Shaping the new art form – virtual reality in 2017


Michel Reilhac has a long and distinguished career in all forms of art and media. I met him the first time at one of the Pixel Labs, while he was leading the film strategy for ARTE France. He was recently appointed CEO of Dutch production house Submarine. Here are his thoughts on what 2016 amounted to, and what we should embrace in 2017. To read more on the year that was and the year that we live in now, check out “One Year Vol VI”:

“For the first time since internet started, this year I have started feeling a serious sense of digital overdosing. I have considerably slowed down my social networking. I have found myself strongly attracted to real life experiences and relationships. I have started appreciating again not having to digitally share my best moments beyond the people present in the moment.

I want to find a better balance between a reasonable amount of digital communication and interaction when needed, and physical, local, small scale but intense experiences that cannot be shared digitally. I want real to be a bigger part of my life again. I started reading printed books again… and I have started taking weekends with no internet contact…

At the same time I am more than ever, after this past year, excited by the creative and narrative potential of VR. I find it very hard to keep track of all the tech innovations in the field, cut through the hype and bullshit, distinguish what really makes sense from all the fluff and cheap gadgets. I can see through the projects I have done this past year how we are just scraping the surface of a completely new experiential media.

I believe VR has a wonderful future but it cannot be considered the end of everything and the interface for everything ( see above).

I look forward to :
room scale in live action VR | interactive gear that will give us more agency | collective presence in VR environments group work | collaborative construction in VR

This is what we have started seeing a glimpse of in 2016 and these new options in VR, when they are viable, will carry so much creative possibilities for storytellers, I can’t wait to try them out…

I also found out that there were tons of paths to explore in blending physical reality and virtual reality, to create hybrid experiences that can enrich and twist our vision of what it means to be alive.

Educational and medical use of VR are also two main areas that I want to study more.
My main wow in VR this year was “Allumette” for the tech performance of room scale in it; not so much for the slightly kitsch side of the great emotional dimension of the story.

My main personal reward was the fact that my sexual piece “Viens!” premiered at Sundance and that it went to so many prestigious festivals after that , leading me to recently develop it as a quite provocative installation in Berlin end of October. It has been a personal creative challenge but also a boundary breaking process for me, allowing me to use VR to discover more about who I am as a storyteller.

Now that I am at Submarine Channel, I very much look forward to developing groundbreaking projects in VR and interactive. It is a time to seed and plant, with a very dynamic creative scene appearing every where and particularly in Amsterdam. This is such an exciting creative moment, I feel very fortunate to be a part of it, of this moment when a new art form is being shaped and articulated.”

One Year in Now Media Vol VI


As I’ve done for the past six years, I today published a compilation of this blog and it’s posts from the past year as a free-to-read PDF over on Slideshare and as a download here. There is also an epub-version available for download from Dropbox here.

The publication also features interviews with Mike Monello, Jeff Gomez, Asta Wellejus, Christy Dena, Angela Natividad, Lee-Sean Huang, Maya Zuckerman, Andrea Phillips and Steve Peters, looking back at the year that was and looking forward to what we can expect from 2017.

Happy reading!

The Power of True Stories

power-of-true-storiesI recently read an interesting article on storytelling by Jonathan Gottschall. I’ve been for a long time – like Gottschall, apparently – quite fascinated by the power a well-crafted and well-told story can have, in almost any sort of circumstances. In my line of work – creating, developing and producing everything from TV shows to corporate storytelling ventures to story-driven apps – storytelling is an essential part. I’ve observed the same things that Gotschall mentions in his article; the flocking of companies to stories as a means to get their message delivered to the intended target groups with the intended effect.

What I’ve also noticed, though, is a sometimes very apparent lack of knowledge and understanding about how a story actually works. As I see it there are three important steps to delivering a story experience and being able to expect a positive end result.

First, we need to know what we want to achieve. As with many buzzwords and popular terms, there are people who simply want a story created around their product or service or brand or key characters because that’s what everyone else is doing. Or, alternatively, they have a clear notion of why this is important, but the end goal is still blurry, simply because they haven’t thought through the full journey of the story and of the people taking part of the story.
Have a very clear goal in mind – where do you want the people who take part of your story to end up?

