MEMBER OF THE MONTH – INGRID KOPP, TRIBECA FILM INSTITUTE
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.
Our EDN member of the month for December 2012 is Ingrid Kopp, Director, Digital Initiatives, Tribeca Film Institute, New York, USA.
Ingrid Kopp began her career in the documentaries department at Channel 4 Television in the UK, moving to New York in 2004 to work as a producer for a number of independent production companies before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Shooting People, a network for filmmakers. Now at the Tribeca Film Institute in New York Ingrid overseas the TFI New Media Fund and leads the Institute's digital endeavours.
The Tribeca Film Institute is a non-profit arts organization founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in the wake of September 11, 2001. The Institute supports filmmakers through grants and professional development, and is a resource for and supporter of individual artists in the field. The TFI New Media Fund provides funding and support to non-fiction, social issue media projects which go beyond traditional screens - integrating film with content across media platforms, from video games and mobile apps to social networks and interactive websites.
EDN talked to Ingrid about the TFI New Media Fund and about working with interactive and crossmedia documentary.
EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and your road from Channel 4 in the UK to the TFI in New York?
IK: I had a very brief career in computer games before finding my way to the Documentaries department at Channel 4 Television where I was very lucky to work under the incredible leadership of Peter Dale. After nearly five (very inspiring) years at Channel 4, I moved to New York to work as a producer and then ended up working with Shooting People, an international network for filmmakers, in 2006 just as social media was exploding. This got me really interested in the intersection between storytelling and technology and in the huge potential of the web for filmmakers. I started teaching a Digital Bootcamp workshop with James Mullighan, a colleague of mine at Shooting People. Initially the focus was on using social media and the web to promote linear films but as time went on I got more and more interested in new possibilities for storytelling itself – and started writing and teaching about web-native films, games, apps and transmedia. This all led to me consulting for the Tribeca Film Institute on the TFI New Media Fund which was launched in early 2011 and I came on board full time as Director of Digital Initiatives this year.
EDN: At TFI you are in charge of the New Media Fund, which is a fairly new initiative. Can you tell more about the background for this fund and the idea behind its launch?
IK: The idea for the Fund was to think about how to bring new audiences to non-fiction subject matter by providing multiple points of entry into a story. Our goal has been to think about the changing needs and behaviors of audiences as they embrace new technologies and consume media in new ways. We also think about how to build communities around positive social change through innovative use of both story and technology. Finally, we are very excited to be able to support projects that are truly innovative in their approach, projects that creatively use new technologies to both tell stories and engage audiences. It can be risky but it is tremendously rewarding to see the field grow.
EDN: What type of projects does the fund support?
IK: The TFI New Media Fund provides funding and support to non-fiction, social issue media projects which go beyond traditional screens -- integrating film with content across media platforms, from video games and mobile apps to social networks and interactive websites.
EDN: The deadline for applying for the next funding round is February 5, 2013. Who can apply for the fund and what is important to consider when applying?
IK: We are open to subject matter and creative teams from anywhere in the world. We are actively looking for vital international stories. The work we fund tends to fall into two main categories: either it is interactive media that complements a linear film (for example the website www.interruptviolence.com that accompanies Steve James’ The Interrupters) or it is a project that is interactive from the start and there may be no linear film involved (for example Lance Weiler’s work-in-progress Laika’s Adventure).
EDN: Can you tell more about the projects that were funded in 2012 – what are examples of working with new media and what made the supported projects stand out?
IK: We funded the web and tablet version of Alma – A Tale of Violence because we were very moved by Alma’s story and had enormous faith in the skill of the Upian team to deliver the project and make it a unique and rewarding experience. Alma just won the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling, which is wonderful.
We also funded Lance Weiler’s Laika’s Adventure because we have been impressed with Weiler’s work in this space for many years and were fascinated by his desire to bring both software and hardware into his storymaking universe (Laika is a robot who will travel around the world and eventually go into space). This project provides an excellent opportunity for us to explore how to get kids invested in data-collection and problem solving and we will be doing some hackathons with students as the project progresses. Tribeca Hacks is another initiative we run in the Digital Initiatives department at the Tribeca Film Institute which allows us to bring together filmmakers, developers and designers to explore new ways of creating stories and inspiring change. Part of our goal with these hacks is to encourage people to think about maker culture and we think it is very important to start with young people who are learning to navigate in a digital world.
EDN: How big are the grants provided by the fund and how are the grant sizes calculated?
IK: We fund between 4 and 8 projects each year. The grants range between $50,000 and $100,000. We also provide mentorship, peer-to-peer support and labs to help the projects move forward. The grant amounts are decided by a jury based on the individual needs of each project and the stage they are at.
EDN: Does TFI have other digital or new media activities planned and how does the institute work with this field as part of its mission statement?
IK: I mentioned Tribeca Hacks, which is an initiative we are tremendously excited about because it allows us to bring new partnerships to the table (our first event is with Zeega in Cambridge, Massachusetts and will allow filmmakers to create work on the Zeega cloud-based HTML5 web platform).
We are also going to release an online, interactive report in the New Year called TFI Sandbox which will share information about all the projects we have supported and provide tools and resources for people who would like to delve into the interactive story space. Reporting back on the work we are doing is a key part of all our initiatives.
