Where do you go to find the right team of collaborators for something that’s never exactly been done before? Who’s your Dream Team for the Unseen? What are their roles and responsibilities? Here’s the situation: I’m a writer/director/producer of a transmedia documentary called “Get It All Out” that is now in its 4th year of development, with a goal of a feature-length film, an eBook for iPad and Android devices, a new 12+ member orchestra (playing and recording songs that haven’t been heard in nearly 30 years – this summer in NYC), and a remix contest – as just 4 of the elements of my project. After much reading and thought, here’s a list of both people I’m currently working with, and people I’m looking to collaborate with, and why (not necessarily in order of importance):
1) Interaction Designer
2) Art Director
3) Editorial Director
4) Music Director
5) Director of Photography
While we have located 4 and 5, the first three roles remain to be filled. To fill these “vacancies” in the team, I will attempt to describe the who and why of these titles.
1) Interaction Designer – With a background in information architecture (IA) and user experience (UX) design – the Interaction Designer is responsible for engaging and placing the audience in the story, regardless of interface. I would define the person in this role as a deep, yet motivated thinker – someone who breaks down the director/producers assertions of what the storyworld is thought to be, and puts them back together in elegant and compelling ways. I think this role will only increase in importance to producers as the workflows and processes of cross/ transmedia continue to be defined.
2) Art Director – In 1992, I had the privilege of seeing 2 designers set the direction, logo and tone of the design of what would become Wired Magazine. John Plunkett and Barbara Kuhr of Plunkett+Kuhr were the team behind the look of a magazine that generated strong reactions in most everyone who saw it (both positive and negative). Art Directors should bring a powerful toolkit, language and sensibility to a project worthy of their time, and my hope is to frame my story in a way to attract that caliber of individual. Part of their role is authentically conveying the story behind the documentary’s “brand” – but it so much more than just branding. A holistic mental model of how navigation, print, online, apps, signage, merch and more all play a role in the meaning-making process.
3) Editorial Director – Is your narrative a 360° experience? I’m not simply talking about the devices it appears on, but the way in which it unfolds, reveals itself, hangs together – complementing each manifestation with integrity and thematic resonance. Here’s where the curation responsibility gets real. Right now, we’re looking for an Editorial Director to take a collection of poems, papers, photos, lyrics, video clips, illustrations mp3’s and sheet music into a suite of artifacts for the creation of an eBook to compliment our documentary. In fact, it’s an essential part of the documentary – and the creation of the eBook will be referenced in the film and be published before the film debuts at a festival. It’s a skill-set that blurs disciplines and boundaries – and we’re looking for an exceptional generalist – someone who knows the value of richly textured multimedia object, but wants to keep Story (capital “S”) at the heart of the experience, wherever and however it’s told.
4) Music Director – Another translator, the role of the Music Director in this instance is more about orchestrating the live instantiations of the song story DNA, and less the traditional soundtrack music supervisor of feature films. David Terhune wears that hat in the SAS Orchestra, and I chose him for his many years of helping re-animate the songbooks of a host of pop and rock icons during his night job of helping lead the Loser’s Lounge in NYC. For some cross/transmedia producers, it’s likely that there is nothing more central to their narratives than getting the game mechanics right. For me, it the expression of the musical DNA that is at the core of Get It All Out. I’ve used the word “re-hydration” to describe our process, and it’s truly apropos – as music is like water – fluid, connecting and giving life to the spirit of the tale. These songs were basically desiccated and orphaned, and their ongoing recapitulation is both a meaning-making process and a music-revivifying process to find them new homes.
5) Director of Photography – When I started down this path in 2008, not knowing anyone in my immediate circle of friends who was either A) a documentary filmmaker with time on their hands, or B) crazy enough to believe that this particular story was worth a multi-year journey for – I did what anyone in my position would do: I placed the obligatory ad on Craigslist. One persistent person who saw (and evidently liked) my ad kept emailing me, and it’s a good thing. My DP and co-director Chris Schuessler produces news and documentaries for ARTE TV of France, and teaches young people how to tell their own personal narratives with video for NYC’s City Parks Productions. His role has been traditional in a doc filmmaking sense, but invaluable in consistently getting the best possible interviews on camera.
Each of these team members come from different production cultures and exercise varied production models. “Mono-medium production cultures” (Dena) exist because individuals rightly want to master their chosen creative fields and that takes time (maybe not Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” – but years of work). My role as a producer is to both translate the different languages/dialects they all excel at into a common tongue and to orchestrate their work to align with the vision of the story.
That said – nothing can be orchestrated without collaboration. The efficacy of which may in fact be proportional to the producer’s level of transparency and quality of articulation re: the subjective merits (artistic/cultural/political) of the work/storyworld. The Catch 22 resides in the writer/producer’s vision needing a development team constituency from across disciplines to make it concrete – to give all the envisioned connected manifestations of the story life – and given the nature of the wrangling and coordination of talent that must take place, improvisational management and leadership becomes both the catalyst and the glue for progress. So, in some ways – this dispatch (like the music when it was first created) is also an improvisation. And in the spirit of transparency, I hope to improvise further updates here as our team grows and our story develops.
Posted in creative collaboration doc production journal transmedia