Second, we need to know what to do when we’ve reached our goal. The people who have ended up where you wanted them to end up, having taken part of your story, what do you want them to do then? How do you follow up in a natural and logical way, and what will you be aiming for then? And how do you integrate a reward system into all of this, making the people who engage feel appreciated and valued?
Plan for all the steps ahead, and don’t underestimate an engaged audience – do it right, and they will be more eager than you could ever hope – or wish – for.

Third, we need to be clear on how we achieve the goals we set up. Whatever story we decide on telling, with whatever goal set up and whatever desired interactions by the people taking part of it, we need to make sure we’re authentic, honest and true to the core of what we’re offering people. If we con them, if we’re less than honest, if we’re in contradiction with other parts of our being or our narrative, there will be no long tail, no matter how much people engage with us and our stories initially.

Musically Speaking – storytelling on a musical framework


Since we started our own production company last spring (feel free to visit us here and sign up for the newsletter 🙂 ) we’ve been working on a number of different projects, ranging from creating marketing campaigns to assisting with though leadership projects, from TV-series about YouTubers to GPS-based storytelling in a city-setting.

Although few of these would satisfy critical analysts as “true” transmedia projects, I find myself utilising transmedia storytelling and development methods at many turns, simply to get different pieces to fall into place in a logical and engaging fashion. Increasingly I’ve also been looking at other creative fields to find better analogies and better tools for creating and producing content, but also to explain my methods, my thinking and the end result to collaborators, clients and partners.

One area I have found extremely fruitful is that of music. It’s been touted – back in the days – that developing and producing a transmedia project is like conducting a symphony orchestra, where the producer is the conductor and the different instruments combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. While this still makes absolute sense, there are a lot of other musical terms that have a clear connection to multiplatform and transmedia development and production and can be used to jog ones creative nodes and. Allow me to exemplify with ten of them:


The unit of musical rhythm.

If there is anything that is essential for a well executed project that spans different media and strives to foster engagement, it’s the beat. Well planned and produced content with logical, well working calls to action and a rewarding scheme for people who engage in the intended way, can’t help but attract the desired attention. The beat is everything though; release too soon and people can be overwhelmed, release too infrequent and interest wanes.

But unlike classical music, there is one element here that has the possibility to act different. Since the audience’s role is to be engaged and active, they can influence the beat as well. Stories are legio of producers with a hit on their hands, having engaged audience members run through clues and mysteries in a fraction of the time expected. Said producers struggle to release new content and new mysteries to keep up with demand and try to stay the course, time wise. It might be better to stay with the intended beat, and instead plan for the creation of ancillary content or calls to action, that deliver engagement points but do not affect the general pacing.


 A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches. The tune may also be played at different speeds, backwards, or inverted.

With an engaging story and well produced content, we’ll have many people engaging, and not all at the same time. Thinking in terms of canon, how can we plan our content so that no matter who jumps into the narrative (or starts from the beginning while others are already way ahead) their experience and their voices add to the harmony instead of creating disharmony? One way is to foster and support an active community, which welcomes and integrates new members, helping them up to speed as necessary. Another way is to offer easy ways to grasp the narrative so far, with added points for further involvement as necessary.


In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff.

Most people approach your content with some pre-conceived notions of what kind of experience they should be having. This is good, as long as those notions are not the completely wrong ones. While it sometimes might pay off to create something that offers the audience a shock treatment by deceiving them at the beginning of their experience, then revealing the true nature of the content, this is most of the time not something worth creating. Hoaxing has a tendency to backfire. So for most project, a clear indication prior to experiencing it, of what it is and how it is intended to be experienced, can’t but help the overall impression of the project.


One who directs a group of performers. The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and style by gestures and facial expressions.

While the conductor could be considered to be you, the producer, the conductor could also be an inserted model participant, helping and guiding the audience along. At times you want to set the participating audience free, give them the control over the narrative. Many times, though, it is advisable to at least have a point of reference, some sort of guidance, to help the story and the experience along in the intended manner – or as a tool to help navigate unknown waters, should the overall project derail due to an overly engaged audience.


