By Lance Weiler, April 29th, 2010

I had the opportunity to speak at ARGFest in 2008 and had a wonderful time. It’s a great group of people doing some amazing work in the transmedia space. I was thrilled to hear that ARGFest this year would be getting bigger and better. I had a chance to ask ARGFest Chair Brooke Thompson a few questions about this year’s event which will be traveling to Atlanta, GA.

What is ARGFest?

ARGFest is a four day event (July 15-18 in Atlanta, GA) celebrating the best in alternate reality games & transmedia entertainment. It started back in 2003 when Steve Peters (then of ARGN) and Sean Stacey (of unfiction) wanted to get together over drinks instead of over email (or chat). A dozen or so others decided to join them, named it ARGFest, and an annual event was born! Over the years, it has grown from a small group of us hanging out in Vegas into a full-fledged conference that attracts some of the most innovative and influential minds in the field. But, despite the changes, we’ve never let go of our roots – it is still a community oriented event, created by fans & creators for fans & creators. This helps to keep the conference from ever taking itself too seriously – you don’t come to ARGFest for the sessions, you come to have fun and meet (or make) friends with people who share your passion. What’s great is that actually makes the sessions more interesting and the conference all the better. I love how that works!

Brian Clark at ARGFest 2008

How will the fest be expanding this year?

So many ways! The most noticeable is that we’re going from two days to four. In the process, we’ve expanded the conference to two days and added a weekend long game festival. It’s all quite huge and seems a bit drastic, but it was a very natural move for us to make.

For the last five years, ARGFest has been a weekend event with Saturday devoted to a conference. This has worked well, but we reached the point where we were turning away some fantastic speakers & conference sessions. While we could have just expanded the conference to two days, the thought of spending our entire weekend shut in some conference room made us all a bit crazy. Last year, when we had a few creators talking about and showing off some of their location-based games, we realized that two worlds were converging. There’s always been an interest in urban play (from street games to geocaching to live events, ARGs have used real-world spaces for years), but with the rise in location aware phones, people are really beginning to look at place as a platform for transmedia entertainment. With that, we realized we could manage a two day conference and, if we moved the conference to Thursday & Friday, we could have the entire weekend for urban play, location based games, and explorations into the ways in which transmedia creators can play with space and/or live interactions.

It’s a bit of an experiment, I’ll admit, but we’re really excited about it all. Not only does this allow us to both talk about and showcase the various ways that people are exploring transmedia, it lets us reach out to the general community in ways that we’ve never done before. I like to think of urban play (especially if it has a strong narrative) as one of the gateway drugs to the transmedia world – it’s accessible and just strange enough to make you feel like you’ve experienced something special. Once people get a taste of that, their minds open up to all sorts of possibilities and they want to see & experience more.

What can be done to make ARGs and transmedia experiences more accessible?

Transmedia experiences, especially alternate reality games, can become very complex very quickly. This means that making experiences accessible is incredibly important – even when they are not aimed at a large or mainstream audience. Its no surprise, then, that over the years designers have played with a number of ways to make (and keep!) experiences accessible to their audience (and potential audience). I’m not going to say that time has been wasted – there is definitely much to learn and, even, a few techniques worth using. But I am going to say that there has been an abundance of over-thinking. In my mind, it’s quite simple… an accessible transmedia experience connects with the audience on their terms, where they already are, with tools that they’re already using, and in ways that they already understand. Ok, maybe it’s not that simple – but it’s only four things! How hard can that be? More than that, it’s four things that make sense! Think about it…

After you’ve put all this time and energy into creating your transmedia masterpiece, you want to show it off. That means, you want to make it as easy as possible for an audience to discover you. But you don’t want people to just see the front page, get confused, and walk away – so you need to do things that they already know and understand. And, while it might be interesting, you don’t want to make them angry before they’re committed to the experience – so do things on their terms. All of these things can change the deeper someone falls down the rabbit hole. But, until they get there, don’t force them to jump through too many hoops.

Once you’ve mastered those four things, then you can start exploring other techniques such as narrative guides and tiered experiences designed to immerse the audience at different levels of engagement. But, until then, you’ll only have minimal success with anything else.

For those wishing to design their own games where does one start?

