CMF Day 2: The Pixel Pitch – What are we fighting for?

“Things move forward and they will not move back anymore,” remarked self-styled digital immigrant and Wallimage CrossMedia’s Director Philippe Reynaert in his opening keynote.

Philippe’s truth was recognised by almost forward-thinking 100 creative teams from 27 countries who submitted stories to this year’s Pixel Pitch Competition. 30 projects representing the best upcoming cross-media talents reached the second round of the competition. And last Wednesday, in the midst of the BFI’s 57th London Film Festival, eight of these teams pitched their work in front of a public audience to an expert judging panel drawn from across the creative industries.

Once the storytellers made their pitches, five jurors – potential collaborators selected by Power to the Pixel heads Liz Rosenthal & Tishna Molla, joined them on stage to exchange thoughts and offer advice. Faced with the challenge of choosing the very best of these world-class storytellers, the panel of decision-makers posed difficult questions on production, finance and distribution. They probed the imaginative motivation and practical sense of these producer-led teams.

We’ve rounded up comments from all sides of that exchange that get to the very heart of what cross-media development is fighting for.

Expanding your audience: The Baghdad Station (US)
The Baghdad Station
is a multi-format, non-fiction narrative of episodes in international cultural history leading up to the First World War.

ITVS Senior Vice President of Content, Jim Sommers asked how creator Mahyad Tousi would engage his unusual target demographic of 16-34 year olds with public documentary. Mahyad had several ideas:

“It’s been my career goal to make historical documentary sexy for millennials through immersive and interactive storytelling. Gamification is especially important: you need to identify and respect the consumption habits of your audience and tailor your content to that.”

Designing your release schedule: Text Me (UK)
Text Me
transforms a personal story told through the text log of a three-year relationship into community experience.

Now that established publishing houses are building new digital and entertainment divisions, Text Me’s creative team Andy Glynne and Victoria Mapplebeck wanted to know whether book-form release should be their first priority. Juror Michelle Kass of Michelle Kass Associates was quick to respond:

“A book doesn’t obviously have to come first. You need to think carefully about mobilising your project across platforms simulatenously. Think about your timeline – and play with it.”

Crowd-sourcing and community building: netwars – out of CTRL (Germany)
is a fact-based, cross-platform exploration of contemporary attempts to manage cyber warfare.

Panel chair, PttP’s Liz Rosenthal called on the experience of cult film director Timo Vuorensola when she asked whether such an on-the-pulse topic could expect support from crowd-sourcing and community building. Timo explained that there’s great potential in these new models, but adapting non-fiction to them can be tricky:

“Producing participatory films can be a minefield. Communities tend to form opinions, even if your work is objective. This makes non-fiction in this space problematic – you need to decide whether you’re OK with people adopting a particular stance. If you do choose that route, tap smaller internet communities with similar interests to help figure out where you stand.”

Securing brand buy-ins: Soundtrack of the World (Australia)
Shaped by big data, Soundtrack of the World is a massive living music track played over web, live installation and documentary platforms.

The project is a collaboration between producers, artists, designers, architects and band Empire of the Sun. With this creative partnership in mind, jurors Chris O’Reilly and Nathaniel Hill wondered whether there was scope for a brand buy-in:

Chris: “This sort of tech innovation is definitely valuable to certain types of brand: it brings with it a built-in audience of band fans. It’s appealing too that it can exist in the gallery space – it can be challenging to design this physical life after the virtual fact.”

Nathaniel: “Brands can be difficult to work with because they change very rapidly. But the way this team uses big data makes it amazingly current. Here, big data equals big opportunity: these streams gain purpose as a way of looking at the world creatively.”

Translating your story: Valya the Translator (Serbia/France)
Valya the Translator
places audiences within a ménage à trois between a man, a woman and a smartphone.

The relationship is translated across languages and across platforms. beActive’s Nuno Bernardo gave director/producer Iva Brdar and co-producer Valérie Guérin advice on achieving international appeal:

“This project is funny. It’s got heart and very strong characters – like Before Sunset but with a mobile phone. So the physical and emotional journey is interesting enough to connect audiences across languages. The challenge is going to be translating across platforms. Think about how an original version of your story is developed in each space.”

Selling social impact: The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest: Breaking the Box (US/Canada)
Breaking the Box
busts out of conventional documentary formats and into game world to tell the story of prisoner and escape artist Mark DeFriest.

Tribeca Film Institute’s Ingrid Kopp suggested why funding social impact gaming is still unusual:

“In my experience, serious games are generally neither fun nor truly serious. Often, users aren’t learning what they might from a good story. Creators need to consider key questions: are the game mechanics enough fun for people to be truly engaged? And how are you going to measure that engagement?”

Creating for kids: Art with Mati & Dada (Italy)
Achtoons balance entertainment, exploration and education when building interactive media for kids.

The company’s Pixel Pitch project, Art with Mati & Dada, engages four to eight year olds with world masterpieces through digital formats. Juror Sharna Jackson of Tate Kids was interested to know how comfortable Achtoons were with the idea of spinning off from a gallery brand:

“There’s a real need for basic, printed in-house resources that serve both parents and children. Though they’re not sexy, galleries are crying out for them – but they do require gallery branding tie-ins. So consider breaking down storyworlds for cross-promotion and pushing the galleries to compete for your product: where one leads, others follow!”

Staging transmedia: Get Over It (Argentina/Spain)
Get Over It
sees if techniques in cross-media creation can salve a broken heart.

Juror Loc Dao of NFB Canada spoke to the project from his experience in bridging interactive and live experiences. He had design recommendations to build an interface that feeds the narrative message into all aspects of the whole project:

“If the actual object that becomes virtual doesn’t return to the real world of the user at the end of the process, your story feels incomplete. Think about how to bring your audience back to the home base of your narrative.”

The winner of the ARTE International Prize for The Pixel Pitch – Get Over It –  was announced last Thursday evening in London.