A piece of music played at the end of a recital responding to the audiences enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause.

The long tail is a known figure of speech and a known way to engage the audience (and new audiences) in the long run. But the same goes for the experience itself; when the appreciating audience demands more, will you have anything for them? Can you at least lay out some rudimentary plans for how to evolve and prolong the experience; plans that make this prolonged experience feel logical and natural, and not as something that has been hastened along “due to popular demand”?



To hold a tone or rest held beyond the written value at the discretion of the performer.

How much are you willing to let your performers – i.e. your audience – influence what’s going on? Ideally, they will take your project and the overall experience to heart fully, encompass your intentions for it and build upon it in a way that will purely add to the total of the experience for everyone. But opening up for total freedom will also mean you run the risk of being the target of deliberate troll attacks, and perhaps even more malicious ones than trolls. Now, this can be approached as merely a flattery – they care enough to troll you – or as a nuisance. One way to address this is to create the so called “sand boxes”, i.e. parts of the narrative where creativity and engagement are encouraged and the limitations are few or non-existent. Within these sand boxes, your performers can sing their hearts out or do whatever other creative thing they’d like.


Pleasing combination of two or three tones played together in the background while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.

There are few things more challenging in storytelling or in content production than trying to get the narrative, the experience, to fully gel between different platforms. All platforms should support each other, every platform added to the experience should enhance it… but at the same time, simply experiencing ONE platform should be enough to get a fulfilling experience. The harmony can be achieved by experience, gut feeling, knowledge and extensive testing on the target audience.



Piece of instrumental music played between scenes in a play or opera.

What is your interlude? What can your audience experience in the spaces between your installments? How are the interludes shaped, can they offer your audience a chance to create something themselves or interact with either characters, other audience members or someone else? How do they begin and more importantly how do they end – how do they build in a logical and engaging way towards the next installment of your content?


Combining a number of individual but harmonising melodies. Also known as counterpoint.

What you do NOT want is cacophony; that jarring experience of a multitude of pieces that do not fit together at all. Instead, while designing and producing, try to identify which parts of content could fit together in ways your audience might not expect. It could be the narrative of a side character that starts somewhere off grid, before anyone even knows it is a side character, but that is engaging and interesting in its own ways. It could be User Generated Content, contributions from fans or viewers, that offer a totally different view point (and based in Real Life) but still with a clear connection to the original narrative. Key is – they should all fit together.



The retuning of a stringed instrument in order to play notes below the ordinary range of the instrument or to produce an usual tone color.

How creative can you get? How can you use platforms and techniques in new ways that will give your audiences unexpected experiences? Can Periscope be used to tell a long form novel in “me” form? Can YouTube be used merely to create a soundscape for the overall experience? The sky’s the limit – retune your palette and your tool box as necessary (and if it sounds like crap, no worries; just tune it back and say “oops!”)

How to make your story resonate

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 13.35.54

If there is one thing we all want it’s to be heard and recognized. Whatever the story we are telling is, we want it to reach someone and cause a reaction. Most of the stories we tell are personal, directed at one person or a small group, but some are intended for far larger audiences.

If you’ve been paying attention to the worlds of media, entertainment, marketing and B2B, there is one term that is right now the hottest one around. Storytelling is what everyone wants to be doing, or at least be perceived to be doing. All it’s different sub-layers – transmedia storytelling, creative storytelling, multiplatform storytelling, interactive storytelling… the list goes on and on – are geared towards the same end goal; to make a story resonate with an intended target audience and cause an intended reaction.

I’ve been writing passionately about storytelling in many different forms on this blog for the past few years. My focus has been on the transmedia part of storytelling, as I was and still am convinced that new media platforms offer new possibilities to reach and engage with audiences, and that ignoring the fact that different media platforms have different strengths and different weaknesses is downright stupid. If we can engage with an audience on a deeper and more effective level by shaping our content to fit different platforms, to not do so is above and beyond pure laziness.

