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Thoughts on Power to the Pixel 2011

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Power to the Pixel had its annual conference/festival last week, here in London. I only attended the conference day, just because I was curious to see how the trans-media trend was permeating into the documentary world. It was interesting to notice that in what is effectively THE only trans-media conference/festival  in the world only one out of 11 speakers was coming from the documentary world. This was  Kat Cizek, presenting Highrise.

Now: the morning was all spend at explaining how trans-media is the next big thing – and how all major Hollywood companies should expand into it, if they have not done so yet. Trans-media producer guru Jeff Gomez was clear that Walt Disney had already embarked in this new revolution, and the lovers of Harry Potter will see how PottersWorld is much more than an advertising coup: it is a new logic of dialogue between the audience and the author.

All this is very good… new revenue streams, new jargon to learn, new creative opportunities, new trends to speak of at conferences… but what does this do for i-docs? – was my inner question. I started to wake up when Lance Weiler showed his latest mixed reality performance: Pandemic – a five days game/experience. In the same league,  Christopher Sandberg too showed some of his magical productions, including Conspiracy for Good. They are all immersive stories in which people give up a lot of time – more than one day!-  to live in the woods, sleep into nuclear reactors or re-enact World War I. Now… those are all mixed reality stories (games/performances?) that mix different media with physical experience in order to “feel real”. This seemed to be the clue point: when you are immersed in real life, it feels “real”.

My first reaction was: who the hell has the time to sleep for one month into a nuclear reactor (or something similar)??? This was obviously beside the point. The fact that I would have zero time for it does not mean that other people – that have a life, or not- are very happy to “go for it”. I suspect the point actually is another one: taken to this level “trans-media” has nothing to do with having a story world that is spread between more than one media, it becomes a mixed reality performance – as the part experienced in the “physical world” is the glue that then gives the participants the reason to go on their mobile phones, their iPads and computers to solve the quiz, or dismantle the conspiracy.

So: real life as the “experience”, and mixed media as “our tools”. Are we going backwards or forwards in our media approach here?

Also: the abundance of conspiracy plots is a bit sickening to my taste – although I understand how this is a good driver for the participants (but have we not all seen too many Hollywood films on this? do we really need to become the heroes of a movie we have  seen a thousand time?). OK, I am being simplistic here.

But: if the clue of trans-media is to perform, what has Highrise to do with it? All of Highrise, and its others sub-projects, are accessible via internet. We might be able to send a picture through Flickr for Participate, but that is about it. We are not moving into a Tower block, we are following what their inhabitant see. So is Highrise a trans-media documentary? To my understanding, no. It is a multi year and platform agnostic project that keeps re-inventing itself, but  not a performance, not a mixed reality documentary and therefore not a trans-media project either.

I know I am being a bit pedantic here. But sometimes precision is useful. What it showed me is that even trans-media experts are mixing projects that are certainly new media, often cross-media, but not necessarily trans-media!

And finally: how can the trans-media mixed reality logic be used into a factual context? Are there any projects that are “simulating” the real? Is it about re-enacting factual stories? Is it about building a real story – as it happens – as opposed to look at the past events? Those are really the questions that fascinate me: where, how, when can we build a reality instead of representing it… and what are the moral consequences of this approach?

And for those who are looking for inspiration in the mixed reality / augmented reality / trans-media world… have a look to the video below… I am sure that ideas will start blossoming!

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 17th, 2011

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