Comment: Why audiences are key to cross-media creation

By Lance Weiler

Cinema came of age in the last century and along with it came a series of conventions that dictate the telling of a story. Running times, release windows and distribution outlets control access to, and limit how stories are told, delivered and shared.

But audiences are not waiting for traditional media to adapt to the new digital landscape ― in many instances audiences are becoming their own media companies, and this year Power to the Pixel continues its role in highlighting and cham­pioning such pioneers.

Lance Weiler speaking at PttP

The democratisation of digital tools enables audiences to push-button publish, upload audio and video, and provides the opportunity for amateurs to pursue larger audiences than that of their professional counterparts.  A new generation is coming of age in a connected world. With the advent of more screens, more media and ultimately more competition for people’s time, storytellers must consider the behaviour of the audiences they hope to engage.

It is easy to measure this success: how long someone watches, how often something is forwarded or recommended and to whom. And all these markers can be determined in real time. This data is just as valuable as any character beats or detailed story outline.

At one point I considered myself a film-maker but those days are long gone. I now consider myself something akin to a story architect, in the sense that the stories I tell encompass design, delivery and technology.

The tools I use are no longer simply cameras ― they are mobile and feature real-time web apps. Storylines, characters or scenes now exist beyond one screen or format. My stories spill out into the real world and guide audiences from one experience to another.

I leave room for the audience to build certain aspects of the storyworld that I’m creating. In a sense, it is about fostering connections between audience members. I strive to build social entertainment that enables the audience to remix, extend, discuss and share. By letting go of some of the control, I’m embracing the fact that I can foster a rich collaboration with the audience.

With the advent of new technologies, devices and the emerging real-time aspects of the web, my stories can travel and build audiences in new and exciting ways. The confines of a single format are replaced with the ability to move audiences from one experience to another ― from one screen, or device, to another. We’ve designed stories and experiences that have engaged millions of people whilst enabling them to extend characters and storylines.

Not only is it more satisfying from a creative standpoint, but it also extends the life of a project and builds an audience throughout the process.

Pre-production, production and post are melding. So why do most producers wait until the film is finished to engage their ­audience? The art and craft of how stories are designed, delivered and shared must catch up with the realities of how audiences are consuming them. This points to a number of new and exciting storytelling possibilities. The audience is telling us what they want, we just need to start listening.

Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum will again be an essential guide to these changing trends.

STORYTELLING 2.0

  • Mobile apps are an excellent way to engage, extend and entertain ― iPhone and iTouch have more than 30 million users; see the free user-friendly social app released by rock band Nine Inch Nails to their fans in 2009.
  • Twitter can be used to test storylines and characters in real time. Thanks to Twitter’s API (application programming interface), there are many ways to extend the service and bring it into your own site and offerings.
  • Two good examples of crowdsource film-making and storytelling can be found at Wreckamovie.com and Lostzombies.com. SeizetheMedia.com, Lance Weiler’s company, designs and builds next generation storyworlds.

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