Talk to people who have created and played games. They’re fairly easy to find – unfiction and the IGDA ARG SIG are good places to look if you’re interested in alternate reality games and twitter has become my tool of choice to connect with all sorts of people working in and with transmedia. There’s a strong feeling floating around in the transmedia sphere that we’re at the start of something huge. The thing is… nobody really knows how huge or, even, what that something is. The only way we’re going to figure that out is by encouraging people to create in this space. So, ARG & transmedia folk love to talk… a lot. They like questions. They like to think. They like meeting new people. And they love to share ideas and advice. So don’t be shy, come find us and say hi.

What are some of your favorite ARGs / transmedia experiences of the last year?

It’s so hard to choose – a lot of interesting things have happened in the space in the last year. Personal Effects: Dark Art seems to jump out for me. If you aren’t aware, Personal Effects: Dark Art is a book that comes packaged with a number of artifacts (business cards, ids, notes, etc.). In addition to supporting the text of the book, these items lead to websites and phone numbers that help bring the world to life. Granted, the idea and execution isn’t new – Cathy’s Book did the same thing a few years ago (and both were created by Jordan Weisman who was the ARGFest keynote last year). However, they each reached very different audiences as Cathy’s Book was geared towards girls in their early teens and Personal Effects was an adult thriller. Publishers seem to be more willing to try transmedia experiences with books geared towards younger audiences, so seeing a similarly executed experience succeed for two very different audiences has been great! Hopefully this will help encourage more publishers (and authors!) to explore the potential of transmedia storytelling.

If someone wants to attend, speak or volunteer where can they find out more information?

The ARGFest website ( ) will have all of the information that you will need. For more up to the moment news & announcements, you can follow us on twitter (@argfest). Whether or not you’re familiar with alternate reality games, I want to encourage you to come. ARGs are but one type of transmedia experience and, if you’re at all interested in transmedia entertainment, you’ll find like minds at ARGFest. If you are interested in speaking and/or have a great idea for a session – let us know! There are submissions forms on the website that we review on a regular basis and they really do help guide us as we pull this thing together. With more space to play with than ever before, we really do want (need!) your suggestions to help us fill it. This truly is a community driven event and that makes it your event… What do you want to see? Who do you what to hear? Let us know so that we can try to make it happen! And, of course, we’ll see you in July!

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Posted in ARG cross-media event events gaming storytelling transmedia

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

By Christy Dena, April 27th, 2010

The following article is one from the WBP archives.

In the 1940’s filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as “The Archers”) championed a multi-artform cinema. They created films that represented music, dance, painting, literature and photography; for they believed that ‘all art is one’. Now, with the proliferation of media platforms, the palette for filmmakers is stupendous. Not only is it impossible to encompass all artforms in a single film, but there are aesthetic and economic reasons for maintaining their integrity. All art is not one within the film, but in its relationships with artforms around it. Filmmakers are now thinking beyond cinema and DVD to include the web, theatre, books and mobile technology in their canvas.

In this article I’ll take you through a whirlwind tour of some of the ways filmmakers are thinking beyond the film. Our first stop is a look at how the assets of a film are repurposed. This is not a discussion about distribution methods or how the medium of delivery influences the experience. Instead it is an exploration of the ways assets can be reused to create new works. The first example is that of filmmakers offering components of their film in digital format for anyone to ‘remix’. Remixing is rife with fans, but it is only in the last few years that filmmakers have begun to offer their content for remixing.

Sometimes the offering is driven by a desire to create ‘citizen marketers’, such as New Line Cinema’s release of footage and music so that people could create a new trailer of Liz Friedlander’­s Take the Lead (2006). They also specifically commissioned ‘official’ remixes (see Addictive). The logic behind New Line Cinema’s approach is best understood with this quote in the New York Times (6th April) by Russell Schwartz, president for domestic marketing for New Line Cinema: “Our assets become their assets, and that’s how they become fans of the movie.” For Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), assets – video, stills, audio – are provided so that audiences can create a music video at The Fountain Remixed . In this case, the offering is explained as giving audiences who want to contemplate eternal life the “chance to delve deeper” (from website). Peter Greenaway has made finding fragments, of a movie that is part of a large storyworld The Tulse Luper Project, a game. The Tulse Luper Journey involves players collaborating to complete 92 puzzles. On completion of each puzzle, a 1 minute film fragment is released to the player. It is then their task to compile the 92 minute film of Tulse Luper. The logic behind these offerings are manifold, from facilitating ‘citizen marketing’ to a highly personalized exploration of a storyworld. It should be noted too, that some filmmakers are experimenting with creating films specifically designed for remixing, such as Michelle Hughes’ Stray Cinema (2006), Aryan Kaganof’­s SMS Sugarman (2007) and Michela Ledwidge’­s (in-development) Sanctuary.

