Dec 142005

Realtime (and OnScreen) a journal looking at performance, dance, music, digital and the visual arts have published an interview my cohort from LAMP Peter Giles and I did a few weeks ago. Always interested in which bits Karen Pearlman decided to pull out of the ‘chat’. Anyway you can go to the article here or read the whole thing below.

Karen Pearlman on the LAMP initiative

What do Albert Einstein, Alan Greenspan, Robert Frost and Woody Allen have in common? They, and dozens of others, are all quoted in a floating banner across the top of the LAMP website, each in their own ways encouraging risk taking and adventurous innovation. LAMP (Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) is a new initiative to “provide a guiding light for the Australian Media Industry.” The floating quotes on their site focus on 2 key LAMP themes: bravery in the face of the unknown, and the galloping global engagement with new media.

Peter Giles, LAMP visionary and Head of Digital Media at the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS), which is host and home to LAMP, describes LAMP’s objective: “to stimulate production of compelling cross-media content in Australia.”

“Cross-media”, according to Giles, means “mobile, broadband, digital TV, digital set top boxes, games consoles etc, and these are increasingly linked by broadband. But emerging media are more important than the platforms. The most interesting examples are hybrid forms, which exist between the platforms. While many producers and broadcasters at the moment are looking at re-purposing linear content, the full potential of emerging media is in interactive services which are clearly different from what has come before them.”

A new narrative

Gary Hayes, founding director of LAMP, describes content that engages with this potential when he talks about the kinds of projects LAMP is keen to support. “We always look for narratives that carry people over platforms, that keep audiences engaged in a world where people are using multiple platforms.” So far, in Hayes’ experience of the first LAMP projects and his longer term experience working in a similar initiative in the UK, the “strongest version of this has a presenter within the project saying ‘go there now because you will get this reward for crossing to another platform to continue the journey.’ These projects keep the narrative engaging throughout and then drop in another call to action on another platform.”

Calling this kind of journey a “narrative” represents a major paradigm shift for filmmakers and film watchers. It gives the word ‘story’, the bastion of the narrative film industry, a new slant. But Hayes says, ‘story’ “does not necessarily mean drama but a good user journey through content.”

Erasing borders

As the definition shifts, the geographical boundaries that define story consumption also loosen. This prospect terrifies some and thrills others. The slippage takes away control by distributors, for example, while for a creative artist it takes the stigma out of geography. No more is there art house versus mainstream for the cinema, nor television versus cinema for that matter. A project that spreads across platforms doesn’t have the imprimatur of one or the other, it is inherently both experimental and commercial at this crucial moment in development of the media.

One of Hayes’ areas of expertise and personal fascination within the shifting definitions of ‘story’ and ‘audience’ is what he calls “personalisation.” “Personalisation is taking part in a play-along quiz with 2 million other people watching TV. The end result is personal to you. Personalisation goes all the way to who you are and what you do with a service that alters and resonates with it. Everything—narrative, interface, the meter, the visuals, the music—may all change. In a completely personal world, you get things that are relevant to you; it is insider service, it morphs.”

Demonstration quality

“Unfortunately,” Hayes says, “we are now seeing media being put out in the same version in every platform. This is a problem because it may kill audiences off; they may say cross-platform doesn’t work—‘why watch mobile video because it’s the same as broadband and I prefer TV.’” The way that LAMP is addressing this problem, according to Hayes, is to “let people see what the future will be. LAMP is about building things and putting them in front of people so they can see and experience the possibilities.”

The LAMP process

The process of building things takes place in LAMP residentials, week-long immersive periods of workshopping content. Giles reports that, “The residential labs are a pretty intensive experience for both participants and mentors.” In the first residential, held in October, Christy Dena, ‘transmedia storyteller’ was the guardian mentor for Insect Men a game/film (gilm they called it) targeting broadband PC, Mobile and Locative media platforms. Hit It TV, “a cross platform participatory musical drama for teenagers” worked closely with interactive designer Catherine Gleeson as a mentor, and Georgina Molloy, a docu-drama hybrid bound for TV and broadband PC, had the guidance of Sohail Dahdal, filmmaker and new media artist. Five other luminary cross-media thinkers and creatives worked closely with the other projects in a process in which “teams pitch and re-pitch their ideas with feedback from mentors and their peers, then create a prototype under the guidance of mentors and with the help of a team of developers. Teams work towards a final project pitch and presentation on the final day of the lab—and we put a VIP audience together to provide feedback.”

The next LAMP residential, coming up in December, will develop 8 new projects specifically for and with the ABC. “A very strong consideration in choosing projects for LAMP is that they have a designated stakeholder”, says Hayes. “Once workshopped at LAMP, they have to go back to their ‘home’ and pitch to their organization which could pick it up and develop it. Then LAMP has done its work, mentored and pushed it into a direction that will be good.” “The ideal outcomes”, according Giles, for the residentials and for LAMP, are “to incubate compelling projects with global prospects and nurture them to fruition. It’s also about developing talent and switching creative people on to the opportunities in this new area.”

In putting together the teams for LAMP residentials, Giles says, “We are generally targeting film and television creative teams rather than technical people.” This is where the LAMP theme of courage in the face of the unknown comes in. The kinds of fears that film industry people have are of technology or of being left behind or, even worse, Hayes says, “a deep paranoia that ‘I think I’m already left behind so I’ll keep doing what I’m dong because I’ll never catch up.’”

A LAMP residential manages these fears by providing “a strong team of mentors who can guide the technical direction of projects” and with the reassurance that LAMP is, as Hayes says, “a place for people to play and make mistakes without major consequences. Mistakes can kill markets off. So it is a sandbox in which to look at a hybrid model. If mistakes are made it’s just a week’s work, and they are a help to identification of other mistakes.”

Giles and Hayes are both upbeat about the progress LAMP has made so far in allaying fears and inspiring adventurous play. As Giles says, “It’s a process of education and I think we’ve made a good start. Developments in the global landscape provide widespread incentive for media producers to find out more. No one knows all the answers but if we can create a forum for discussion and incubation of ideas we are moving in the right direction.” Hayes adds, “Providing a guiding light to anything requires you to keep putting fuel in to keep the light burning brightly, making sure we have a local pool of expertise, people who can carry the flame if one of us falters. We want to avoid putting in overseas expertise all the time, so we need a group of people who can gradually make the light spread across the industry, already lots of media companies are feeling the warmth.”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005