We are both psyched and honored to cross-post this piece by the Center For Social Media’s Associate Director Angelica Das. After an interview with Luisa on transmedia and the current status of the Land of Opportunity’s interactive video experience, Das broke the conversation down to what makes a doc ‘living’, why filmmakers like us are working with tech gurus like Mozilla, why we’re reporting on the project, our plans for the BAVC Producers Institute (stay tuned for a recap on our time in The Bay!), and lessons learned thus far. Read On: (more…)
October 22nd, 2012 by Laine
September 13th, 2012 by Laine
By Andrea Olson
In an age of online over-sharing (we know what what most of our “friends” are watching, listening to and “liking”), we’ve been grappling with how to achieve a major goal on this innovative project: sharing lessons learned. How do we effectively convey our successes and failures for those setting out to explore the intersection of film, social justice and emerging media? (more…)August 30th, 2012 by Laine
By Laine Kaplan-Levenson
For the past few months, we’ve been talking a lot about the challenges and frustrations of our foray into transmedia storytelling. Now it’s time to share the happy news of a serendipitous high point for our project! Little did we know here at Land of Opportunity that mentioning Cowbird in a blog post a few weeks ago would lead to a beautiful storytelling collaboration.August 16th, 2012 by Laine
By Josh Freund
Traditionally when making a documentary, filmmakers present a film that reflects only a sliver of their amassed content. We shoot and shoot and shoot some more, then edit and cut the vast majority of the content to fit the hour or 90-minute mold dictated by broadcast or theatrical release. You see one streamlined version of events: the one we’ve authored and edited, no more no less. However, this shoot, slash and sausage method is no longer the be all-end-all for documentary films. Or, in the case of Land of Opportunity and other transmedia projects like ours, a documentary is no longer limited to the padded confines of its linear feature film manifestation.
I recently joined the project as an editing assistant, which means I’ll be helping to curate and edit an array of multimedia content that users will access as they navigate our interactive video experience. As a fresh pair of editing eyes, I am wowed (and a little intimidated) by the sheer breadth and depth of the Land of Opportunity archive: 1500+ hours shot over six years, representing hundreds of stories and perspectives. Even though it’s been carefully logged and organized, it can be daunting to dive into this vast ocean of material.August 9th, 2012 by Laine
Co-Authored by Sofie Strasser & Laine Kaplan-Levenson
It’s another week thinking about interactivity here at Land of Opportunity, especially after receiving the great news that we will be participating in the 2012 BAVC ‘Stories With Impact’ Producer’s Institute later this fall (#psyched!). As we continue to develop partnerships, design a community-focused user experience, and generally investigate the realms of transmedia storytelling, we can’t help but notice the growing backlash about being too ‘plugged in’ to the the 24/7 cyber reality that encompasses us these days. It seems the latest trend on the internet is to, well, get off the Internet…or at least resist the addictive siren call of constant connectivity for no real reason. Just this past week, Forbes, The Washington Post, and Mark Zuckerberg’s ghost writer all weighed in about the ills of posting ‘too much coverage with too little substance’. Because we’re trying integrate social-issue curated content with interactive technology to spark change (which The Knight Foundation says is possible! #phew), we’re looking through the quality vs. quantity lens in determining just how interactive we should be. How does one avoid creating the transmedia equivalent of cotton candy? (more…)August 3rd, 2012 by Laine
Co-Authored by Andrea Olson and Laine Kaplan-Levenson
How do we tell stories? We tell them on porches, around fires, over drinks, on the phone, via text (or as ‘dem kids call it, ‘sext’), and now on the Internet. We have no choice but to adjust to the online environment for storytelling, and sometimes it feels like the medium has drowned the message in a sea of slick mash-ups, verbose cats and (insert current viral meme sensation here). In our quest to tell the story of the complex and unprecedented reconstruction of New Orleans from many points of view, the Land of Opportunity project has always demanded an eventual reach beyond the boundaries of a traditional feature film. Our interactive video experience is an attempt to increase the impact of our storytelling while fostering community, so that viewers become users, and actively address the challenges they face in their cities. The transition into the digital story realm makes us ask: how do we embrace the topsy-turvy thrill-ride that is tech innovation while staying true to our “3 C’s”: core issues, content and community? AKA, how do we keep the technology from trumping the storytelling? (more…)July 11th, 2012 by Laine
By Sofie Strasser, LOP Design Strategist
I love the internet. I see inspiring things happen every day, enabled by information and communication made possible by the WWW. The internet is a platform for young & old, from all different backgrounds, and is becoming a necessary asset to keep up with the rapid evolution towards digitization. It’s an essential tool that can now be used to achieve most any goal, whether you want to start a post-modern grassroots movement, earn money from home, get an education, or heck, fall in love! But, Confucius say: “With all these opportunities come limitations.”June 25th, 2012 by Laine
This post is co-authored by Luisa Dantas and Nick Ray.
