Brian Newman: Thoughts on Power to the Pixel’s Lab

Brian Newman, Founder of sub-genre, shares his thoughts on the residential week of The Pixel Lab held in July

I’ve just returned from the very first Pixel Lab, held in Cardiff, Wales for a full week. What an experience it was! I wish an organization in the U.S. was doing this as well, and more were doing it globally, as the information was timely, in-depth and very needed by the field. For seven days, 17 producers with projects in development, and another 17 without current projects, met with leading experts in the field, learned from one another and generally transformed their projects in the realms of story-telling, audience engagement, technology and business models. At the end of the week, the producers with projects pitched their now refined ideas, and we were all impressed. Each of them will stay in touch, receive some further expert mentoring and meet up again at the Pixel Pitch and Market in October at the London Film Festival. I am scheduled to attend and can’t wait.

It’s nearly impossible to summate all the things I/we learned. I think the biggest lesson was that collaboration remains key. Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner kicked us off on this note in his opening keynote – stating that we’re all in this together and can help one another realize their projects – even pledging to give help to each producer as they needed it. But the real sense of collaboration could be seen in the way each group helped one another work through the challenges and opportunities for their projects. We were divided into four groups, and I led one, with Michel Reilhac of Arte France leading another, Ben Grass of Pure Grass Films another and Ian Ginn of Hubbub Films taking the fourth group. Each of us spoke daily with the organizers, the fab Liz Rosenthal and Tishna Molla, and we collectively watched each project go through a transformative process – some more dramatically changing their projects than others, but all improving mightily.

Not everyone wants to add an ARG or a video-game platform to their project, but everyone learned something about new models. We also learned practical advice on the current state of co-productions (once again becoming important to film productions as they find different partners more or less willing to fund transmedia components); methods to best implement story worlds; new fundraising and business models; a keen look at how brands are utilizing transmedia; how the gaming industry is responding; the reaction (or not) of public funding sectors and broadcasters in Europe; implementation strategies; and a hefty dose of thinking about story (for those of you skeptical of all this business talk). For me, while theorizing about changes in story-telling are most interesting, the best speeches were on the new business model aspects, especially regarding brands. There’s a healthy argument to be had about consumerism and the move towards branding in the indie and art-house world. That’s for another post, but it is very clear that in today’s tough financial climate many artists are having to embrace such models. Doing so isn’t easy – in fact, for many indies this will remain impossible, but if you want to incorporate these strategies you can do a lot worse than learning from excellent thinkers in this space like Ben Grass of Pure Grass Films, Mel Exon of BBH Labs and Nuno Bernardo of BeActive. Each of them had very practical examples, strategies for maintaining artistic control and even lessons learned from failures (so rare to see honestly presented on stage).

Many of my take-aways will inform my writing here over the next few months. Videos and presentations of many of the talks should be online soon – although some sections will be cut as the presenters were nice enough to share things with the group that they are barred by contracts from sharing publicly (I’m sure that knowledge will slowly filter out soon as well). For now, let me just end by saying that anyone – filmmaker or industry – thinking about the future of the art should be paying attention to Power to the Pixel. Don’t dismiss transmedia (you can call if cross-platform, etc, but the term as poor as it is, has become the accepted nomenclature). Good old films on the screen with no transmedia will continue to exist, but as an artist the possibilities for new ways to tell stories are amazing; the chance to better engage with your audience should be inspiring (as opposed to scary); and this is not just a fad. Michel Reilhac of Arte France spoke eloquently, as always, about how he and his organization are facing transmedia. In short, they are not just embracing it, but they are changing entire business models internally, in reaction -in healthy, meaningful ways. You could tell that he is allowing himself to just let the changes wash through him – to accept that change is happening and be open to what comes next. This spirit imbued the entire event, and I hope many more embrace it in their own practice soon.

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