 18 month endeavor, including the NY_Hearts neighborhood experiences, a web series and another live experience for the winter of 2013-14. In addition to those three tent pole productions (which really feel more like seven productions once all five of the neighborhood experiences are complete) I’m including morsels of story through visual art, music, and social media platforms to color and shade the narrative.

Right now, I’m at $800 of my $5000 goal. I have 22 days left. Please, consider pledging. You can get 30% off tickets if you’re an early bird donor at $40, and if you pledge only $25, I’ll integrate a sentence about someone you love or loved into the NY_Hearts: LES experience.

Thanks tons, and hope you can pledge your support today:

NY_Hearts: LES KICKSTARTER

NY-HEARTS.COM

ny_hearts: les kickstarter

Creating a new piece of work is challenging. You work endless hours writing, planning, and raising money. The first two tasks are daunting enough, but then you ask people for support — whether you request they pay money to see the project or solicit donations for financing — you ask friends, colleagues and strangers to believe in your work and invest time and money into it.

It’s been a while since I’ve invited people to support my work, but now I’m reaching out again. I’m proud of the creation, and I’m just about ready to share it.

Now, I’m in the final phase. I’ve launched the Kickstarter campaign for my transmedia theatrical project, NY_Hearts: LES, which opens in The Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival in July 2012. I’m partnering with local small businesses to offer an immersive experience in which the audience gets to see, feel, taste and smell the same things the characters did in the story.

Contribute $25 and submit a sentence about someone you love or loved, and I’ll integrate it into the story. You can also get 30% off the regular price if you pledge $40 for limited early donation discount tickets. Once this deal is gone, you can still reserve regular priced tickets through Kickstarter.

Thanks to all who have supported me throughout the years. This is a big new chapter in my career, and I hope you’ll not only contribute now but also come to check out NY_Hearts: LES this summer. After all, the most important part of creating work is sharing it with others.

DONATE ON KICKSTARTER

gettin’ busy

The past week’s been a bit of a blur and completely fantastic.

Me, preparing for our project presentation at last week’s StoryCode hackathon. Yes, I ate all those pizzas behind me. (Big up to Amanda Lin Costa’s article on PBS’s Mediashift where the shot is featured.)

When I greet my friends and ask how it’s going, I often get the answer, “Busy.” Typically, they follow the response with a heavy sigh or a diatribe about the pressure they’re under at work. I’m conscious of giving this canned response to people when I’m asked the same question. If I do feel the need to tell people how busy I am (I live in New York – like I’m ever not busy?), I try to let people know it’s a “good busy.”

Last I wrote here, I was gearing up for the first ever transmedia StoryCode Hack: Beta offered by StoryCode, a new not-for-profit supporting transmedia/cross-platform projects. For the past couple years the group has been just that: a Meet Up group that gave speakers a forum at which to share case studies of successful projects. When Aina Abiodun and Mike Knowlton incorporated, they fashioned this mission:

StoryCode is a non-profit community hub for independent immersive and cross-platform storytellers; supporting, incubating and showcasing projects created by them.

Aina Abiodun and Mike Knowlton introducing the StoryHack presentations.

Their action shift was the incubation directive. Transmedia Meet Up groups the globe over offer panel discussions and speakers showcasing projects, but StoryCode kicked it up a notch. They’re in the business of cross-platform story formation. StoryCode realized creators are tired of talking and want to get their hands dirty, fail and learn from those failures.

I’m not going to go into the details of the Story Hack here. My super awesome US Maple hackathon teammates, Randy Astle and Carrie Cutforth-Young give great analyses here, here, here, here and here.

The hack home stretch before presentations.

What I want to acknowledge is the community created. Real community can’t sustain unless its members feel fed, and this past weekend, 27 storytellers, developers, game designers, filmmakers, and theater-makers devoured the challenge, nourished themselves, and grew into a team of transmedia creators.

It was the most fulfilling artistic experience I’ve had this year.

On top of all this, last week I announced my new project, NY_Hearts: LES, which is part of the Game Play Festival at The Brick Theater. StoryCode provided the platform for me to share this exciting project and ask for immediate essentials I need. I sought an associate producer, a geo-tagged location based storytelling platform, and small business partners in the Lower East Side. With this assistance, I’ve fulfilled several of these needs. You can read more about one of the new developments on the NY_Hearts blog.

It’s challenging to make new work, and thanks to StoryCode and The Brick Theater, I’ve been busy. Very good busy. And I hope to continue being good busy for the next several months.