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. 

btb_storylab

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.

But that’s just the beginning. As we close the door on FUTURESTATES, we’re opening the door to its successor, the ITVS Storylab. A development initiative designed to incubate and prototype new immersive webseries concepts for potential production funding from ITVS and distribution via our public media partners. As I noted up top, we just finished phase one – a story hackathon where we convened our greenlit storytellers with ITVS staff and a panel of mentors to engage in two intensive days of case studies, writing, feedback, rewriting, and paper prototyping.  Now, with reworked concepts in hand, these storytellers are out in the world gathering and shooting the visual assets necessary to reconvene at ITVS in six weeks time to be paired with technology partners and designers to create a functional digital prototype of their interactive series by the end of May.

Our exceptional team of makers in this inaugural year of the ITVS Storylab are:

Rose Troche (Go Fish, The L Word) & Amy Lo (Planet B-Boy)

Jesse Atlas & Chris Bryant (Record/Play)

Rola Nashef & Rijin Sahakian (Detroit Unleaded)

Tanya Elaine Hamilton (Night Catches Us) & Krista Whetstone (William)

And of course, I have to give shout-outs and immense gratitude to our luminary team of mentors – Jay Bushman & Bernie Su of Pemberly Digital, and Hal Siegel, & Mark Harris of Murmur – all veteran cross-platform storytellers, battle-tested and ideally positioned to guide our makers through the tricky waters of immersive digital storytelling.

This all may seem a little crazy – like some weird genetic hybrid of a development grant, a TV pilot, and a software beta. Well, that’s more or less the point. The goal here is not only to seed ITVS’s pipeline with innovative original stories of consequence and to test their viability early, but arguably more importantly, to find new ways of working with independents that help them become as prolific and creative as possible, to iterate story over time in order to get it right, and to begin building audience and community as soon as possible by generating a consumable product as soon as possible.

We can’t wait to bring these projects to fruition over the next couple months. Check back here at Beyond the Box for all the details!