As for the principles of how this could be done – and this is of course highly dependent on the field you’re in, the story you’re telling and the audience you want to reach (not to mention budget constraints, the territory you’re targeting etc and so on) – there are a number of posts around the web, and also here on this blog, relating to how it could and should be done. But once you’ve figured out the core of your story, the core of your story world, your target audience and your intended media platforms, there is still the all-important, elusive question of making your content resonate.

I read a post the other day that was intended for brands, looking at what stories they tell and how they achieve the intended result among the target audiences they are trying to reach. In the study, six different archetypes of stories were identified. What was interesting to me was that it was quite apparent that the stories the brands and their storytellers were the most interested in telling were not the ones the audience were the most interested in hearing.

The archetype “rags-to-riches” stood out as the one brands liked to tell the most. It is understandable, as it is a very classical story and story line, no matter what the core subject is, and it’s one that is easily pitched to anyone paying for the production. What people were more interested in, however, were the more complicated story lines – “riches-to-rags-to-riches” or vice versa – stories that dive deeper into the protagonists and their fates, and offer deeper insights and meanings.

People’s lives are complex matters, and while rags-to-riches stories might be convenient to create and produce, more complex stories also give more opportunities for target audiences to identify with the subject, while at the same time building the foundation for more intricate and complex interactivity and calls-to-action.

So, how to make our story, our content resonate? Here are three key principles:

1. Never settle for the first obvious solution. It’s like every other production of almost anything – that you create for the first time – in that when you think you’re 90% finished, you have about 90& left to do. Granted, you might get an epiphany so strong and so spot on, that you can just sit down, write it out, have it produced and achieve storming success. You would have a bigger chance of winning any given lottery though, so instead stay healthily critical towards that first, brilliant idea. Bounce it off everyone you can think of, including yourself. What are the weaknesses, what are the strengths, how does it build forward and how can it be bettered upon? Because believe me – it can be bettered upon.

2. Your audience is more important than your story. If you have a devoted audience and no story, there is a myriad of things you can accomplish. If you have a great story and no audience, you can’t do shit. If you feel your story and your content is on the weaker side, either as story goes or as interaction goes or as transmedia storytelling goes or according to any other principle, you already have your most important asset; use your audience to get it moving in the right direction. How can they mash it all up? How can you use what they create to better your content? How can it all build on each other, strengthening along the way, to something much better that you and your audience are both invested in? Revere and celebrate your audience, for without them you’re nothing.

3. Stay on it. When Red Bull started out in 2005 and 2006 they sponsored local hip hop contests and had some very brief videos of paragliders landing in Las Vegas. Not much to inspire, not much to resonate with. But now? Through a clear and – in hindsight – fairly obvious concentration on high energy extreme sports (including e-sports etc) their stories are the ones people associate with all things extreme sport today. But it took years and years, and carefully maintained strategies along the way to get to that point. If you’re convinced your story is solid and that is has an audience, analyze, tweak, release, and rinse and repeat. You can’t but achieve success if you manage to do this right.

If you have any great tips on getting content and stories to resonate, please share in the comments!

Chasing the story

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m very much into storytelling, and almost as much into exploring how different media platforms can be utilized to create projects, story worlds and campaigns where the different parts build on each other, offering a total that is greater than the sum of its parts. Furthermore, how can the interactive nature of many of these platforms be harnessed in the best possible way, to achieve engagement and foster loyalty? And how do we harness this engagement in the long run – how do we grow our long tail to be as long as possible?

These are questions and challenges that differ from one project to the next, from one client to the next, from one target group to the next and from one story to the next.

For me though, it all starts with the story. What is the story we want to tell? What is the story world it is founded in? What are its siblings in the story-verse?

Having been involved in quite a few storytelling ventures, and having over the past few years consulted or evaluated a fairly great number of projects in the multiplatform / transmedia sphere, this is where a lot of them go wrong. Perhaps not totally, 100% wrong, but wrong enough that it matters and severely affects the end result.

This goes for industry clients, who have a difficult time identifying what the real story behind their product, service or innovation is. It goes for documentary filmmakers, who fail to see what stories align naturally with their original story from the film. And it goes for many other producers and creators, who fail in taking a step back and viewing their project from a further distance, seeing the limitations of the story they are currently promoting and working on, while another, adjacent story, would offer bigger, better and bolder opportunities.