Filmmakers also engage in remixes of their own films. For the past year Peter Greenaway has been performing live VJing sessions of assets of his cross-media project The Tulse Luper Project . Workbook Project’s own Lance Weiler is currently touring the USA and Europe with his – ‘cinema ARG‘ of Head Trauma (2006). Weiler’s cinema event includes a remix, live music, theatrics and mobile phones. It is a unique experience of the film’s storyworld carefully curated by the filmmaker. His cinema theatrics are helping to revive the notion of cinema as event.

Peter Greenaway VJing
[Peter Greenaway VJing]

As well as remixing their own work, and offering their assets up for others to do with what they will, filmmakers are also commissioning artists to create interactive works out of the assets. On the main website of Head Trauma, for instance, Lance Weiler has included an interactive graphic novel that includes footage, stills and audio of the film. The website for David Slade’s Hard Candy (2005) has an – experience, and so too with Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain Experience . Indeed Peter Greenaway has also commissioned Digiscreen to create what they call a “webler” of The Tulse Luper Suitcases:

“Website constructed entirely from a film’s visual and aural elements that can be navigated and interacted with by a general audience. A webler should offer both an experience of the actual film as with a film trailer and an alternative expression of that experience.” (Digiscreen)

There are also non-web creative constructions of a film’s assets is ‘Blossoms and Blood’, a 12 minute montage of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love (2002). The short film is on the DVD and is constructed with deleted scenes. Since most of the shots included are of different points of view than those in the film, the work moves from vignette to being a kind of parallel universe. Poetic explorations of a theme are also rendered in print. Peter Greenaway has art books that accompany The Tulse Luper Suitcases (that he created), the Wachowski Brothers commissioned two volumes of graphic novels for The Matrix and Darren Aronofsky has written a graphic novel adaptation of The Fountain with painter Kent Williams. Aronofsky describes his entire project as “[a] story so grand, one medium couldn’t contain it” (source).

All of these works augment the film, providing a poetic rendition, but they also stand on their own as a work of art. They are at times a specifically designed prologue and epilogue. Indeed, some filmmakers push administrative detail to the side and instead prefer the films website to be a meditation on the theme. Examples are the websites for Darren Aronofsky’­s Requiem for a Dream (2000); Christopher Nolan’­s Momento (2000); Richard Kelly’­s Donnie Darko (2001); Darren Lynn Bousman’­s Saw II (2005) and more recently Richard Kelly’­s Southland Tales (2007).

Momento site
[Screenshot from Momento website]

This treatment of the web as an expressive medium extends even further. Some filmmakers are populating their storyworld on the web shoulder to shoulder with real world sites. Sites for fictional companies and characters in films are emerging across cyberspace, almost indistinguishable from their real world counterparts… if not for their outlandish nature. For instance, the company that erases Joel Barish’s memory in Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004) has its own corporate site: Lacuna Inc. The company that provided the cloned child in Nick Hamm’s Godsend (2004) is likewise online: Godsend Institute. Companies mentioned in the Enter the Matrix digital game (2003), such as Omega Hardware Solutions were also online. The company that produces the NS-5 in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot (2004) has a site dedicated to the robot: NS-5. The company has even issued a press release detailing how the “NS-5″ will play several major roles in the film. Indeed, Count Olaf, the evil character in Brad Silberling’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) has his own website and blog, a place where he relishes in his starring role in the film.

In all of these examples it is clear that the storyworld is not married to the primary medium, to film, anymore. For some, this multi-medium existence has an immersive effect. Just like real life, it is present in all communication channels. Of course, this can be encouraged with websites that are set within the universe of the film. Early examples of this are seen with Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler’s The Last Broadcast website in 1996 and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project website in 1998. The later went on to also broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel a mockumentary, Curse of the Blair Witch, of the mockumentary and published a dossier of the “evidence” in 1999. Over the past few years, it is has been these practices – representing the world of the film as being real – that have emerged as a primary aesthetic for many audiences and creators. Four months before the screening of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge 2 (2006) a blog by Jason C was launched. Jason C is postgraduate student who is covering the making of the film as part of his research. So, the site works as both a making-of and fictional prologue. Why fiction? Jason C is a fictional character who, over the next few months, witnesses mysterious events on the set. Slowly, all of the cast and crew are affected by the strange events. In the end, Jason C disappears and his roommate takes over the blog in an effort to get help to find him.

