My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough
The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.
Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.
Freshly triumphant from their most recent transmedia projects, Steve Peters of No Mimes Media and Jan Libby, recently of Levi’s G.O. IV Fortune campaign, took the stage at DIYDays LA to talk about their experiences designing Alternate Reality Games.
Steve and Jan began as players in the emerging genre that we call ARGs. Both made the transition from player to puppetmaster through their work on independent games, which led to careers for each of them in the newborn industry of transmedia entertainment. And both acknowledge that their roots in the player side of these games and experiences now inform their choices as designers. “Sure, we do this for money,” Jan said, “but our hearts are indie.” Whether they are designing an ARG for a client or for an indie game, they consider not only the story and its characters, the protagonists and antagonists, but also the audience. Jan views the audience as a character, one that will interact and possibly shape the story as it plays out.
When I heard DIY Days was coming to Boston, mostly I was looking forward to reconnecting with filmmaker, Alternate Reality Game enthusiast and ARGFest Boston speaker, Lance Weiler, (Hope is Missing and Beyond the Rave) and maybe getting a scoop on his next project. While I did get to do all that, I also got to meet some incredibly talented independent filmmakers, culture researchers, and writers, and participate in a great discussion not only about independent filmmaking, but also about the future of media and technology.
DIY Days is an offshoot of Weiler’s The Workbook Project, and is paired with the From Here to Awesome Film Festival. All are grounded in his commitment to open-source filmmaking, mentoring and encouraging creativity and helping independent filmmakers to finance, distribute and promote their projects inside and outside of traditional media channels (but mostly outside). Weiler’s partner in DIY Days is Arin Crumley, co-creator of indie film/YouTube phenomenon, Four Eyed Monsters.
DIY Days Boston, a free, all-day event, was the fourth and final conference in this series. (A new series will resume next year.) Speakers for the day included, among others, Weiler, a venture capitalist, MIT researchers, and, of course, many filmmakers, all bringing their knowledge and expertise to share with others. You can watch the conference proceedings online at the DIY Days site, so instead of giving a blow-by-blow of each talk, I’ll highlight my favorites.