Future Documentary Sandbox Begins...

Adopt the Wonder Woman Pose and Channel David Attenborough... The chains are off, with the standard loud honk on the hooter and a healthy scoop of exu

The hooter

The chains are off, with the standard loud honk on the hooter and a healthy scoop of exuberance the Future Documentary Sandbox got underway this week at Pervasive Media Studio. Ideas collided and sparks flew as the six project teams set off together on their Sandbox journeys. This is the first of four meet ups over the next three months and time for the teams to find out what being part of a Sandbox is all about. Each session is about sharing work in progress, workshopping a common concern and adapting our best Sandbox hive mind approach to exploring the emerging spaces opening up for the documentary form.

What a brilliant hive mind we had for this opening event as a larger group of our industry advisors joined the conversation. We kicked off with a brief round the table and then some Sandbox wisdom from Clare and Jon on how to get the most out of their experience in the Sandbox… Be free, take time to play, test often, share your learning and use one another are all key to the collaborative process in a Sandbox.

Jon Dovey, Director of REACT introducing Future Documentary Sandbox

Jon also laid down an important challenge, which pervades all of the projects as they start to develop towards making and testing. The seemingly growing elephant in the room that is the audience. Who are the audiences for these projects? Why would audiences bother spending an hour’s worth of their time with your project rather than leaning back at watching one born every minute? How can we translate our documentary content into audience engagement? Will they be there and will they stay with it?

We then went on to hear from each of the teams about their projects. Common tensions and themes emerged, the question of authorship and editorial control, the push and pull of levels of detail vs audience engagement/ interaction, the lean back vs lean forward. Also linking back to Jon’s opening challenge around audience; How do you build an audience from scratch and then maintain that community? It also became clear that pitching throughout the Sandbox is going to be a key activity as each project moves out of the Sandbox R&D stage to find further investment and their place in the world.

Patrick Crogan and the JtR 125 Team explaining their project

I set each team the challenge to open up their account of work in progress with a tweet (See the Orion:Behind the Mask team tweet below). I’m pretty sure this will be an important task in honing down as we move ahead, throwing out what’s unimportant and to get a better understanding about the essence of what each project is.

Tweets from the Future Documentary Sandbox Welcome Workshop

A quick refuel at lunch, was followed by a welcoming presentation from Future Documentary advisor Paula Le Dieu with an overview on the current climate and opportunities for documentary. Paula outlined just how robust traditional documentary is right now, with over 36 million search results on youtube people are self identifying as ‘documentary’ and ‘SuperSize Me’ film maker Morgan Spurlock’s latest blockbuster offering about One Direction taking £3.47 million opening last weekend. These kinds of figures would have been unfathomable ten years ago.

Paula went on to outline a decade long expression of interactive documentary, highlighting “Highrise” by Kat Cizek and nfb.ca as a major investor in this form. Also the Firestorm guardian project which uses moving image and text in journalistic context to aggregate witness reports and the pioneering “We Feel Fine” interactive data visualisation and artwork by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar. Theses examples shifted the focus to developments in truly web native work, the high fidelity and technical quality of video online, the affordances of the web and making work specifically for the context of the web.

Paula’s final word was a call to action for our projects to push at the medium and to take things further. She recalled a meeting with David Attenborough where he rushed off to show her a tint micro camera and energetically displayed his joy at getting to this point where for his whole life he had wanted to share with the world the story of insects and until now that this technology was developed he wasn’t able to. He has always endeavoured to push the medium forward and never restricted or defined by the technologies available. So the message is channel David Attenborough, when grappling with your projects, think about how you can constantly push at the medium and force the technology to catch up with you.

Ten Questions exercise at Future Documentary Sandbox Welcome Workshop

Building upon our shared inquiries, our final tasks for the day was to encourage our teams to get stuck into joining forces and sharing with each other ten things that they don’t yet know about their projects. Also writing postcards to our future selves about what we hope to acheive in six months time. It was brilliant to see the project teams getting to know one another and see that there are some real synergies in the kind of investigations they’re setting out to undertake.

Clare Reddington, REACT Executive Producer summing up the day

Finally Clare summed up the day and left the projects with one final gem from a recent TED talk from Amy Cuddy. The power of the ‘Wonder Woman’ pose (hands on hips and chest out) can actually chemically change your levels of testosterone in your system and might even have an impact for our chances of success.

Postcards exerciseJeanie Finlay of the Orion: Behind the Mask project

The whole REACT and Sandbox process is fundamentally about building relationships- new relationships where there weren’t relationships before. Finding the common values towards a common language as we criss cross between industries and sectors not only between academic and creative companies, also between established filmmaking communities, designers and coders. There are so many possibilities for making documentary content available for audiences, whether interactive, networked or co-created I feel really buoyant by the level of debate and reassured to have such a diverse cohort of differing perspectives concentrated on these gnarly questions.

Right, I’m off to practice my best Wonder Woman pose and channel David Attenborough…Roll on more experiments in real time and #docsandbox workshop number two.