Case study: Old Folks’ Tales
“What I remember most is the people who said it would never work… it forced me to really define the project.” Laura Piaggio, producer of Old Folks’ Tales, talks about her experiences at The Pixel Lab and The Pixel Market.
By Melanie Goodfellow
Colombian-Spanish collaborative cross-media project Old Folks’ Tales (Cuentos De Viejos) revolves around the first-hand childhood memories of elderly people, captured in an animated TV series and also uploaded to an interactive website by friends and family. It is among a handful of Latin American projects to have attended The Pixel Lab and The Pixel Market.
“These people were children in the first half of the 20th century when a lot of things were happening,” says producer Laura Piaggio of Barcelona-based Piaggiodematei.
Mainly focused on elderly people living in Colombia, the project also features the stories of Spanish speakers living throughout Latin America as well as the rest of the world.
Eyewitness accounts of the Spanish Civil War; fleeing the Nazis during the Second World War and the personal impact of the Colombian Civil War, which has displaced some five million citizens since 1948, run alongside tales of growing up in a circus or struggling to get educated.
Argentine Piaggio cut her “transmedia teeth” on the project alongside animation director Marcelo Dematei, her partner at Barcelona-based Piaggiodamatei, and Anne Ferrer and Carlos Smith of Bogota animation house Hierro Animacion.
Development on Old Folks’ Tales began in 2011 with the revival of an artistic project consisting of animated portraits of elderly people, first mooted by Dematei and Smith many years previously.
“At the time, we had all just launched new companies and wanted to collaborate,” recalls Piaggio. “It was one of the potential projects on the table. It had ended up in a drawer but we dusted it off and decided to re-format it into something we could build and produce together.”
They started off with the idea of an animated factual TV series consisting of very short episodes, mainly to keep the animation costs down.
“But because even this was so challenging to produce we said let’s do something bigger than the series, something collaborative… I’m not sure we’d even heard the term ‘transmedia’ back then,” says Piaggio.
The presentation of the project at The Pixel Lab in July 2012 was the project’s first outing.
“It was the first time I had to defend and support the project in front of people who had a lot more experience than me,” says Piaggio. “It was a great experience, we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted to do and how to do it by the end.
“What I remember most is the people who said it would never work… it forced me to really define the project and figure out our most important goals… It was a key part of the process,” she adds.
A key sticking point, she recalls, was the focus of the project. Some of the Lab participants felt the accounts should relate to a specific topic like first love, or the family home. Piaggio ultimately decided not to take the advice.
“I had a bit of crisis during the Lab over that but for me the project was not not about a single defined question but rather about memories… but it was great to be made to think about it, again it was part of the process,” says Piaggio.
Aside from attending The Pixel Lab, Piaggio also brought the project to The Pixel Market in October 2013, just after the first TV series and initial phase of the website had gone live in Colombia in September.
In between the Lab and Market, the project had secured the backing of public Colombian state broadcaster Señal Colombia. The first TV series and the construction of the site cost roughly €400,000, says Piaggio, a significant investment for a project of this type.
Piaggio credits the Lab and Market with raising the project’s profile in Europe.
“Projects made in Spanish and financed by Latin American broadcasters aren’t that well-known. Being part of that eco-system gave us a lot of visibility in Europe,” she comments.
Usage rather than eyeballs
The Old Folks’ Tales website generated some 600,000 views during the first season of the TV series. Eyeballs, however, are not the point of the project.
“We’re really focused on the process which leads to the story being uploaded to the website, in which young people talk to grandparents and neighbours, capture their stories and put them online. We see the website as a sort of inter-generational bridge,” says Piaggio.
To this end, the project, now going into its third TV season, has also run a series of workshops in schools to encourage youngsters to get involved. So far, some 550 videoed accounts have been uploaded.
“We’re also about to sign a deal with the direction of public libraries in Colombia in which the libraries will become hubs for collecting memories,” says Piaggio.
Latin American traction
In the early stages of development, the team was hoping to work more with European broadcasters but it has proved difficult getting them to bite. They are now focusing on audiences in Latin America where the website is gaining traction.
Argentine and Brazilian versions are currently in the works and broadcasters and producers in a number of other Latin American territories have also expressed interest.
The Argentine version, being developed in collaboration with Buenos Aires-based digital production house Untref Media, also involve the creation of an App to facilitate the uploading of the video accounts.
“It wasn’t what we planned but the public seem to love the project in Latin America so for now that’s where our focus is,” says Piaggio.
If you’ve got a project you’d like to put through The Pixel Market, applications are now open. For full details and to apply, head to the applications page. The deadline to apply is Thursday 16 July, 18.00 BST.
We’ve also got 16 British Council Travel Awards of £1,500 available for Latin American nationals. Check here for details.