Hacking Story at ITVS

By Karim Ahmad
ITVS Senior Digital Content Strategist, @the_karachi_kid

ITVS recently hosted four producer teams who were greenlit by the organization’s newly developed ITVS Storylab initiative. These producer teams met with ITVS staff and external mentors to gain intensive consultation in the areas of story development, user experience mechanics, and producing multi-platform content. 

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In early April, ITVS rekindled its love affair with the hackathon. And while we’ve hosted hackathons before, this was something different. This time, we weren’t coding anything. We were hacking story. Not a totally new concept, our process was inspired by our good friends at StoryCode, who’ve run a couple story hackathons in the past – events borrowing from the software development world’s rapid prototyping process to create digital multi-platform stories at breakneck pace. And that’s exactly what we did. We selected a handful of immensely talented indie storytellers with ideas for immersive webseries concepts, and locked them in a room for two days to conceptualize, scope, and paper prototype them for ITVS.

And why? To answer that, let me back up a few steps.

Call it what you like – immersive storytelling, cross-platform, cross-media, or the now-seemingly-dreaded “T-word” (aka transmedia) – if you’ve had a conversation with me about it in the last couple years, you know I have a real obsession with it’s applications to creating impactful and artistic fictional storyworlds. Interactive docs are awesome. But as I said at our recent SXSW panel on the very same subject, i-docs are officially everywhere – including here at ITVS – but if you ask me, the real wild west of transmedia storytelling right now is in fiction.

Look at most narrative webseries and you’ll find they mimic a broadcast paradigm – either the episodic serial or the anthology, like FUTURESTATES. And while I love these stories, I’ve long felt that the new opportunity with web series is to create one that doesn’t feel like a broadcast series – one that really unleashes the user experience potential of web to tell a nonlinear story in serialized form. Our upcoming and final season of the FUTURESTATES series is exactly that. The first act of this narrative is unfolding right now on Twitter and Tumblr. And on May 14, 2014, we’re taking it to a whole new level. It’s a multi-platform futuristic mystery, with you at the center of it all. Stay tuned, you won’t want miss it. Continue reading

Children of the Northern Lights: Season Finale of FUTURESTATES

Producer Cara Marcous gives us an inside look at the inspiration behind the season finale of FUTURESTATESChildren of the Northern Lights, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

Watch Children of the Northern Lights | June 5 on FUTURESTATES on PBS. See more from FutureStates.

Writer and director Andrew MacLean drew his original inspiration for the film from a traditional Iñuit legend of the same name, whose ideas had always resonated with him. The legend is about a hunter who comes in contact with a group of mysterious children who are pillaging his food stores. He thinks they are thieves. He eventually discovers that the children are actually the spirits of the Northern Lights, beings drawn from the stillborn children of his people and they are starving. The hunter is moved by the struggle of these spirits and resolves to focus his hunting on finding sustenance for them. Ultimately, he is able to nourish them, but does not have enough food to feed himself, so he sacrifices his own life for the children’s – and for the vitality and beauty of the Northern Lights.

Andrew felt a natural connection between this story and his own interest in how we balance the needs and priorities of the individual with those of humanity. Through FUTURESTATES, he saw that dilemma in the context of resource exploitation and colonization, and how that might play out in our not-too-distant future. Continue reading

Hollow Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Filmmaker Lisa Robinson gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s FUTURESTATES short, Hollow, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

Watch Hollow | Premiering May 29 | FUTURESTATES on PBS. See more from FutureStates.

Hollow came out of thoughts I had about my everyday internet experience, in which data seems to stream into my brain as if through an intravenous drip. I open my laptop and suddenly email, web searches, random advertising, and social networking all roar in, filling my mental space like a noisy highway and leaving less and less space for fragile developing thoughts and fleeting memories. It’s essentially reshaping my brain’s transactions and, one could argue, ultimately changing who I am.

I obsessed over this idea, this web brain experience, and it tumbled forward, shaping into a character named Iris, a young woman who is trying to survive in a future world where this kind of data exposure is peaking. I imagined the future web as more aggressive and personal, having lost most of its anonymity and privacy. This felt like a small stretch from today, as our growing dependence on the web will almost certainly be paired with challenges to its overall security. Corporate and government surveillance will expand, as well as tracking and profiling systems. As all prosthetic devices (computers, cell phones, etc.) become vulnerable to hacking, powerful interests will find other ways to secretly move information. I was irresistibly drawn to this imaginary future with new industries, new opportunities, and unlikely “heroes.” Continue reading

The Living Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Filmmaker Julian Breece gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s 
FUTURESTATES short, The Living, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

The Living is a film about human isolation and, specifically, how shifts in the frequency and quality of human interaction might shape the American future. For many of my fellow Gen Y-ers, the notion that we’re traveling down a path of increased human isolation probably seems far-fetched and alarmist, or, at best, a non-issue. After all, we’re children of the Information Age, the first generation born into a world of mass media and wireless technology that allows us to stay in constant contact with both close friends and strangers who live thousands of miles away.