Despite many diegetic web to film references, there are not many instances of references to fictional sites within films. Movie Poop Shoot, was in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and the character Paul Duncan in Godsend does search the Net for the Godsend Institute website mentioned earlier. But the only explicit referral by a character I’ve seen is Professor Bedlam’s mention of his website in Ivan Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006): The cross-platform traversal was not well executed however, as the website featured content that was set in the plot at the beginning of the film, not the end. These traversals need to make sense in terms of the flow of the narrative, which means creative control over them. Despite this flaw, the explicit referral of another element of the storyworld in another medium is a sign that the craft of multi-platform expression is maturing. Each component is not divorced of the others, in other words, it is a carefully constructed experience.

The majority of examples I have given thus far are adaptations of some kind. There are examples emerging of a storyline being extended. For instance, at the end of the Donnie Darko website (which requires moving through various levels by solving puzzles) the viewer/player is rewarded with press clippings that detail what happened to some of the characters after the events of the film. The Grudge 2 blog I cited previously is also an example of a metafictional prologue. A different approach to the extension of a storyworld is found in the DVD of Brad Bird’s animated film The Incredibles (2004). Near the end of the film, the mother (Elastigirl) listens to messages left by the babysitter of her child Jack-Jack on her mobile phone/cell. As we progress through the messages it is clear the babysitter is getting more and more frantic. The film ends, however, without us knowing what happened with the babysitter and the son Jack-Jack. We find out what happened, though, in the short animated film in the DVD: “Jack-Jack Attack”. Here we have a change of POV and an elaboration of narrative point in the film. Filmmakers are also starting their narrative in books. Unlike the adaptation model that has dominated, these books are designed to start the plot, which will then continue in the film. Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2007) begins with three novels, and Chair Entertainment has begun their Empire story with a specifically written novel by Orson Scott Card. Chair Entertainment describe their approach as follows:

Chair’s unique value proposition is that we (1) create compelling original stories, (2) own and maintain creative control of our IP, and (3) create marketing synergy around that IP in 5 core franchise areas: video games, books, movies, comics, and merchandise. Each product we develop offers a unique perspective of the story and works together to expand the franchise. [source]

A similar multi-platform approach to addressing unexplored elements in a film is seen in EA Game’s The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-Earth II (2006). It is set during events that coincide with the events in Peter Jackson’s films, but take place in areas of Middle-Earth not covered in it. They are, of course, known from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. With massively multiplayer online games, we have the Matrix Online (2005) as a good example of the continuation of a storyworld into a game. The gameworld is set after the events of the last film and although there have been mixed reviews, there are interesting plot developments such as the death of Morpheus. Due to the popularity of the genre, there will be many more integrated game and film projects over the next few years. Of note is the project Titantic director James Cameron has been working on for the past few years: Project 880. Once it comes out (a year or so apparently), it will be the first project that will begin as a multiplayer game and then continue in a feature film. But before looking too far into the future, lets return to the innovative transmedia expansions that are happening now and in the not-too-distant past.

Image from Battle for Middle-Earth game
[Screenshot from EA's Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II]

The most referred to past project is the Wachoswki Brother’­s The Matrix universe. Their storyworld existed in films, anime, comics and games. But unlike tie-ins and franchises of the past, the Wachowski Bros. creatively controlled each element and designed a continuous narrative across them. A highly cited example is the narrative thread of “the message”­. In the short anime, “The Last Flight of Osiris” (2003), the character Jue and her crew discover the machines are boring to Zion. Their aim is to warn Zion of the impending danger by sending a message to the Nebuchadnezzar crew. At the end of the story Jue just manages to post the letter (thus ending a narrative thread), but we do not know what happens to the letter (a continuing thread). What happens to the letter is addressed in the digital game, Enter the Matrix (2003). The first mission for the player is to retrieve the letter from the post office. The player succeeds in continuing the narrative but we still do not know of the consequences of our actions. It is at the beginning of the second film, The Matrix Reloaded (2003), when Niobe (who is one of two characters in the game) reports on the ‘last transmissions of the Osiris’. The transmissions posted in the anime and retrieved by players in the digital game.

