Making multimedia – strategies in digital storytelling

Making multimedia – strategies in digital storytelling

Chair of the 2014 World Press Photo multimedia jury Jassim Ahmad lead a conversation during the 2014 Awards Days with prizewinners from three very different environments for creating multimedia.

Gerry Flahive is senior producer at the National Film Board of Canada. He pointed out that as a publicly funded producer and distributor of both documentary films and animated shorts, the NFB has the DNA (and the good fortune) to embrace new technologies as they come along, to be adventurous without worrying about the need for profit, and to bring a range of different talents to the table. Photojournalist David Airob spoke of his first venture into multimedia being the most rewarding learning experience of his career. Daniel Nauck, CEO of 2470media, offered advice from his broad experience on how to approach and put together a multimedia story.

A common thread running through all three perspectives was the central role of teamwork in multimedia storytelling. “Photographers are used to working alone, not having to collaborate,” said Airob. “But in multimedia you need each other, to work with each other and learn from each other.” Nauck said that in putting together a multimedia project he couldn’t say that he needed a photographer, an editor, and so on, just ticking off a list. “What we need is great authorship, and a team that has a chemistry, that fits together, that can make something happen. Teamwork, communication, not avoiding conflict, those are the keys.” Flahive spoke of a creative collection of new approaches. “People are emerging who are bilingual—they speak both film and interactive,” he said. “But authorship is central—we need more authors, people who are fluid and able to move back and forth.”

Further discussion focused on the practicalities of multimedia making: on taking first steps, putting together a team, on working with different elements such as text and animation, on managing material. How did you make sure the project did not run away with itself, and become a feature film? Airob mentioned how he and his partner had set an initial, manageable length of ten minutes. Nauck said that focus was crucial. You needed to gather as much information as you could about your topic, then to focus, and from that to develop a concept—to see what kind of story you want to have, and only then to start producing.

Flahive spoke of liberation from the ‘43-minute idea’ (the length of an hour-long TV documentary, taking commercials into account). Multimedia means thinking in a totally different way. A four-minute idea can be a good idea; a 90-minute idea can be a good idea. But you need to consider the attention of your audience. Users of multimedia can get up and walk away at any point. You have to build pieces in a modular way, so that people can take a bite and come back.

Animation, the use of neat, tight text with ‘rabbit holes’ that allow interested people to go deeper into a story, the importance of answering the user’s question of ‘what’s in it for me?’, of offering something that is easy to experience, yet has anchors—elements that invite a pause in the ‘scrollytelling’, as the user scrolls by—all these were discussed as strategies in the dynamic, rapidly developing realm of digital storytelling.