We are planning another TFI Interactive event at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013. This is a one-day event where we bring together people doing interesting work in the wider media ecosystem to talk about projects they have worked on and ideas that have inspired them. The goal is to place the work we are doing in Digital Initiatives into a broader context by encouraging filmmakers, educators, journalists, gamers, designers, developers and change agents to share ideas and think about possible collaborations.
EDN: During the past years there has been a lot of talk within the documentary business about new media, crossmedia and transmedia. Can you add some keywords to these terms to help in a basic understanding?
IK: It is a constant source of pain to me that the words to describe this space are so inconsistent and hard to define. However, I also think that this is perfectly natural given that technology changes so rapidly and we are in the early days of a new way of approaching storytelling. Some friction and discomfort is to be expected. I try not to get caught up in definitions and just look at the work and the needs of the audience. I use the words interchangeably but I tend to use “interactive” more than anything else.
EDN: Do you feel the documentary business has embraced working with crossmedia or is it just a new way of talking about and describing something that has always been the case, but which now is made easier through new media?
IK: I think there is an increasing amount of interest and enthusiasm for this work, particularly as the work becomes more sophisticated and methodologies and best practices become established. There is still a rather large gap, however, between the enthusiasm for this work and the funding of it. This means that a lot of great ideas are not getting developed. I am also increasingly thinking not just about funding but also about exhibition and distribution – and there are so many challenges in this area. I’m certainly not Pollyanna-ish about the challenges we face but I also firmly believe that it is important to keep innovating and building new opportunities despite the difficulties.
EDN: You often hear that all documentary projects should have a new media and cross platform strategy. Do you have any advice to filmmakers faced with this demand who do not feel it as a natural part of their project?
IK: I think that filmmakers should think about the needs of their project – their goals as creators, their goals for the project and the needs of the audience. This should dictate what they do. I would never be one to say that every project should do anything. It really depends on each project, and of course on resources and time. However, I do think that sometimes filmmakers don’t think about the creative potential of reaching out to people and getting them to participate beyond the film itself and this can be a huge missed opportunity. We have a unique ability to start conversations with people through social media and other technologies and I want filmmakers to at least consider their options. I describe it as a digital palette. Of course you don’t want to use every tool on the palette but as a creator you should at least know what is on there.
EDN: What are the obvious benefits of adding a new media strategy to a project and when does it make sense?
IK: If you want to reach communities that are online or you want people to take action or you want to keep the conversation going – all of these are very good reasons to have a new media strategy. This could be as simple as a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. I always get nervous when people tell me they are building a game or an app and I just keep thinking why, why, why. There can be great reasons for doing this but it really depends on the project and the audience for that project.
I also think about digital access a great deal. Not all of the projects we fund are about the latest technology. We funded a project called New Day New Standard this year, which is all about reaching people who don’t necessarily even have access to the Internet. The project allows nannies, housekeepers, eldercaregivers, and their employers in NYC to find out about the landmark Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights.
EDN: Is there so to say a more natural link between documentary and new media compared to fiction in the sense that the documentary stories most often go on and there is an interest from the audience in following the characters and the cases?
IK: I think both fiction and documentary lend themselves to new media in different ways. There are exciting possibilities in the fiction universe for building out the storyworld and delving deeper into the lives of the characters. I think fiction lends itself to transmedia in the sense of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms. Documentaries are interesting in that the stories keep going after the film is over and events in the world change. New media strategies can tap into this very effectively.
EDN: The traditional funding structure for documentaries is not geared towards funding other platforms and new media initiatives. How do you see this develop and take form in the future?
IK: Every year I see new initiatives emerging. It’s hard to predict what will happen although I am increasingly fond of the idea that the only way to predict the future is to create it. I am a huge believer in the power of documentary storytelling. I continue to love and support linear documentaries too. For me this is all about creating a space where important stories can be told, where innovation can take place, and where we are always thinking about who gets to tell stories and who gets to participate in them. I hope that this important work will find new sources of funds, as well as other kinds of industry support (festival exposure, awards etc).
EDN: At which point should a documentary filmmaker include and consider a new media strategy in his or her project?
IK: The earlier the better. The more this kind of work is organic to the project, the better it tends to be and the less of a headache it is for the filmmaker. New media should not be stitched on as an afterthought. Again, I would tend to differentiate between new media strategies to support and extend a linear film and projects where you can’t separate the new media from the project itself. I’m excited about the potential for both but either way, the new media elements should be weaved into the project from the outset. One of my main goals at the moment is to get filmmakers excited about the creative potentials for doing this – so that it feels creative and exciting rather than yet another hat they are being asked to wear.
EDN: What is next for you and the TFI?
IK: I want to continue to find and support exciting, brave, innovative work. I’m very keen to continue to build collaborative networks between people working in different disciplines: film, code, design, academia, change etc. For me, this creative collaboration is the most fertile space to drive this work forward. It means we get to explore new tools, new methodologies and new ways of looking at the world – all things that inquisitive documentary makers are naturally good at! It is also personally very fulfilling because I have always been both a documentary film lover and a technology geek and it is wonderful to see those worlds come together in my work. I am also excited to be curating the new Tribeca Storyscapes section at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 which will allow interactive, transmedia work to be exhibited to the festival audience for the first time. I’m looking forward to keeping the dialogue going, and I’ll keep dodging the definitions for as long as I can.
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