Every year in June since its first edition in 2010, Cross Video Days captures the current online video trends during two busy days of conferences and pitches in Paris. This year, one of the main topics debated onstage had to do with financing: how can international digital projects get the necessary funds to be launched? What are the implications of international collaborations on European creative teams? Bayerischer Rundfunk‘s Rebecca Smit, production company Upian‘s Margaux Missika, Pictanovo‘s Malika Ait Gherbi Palmer and Wallimage‘s Domenico La Porta were present to ansxer these pressing questions.
The “coproduction” model is still to be invented in Europe – at least in the digital ecosystem. As Missika pointed out, the “co-producers” are usually the foreign producers who co-own the project. It can make international projects more difficult, as there are even more people to persuade when negotiating with foreign partners. Palmer stressed the essential role of coproduction funds – like Pictanovo – in such projects. The National Film Board of Canada, for instance, was instrumental in financing Do Not Track, Upian’s web documentary series about privacy and the web economy (watch the trailer below).
What’s the specificity of transmedia projects in this very competitive space? There are only two ways to get a transmedia project out, according to Smit: find your transmedia project first, and then look for potential partners; or look at the projects that are already there and make them transmedia. La Porta noted that most people involved in transmedia nowadays are women, which makes this growing space very different from the movie industry – but also very difficult for these two industries to work together. Furthermore, investment funds like Wallimage – which actually runs two funds, a national one and an international one – have their word to say about the scripts: all partners involved need to share a common vision, La Porta explained.
Keeping an open mind may well be the second mandatory prerequisite: it can be quite complicated to work with people all around the world, all with their own schedules. Smit stressed the importance of the legal department in a fast-changing landscape, where release windows and contracts are different from one country to another. Not to mention the fact that transmedia projects are very hard to preview until they’re finished: “Proof of concept is one of the things we’re struggling with,” said Missika. What about new funding techniques, like crowdfunding? Could they help producers reach an audience that is very engaged – but also still quite hard to find? Could they help attract new investors on projects they won’t be able to see before years? “Every country should get on board,” La Porta suggested: crowdfunding and transmedia have to go hand in hand.
Another much-discussed panel at Cross Video Days this year addressed the current VR – “virtual reality” – revolution and its consequences on production and distribution processes. Moderated by transmedia author Michel Reilhac, the panel featured DEEP Inc.‘s Thomas Wallner, Emissive‘s Fabien Barati, Canadian Film Centre‘s Ana Serrano and Emblematic Group‘s Nonny de la Pena. For all these stakeholders, what are the implications of what is “not just a new evolution step in tech improvement, but but a change in our representation of the world,” according to Reilhac?
Serrano first pointed out that “immersive media” has been around for centuries, with novels and films: VR is not that different, although perhaps “better suited for immersion.” In Barati’s opinion, this means that the audience’s involvement is more key than ever, through emotion and empathy – a day will come where kids will find Google and current platforms “empty,” de la Pena added. However, Wallner warned against over-optimism: VR may amplify emotions, but it’s not meant to be an “empathy machine,” he said, mentioning his multi-media documentary project Polar See 360, an expedition through the Northwest Passage that still relies on the viewers’ willingness to join the experience (video above).
Although we’re still in the early stages of VR, does it really embody the ultimate domination of reality by technology? A “wow effect” is natural when a new tool appears, said Reilhac, and artists and designers will very likely be the first people to play with it to communicate their visions before it becomes a commercial product, Serrano noted. With 25 million headsets on the market by 2018 and Facebook buying Oculus Rift, there is little doubt as to the growing importance of VR in years to come.
It’s still an expensive tool though, Wallner noted, as it’s very hard to get realistic videos with it. The danger? Seeing your creations fall in the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ an expression first used in the 1970s to describe our revulsion toward things created by technology that appear nearly human, but are not. Barati shared his slightly different opinion: “You don’t have to be realistic as long as your senses are realistically fooled.” In many cases, audio is the trigger to immersion, Serrano said, which makes it essential for filmmakers to master it in order to create a “suspension of disbelief” and get the viewers on board.
What about distribution? The gold rush has begun: who will be the YouTube of VR, de la Pena asked? These are still the early days of VR platforms, with EEVO and Vrideo co-existing with Oculus Rift and Samsung’s and Sony’s projects. “Traditional” broadcasters will have a role to play, according to Wallner; otherwise VR may never get the attention it deserves. He then encouraged all aspiring filmmakers to “not be afraid” and “try things that look wrong or counter-intuitive” – in other words, creators should’t wait for the systems to be perfect, and just express themselves.
In the end, it all comes back to creating stories with time and sound – the challenge artists have been struggling with since the very beginning of motion pictures!
Top photo (left to right): DEEP Inc.’s Thomas Wallner, Canadian Film Centre’s Ana Serrano, Michel Reilhac, Emblematic Group’s Nonny de la Pena and Emissive’s Fabien Barati at Cross Video Days