The Wachowski Brothers weren’t the only ones to persist their storyworld across media platforms though. In 2003 a group of fans conceived and implemented a unique project. Fan production is nothing new, but the form of this continuation of the Matrix storyworld was with a creative type that was only two years old. This group created an ‘alternate reality game’ (ARG): a storyworld that requires players all over the world to collaborate to find it and solve. Stories are distributed across numerous websites, emails, faxes, phone calls and real life events. Characters have blogs and chat to players via email, fax and phone. Fictional companies have sites that players have to ‘hack’ into and retrieve information from. The entire narrative is played out in real time, 24 hours a day and requires players to work together to solve very difficult puzzles to access information. The outcome is never fixed, for the creators always alter the world in real time according to the actions of the players. The ARG for The Matrix, MetaCortechs, is one of the most successful ARGs, with over 125,000 players from 115,000 countries. An invaluable book for those considering creating an ARG is the Project Mu Archives, for it documents The Matrix ARG from the player’s perspective. It is also available online. An ARG design book is also available: ARG designer Dave Szulborski’s This is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming.

Other films augmented by fans in the Jim Miller’s web-only Exocog in 2002. He chose the then forthcoming Minority Report as his storyworld and produced a 5-week project played in the build up to the film’­s release. In 2004, VirtuQuest created an ARG set in the universe of George Lucas’ first feature film: THX 1138 (1971). SEN 5241 continued the narrative after the events of the film and was created to coincide with the launch of the DVD.

Fans are the not the only who have created ARGs though. Indeed, the first ARG (as it known now) was actually a commissioned by Microsoft and Dreamworks to publicize Stephen Spielberg’s A.I: Artificial Intelligence (2001) but ended up being described by Internet Life magazine as the ‘Citizen Kane of online entertainment’. The Beast was played by over 3 million people all over the world and created the new form of entertainment. Players who followed 150 characters across hundreds of websites, emails, faxes, files and puzzles for months and generated over 300 million impressions for the film through mainstream press such as Time, CNN, and USA Today, as well as niche outlets such as Wired, Slashdot, and Ain’t it Cool News, and won numerous awards including best idea (New York Times Magazine) and best web site (Entertainment Weekly). [4orty 2wo Entertainment]

Monster Hunt Club website
[Screenshot of the Monster Hunt Club website for The Host]

In 2007, Magnolia Films commissioned ARG Studios to create an ARG for Bong Joon Ho’s The Host (2007). The ARG, Monster Hunt Club, helped market the release of the Korean film in the US. It was, I believe, the first ‘horror’ ARG (and Lance Weiler’s ‘cinema ARG’ the first of its kind, for scary movies too). More recently, an ARG-like campaign has started for the upcoming Batman film by Christopher Nolan: The Dark Knight. So far there have been fictional sites, such as the political campaign site for the character Harvey Dent (who becomes ‘Two-Face’) and clues left on playing cards left in comic book stores. One of the techniques that ARGs use is to remove all cues to fictionality: fictional sites almost indistinguishable from real ones. But as we have seen with the various projects mentioned in this article, this trope is not unique to ARGs. Indeed, making a fictional world seem as real as possible, extending it across media platforms, playing with it and enabling audiences to share and participate in its construction are just some of the key drives for filmmakers now.

In a keynote speech delivered at the Cinema Militans in September 2003, Peter Greenaway described the Tulse Luper Suitcases (a work that includes 3 feature films, a TV series, 92 DVDs and CD Roms, books and numerous websites) as: “an attempt to make a gathering together of today’s languages, to place them alongside one another and get them to converse.” Creators of film, print, TV, radio, theatre, games, new media and painting are all moving into this new paradigm of creation. Indeed, the future will not be the domain of artists who adapt or extend from their primary medium, but the domain of people who are transmedia artists from the beginning. Filmmakers don’­t create films anymore, they create worlds.

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Posted in cross-media crowdsourcing events experience gaming storytelling transmedia

Christy Dena is Director of Universe Creation 101, where she works for others as a cross-media narrative and game design consultant and educator, as well as developing her own properties and services. Her clients include agencies, corporations and production companies such as Wieden + Kennedy, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia Council for the Arts, dLux Media Arts, AlterAction and Pemberton Films.

