by Nick Ray
Graduate Fellow, Center for Social Media

Creating a project leveraging the web opens up uncountable opportunities for storytellers. Footage that was previously cut due to time constraints, or stories that didn’t fit tightly enough within the narrative to be included, can now contribute to the narrative of an interactive project. As freeing as the many options a media maker has may seem, however, they can also be overwhelming.

Filmmakers transitioning to web-based projects often come from experience in the field that has molded perceptions about the execution and format of a project. Films have a set length. People will come to a screening, the movie will begin, and continue until it’s conclusion, at whatever set time the delivery format demands. Financing, production, and many other aspects remain fairly consistent from project to project. Last, while there may be a few different versions, overall the cut released to the public is considered final.

Web projects exist in an entirely different landscape. There is no technical limit to the amount or type of footage that makes it into the final product. People interact on their terms and schedule, and clips may be seen out-of-order.  There is no all-encompassing “method” for success (though there are practices or technologies known to work better).

Perhaps the biggest shift is that there isn’t a single, final release of the product, but rather several releases, each building on the last and relying on viewer feedback to figure out what works and what needs adjusted. This could be a particularly difficult transition for those who aren’t used to showing rough cuts, because it means releasing a functional, unpolished version to colleagues and the public. This is a necessary step, however, because web projects are iterative, and can respond to the needs of their audience better if the audience has a chance to participate in the process.

 ”If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version, you waited too long. Usage is oxygen for ideas” -Matt Mullenweg, creator of Wordpress

In addition to a new workflow, the web offers temptation to stray from a project’s focus. A new piece of software or widget may seem fun to use, but if it overshadows or dilutes the narrative, the aim of the project is lost. To help keep focus, Ben Moskowitz at Mozilla emphasizes SVT, or “Story, Vision, Tech.”

This cyclical process begins with the core of the project – story. Whatever follows in planning has to support, and not undermine, the integrity of the story. The first step in creating a project, thus, should be to define the message this web project hopes to get across.

Next, media makers should outline how they envision the viewer experiencing their project. For example, one project team at Hot Hacks in Toronto this year is focusing on immigration. In addition to content they had curated, their vision was for the viewer to use the app and recognize that we are all immigrants, including him/her. Their goal is for the viewer to see themselves in the story by using their information as a way to connect.

The technical execution that follows at this point becomes conceptually clear: A list of features that are required in order to meet the vision; not because they are novel, but because they serve the project’s goals. In the previous example, the project plans to let viewers connect with Facebook (where content already lives) and dynamically insert the viewer’s data into the experience.

The challenge in execution, particularly if it is a repurposing of existing software or the creation of new software, is no small task. However, by adding the direction that vision provides, instead of jumping from story to tech, the steps required to complete the first iteration of a project are more easily understood by everyone involved, which streamlines the development process.

This approach, as mentioned, is cyclical. Limits or new opportunities with tech may help inform story, which alters the vision, and so on. The key in navigating these changes, however, is making certain that story remains top priority, and that what follows reinforces what the viewer should take away from the experience.

(see the original article by Ben Moskowitz for his perspective).