TIFF12: The Nexus of digital media and film – part one


During the Toronto International Film Festival, Playback is featuring a series of Q&As with festival programmers and insiders on trends in the films they program and the buzz they’re hearing from distributors.

Here, director of public programs Shane Smith and TIFF Nexus programmer Nicholas Pagee discuss how traditional producers can better collaborate with gaming and digital media producers, the rise in market interest in digital projects and what’s coming next.

Stay tuned for part two of this Q&A tomorrow, in which Smith and Pagee discuss Renga and future opportunities for Canadian digital creators with traditional media and in the global entertainment marketplace.

The digital media landscape is in a state of constant evolution and flux. How can traditional film (and TV) producers work better with gaming and digital media creators?

The key is communication- often and early- coupled with respect for the creative process of other mediums. The overwhelming trend in successful transmedia projects has been the notion of “world building,” how a film/game adaptation is more than just about making a film about a game or vice versa, it’s about extending that world and its characters into other mediums in ways that make sense for those mediums- making choices or building structures in ways that are appropriate for the medium.

The TIFF Nexus project was structured on that premise – that the different creative silos (film/TV/gaming/digital media) need to connect and collaborate in order to be well-positioned for future opportunities. Areas of great potential growth exist in “cross-sector collaboration,” and we’re still seeing a notable shortage of collaboration between film and gaming/digital producers. But film producers are starting to move in that direction, and TV producers have for a while been working to ensure their projects resonate across multiple platforms. Kids TV producers are all over it- there’s pretty much no TV show for kids that doesn’t have a content rich website or app loaded with original games, clips, and additional story elements.

What’s the state of this niche, circa TIFF 2012?

Interactive cinematic experiences are still in their infancy. The NFB has done great work in the documentary realm with recent projects like BEAR 71, but we’re still in the experimentation phase. Cinema exhibitors and film producers are obviously looking for new ways to attract and engage audiences, and there have been a number of innovations around technology that allow for somewhat unique viewing experiences (such as enhancements in 3D, simulcasting live events, big screen gaming events). The challenge for cinemas lies in providing unique audience experiences that are scalable and repeatable, yet not easily duplicated at home, but which provide for an ongoing relationship with both the content and the place that content is best experienced.

Film exists today as but one sector in the evolving media ecosphere, linked artistically and economically to gaming, transmedia, interactive documentary, computer animation, mobile storytelling, augmented reality, interactive projection, social media communities like YouTube, the list goes on. Cinematic institutions are stretching to address industry shifts, changing funder interests and audience tastes, and new modes of artistic output. TIFF has made strides through the Nexus series, where partnerships with industry, academia and community connected the worlds of film, gaming, and new media through conferences, jams and learning workshops, overall featuring scores of presenters, researchers, and diverse artists joining in transmedia creation through cross-sector jams.

Which markets are looking for greater digital/interactive projects?

Digital projection and content delivery methods are opening up opportunities for interactive projects all over the world. Many countries are providing support for digital upgrades to cinemas, which allow for enhanced experiences between audiences and creators. A film can be screened in many cinemas, and the filmmakers can talk to and interact with audiences in those cinemas. Digital projection is allowing for a two-way conversation between audiences and creators, but in a communal environment that is often lacking from web-based engagement.

At the same time, we’re seeing some of the Canadian funding models change to increasingly require original extensions of film and television properties into video games, interactive web content, on-demand and mobile platforms. It’s never been more important for content creators on both sides of those models to get out and meet one another so they can collaborate from the start of the creative process instead of having to adapt.

Are you seeing interest this year from particular territories, markets or buyers?

Currently many interactive cinematic projects are unique experiences that aren’t fully scalable for mass distribution- it’s still a challenge to bottle and sell the “one of a kind.” But obviously the U.S., Nordic countries and the U.K. are moving to the head of the pack by investing in the development of new forms of interactive cinematic storytelling experiences.

The exciting thing is seeing creators take advantage of the technology in new and exciting ways; the challenge is in discovering how they can monetize their innovations.

What are some of the biggest changes this year over last year? And what do you foresee for next year?

We seem to be at a point where a lot of the technologies, especially in the mobile and smart TV platforms, have finally evolved and converged to the point of enabling entirely new creative experiences. Things a lot of creators and producers could only imagine doing even fiveyears ago are suddenly made incredibly easy thanks to online distribution, open-source development communities, ubiquitous internet access, entirely new platforms like the iPad and Android, huge increases in camera vision and augmented reality apps, and the like. If what we’ve seen coming out of the transmedia and interactive production markets are any indication, then the next several years will be a time of rich and incredibly exciting experimentation. That’s where a program like TIFF Nexus brings value- showcasing these experiments, introducing filmmakers to these opportunities and building networks of future collaborators in our hub at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Photo: TIFF Nexus