CMS: Content Management System. If it sounds utilitarian, that’s because it is. Like so many innovations in the wide world of the web, CMS’ exist to make it easier to create cool stuff online. If you’ve never heard of software like WordPress or Drupal before , here’s a quick intro: Unlike static websites, which require you to dig through dreaded code to make changes and updates to content and style, CMS’ allow us to insert and edit our content to suit our needs, while the program does the heavy lifting on the back-end. In other words a CMS allows you to have the most control over your content you’re liable to get without a degree in computer science.
Okay, so we’ve established that CMS’ are handy. It’s possible you’ve seen one in action before (if not, surprise, this blog is WordPress-driven). To be clear, there’s a cornucopia of CMS’ out there today, both open-source and proprietary, and this post is not intended to go through the pros and cons of each one. On the Land of Opportunity project, however, we’re realizing that what matters is understanding the thinking behind choosing your CMS flavor to ensure it truly serves the evolving needs of your project. (more…)May 16th, 2012 by Nick Ray
For a filmmaker, there is perhaps no greater feeling than the moment when your story comes together. The last edit that brings the entire viewing experience into a cohesive whole. What you deliver is a packaged narrative told by your characters and mediated by your editorial vision. Even web-native cinema projects deliver story, though it might seem distinct from the linear experience of watching a film. But what if you aren’t the storyteller. What if it’s your audience?
Here at Land of Opportunity, we seek to create a platform that engages users around core urban issues; including affordable housing, urban redevelopment and immigrant labor. While the feature film focuses on characters from New Orleans, the message of the work is that these are not New Orleans-specific issues, but issues that are affecting cities all over. As our tagline says, it’s “happening to a city near you”. It makes sense, therefore, to continue the project on the web, bringing focus to other cities and reinforcing the message. In addition, if we’re talking social engagement, the impact of a story told in Chicago might be more meaningful for a citizen of Chicago than a citizen of San Francisco; it would be unfortunate for that story to have necessarily ended up on the cutting room floor to accommodate a linear feature film structure. However, capturing stories from every city that could be relevant would be a nightmare from a production and funding standpoint.
Enter user-generated content (UGC). While we’re still a long way out from implementation, one of our project’s foci is to allow users to not only view the content we have curated, but also add their story to the mix.
This approach builds engagement in two ways. Directly, it allows stories relevant to the discussion to be voiced, freed from the limitations of production and budget, and enabled by the iterative nature of the web. The citizen in Chicago who sees the film or experiences our interactive video player can express issues he or she faces in Chicago, which other Chicagoans could then view (and possibly contribute to also). Indirectly, by providing agency to the viewer to participate in the storytelling process, they are inevitably invested in it. After all, if they’re taking the effort to link to issues about urban housing in their area, they must not see this effort as a waste of time. And if the social web has taught us anything, it’s that people like to share what they’re doing. A lot. These individuals then not only become contributors, but remote advocates.
Two challenges arise when considering this approach. The first is initial user engagement. While we all have experience producing the kind of media we hope to curate, visitors “out there” may not. Making the process of adding content as painless as possible, therefore, is essential, as too much frustration will prevent one from giving content.
The second challenge is story dilution. Web projects are great at many things, but when it comes to video, they are not yet able to scan context. Someone who contribues, therefore, could upload a story about urban housing just as easily as they could Nyan Cat (a recent meme). Preventing this problem seems simple: Editorial review.
On the other hand, what if Nyan Cat was posted as, say, commentary on urban consumerism and it’s isolation from mass food production? (okay, I tried.) My point is that one beautiful aspect of user-generated content is self-created context. ‘I’m adding this piece, because, for me, it’s relevant to the topic and might help others understand this complex issue as I see it.’ Trying to censor content that is too off-topic, besides being logistically difficult, runs the risk of convincing the users their contributions are only valid if they run with the opinion/focus of the main narrative.
What’s the solution? Well…we’re working on it. So far, however, we’ve been able to figure out one approach to storytelling that helps, and it relates to the framing of the original footage. Unlike a film, which argues, asks and answers it’s own questions, leaving a few for the audience to digest, web-native projects have the ability to be a “guide on the side.”
Think of your project like a classroom. When the teacher stands upfront, lecturing for an hour about a particular topic, some students may raise their hand and contribute, and some may only answer if called upon. The expectation is that, at best, their answer will lead to a point the instructor is making. At worst, it’s a fact-check with a clear right/wrong answer, which may be stressful to the student. Who wants to look foolish?
If, however, the teacher posits questions for discussion, and then allows the students to talk amongst themselves, they do. The topic may shift off-course from the questions originally asked, new questions may come up, but in either case, students who may not normally speak are contributing. The fear of being wrong isn’t as great. Further, the questions aren’t designed to have a right answer, but to encourage discussion.
