Cross-Media Forum – Part 1: Sean Stewart and Ingrid Kopp

The Cross-Media Forum Conference 2012 explores how media organisations and formats are engaging with audiences across multiple platforms.  The first session heard from Fourth Wall Studio’s Sean Stewart about the democratisation of storytelling and the Tribeca Film Institute’s Ingrid Kopp about hacking culture. 

Sean Stewart, the co-founder of Fourth Wall Studios, showed how technological advancements – from theatre to publishing, film to crowdsourced digital – have driven the evolution of storytelling and audience engagement across parallel platforms and at increasing scale.  Acknowledging that todays audience commonly influence events within and outside of a narrative, Stewart discussed the different methods democratising storytelling, from audience voting to multiple branching narratives. However, he believes these methods attack the very foundation and aim of storytelling – the suspension of disbelief – and robs the audience of truly immersive experiences.

Stewart suggests there are ways in which you can allow audiences to engage and participate in the narrative without relinquishing total control. These include: allowing the audience to “assemble the narrative”, unlocking elements predetermined and quality-controlled by the producer (example: the Inception app); or the “narrative as sandbox” approach, where the audience or player is dropped into a multi-variable narrative environment where they have the potential to generate a unique narrative (examples: The Simms, HBO Voyeur and Sleep No More); the “audience as character” method, where you assign users roles in familiar stories (examples: interactive live-action FacebookConnect project Take This Lollipop); the “author as gamemaster” approach, where the producer guides people through an adventure, which relies on responsiveness thus reducing scalability (example: ARGs); and “audience as commentator”, which makes the act of being an audience explicit and participatory (example: Fourth Wall project The Gamblers).

Next up was Ingrid Kopp, the Director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute, who discussed interactive storytelling, creativity, code, impact and the blurred line between consumer/audience and producer.  She encouraged the industry delegates to increasingly think or work as hackers. Kopp runs the TFI New Media Fund which supports non-fiction interactive projects that highlight issues of contemporary social justice and equality. Successful projects are awarded grants of $50,000-100,000 plus mentorship and training, particularly around design and user experience. TFI New Media Fund supported projects include collaborative documentary project 18 Days in Egypt, and an interactive project about the US landmark Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights called NewDay New Standard. Kopp concluded by stating that when thinking about impact and the intrinsic value of hacking culture, involving people in storytelling will increase their true understanding of the issues at hand.

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