A Peek Behind Previously Closed Doors with Power to the Pixel
Unless you’ve presented a slide deck to potential production partners and financiers, the process of pitching a transmedia property probably seems like a foreign concept. Since 2007, Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum has sought to make this process more transparent. The centerpiece of the conference was The Pixel Pitch, where nine transmedia projects were pitched in an open forum before a jury of decision-makers, commissioners, and industry executives with a £6,000 prize on the line.
Michel Reilhac, the Executive Director of ARTE France Cinéma, gave the first of two keynotes kicking off Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum on October 12, discussing The Game-ification of Life. In his keynote, Reilhac recognized that the ubiquity of gaming culture is a reality that cannot be ignored in storytelling and experience design.
Reilhac traces the gamification of life through cash incentive, loyalty, and status reward systems. He notes that in gaming culture, the status / bragging mechanic is the most powerful tool for interaction, citing the prestige of having a platinum airline mileage card, earning Foursquare badges, and gaining social equity through Twitter followers as examples. Just as players turn to games to satisfy different motivations, transmedia participants seek different methods of interacting with stories. Specifically addressing alternate reality games, Reihlac celebrates the genre’s ability to empower players, not through an avatar, but as themselves. Alternate reality games engender trust that extends beyond the game and into the real world.
The second keynote was delivered by Campfire Media’s Mike Monello with the alliterative title Babies, Buns and Buzzers, a historical look at the last century of experiential entertainment told through the framework of Coney Island, and running through an ARGFest-spawned obsession with tiki bars (along with a brief mention of Campfire’s work, including the multi-platform viral campaign leading up to author Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade).
Monello explains that in his mind, “transmedia is not just a buzzword. It’s…the form of story that’s closest to how we perceive the world.” He hearkens back to early examples of experience design with George Tilyou’s death-trap experience design at Coney Island, where lines would be longer the day after a ride killed somebody. Monello noted that “Blowhole Theater” viewing platforms were key factors of the experience, where men were assaulted with electric prods and women were pushed over blowholes for the edification of an excited audience. Reiterating Tilyou’s philosophy, Monello explained that “customers would pay for the privilege of entertaining other customers, and that people liked seeing shows, but they liked seeing other people more.” Monello continued discussing elements of design through other Coney Island fixtures: baby incubators that helped make the issue of premature birth tangible; Nathan’s hot dog stand’s launch fostering self-discovery; and culminating in The Tingler, a horror film wired with buzzers.
Each of the subsequent sessions deserves equal attention that is unfortunately forgone here for the sake of brevity. Highlights include Wendy Bernfeld’s session on seeking alternative distribution models and partners, Jean-Paul Edwards’ session on digital convergence from the advertiser’s perspective, Maureen McHugh and Lance Weiler’s perspectives on creating transmedia stories and worlds. The conference also featured case studies presented by Keith Quinn on The LXD, Nuna Bernardo on Final Punishment, Tommy Pallotta on Collapsus, and much more. New videos are added every week, so be sure to revisit the Cross-Media Forum’s Pixel Report to see what’s new.
Many of the speakers mentioned above served as jurors in The Pixel Pitch on October 13, offering hard-hitting questions and helpful advice to nine projects currently seeking funding before they courted partners at The Pixel Market. This year’s winner was Granny’s Dancing on the Table, a joint production between the Swedish team of Helene Grandqvist and Hanna Sköld. In their pitch, the pair noted their success in releasing their previous project, Nasty Old People, on Pirate Bay. They described their experience with the film’s audience as that of “[meeting] a force, a movement of solidarity and generosity we didn’t even know existed before. And with our next feature [Granny's Dancing on the Table], we want to engage this movement and those forces to take part in the whole process of the feature.”
The pair envision the narrative as centering around Eini, a sheltered girl who grew up in the woods of Sweden with the power to predict earthquakes. Viewers would become involved with the story through five episodic installments playing out in reverse chronological order through a “dark and mysterious treasure hunt” fueled by audience interaction and financed in part by an in-game currency. You can already explore the collaborative elements at the story’s Facebook page.
As the jurors offered advice and criticism on Granny’s Dancing on the Table, they peppered the conversation with insights on the general process. Maureen McHugh reminded the team that “not only do you have to promote your film but…a lot of people don’t understand what transmedia is, so if you don’t have an existing fanbase it’s really hard to get enough word out to create that core that you need to get that thousands of eyes,” while Tommy Pallotta explained the realities of the scope of a pitch, as “we’re asking people to be creative, but we’re also asking you to come up with how to finance it.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the underpinnings of transmedia storytelling and alternate reality game development, don’t let my summary limit your enjoyment of Power to the Pixel’s excellent offerings. Check out videos of the panels, case studies, and winning Pixel Pitch at the Power to the Pixel website: the vast majority of content, along with extended analysis and commentary, is already available free of charge at The Pixel Report. Within the fortnight, The Pixel Report will also include an agenda for change developed by attendees of the Power to the Pixel Think Tank, held on the final day of the Pixel-palooza.