What happens when an audience becomes the storyteller, or even the story itself? “Beyond the Screen,” four free forums held last weekend at the Film Center Amphitheater, explored what is sometimes called “transmedia” or "immersive media," a loose movement that breaks down barriers between storytellers and audiences. Whether that’s forming “interactive” narratives or giving the audience complete control over a story, the movement aims to harness the way shifting technologies are already changing how we experience storytelling.
The forums featured documentary filmmakers, video game artists, film and theater producers and, of course, an audience both in the amphitheater and across the web, via live video that streamed during each event.
Matt Bolish, the Patrons Program Coordinator at the Film Society and one of the organizers of the transmedia forums, said they seemed like an obvious fit to run alongside the festival.
"When you take a look at the indie film community from a few decades ago, and you take a look at what these guys have been doing for the past 10 years, there are obvious parallels," Bolish said. “The people involved really want to establish a critical vocabulary and intelligent discussion about their work to prove it's more than marketing, and more than 'just games.'"
Examples of the movement in its many forms have already seeped into the mainstream. Several panelists pointed to Sleep No More, the popular theatrical experiment now showing in New York where audience members wander a full six-story set while an active performance takes place inside, effectively becoming part of the show.
“If we can make you feel like part of the story worldview, then we’ve done our job,” said Jim Babb, a panelist at one forum and the creator of Socks, Incorporated.
The process can be spontaneous, as was the case for another panelist, Michael Monello, who produced The Blair Witch Project and watched as the film inspired people on the web to insert themselves into the filmmakers’ “found footage” narrative. Or it can be deliberate, as with the project Babb founded, in which he prompts users to create sock puppets and build unique narratives within a community.
Bolish said the forums served to bring the emerging movement to a more general audience. “They really exceeded our expectations. The really exciting thing about it is that there were people in the room who had no idea what transmedia or immersive media was," he said. "There's no saying where it's going, but it's a very exciting time to be along on the run with it."