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Doc Edge 2010 braves the www

Wendy Levy, facilitator of the weekend’s Doc Lab, ran a long Monday afternoon session reporting on the Lab and discussing the challenges and opportunities of “new media”. She invited the audience to interrupt with questions, but spoke so fast and authoritatively that for 45 minutes nobody dared – not even the other panelists.

Marc Boothe (B3 Media UK), James Franklin (Pixeco UK), Glenn Usmar (NZ On Air), Laurent Antonczak (CoLab) sat quietly along with the audience.

Dawn Hutchesson of AUT’s CoLab, the Forum hosts, opened the session with thanks to DOCNZ for choosing to partner with AUT and CoLab for this year’s Lab and Forum. CoLab is based in the Creative Technology Centre of AUT and she proceeded to plug the organization for all it’s worth. CoLab’s facilities for the students at AUT are impressive, featuring a motion capture suite, a Virtual Reality Lab and access to mobile development tools amongst other things – all of which are available to external organisations partnering with the University for projects where mutual benefit can be discerned.

Wendy Levy kicked off the actual session in her customary enthusiastic style. She is clearly passionate about the benefits and results of the 360 Degree Content Creation, distribution and all manner of other things web-related.

Her opening gambit consisted of warming the locals in the room by claiming her love for New Zealand. “I’m thrilled to be here … and I wish it was closer to San Francisco!”

The Director of Creative Programming at the Bay Area Video Collective (BAVC) in San Francisco, Wendy talked about the origins of the organization from its formation by a group of disgruntled filmmakers in the 1970s (you just knew it was the 70s with ‘Collective’ in the title, didn’t you?). Their aim was to take on “the man” – aka Hollywood – by creating their own centre of technical excellence and to allow access to technology usually reserved for people with lots of money available.

Thirty something years on … shit happens. The drugs aren’t as good but the visions of technical excellence has become reality. Apple, Adobe and Google – collectively the 21st century equivalent of “the man” – now write donation cheques and second staff members to BAVC.

The main focus of this session was the world of New Media and how it can benefit film-makers, audiences, the subjects of and the issues raised by documentaries. Wendy talked – at speed – about how the New Media frenzy now has so much grip in the US that it has become near-impossible to gain funding there without having a full platform of New Media ideas behind projects being pitched.

Starting with the communities surrounding documentaries, she talked about using the internet, mobile applications, social networking and other interactive tools to make a difference with the story these filmmakers are telling. She provided examples including The Way We Get By, a doco based on the life of soldiers returning from war, American Meat, the story of sustainable farming in America, and Sands of Silence, which details modern day slaves.

The Way We Get By has been backed up by a website called Returning Home, with three interactive features designed to assist in the re-integration of soldiers into society: the Mosaic of Support, a wall of images submitted by soldiers or their families which lead to more content, video, audio and written messages to inspire and support soldiers; the Vigil Room, a tribute to fallen soldiers; and the Virtual Care Package, designed to replicate the feelgood factor of the actual care packages sent to soldiers. Here family and friends can submit pictures, video, audio and other interactive content and soldiers in the field can receive this via email.

American Meat takes a more commercial route to New Media, incorporating a farm shop on their website, providing access to sustainable farm foods from around America “all available with just a single click!”

Sands of Silence takes a more direct route to raising awareness of the issues raised in the doco by providing a flash-based web game where the player takes on the role of one of many enslaved characters.

They then progress through the game by choosing from a range of options, of whether to fight, flee or sit by passively while the slavery continues, with variable outcomes. After each level of the game the website encourages players to make a difference, providing links to other sites where they can become active in the cause (abolishing slavery, not joining up).

At this point in the session Marc Boothe managed to get a word in edgeways. Marc is a creative producer and mentor to emerging talent, and also a strong advocate of minority rights and access, especially for racial and ethnic minorities.

He began by touching on the weekend’s Doc Lab, expressing his satisfaction with the results and effort of the Lab, where participants “really stepped up” their projects to incorporate New Media.

He also warned that with events such as the Lab and Forum, there was always a danger of whipping up film-makers to a real high, which might prove difficult to sustain to ensure this 360 Degree Content Creation gets followed through. Wendy Levy echoed the sentiment (“I probably make a lot more work for a lot of people”), but both were adamant that the extra work would yield positive results.

James Franklin made his first contribution to the discussion at this point, talking about the Lab and how they had bombarded the participants with ideas from a whole range of New Media angles, and they had taken to the task admirably. Apparently the mere two days in the Lab had produced a “huge difference” to the projects.

Audience members who had attended the Lab echoed their agreement, also praising the mentors for making real contact with the projects on an individual level. Another audience member raised the point that the Lab had provided an opportunity for these separate projects to collaborate together and bounce ideas off one another which had proved fruitful.

Wendy took over once again, pushing the creation of New Media Content early in a doco’s life and reaping the benefits of publicity, marketing, funding and networking. She addressed a project called Perm Palace, a reality show based around the lives of drag queens, where the producer created a website with an interactive “dressing up” game prior to the series screening a single episode. She cemented her point by stating “this audience wants to be the drag queen”.

Laurent Antonczak provided his opinions from a strategist’s point of view, stating that where docos were previously produced and directed at a specific target market, with the use of New Media technologies they can find several niche markets, either simultaneously or sequentially, thus widening audience appeal.

He also used the collaborative efforts in the Lab to encourage producers not to try to own their projects, but rather open them up and “act like a conductor” (insert Gallic hand gestures). He then put forward the idea that money should not be a concern to the budding filmmaker, that using these New Media techniques to open up doors via networking, you can gain access to resources without spending. “It will cost you lots of time, but not money”.

The ball returned to James’ court where he referenced the film Star Wreck, a Star Trek parody, where the filmmaker reached out to the audience to make the film, spent no money on it, and eventually sold the project back to those people that created it – a feat which the filmmaker found very amusing.

On the subject of film-making, Laurent talked about how there is often too many ideas to go into just one film, and how using New Media the filmmaker can syphon the leftover ideas into a website or online community as content, and even receive feedback on these ideas which can develop into a totally new project.

Glenn Usmar pitched in briefly to talk about NZ On Air and its position in regards to documentaries and New Media. He discussed the Digital Media Fund, and how scary it was – for some – to see editorial checks and balances removed from the oversight of projects funded under the scheme.

Towards the end of the session the discussion opened up into the audience once more, with doco makers asking questions of the panel regarding rights. The panel were united in their opinion of working hard to retain as many of the digital rights as possible to allow the freedom to create additional online content and reap the benefits. Often funding bodies (and an unnamed state broadcaster) request all digital media rights but never use them, which the panel agreed was extremely wasteful.

To end the session, Marc and James suggested a few websites with resources and examples for the budding New Media Content developers.

PeterBroderick.com contains two essays on the subjects of New Media, entitled ‘Hybrid Distribution’ and ‘New World of Distribution’, which were claimed to be very useful resources and best of all, free.

The Workbook Project got highly praised but quickly passed over as the session was running out of time, but a quick look at the about page tells us it ‘provides insight into the process of funding, creating, distributing and sustaining as a creator of media (film, games, music, design, software).’

BlackGoldMovie.com is an example of a successful New Media project, with a range of links to ‘make a difference’ sites and applications such as the coffee calculator. Also it doesn’t hurt PR when the website is created by the guy sitting next to you (James Franklin).

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