We conclude our month of Transmedia Storytelling interviews with Aina Abiodun. She and co-founder Mike Knowlton are the chief architects behind StoryCode. StoryCode is a NYC-based community hub, lab, and creative consultancy for emerging and established cross-platform and immersive storytellers. She talked to us about why they started an organization focused exclusively on what they call “immersive media.”
What is StoryCode and how did it come about?
StoryCode started as a meetup – we were initially called Transmedia NYC. As we grew and began planning bigger events, we morphed into StoryCode, which is a not-for-profit that functions as a community hub, lab and incubator for immersive storytellers.
How did your background as a creative and community builder help you launch StoryCode?
In terms of community building, I’d been working for a number of years as a producer. In that role, I was well versed in bringing different kinds of people together for projects—from the creative to the technical—so it wasn’t a stretch to bridge that same gap with a meetup group. For the feature film I produced right before starting the meetup, I’d done all the community outreach and grassroots connecting—that was what initially pulled me into the world of transmedia. I saw the creative possibilities of the form, and I was looking for a community to join. This was in 2009 and there were absolutely no transmedia groups around anywhere. So I formed a group on meetup.com and a handful of people showed up in a bar. That’s how it began.
As you formed StoryCode were you met with any resistance or puzzlement from more traditional arts organizations? If so, how did it help or inhibit StoryCode’s evolution?
Actually, no. Traditional arts organizations didn’t care that we existed—I guess when people ignore you it’s a sign they don’t think what you’re doing has any value to their community or in the broader culture. That was the initial response. That’s changed quite a bit since we began, and now we are in a partnership with The Film Society of Lincoln Center, and we just co-hosted a great event with The Museum of the Moving Image. But I’ve honestly never been one to care about institutional recognition. I knew we were on the cusp of something massive and, coming from filmmaking, I also knew film was on the edge of a seismic change and that we would need to start thinking about what came next.
As a website that has video editing hacking tips, it was refreshing to read about your story hackathons. Talk in a little more detail about them.
We created Story Hack: Beta this year because we felt there was a need for more experimentation in the cross-media/transmedia/immersive media space. It was the first ever story hackathon and has since spawned many lookalikes! Mike Knowlton (StoryCode co-founder) and I would go to these conferences and seminars and hear the same five case studies of transmedia projects and it got pretty tiresome. Here we were excited about all the possibilities of stories and technology combined in so many ways, yet not that many people had actually played in the space. We looked at some of the great projects that have come out of tech hackathons over the last few years and thought that might be a great way to kickstart new projects and give folks a chance to play around with tools and stories. The key was providing a framework that could be used to create great projects in the 48 hour window the hackers had.
What have been some of the standout hacks?
Future Mate was fantastic—they won the grand prize for their outstanding combination of mobile and live performance. They crafted a great story, integrated it seamlessly using the Twilio API and engaged the live audience in the room during the demo.
What are the top top three traits a person should possess to be an effective Transmedia producer?
Versatility, Tenacity, Creativity.
What advice do you have for video editors interested in working on Transmedia projects?
Start hanging out with transmedia creators—it’s the best way to get familiar with the whole process.
You’ve been collaborating with Scott Walker and Jay Bushman of TransmediaLA since their inception. In your opinion, which place has more awareness of Transmedia Storytelling: NYC or LA? Has this changed over the years?
Scott and Jay have done a phenomenal job of creating a vibrant LA community over the last couple of years. For me, the choice to leave LA for NY in 2010 was based on my hunch that New York had more potential in this area than LA, based mainly on the fact that NY has a big tech scene, as well as publishing, advertising, theatre, and a fair amount of film/TV as well, so the community is very diverse in skill and background.
There’s been a lot of debate on what Transmedia is or is not, how it compares to ARG and what the future holds for what StoryCode has dubbed “immersive storytelling.” What are your opinions on this discussion?
The ARG community were definitely the pioneers of transmedia, and some people in the transmedia world view that as a very “authentic” way to approach transmedia. At StoryCode, we believe the field is still really nascent, and we need to be open to all types of people from all disciplines approaching the subject in a myriad of ways. If we close the door now, the form won’t have an opportunity to naturally evolve. We’ve moved away from the term “transmedia” into immersive media simply because immersive media is a specific way to describe the effect we are trying to create as storytellers—which is to engage the viewers/audience members in either an interactive narrative, or one that encourages them to go deeper, and immerse themselves in the story. Technically, transmedia is one specific approach to storytelling which leaves out a lot of amazing interactive storytelling work which we think should be taken into account. So in terms of the debate, we’d rather not make the definition debate a key part of our work. We just want to see good work, creative work coming out of the community. Mike and I see ourselves as stewards of a movement—we are just facilitating something that was bound to happen no matter what.
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