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By Lance Weiler, April 24th, 2010

Power to the Pixel has been a champion of transmedia since it’s inception in 2007. Liz Rosenthal and her team have worked hard to establish PttP as one of the leading voices for digital innovation within Europe. This year PttP expands to include the Pixel Lab (a week long lab for the development of transmedia projects), a bigger version of their Pixel Pitch (which places projects in front of industry) and the addition of a cross-media market this fall when it holds it’s annual cross-media forum in London.

We caught up with Liz to get the low down on the new Pixel Lab.

What is the Pixel Lab

The Pixel Lab is a UK-based residential cross-media workshop open to European filmmakers and media professionals. It’s focus is the creation, finance and distribution of cross-media properties and also about developing new creative and business partnerships around cross-media storytelling. It takes place 4-10 July 2010 in Wales in the UK

European film producers and other media professionals will tap into the business knowledge-base of the film, online, broadcast, advertising, gaming and mobile industries. Led by international cross-media experts, the programme will be project-based and will be through group work, one-to-one meetings, plenary sessions and case studies; a tailored, hands-on opportunity for developing, packaging, marketing and distributing cross-media stories.

Why is now the right time?

As audiences engage with stories in ever evolving ways across multiple platforms and devices, the time is ripe to explore how storytelling will evolve to suit audience behaviour. The Pixel Lab will also look at the business opportunities around cross-media storytelling as stories extend beyond traditional formats and delivery methods. As traditional film finance routes dry up we’ll look at new potential alliances and partnerships across the media industries and the opportunity to extend the life and value of story properties.

How does the Pixel Lab relate to Power to Pixel’s annual cross-media forum?

After attending the residential week, producer participants will additionally benefit from three months’ focused distance learning around their project with experts. They will then be invited to attend PttP’s annual Cross-Media Forum in London in October where they will also present their projects to cross-media industry experts and decision-makers.

What are some of the interesting transmedia projects that you see emerging?

Last year we held our first Pixel Pitch Competition at our London event which showcased projects from around the world. Amongst 120 submissions 7 of the best UK and international teams were selected to present their projects to a select roundtable jury of experts, decision makers and financiers. Heart of the City from New York-based Desedo Films won the £6,000 Babelgum Pixel Pitch Award.

Angels– film and TV series, ARG, live event

Production Company: Happy Fannie (France)

Brand New-U – feature film, interactive web series, game

Production Company: Hot Property Films (UK)

Dark Forest Project – documentary, multi-platform game for web and mobile, live event

Production Company: Mudlark Production Company associated with NewTV (UK and Brazil)

Heart of the City – feature film, web series, live event, ARG and video game

Production Company: Desedo Films (USA)

Slick – feature film, web series, live event, ARG, mobile

Production Company: No Mimes Media (USA)

The Alexander Wilson Project – film web series, live event, game

Production Company: Bellyfeel / Visit Sheerport (UK)

Third Rail – feature film, web series, game, mobile app, interactive blu-ray

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Posted in cross-media events storytelling transmedia

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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By peter katz, April 23rd, 2010

At SXSW Keefe Boerner spoke on the 3D Steroscopic Production Tools, Production and Post panel. He has been a production coordinator, editor, visual effects and motion graphics artist, visual effects producer and post-production supervisor on feature films. Some of Keefe’s credits include collaborations with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. In this interview we discuss the ins and outs of 3D filmmaking.

Highlights at SXSW this year?

I had a busy SXSW this year. I hosted a panel on 3D filmmaking as well as attending three screenings of a film I post supervised, Dance with the One. Because of a last minute cancellation on the panel, I spent most of the weekend arranging for a replacement, ftp-ing clips, preparing presentations, making DCPs and QC-ing the material at the Alamo Drafthouse for the panel. Most panels are a bunch of folks showing up 15 minutes beforehand. Not this one. We were working on it for weeks, selecting materials, making 3D DCPS and PowerPoints, coordinating what each of us was going to talk about. I wanted the panel to be very informative. Given that we were on the other side of downtown from the convention center, it was very well attended and had a great response. Folks were coming up to the panelist during the rest of the festival and telling them how much they enjoyed it.

I did attend the future technology panel and met Paul Debevec, who turns out is a cousin of a friend. He’s an associate director of the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies Graphics Lab and co-inventor of HDMI and Light Stage, necessary, cutting edge tools in the VFX world. There were more highlights of the week, but I had to sign an NDA.

How did you get started as a filmmaker?

