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SPADA2016: New Ways of Storytelling

NZ On Air’s Brenda Leeuwenberg moderated a session with three teams sharing about the NZOA-supported digital projects.

Sandra Clark and Nanz Nair presented on interactive doco Together We Make A Nation; Vicky Pope and Paul Stanley Ward on Wild Eyes; and Candle Wasters Claris Jacobs and Elsie Bollinger on a range of their work.

Together We Make A Nation was funded at the end of last year by NZ On Air, and will launch in 2017. Before sharing a demo that people could try out, Clark offered an overview of the project, which profiles former refugee women living in NZ. Its aim is to educate and promote better awareness and understanding, but also to drive some action.

The Red Cross is a partner on the project, and it will be possible to donate directly to the organisation through the website. There’s a network of organisations offering support for refugees, but no central hub through which to coordinate and access resources.

On launch, the site will offer short docos on the experiences of four women, with a considerable amount of supporting material accessible both via the documentary and from other prompts. In time, the plan is to expand the number of subjects.

Although the project has evolved since work began, Clark noted they’d spent a lot of time planning before getting under way with shooting the documentaries, so that elements that would feed interactive elements, such as a subject making a particular statement, were captured.

Clark also recommended, “Get a good project manager who can explain the jargon. There’s a lot of jargon. That’ll help you navigate the different workflows of screen production and tech development.”

Designer Nair talk about using the tech to drive engagment, such as the inclusion of a “provocation piece” early on to set the tone and to stimulate the viewer into responding. Although there’s a plan to continue to add new content to the site after launch, Nair also noted the absence of a content management system (CMS).

Facebook updates will appear on the site, which will keep it fresh without the need for the developers to add new content regularly.

Clark also noted, “If you build it they may not come. Hire a publicist.”

Getting [insert content here] in front of people is becoming an increasing challenge with the fragmentation of the viewing market. While TV linear still retains the largest audiences for single channels, they’re not always a majority any longer.

Online, having a major partner such as the Red Cross with its enormous database can make a considerable difference to viewer numbers.

As NZ On Air’s research into audiences revealed earlier this year, the people who still watch linear TV are getting older and don’t live in the main centres. That research, and a burgeoning number of funds designed to cater for various niche audiences in various ways encouraged NZ On Air to take the Gordion Knot approach and change its funding strategy to supporting content creation in a platform-agnostic manner.

Just ahead of the SPADA Conference, the agency closed submissions on its plan. Leeuwenberg described the submissions as “mostly helpful” without getting into any detail, and noted that NZ On Air would taking up Te Mangai Paho’s online application system as part of the coming changes. Anybody applying for funds will have to register with the agency before being able to make an application. “So don’t leave it until the day the application’s due,” Leeuwenberg warned.

Sporting some audience figures that many a broadcaster would be happy to have, The Candle Wasters Jacobs and Bollinger tag-teamed their way through their presentation, sharing data on the make-up of their audience (90% female, 50% in the USA, big on tumblr) and how using and subverting popular online forms, formats and tropes had paid dividends.

After the success of their first webseries, Nothing Much To Do, inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, they sought $4000 on Kickstarter to help support the next series, Lovely Little Losers (based on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost.

The Kickstarter campaign passed its target on day one and went on to collect $22,000.

While there’s some considerable territory to cross when navigating a course from Shakespeare to the digital natives who don’t know what the world was like before YouTube, there are also – as Bollinger points out – some very direct connections.

Shakespeare regularly made use of soliloquies, his characters talking directly to the audience or, in 21st century parlance, vlogging.

The 11,000 subscribers the Candle Wasters picked up on one of the Nothing Much To Do channels (and plenty of other numbers) qualified the team for a shot at Google-NZ On Air fund Skip Ahead. The team secured Skip Ahead support, and will now make Happy Playland.

“It’s not a vlog,” Bollinger told the audience. “And not Shakespeare. We want to challenge ourselves as writers.”

“Our fans are internet savvy and so are we,” Jacobs said. “We’ve used social media (other than YouTube) to tell some of the story points.” Some of those tangents have also functioned as ways into the series for some of the audience.

“We observed vlog conventions and tapped into other tags,” Jacobs added, citing ‘My boyfriend does my makeup’ as an example. Google returns around 1.1 million results for that search, so it’s not surprising the Candle Wasters don’t make the top page. But, like other conventions they’ve observed or usurped, it’s engaged existing and drawn in new fans.

Pope and Ward’s Wild Eyes was supported by NZ On Air’s Kickstart digital media fund, and – like Together We Make A Nation – is due soon. Not unlike Geo AR Games’ Sharks in the Park and Magical Park, it uses digital tech to encourage kids to get outside and interact with the environment.

While Geo AR Games is focused on getting kids to be more active, wild Eyes is aiming to entertain and educate about the natural world.

“We prioritised it as an entertainment experience,” Pope said, “and then extended it to include more educational content so we could go through schools.”

Kids have high expectations in the digital space, Ward acknowledged. “The reality is that we’re competing with Minecraft.”

The app targets kids aged 8-12. The content looked great but – at least in the environment of a presentation rather than engaging with it directly – looked a bit text-heavy.

Wrapping up, Leeuwenberg asked the teams for some takeaways on the differences between working in the digital world and in more tradtional film and TV.

“Digital demands you look at your audience really closely,” Pope said. Clark echoed the point, noting that they’d spent around six months of the year they’d had to produce Together on doing research.

“People quit very quickly,” Ward observed.

Top image (from left): Nanz Nair, Sandra Clark, Vicky Pope, Paul Ward, Claris Jacobs, Elsie Bollinger

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