This time two weeks ago I was bidding goodbye to Melbourne where I spent the first year of my PhD. As much as I enjoyed living in Melbourne and as useful as it was to see firsthand how multiplatform documentary production is developing in Australia, I was eager to come home and start doing some fieldwork (aka, talking, listening and observing). After a year of research from a distance I felt ready to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. And so, two days after arriving back in Auckland I was knee deep in documentary, both assisting and observing at DOC Lab 2011.
DOC Lab is “an incubator for cross-media documentary projects”, an intensive three-day workshop run by Documentary Edge, Wendy Levy of the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) and a group of mentors with skills and experience in a range of areas such as storytelling, gaming, mobile technologies, animation, film and TV, design, and digital outreach. Up to 12 teams have the opportunity to develop a cross-platform documentary project, which is pitched to an audience on the final day of the Lab.
DOC Lab was launched in 2010 and that year I took part as a participant as the Outreach Manager for the documentary Brother Number One. As a participant I’d found it to be an experience that challenged me to think big, to think creatively and to embrace collaboration and it cemented my interest in crossplatform/transmedia documentary.
Shortly after taking part in DOC Lab in 2010 I started my PhD in Melbourne, at that time intending to undertake a comparative study of the emergence of multiplatform and online documentary in Australia and New Zealand. It didn’t take long to realise that this study wasn’t feasible. Whereas the ABC and SBS in Australia were actively commissioning online and multiplatform documentaries and Screen Australia was at that time requiring all documentary submissions to have a crossplatform/digital component it seemed that in contrast New Zealand had no funding or commissioning policies to support crossplatform or online documentary and there was almost no discernable production in this area. There was no grounds for comparison at all. It appeared that I was not looking so much at the emergence of multiplatform/online documentary as the non-emergence and so I decided to shift my focus to examining New Zealand closely as a unique production ecology in the context of tremendous global and local change. I wanted to understand why New Zealand was not joining in the global movement towards crossplatform production, and to identify and examine factors that support or inhibit innovation and creativity in a production ecology.
It occurred to me that DOC Lab would be an ideal case study for my project. The programme is intended to support the emergence of new documentary forms and industry development and during the course of the intensive workshop some remarkable project ideas are generated. But what happens to these projects after the Lab? Do participants continue to develop their ideas and seek commercial partnerships or public funding? What kind of support to they receive and what barriers do they encounter? These are questions I’ll be exploring in my research over the next two years.
For now, here’s a brief summary of DOC Lab 2011 from my perspective:
Wendy Levy is an inspirational force of nature who has played an instrumental role in the development of many outstanding crossmedia documentaries through BAVC’s Producer’s Institute.
Daniel Cremak-Sassenrath is a Lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Unit at Auckland University of Technology and is an expert in games design, mixed reality interaction and play.
James Franklin, founder of Pixeco and Moviesparx and Creative Director at Britdoc has developed numerous online campaigns for major documentaries such as The End of The Line and Enemies of the People and knows everything (probably) about building audiences, and online funding and distribution.
Jennifer Wilson is the director of The Project Factory, which is a leading producer of online and iPhone games and apps for a variety of shows on the ABC, and digital strategies for a number of Australian television industry companies and bodies.
Laurent Antonczak is an Emerging Technology, Visual Communication & Brand’s Strategist. Laurent lectures New Media and Visual Communication at AUT University’s School of Art & Design and he is developing exciting projects using mobile phones, augmented reality and other cutting edge technologies.
This year participants came from a range of backgrounds, some established filmmakers, some emerging filmmakers and some with expertise in other areas. Some projects were in the early stages of film development, others were nearing completion. Several projects were based on personal stories very close to the heart of the participant, others were focused on social causes or a political issue. Four of the eleven projects that were pitched on the final day of DOC Lab concerned or were primarily located in the pacific region and five stories had a broader international focus. (The tendency to look outwards beyond New Zealand in theme and content was also strongly evident at the Doc Forum pitch this year). Compared to last year’s Lab it seemed that there was more awareness of transmedia possibilities, even if the term ‘transmedia’ (or crossmedia, multiplatform, all media etc) was new to many. A number of projects already had a website, Twitter and Facebook accounts and a blog and were looking to develop more significant content as an extension of or complementary to their central film concept. In general then, I would speculate that awareness of transmedia/crossmedia production has progressed in the past year.
Some general observations from DOC Lab 2011:
- Participants working on their own, on the whole, seemed to have more stress and anxiety about how to execute their proposed project, a lack of support for development and had more difficulty generating new ideas. Transmedia production needs to be a collaborative process involving a team with complementary skills and abilities. In fact I think this is probably true for most creative endeavours, but especially so when working in an environment that requires such a great breadth of knowledge. It is very challenging to be writer/director/editor/producer/website developer/website manager, outreach person etc. Not only is it rare for one person to have all of those skills, but who has the time and energy to do everything?
- While the input and help of the mentors is valuable so are the ideas generated by participants from different teams working together. The opportunity to meet others with similar interests and to share knowledge is, I think, an important aspect of the Lab.
- Although filmmakers have an increasing awareness of the uses of new technologies and platforms many lack skills and expertise in this area and do not have access to designers and developers or other groups or individuals who can help them to execute transmedia concepts.
- Many participants expressed frustration that they could not see a potential funding source for the projects they were developing. Although Wendy provided a brief session on international funding resources and new methods for funding and distribution were discussed, my impression is that participants do not (on the whole) feel optimistic about their prospects for development without support from traditional funding sources in New Zealand.
As my research progresses and I have collected more information from DOC Lab 2010 I will be able to expand on these observations. In the meantime I am very hopeful that we will see some excellent crossmedia/transmedia documentary projects emerge from DOC Lab in the not to distant future.