By Mark Harris, March 5th, 2010

Ordinarily, I don’t like speculative posts. At times I find them even counter-productive, because they can often wind people up with pie-in-the-sky “what-ifs,” but provide no real actionable items. So that’s not my intent here. Here I just wanted to throw out some ideas for viewing/releasing a film, and see what others think about them. What are the issues with them, could they even work, is anyone else doing them, etc. I’ve been reading a lot about “event” screenings and frankly so many of the ideas I see are just plain mundane. Bands, sponsors, gimmicks, none of this would ever make me go out to see someone’s film. None of these things strike me as particularly “event” worthy, except in a checklist kind of way.

Event Screenings

This week, I went to the TransmediaNYC Meetup.

I’m really glad I did. I wound up meeting some great people and hashing on some interesting ideas.

One of the things we talked about there was alternate viewing solutions. Typically, someone makes a film, you go to a theater, or you rent it, you sit and watch the movie happen. Then when you’re done, you talk about it with your friends maybe. But you are under no circumstances to talk about it during the movie.

That’s where I think we can have an interesting change. For instance, my fiance is an artist. And one of the things she does is video art. So I’ve been to see some of that with her. But one thing I’ve always thought would be interesting would be for the video art to have a real narrative. And I don’t mean each piece have a narrative of its own, but for all of the pieces to make up a narrative. I’m sure something like this exists in the art world already. Nikki, and other art-types, feel free to step in and tell me how far behind I am…

But I was thinking about it in regards to the “film” world. I think it would be insanely cool to have an entire film played out in a gallery, one screen per scene, say. Like maybe you have a bunch of HD TVs, each playing a scene from the film. Then, the audience walks about from scene to scene, taking in the story as they go. But they can also stop and chat about the scene they just saw in between, grab a drink, have a smoke. I like this social aspect. It’s almost like episodic TV, but the season is all in one room.

An alternate version of this would be to have the scenes placed randomly about the room. So that you don’t know what order to go in, and you have to put the story together as you go. Maybe by going back to previously viewed scenes to look for clues, or by keeping a little note-pad with you to keep track of what’s going on.

If you want to run wild with it, you can deliver specific scenes only to say, only mobile phones. So maybe a crucial piece of information that makes it all make sense only comes to you the next day at work.

What I love about this is the audience is an active participant. They have to work to put the story together. Which is fun, isn’t it? I mean, how much more fun was LOST when we first saw the numbers and everyone was trying to work out what it was all about? But it’s one of the things that also attracts me to Transmedia; this idea that the audience has to combine their imagination with the artist’s in order to tell the story.

What I also like about this stuff is it’s event-based. Which is something the DIY Usual Suspects talk about a lot. But this isn’t an event where you come, watch the movie, watch a band, maybe have a cocktail or two after, look at some sponsor’s crap, then leave. This is an event where you have to come with your brain turned on. You might stay here for hours, in this part-story-part-party. More than just a way to promote your film, this event becomes an alternate form of entertainment in its own right, something you really do have to show up for. I like this idea.

I also love the idea of filling in story details with live performances. Maybe there is a play incorporated into the evening. Or a dance, or some actors playing out a scene at one of the tables in the room. And you will only get that information if you are there. I guess this would be called another form of Transmedia. But then maybe you would tweet about that information and others would hear about it only second hand…so their experience of it is unique to them and yours to you. But again, this is something far more compelling to me, because it’s integrated with the story, and it’s genuinely a unique experience. And I guess that’s what I want to get to: creating events that people have to go to because those events sound amazing.

The Steps (a good-looking webseries, BTW) did a pretty cool release event-party. Quoted from Jawbone:

“At first, the thing that caught my eye was the promotion they were running around their release party … what they billed as a first of its kind ‘device party’ that featured live streaming of the first four episodes of the show via Ustream. Invited guests were to bring laptops and streaming video-capable phones to have the show delivered into the palms of their hands.  An ad-covered bus parked outside also allowed partygoers to hop onboard and view the world premiere from a passenger seat.”

This is similar to what I talked about above, but with people bringing their own viewing platforms instead of the venue providing them. This makes good sense, though for my money, I probably wouldn’t want to watch on my own computer. It’s like when I go to DIYDays and there are people just staring at their laptops and twittering the whole time. I think for the release party idea, I would probably try to push it to more group-oriented viewing, even though you do have the freedom to step away. But I like the idea.

Integrating Your Release

I guess the thing I’m struggling with is the fact that although so many people are trying to find new forms of distribution, it seems that the forms of entertainment remain largely fixed in their heads. It’s a feature film. It’s a web series. Etc.  And I wonder if, instead of questioning the “old” forms of distribution, maybe some of our answers lie more in questioning the “old” forms of filmed entertainment themselves. As I said above, I have absolutely no reason to go out and see a film “event” when the things at the event are bands, gimmicks and stuff.

So I was wondering if anyone had ever tried releasing a feature film both as a feature film and as a web series? Or perhaps as a web series first, and then a feature film. I know that there are aesthetic reasons why people wouldn’t want to do this. It might break up the continuity of their film. The film might not be parsable into webisode-sized chunks. Maybe it’s just because I like the idea of a series, that I somehow like this idea.

But what if you crafted a movie specifically to be this? I guess now we’re getting into questions of form. Many people have a pretty set idea of what comprises the form of a feature. But so many great TV shows that have overall arcs are watchable all in one sitting. Hell, I got the second season of THE WIRE at about 11PM one night, and could not stop until like 5 the next morning. So why not make a two hour web-series, then put it together as a feature film? Would this just kill the notion of being able to sell tickets to the latter? Or could you just make events out of the “feature” screenings, like I talk about above?

I am thinking about starting a screening series like this in NYC. Maybe do one and see how it goes. If interested in participating and experimenting with something like this, drop me a line.

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Posted in The Lost Children audience event transmedia

Mark Harris is a filmmaker and technologist in New York City. In addition to producing several shorts Mark is currently working on his first feature film, THE LOST CHILDREN. Mark also runs Gowanus Software, a technology consulting firm in Brooklyn, NY focusing on enterprise and mobile solutions.

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