I went to film school, expecting to work my way up as an editor. My desire to stay in Austin forced me, like others, to wear many different hats. I eventually got into motion graphics and visual effects. One of my former interns had gone to work for Elizabeth Avellan and called me up when they were looking for a VFX coordinator on Spy Kids. I worked with Robert and Elizabeth for seven years, working my way up to VFX Producer and Post Supervisor. After my wife and I had a child, I decided I needed to take a break from the 80 – 100 hour work weeks and took a job at the University of Texas at Austin, managing the facilities for the Radio, TV and Film Department.

What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about 3D?

That all you need is two cameras and you can shoot a 3D film. It’s a specialized craft, like cinematography and editing. You need a stereoscopic specialist on your show who know the equipment, the theories and the ‘rules’ to advise production on how best to shoot 3D that is compelling, yet comfortable. The second misconception is that 3D appears the same, no matter the size of the screen. In reality, the stereo effect is lessened on a smaller screen and more intense on a larger screen. You cannot judge the 3D effect on a 19 inch field monitor if you are shooting for theatrical distribution. Of course, the Imax master is going to be different from the normal cineplex master as well.

Are all film genres enhanced by being shot in 3D?

Of course not. I really don’t have any desire to see ‘No Country for Old Men’ in stereo, nor most any other content. But what I would give to see ‘The Matrix’ in Stereo.

What are your favorite scenes from a 3D film and why?

Technically, if something was really good in 3D, I probably will not remember it. The problems or the thrills and great content are what stands out to me. I’m going to get nostalgic for a moment. When I saw ‘The Polar Express,’ I remember being thrilled by the roller coaster and flying ticket sequences. I adore ‘Coraline’, but it was mainly because 3D enhanced and was a perfect fit for an incredibly visual story. I’m happy with their decision to flatten the stereo for the real world sequences and increase the stereo for the imaginary world. So many of the shots were amazing. The Rats with their tracing left a strong impression, but again, it was amazing animation and art design and the 3D simply enhanced it. I didn’t really care for the narrow depth of field in some scenes – I would prefer wide depth of field in stereo to allow my eyes to wander in the scene – but I respect their decision.

Have you heard of D-Box (shaking amusement park-like chairs for movie theaters) and what are your thoughts on them being used along with 3D glasses?

I don’t think it is going to be able to replicate the thrill of an amusement park ride, where the entire viewing space and screen production is designed to work in synch to give you the impression of being in the experience. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another. I know some folks who love it and some who think it’s lame, but they have a tendency to piss on a lot of things. Stereo has been around for a long time, this is a reincarnation of an experience that has been around for 50 years and more if you include still photographs. Despite the history of stereo, we are still developing the theory and trying new things out. D-Box is breaking new ground and it’s a risky proposition. You have an incredibly expensive technology that is only able to recoup it’s cost one ticket at a time. I really respect what they are doing and I think it’s like any craft, when the filmmaker goes into the expectation that there will be motion editing as part of the post process, you can design the action sequences appropriately. It’s still in it’s relative infancy, but I expect to see (or feel) great things if folks take it seriously and can design around the limitations. But to answer your question, as immersive as you can get into the film, I think 3D and D-Box could make a great combination.

What is your advice to low budget ($100,00-$500,000) filmmakers who want to do a movie in 3D?

Forget about Stereo and focus on getting the story, actors and production design right. I’d ask them why they feel stereo is important. Of course, the economics of box office make it very desirable to have a stereo release, but bad stereo can ruin a good picture. And, with major box office films dominating the 3D screen space, there isn’t going to be a place for a low budget feature. It can also add significantly to the time and expense of production. I guess I would first talk them out of it unless I felt all the money for other needs was appropriately cared for.

What is your advice to film executives who want to produce big budget 3D films?

Get the stereographer involved in pre-production. Their job is almost as important as the cinematographer, Art Designer, Costumer and Visual Effects Supervisor. Sets and action should be designed to take advantage of stereo and stay within it’s boundaries.

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peter katz is an award winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Peter has produced genre films that have screened all over the world from the AFI Fest to the Rome Film Festival. His first picture Home Sick starred Bill Moseley from The Devil's Rejects and Tom Towles from Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Next Peter worked with Tobe Hooper (director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist) on Mortuary, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel. Most recently he was a producer on Pop Skull, a psychological ghost film, that has received great reviews in Variety and numerous film web sites. Currently, Peter is developing projects across various mediums including film, comics, and the web.

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