Storytelling meets technology
Digital technologies have already turned traditional entertainment business models upside down, paving the way for the Netflix and YouTubes of the world. In Oregon, already a mecca for animation, games design and digital media, a few pioneers are now starting to think about the next phase of the digital entertainment revolution: how new technologies will actually change the nature of storytelling itself, and how Oregon might position itself to capture this “next generation” storytelling market.
The innovators include Scotty Iseri, a Portland web-series creator who is developing The Digits, a math-education web series for kids that includes episodes formatted for mobile apps and tablets, as well as online YouTube episodes. As Iseri describes it, the storytelling novelty behind The Digits, which follows live-action characters who travel the galaxy fighting evil, is that it combines interactive game-design elements with a linear narrative.
In film and television, digital media is typically used for “secondary marketing content,” says Iseri, citing as an example alternate reality games meant to market a film.
The Digits, by contrast, actually allows the viewer to control the outcome of the story. “The asteroids the kids see hurtling through space need to be blasted in half,” he says. “This is the math lesson, but depending on how they split it, it also controls the outcome of the story in the app.” The Digits was the first next-generation media project to receive rebates from the indigenous film fund. Iseri has also raised $500,000 from family and investors.
As Iseri suggests, marketing gurus are driving much of the innovation in digital storytelling, from Wieden+Kennedy — which famously leveraged Twitter, Facebook and blogs to produce more than 100 YouTube videos about Old Spice — to boutique agencies such as Portland’s Instrument, which started out as a web-development firm but has since made a name for itself delivering creative digital content. But tech companies such as Elemental Technologies, a Portland company pioneering new ways for media companies to deliver content on mobile devices, may also play more of a role.
Today film, television and digital media are “all headed in the same direction,” says Vince Porter, executive director of the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television. “They all fall under a giant umbrella of content developers.” For Porter, those commonalities, as well as Oregon’s strength in creative and tech sectors, lead to an obvious question: Why not bring all the stakeholders together to help make the state a leader in the next-generation arena?
As a step in that direction, this past spring the film office partnered with Intel Labs and the Portland Incubator Experiment on a “Future of Storytelling” hackathon, bringing together creative professionals representing film, television, video games, web, interactive and digital media.
Exactly how this kind of collaboration will seed new projects or companies is not clear. But such cross-pollination is not new. Oregon has a history of mixing old and new forms of narrative — Laika, for example, is known for bringing stop-motion animation, a classic storytelling form, into the modern world of computer technology. Oregon creatives are building on that hybrid heritage to try and create a more sustainable media ecosystem, one that boosts the fortunes of old-school independent filmmakers as well as digital innovators.
Oregon “is an unusual combination of urban center and frontier watering hole,” says Laika CEO Travis Knight, who recently announced an increase in output of his own: The animation studio is positioning itself to release a new film every year.
“Anytime you have that kind of heterogeneity, you have fertile ground for creativity. The more people become aware of what’s happening here, the more the industry will grow.”
Scotty Iseri, web-series creator
//Photo by Sierra Breshears
Iseri is developing The Digits, a math-education web series for kids that includes episodes formatted for mobile apps and tablets, as well as online YouTube episodes. The Digits was the first next-generation media project to receive rebates from Oregon’s film fund.