As the media and entertainment sectors become increasing disrupted by developments in technology, one of the big topics at this year’s REMIX conference in Sydney is how do we tell stories on multiple platforms, using new technologies to an increasingly fragmented audience?
“There are so many stories out there, but how do we tell them?” was the question posed to the panel of film, media and advertising professionals by Nicola Harvey, Managing Editor at Buzzfeed.
Neil Peplow, CEO at AFTRS reinforced that even though visual filmic stories are now being consumed more on mobile devices than in the cinema and on TV, the first rule of storytelling still applies, “that stories help us understand the world around us”, and visual story producers need to be very aware of why they are telling the story, what is it about and how is an audience going to engage with it.
Katie Rigg-Smith, Managing Director of the advertising media agency Mindshare, made the point that we live in an attention deficit economy and the pressing question that all communicators in this context face is “how do we get our audience’s attention?” Interestingly the multi-platform environment allows for different potential entry points to a story and for narratives to be non-linear, allowing for very distinct individual consumer journeys.
Rigg-Smith emphasises that it’s important for authors to know “what the role of each channel in progressing the story and making it relevant to each individual audience is”. She adds that launching a story on a social media platform also brings the benefit to the creators of receiving direct audience feedback though comments, giving the makers the opportunity to revise or modify the content and/or sequel materials accordingly.
“So will Facebook eventually own Storytelling?” asks Harvey. If we’re talking about content that connects, we’ve seen the unexpected power of user-generated stories on platforms like Facebook, “but Facebook can never control that” responded Peplow, and asks how ethical is the live-streaming of a suicide simply because it has the power to surprise, shock and engage us?
“Our job is to make people care” added Jay Morgan, Executive Creative Director at JWT. “In creating compelling content, you have to become the enemy of indifference”. The challenge for visual storytellers still remains how do you engage emotionally with your audience and continue to surprise them. In the campaign driven realm of advertising, the balance of power is shifting from brands to content creators – where the creators are the ones with the established audience, who are now dictating to the brands how they will tell their stories and integrate the brand messaging, and not the other way around.
“Don’t adulterate the form. Find the core insight of your story, then find the best way to tell that story to an indifferent consumer” explains Morgan. “Create messages with integrity. Don’t pretend to be what you’re not” advised Rigg-Smith. Firstly, consider the audience and the platform before the content. And use data to liberate creativity, as the old world view that these areas were mutually exclusive has been superseeded.
As our attention spans shorten, we have to become quicker at telling stories. Not only shorter, but faster in producing them and getting them out there to a content hungry audience. How we are sharing stories is also changing due to developments in technology – from Flickr to Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat.
What particularly interested me is the movement into story landscapes, rather than the linear narrative. We now have the platforms not only to create multiple access, but also multiple view-point narratives. Yes, we can learn a lot about this area from the gaming sector, but beyond that, the rapid developments in Virtual Reality and making it possible for the user not only to interact – but actually decide on how they want the story to develop.
An interesting suggestion at another session at the conference from Roger Lawrence, Chief Technologist for Innovation at Hewlett Packard, was rather than the director directing the viewer, with VR the viewer can choose what they want to see – so at any one point in a story the user could turn and follow the story path to become a romantic comedy, whereas a different decision or physical movement could have created a journey into a psycho-thriller. This opens the potential for us to create multi-genre experiences.
On a closing note, when asked if his film students still want to make feature films, Peplow responded: “Students come in wanting to be Tarantino. But leave knowing that (YouTube film-maker) Freddy Wong has a better business model”.
Ian W Thomson is the program leader of the Advertising & Media faculty at Macleay College, a writer and filmmaker.