We can create a similar atmosphere within our web-native projects. Consider the following approaches to your storytelling structure when creating a message that encourages UGC:
As media makers, we strive to raise awareness about an issue, and we may not always have the answer to a problem we are highlighting. However, we (hopefully) leave the audience talking about our work, and what our work explores. If we’re lucky, our call to action (if there is one) takes effect, and the audience engages with the topic further.
- Ask the question in one video, provide responses in another.
If the viewer wants to know what the experts think, they can click ahead and find out. If there’s a gap, however, it’s an opportunity for the viewer to provide their own input. This is a place where discussion could potentially grow.
- Emphasize participation in any way that makes sense.
As a viewer, I might not know how to cut a video, but I can write. If I’m allowed to comment on a video someone else posted, or some of the original content, I can still contribute to the discussion, even without a camera.
- Make it personal, so they can too.
One feature users at Land of Opportunity will have is the ability to display housing in their area. The vision at that moment is no longer about New Orleans; it’s about the city in which they live. It’s the subsidized housing complex they can see through their window. The sooner this context is provided, the better. After all, if an issue doesn’t seem to affect their world, what incentive do they have to care? Tools on the web (social media integration, discovering geographic coordinates) enable this dynamic process.
What we can’t do in a film, however, is ask the audience to share their opinion as part of the narrative. The “product” is finished. Online, however, the creative work can evolve, influenced not only by the original artist, but by others who feel they can offer deeper or clearer insight on the issue as it relates to their circumstance or area. In this way, web-native projects tackling a complex issue share a trait with the change they hope to affect: It takes a village.May 11th, 2012 by Marin Tockman
Right now, as you read this blog post, you probably have a few dozen other windows open on your desktop, are writing an email, making your own facebook or blog post, retweeting your friends’ retweets, streaming music etc…
It’s cool – I’m with you. Welcome to the present – we are in a world of media over drive and we are loving it.
But, as a mediamaker, that feeling of “how can we possibly compete in the seemingly endless waterfall of content out in the world?” – is an ever-daunting question. Moreover, with LAND OF OPPORTUNITY, our messages are about urban social justice issues – not as flashy as a Super Bowl commercial, or instantly shocking as a blockbuster thriller, but the power behind our content is striking, honest, truthful, and has the potential to inspire change, motivate individuals, and engage and strengthen communities in ways we never thought imaginable … But, how do we convince people of that?
We certainly aren’t a huge media conglomerate with an endless marketing budget, so our challenge to build an audience and engage them is from outset much harder to accomplish. But, when opportunity arises it’s hard not to take it right? So, I was very excited for the opportunity to attend Reel Change, an Outreach & Engagement Social Documentary Workshop, hosted by Working Films and The Fledgling Fund, to tackle the complexities of creating impact with social justice media.
Sixteen diverse media-makers from across the nation gathered for three days in Washington DC and earnestly opened ourselves to the idea that our content has the amazing ability to inspire, challenge and motivate people to move beyond watching social justice media and step up to act on those issues. Even though sometimes we mediamakers feel like the little guy in the huge stadium of content, the purpose of the Workshop became clear that it is our time to step up to the plate and prepare for the big swing – which can be as simple as presenting one good idea that sparks an effective social issue campaign – and it could be a homerun of lasting change.
Below are a few key concepts on Documentary Outreach & Engagement passed on at the Workshop by Working Films and The Fledgling Fund that are worth sharing widely for all filmmakers, advocates, and idea makers who need a little resurfacing from the ocean of media to keep on the rising path (for a longer version, you can see the presentation content here)
*SWITCH THE LIGHTS ON – Film/Media, and documentary in particular, has the power to move us in significant ways. Audiences crave emotional connection and when we watch/listen/interact with any type of media we are bound to connect. Whether we are moved to tears, angry, or inspired, we want to wake up and walk away with something that can make us step up and get involved.
*ASK YOURSELF WHAT CAN I DO?: As the mediamaker, how do you arrive at some thing audiences should do? After working tirelessly on your story, do you have a creative solution or new perspective that can connect people? One that is simple, motivating, accessible, and will actually make a difference? Why is your content important? And why should people care?
*IDENTIFY THE PURPOSE AND VISION: This is the first step in developing a successful audience engagement campaign that moves your viewers to think and act beyond the screen.
*MAKE THE ASK: So how do you get people to hit the road with you? You need to COMMUNICATE your purpose and vision. You need TO ASK them in a way that is relevant to their interests, specific to their experiences and compelling above all else.
Thanks to Working Films and the Fledgling Fund, and all the inspiring mediamakers I attended the workshop with, I truly feel inspired with new knowledge and takeaways for LAND OF OPPORTUNITY. As I transition from working in more traditional forms of documentary filmmaking to the wide-open world of emerging media, the journey can seem amorphous and overwhelming at times, so it’s definitely inspiring to know we have a great buoyant platform here at LAND OF OPPORTUNITY. And, it’s our time to ask you – what kind of change would you like to see in your cities and how can we do this together?