So, how can we chase our story more efficiently? Here are three tools for anyone to use, that might put you on the right track – the only thing you need is a willingness to challenge your story as it stands today:

1. Use an audience. You have people around you, whether it is colleagues, partners, family, friends or someone else. Use them as a platform to get some distance to the story you’re trying to tell. Do like this: identify the core issues in the story you’re telling. Formulate them into a three-sentence description – i.e. “The countryside is slowly being depopulated. It’s an accelerating movement and there’s not much anyone is trying to do about it. The people living there have almost given up.”. Then ask your audience what questions or thoughts pop up in their minds. Mirror that against your current narrative and see how well you address those thoughts or answer those questions, and see if there are adjacent stories to your current narrative that would do that better.
2. Use the Internet. We have finally got access to the combined intelligence, knowledge and wisdom of the entire human race, from the ancient Greeks to the intellectuals of today. There is absolutely no need not to take advantage of this. In order not to drown in information though, searches and hashtags should be carefully selected; it is worth it to take a day or two to sift through information related to search terms, just to be able to find the ones that fit your needs best.
3. Use yourself. The most accessible way of doing this is to create a pitch for your project. Write down the elevator pitch of the story you’re writing. Rehearse it, and pitch it in front of a camera. Take a break, have a coffee, and then come back and watch the pitch you just made. If in doubt, have someone else watch it and give a verdict. Your approach should be – would I want to invest 100k in this person’s story? If not – why not? Rinse and repeat.

There are as many unique stories as there are people on this Earth, and probably quite a few more as well. There is therefore no need to settle for a story that doesn’t fit your needs exactly – all you need is to chase it down, pin it down and tell it!

Can we keep up? – reflections from Cartoon 360


I’ve been attending the Cartoon 360 forum in Barcelona the past couple of days, listening to an taking part in pitches and discussions on a number of animation series with “360” or “transmedia” elements attached. There have been projects of every kind – epic animated films from Russia, series looking to help children and people living in dire circumstances (Scotland), grandmothers-as-secret-agents from Poland and so on.

The scope when it comes to how these are extended over platforms also vary wildly. There are projects that create their full story arch for TV, add a website and an app and feel that is enough, and then there are more creative ones looking into AR, VR, real life events etc, to add to the narrative.

Looking at the discussions and the talks here it is clear that there will be some time before everyone is playing the same ball game on the same pitch with the same goal in mind. It will also take some time to even get everyone involved to change into the requisite playing kit, as many are extremely comfortable in whatever they’re wearing right now.

The challenge is that the audience will not wait – and does not wait – for anyone to change into anything. If no one turns up on the pitch to start playing, our spectators are very used to climbing onto the pitch and start playing themselves. Once that has happened, it will be very difficult to establish any kind of control over the game, and the only solution might be to start a new game on a new pitch somewhere else, and try to get the audience to follow along over there.

I wrote a post a couple of months ago regarding “Five focus areas for successful multiplatform storytelling”. I strongly believe that many of the very established players in the entertainment media  geared towards children could benefit from developing these areas – namely sustainability | fluidity | validation | structure | clear goals.

I would also add a sixth area – collaboration. When looking at the pitches here and listening to the discussions around them it feels like many are enticed by the possibilities available in the “new media” world. Then, when it comes to bringing the possibilities in touch with ones own projects, it quickly starts to feel very complicated and perhaps not worth the effort. The key thing is that it is definitely worth it – we just need to find collaborators that can complement the skills and the content we bring to the table. What would take me hours upon hours and a lot of Googling and swearing to program, my coder-brother can fix in minutes, and the same goes for AR solutions, social media campaigning etc.

At the same time, these are exciting times to tell stories. The possibilities open to us as storytellers are of a magnitude no one else have ever experienced. The dangers of going astray are apparent, but the maps showing us safe areas and preferred roads to traverse are becoming more and more detailed by the day. It’s going to be a fun ride!