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Monday, May 25, 2009

Calling All Documentarians: Your Ideas About the Future of Doc Storytelling

The great Wendy Levy of BAVC has asked me to moderate a panel this Saturday in San Francisco, for the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies. Here's the description and the list of panelists. I'd love to get your questions, comments, and predictions here -- and we'll weave them into the conversation Saturday morning as much as possible (with credit). I'm told the panel will be live streamed here.

Descrip and panelists:

    The Future of Visual Storytelling:
    Content-Driven Technologies and the New Documentary Movement

    There is no question that the way people consume content has fundamentally changed over the last several years. Whether online, on mobile devices, DVD/BluRay, or in physical spaces, the way we tell stories is also changing. What is the future of documentary filmmaking, with the reality of shorter attention spans, laptop culture and evolving technology that enables new ways to interact with narrative content? This panel will explore the emerging developments, new opportunities and technical challenges in the field – is interactivity the end of traditional narrativity?


    Lance Weiler, The Workbook Project

    Mark Gibson, Media Consultant

    Tina Singleton, Witness

    Joaquin Alvarado, CPB

Here are some of the topics I plan to bring up... feel free to respond or to add others in the comments below.

    Round 1: In five years, what will people mean when they say “documentary”? What will have changed, what will remain the same about the form? What new possibilities will documentary storytellers be seizing?

    Round 2: What today feels to you like the platform or new technology that offers the most potential for documentary storytellers to connect with audiences and change the world? (IE, the iPhone, games, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)

    Round 3: What’s the most significant change you see taking place among viewers, and the way they consume/create/interact with content?

    Round 4: What’s one project that to you feels like it represents a new, experimental (perhaps interactive) direction in documentary storytelling?

    Round 5: What is the role of the director, producer, and the creative team? Are they ringmasters, conversation catalysts, community organizers? How does the work of creating new elements around the film balance with all the work of creating the film itself? What about giving up control – how does that square with the traditional control-oriented nature of filmmaking?

    Round 6: What question would you like to ask the audience, or your fellow panelists?

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  • 1. I think people will still see documentaries as an opinion on an issue and that will not change. what will change will be the box that filmmakers are put in as far as deliverables go. Dox will be delivered and accepted in all lengths as they and the wall will come down on things like the 22 minute or 48 minute finished piece.

    2.Technology for delivery is cheap as is production technology. I still think there needs to be a lot of work done in the crowdfunding, and social exhibition space. People like and like our us (toot my own horn here) at are working on giving the resources to create projects that have no financial barriers - ergo, no creative barriers. There are also groups like and that are changing the way we book films for exhibition. This will also be important.

    3.I see voting and polling being a huge part of the documentary world in future. Not only will filmmakers deliver the information in the story but they will back it up with hard data that can be tracked and used for good...OR bad.

    4.There is a project on the social, economic and political impact that soccer has on the planet that is just getting going and I for one am really interested in following that one!

    5.This really depends on whether or not you are taking an objective or subjective position on the topic at hand. I see the filmmakers gaining the ability to create their own private propaganda machines at very little cost to them. I think the big part in all this will be how the crowd responds to the filmmaker and hwo they associate themselves (or remove themselves) from the final product.

    6. To Lance - How has your theatrical mapping program been going? Are the theater owners themselves open to the idea of allowing outside independents to book through this system?

    By Blogger David Geertz, at 2:08 PM  

  • Hi Scott,

    I was just reading a summary of this year's climbing season on Mt. Everest on Alan Arnette's site ( and thought it was a relevant example of what is happening with new media and communications technologies and the impact they are having on both traditional journalism and documentary cinematography.

    Though I have never done more that hike in the White Mountains, after reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air about 10 years ago I got hooked on vicarious climbing first through reading more books and watching documentaries like David Breashears' Everest in IMAX and PBS/NOVA. I think it was in 2004 that started live feeds from a few of the expeditions on the web. Now there are half-a-dozen sites with daily dispatches in addition to each of the guide groups having their own sites. Five years ago you were lucky to get a few digital photos and a short email. This year you could get tweets from several climbers ( and daily video dispatches from Sherpa cams on YouTube (

    I don't know what this all means but in 10 years time we have gone from a world where our access to even remote experiences is easy and instantaneous. Expeditions like a climb up Everest would be documented by cinematographers and then edited into a production/story to be shared with an audience or written in a journal and then published later in a book or on a web site. Now the audience has near real-time access to these events on the web as they are happening almost anywhere in the world.

    All of this creates some challenges for a producer but also new opportunities. Since the general context of many of these events will be more widely known or accessible through other means, a producer can spend more of their time on the more unique stories and angles. I hope that we continue to tell stories that incorporate the views and reflection of the producer and the context of their experience vs. just a sea of digital bits in streams, tweets, clips and feeds (though they sure can be fun to watch).

    This year Discovery Channel was up on Everest filming a documentary ( It would be interesting to ask them about their experience.

    Interesting times! Have fun in San Fran.


    By Blogger MyronK, at 5:16 PM  

  • Hey lance. Really would love to watch this panel unfold and I think your questions are great conversation points.

    Any way that I could find out where the recorded panel will be loaded too? Dont have bandwidth here (south africa) to stream....So I'll download bit by bit...good luck - looking forward to (especially workbook project) answers!

    By Blogger jozua, at 1:03 PM  

  • As creators of MacHEADS, a documentary about Apple's obsessed fans, we have gathered a substantial experience with the new media models. MacHEADS has been the #2 top selling documentary on iTunes and Amazon VOD. You can read more about MacHEADS on Indiewire -

    We have written an article about the new media and what it can offer to new indie filmmakers. Maybe some of the points we raised can help the panel. You can download the paper via the internet archives

    Thank you

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:54 PM  

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