Although I recognize and enjoy the technological advances that continue to bring us closer in the virtual sense and satisfy an array of social longings, I’ve also wondered what culture shifts these innovations might encourage in the long run. As I developed the script for The Living, I pondered a host of moral quandaries that might arise in a society where human desire has been reduced at accelerated rates – where the population has normalized the practice of communicating with both strangers and loved ones at mainly a physical distance. Ultimately, I wanted to know how this continuing ethos might inform the way Americans value human life. Continue reading

Return to Elektra Springs Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Writer and director Christopher Munch gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s FUTURESTATES short, Return to Elektra Springs, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

My interest in the subject of new energy – advanced energy technologies that have historically had a hard time gaining traction because they run counter to scientific orthodoxy or have been suppressed by industrial or governmental elements – has grown over the past couple of years, even as the world has grown more in need of them. A century after Ida Tarbell published her landmark exposé of the Standard Oil Trust that led to its breakup, the list of inventors whose groundbreaking work had been ruthlessly kept from the public by way of intimidation, economic subversion, and even lethal force only continues to grow.

Recently, however, the progress made by such inventors as Andrea Rossi, whose LENR (cold fusion)-based “E-Cat” is beginning to be commercially marketed. There are a score of similar “over-unity” devices (devices generating more energy than is required to run them) in various stages of development, any of which, when allowed to come to fruition, could be nothing short of revolutionary in their ability to displace carbon-based fuels. Continue reading

Promised Land Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Director Joe Turner Lin gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s FUTURESTATES short, Promised Land, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

My parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1960s and I was raised with the narrative – some might say “mythology” – that America truly was a Land of Opportunity: a place where many different colored threads are woven together to form a tapestry stronger and more vibrant than if those threads been all been spun from the same field of cotton.

Born and bred in New York City, this “melting-pot” cliché was further solidified by my multicultural friends and peers. It seemed obvious to me that America was a place that gathered its strength from its diversity, and that historically, all of the growth times came out of the waves of immigrants that lapped up onto our shores, looking for a better life: Italians, Irish, Chinese, Mexican….

But as I grew older, I began to see that not all of my fellow Americans shared this perspective. While in my youth, I clung to my righteousness, over time I began to realize that my own condemnation of such black-and-white opinions was a shallow simplification itself. I was left wrestling with both sides, struggling to find compassion for an intolerance that I did not understand. Continue reading

Refuge Premieres on FUTURESTATES

This week’s FUTURESTATES short depicts a future where a cyber attack on the United States Immigration database puts a young woman, Sonia, at risk of being deported back to Iran – but remaining in the U.S. may come at a greater price than she’s willing to pay. Director Mohammad Gorjestani gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the short film, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

As an Iranian American, I find myself on both sides of an escalating geopolitical situation between the United States and Iran. When invited to pitch a story for the FUTURESTATES series, I began to realize that I wanted to further explore the potential repercussions of the brewing U.S./Iran conflict in the not-too-distant future.

As I explored the landscape and hypothesized various scenarios that I felt deserved attention, I stumbled upon two profound realizations. The first was that the nature of warfare has evolved to the point that cyber warfare is no longer rooted in fiction, but rather an aggressively approaching reality. The second was that a large number of Iranian immigrants living in the U.S. could find themselves victims of political backlash similar to the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. I knew, however, that while history could repeat itself, it would likely not replicate the past but come in a new form. Continue reading

FUTURESTATES Launches Season Four with Elliot King is Third

Starting today, the fourth season of FUTURESTATES debuts a new futuristic episode from seven cutting-edge indie filmmakers every Wednesday, kicking off with today’s Elliot King is ThirdIn 2024, gender is identified by microchip implant, and trans people like Elliot are classified “third.” But can he change his identity in an attempt to build a safer life? Director Rose Troche gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the short film, which is currently streaming on futurestates.tv.

The conversation of Elliot King began a long while back. I would say that the seed of this idea was formed over time and various places/events. Things like involvement in LGBTQ activism, casual conversations with friends over dinner, witnessing the changing political landscape of America – these were all important in the development of this story and the character of Elliot King.

We’re fortunate enough to live in a time and place where identity doesn’t stop at male or female and that gender and sexual identity is fluid across a large spectrum. That being said, how does one reconcile the difference between self-identification and when a government defines it for you? I’ve never believed in outing someone. It’s something that should happen when a person is ready.

Elliot King began as a question of giving other people the power to make those choices for you and the consequences of that. This film is an exploration of how pressure and time can be extremely transformative powers in a modern society. Continue reading

FUTURESTATES Returns!

The fourth season of FUTURESTATES brings seven visions of the future from seven cutting-edge indie filmmakers

And we’re back! Public media’s #1 online series of independently-produced, socially conscious, science fiction short films returns for another season of forward thinking, genre-bending, no-holds-barred explorations into the future of American society. In Season Four, seven filmmakers envision our world at a crossroads, where discrimination, environmental catastrophe, visitors from the future, and even other worlds test the bonds of our humanity. Will we stand together or break apart? Nothing is inevitable but the future.

Produced by ITVS and created by established filmmakers such as Rose Troche, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, and Christopher Munch, as well as many emerging talents, FUTURESTATES films launch April 24, 2013 and will be available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and simultaneously on pbs.org every Wednesday. Don’t miss it!

One Wish One Hundred Years

By Lance Weiler
Creator, Wish for the Future

Wish For The Future is a creative platform to empower everyone to shape the world around them and create a better future now. Creator Lance Weiler shares his plans for the new transmedia project and some of the wishes for 2013. 

As another year passes, many are thinking ahead to the next 12 months and what 2013 will bring. But what about a future beyond 2013? What would your “one wish” be for a 100 years from now?

A few weeks ago, we officially kicked off an ambitious project with a 100-year timeline called Wish for the Future. To date, we’ve received over 4,000 wishes from around the world. You can see them here (and even make your own here). Continue reading