By Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson

Is Crossmedia Film’s Next Wave?

At the forefront of one of the film narrative’s many reinventions is a next wave of software developers, gamers, filmmakers, writers and composers; a confluence of independent talent dedicated to creating entertainment which employs a variety of mediums and crosses all media platforms, in order to create immersive story experiences for the general public. Think Steve Jobs meets James Cameron, who meets Joe Papp, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and then Maya Deren. Together they create a multi-use, multi-purpose, story arc that can be accessed via phone, laptop, television or theater.

While Silicon Valley remains the hub of tech, crossmedia entertainment is tracking rapidly on the East Coast. The NYC Economic Development Corporation is concerned enough about crossmedia’s future business development and talent retention, that it’s teamed up with the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment to create and fund a “Media Center” which will serve as the city’s hub for pioneering media, entertainment and allied technology companies to innovate, advance and grow.

The emergence of crossmedia is hardly the death knell of film. It’s just another necessary step in the evolution of entertainment. The next generations are fully engaged in different experiences and plugged into narrative formulas that reinvent at breakneck speed. There have to be modes to meet the needs of the marketplace.

At the center of all the activity is Aina Abiodun and Mike Knowlton the respective CEO and CTO of StoryCode, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the future of crossmedia storytelling. Their CVs are heady and their rolodexes would weigh a ton were they not digitized.

Abiodun’s background spans journalism, film, advertising, branding and social networking. She’s an award winning producer/filmmaker, with an MFA in film directing from UCLA. She created the blog Film Futurist. As founder of Aina Media Inc., she conceives original political and social issue media across platforms and has recently written, directed and produced campaigns and platform extensions for diverse, high-profile clientele.

Knowlton, a digital veteran of 20 years, has a background in design, programming, advertising and filmmaking. He founded and led numerous technology companies including user-interface design firm Nascent State, interactive agency BASIK, and open-source Flash technology Frontal. He’s also led large multi-disciplinary teams in developing complex software applications for name brands. As a partner at Murmur, he consults with brands, studios and networks on using social films to broaden the reach of their existing properties.

Abiodun has been observing and writing on the meltdown in the narrative industries for the past few years. “So many sectors have been adversely affected by the economic crisis, the meteoric rise in tech and shifts in the global economy,” she says via phone. “Publishing has changed dramatically, or look at indie film. Everyone is grappling with a similar problem but no one is seriously asking ‘What does the future look like?’”

Frustrated by the lack of public conversation and seeing a need to provide space for work being created by young, tech immersed artists and professionals, Abiodun founded the NY based Transmedia meetup eighteen months ago: a monthly, public meetup for developers to incubate, produce and exhibit their product. Knowlton was an early adopter and he and Abiodun hit it off. They began to meet weekly to discuss the future of the program and over the course of a year, the meetup expanded from a few enthusiasts to over 700 active, registered members. At every monthly event, they turned away dozens for lack of space and no one seemed surprised by the rapid growth.

The meetup’s events have been hosted by a variety of advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson and EuroRSCG. Past presenters have included Mike Monello of Campfire, Lance Weiler of Pandemic 1.0, Joel McConvey of the Canadian National Parks Project and Marcel Guerra from Showtime’s DEXTER: The ARG.

Knowlton sees the boom as two-fold. “In the New York area there wasn’t anyone focusing on immersive media projects and there was a real desire for that. People wanted to get involved. Also, the city is second to Silicon Valley in having a big start up culture, so there’s an integration of tech that permeates a lot of the thinking across disciplines.”

With growth came a need for greater organizational direction. Abiodun and Knowlton responded by establishing StoryCode and its incubation model of creating mentorships and developing workshops and training programs to acquire the skills needed for crossmedia projects.

On one level, the two see StoryCode working much like the Silicon Valley’s renowned Y Combinator. They want to raise seed money to invest in four to six projects per cycle, during which time, they’d incubate the project and work intensively with their artists to build viable products. The hope is that angel investors will line up to go through StoryCode to reach the best start-ups.

Abiodun adds, “A lot of organizations are disappearing because they don’t offer what’s needed. We can be the indie side of the mainstream system: a crossmedia version of IFP or Film Independent. Regardless of the business or arts sector, these worlds need a place where they can go and develop things outside their parvenu and we’re confident curators of this type of incubator.”

Since their inception, StoryCode has developed programs and created strategic partnerships with Lincoln Center and the upcoming New York Film Festival. Lincoln Center is hosting the organization’s first Story Hackathon on April 28th and 29th. Like the hacks that have been taking place in the tech sector for the last decade, which develop ground-breaking apps, the Story Hack will bring together teams of participants from diverse backgrounds in a challenge to design a narrative from three or more media platforms. The final story hacks will be presented to a jury of well-known creatives, technologists and sponsors.

The film industry desperately needs this infusion of innovation, but the studios and their relations will most likely adjust their footing to shifting ground, express cynacism and remain excrutiatingly slow on the uptake.

Abiodun is ready for the naysayers, “Before you dismiss immersive/cross-platform story as a fad, look in your pockets and purses: anyone who uses a mobile device or tablet has already fundamentally changed their relationship to stories. Recent technologies have fundamentally altered how we experience the world, how we learn, laugh, and play and so we have no choice but to alter the way we get our stories across.”

Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson is a Los Angeles based writer whose work has appeared in the LA Times, Documentary Magazine,, Movie City News, and more. Her stories have covered the gamut from IT and healthcare to music and culture.

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One Response to “Is Crossmedia Film’s Next Wave?”

  1. I would give special mention to what SXSW is accomplishing in this respect with their rapidly evolving meta-festival. I see SXSW becoming an integrated global media brand itself in the manner of Sundance, only more so. The strength of the musical component of the festival now coupled with the film, interactive, and educational arms all set in the context of a brilliantly dynamic city like Austin is a potent synthesis. What is happening in NYC and elsewhere is interesting, but I think SXSW has lately stolen a march with the bold moves made there towards integration.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon