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Baking Bad: The Cross Platform Pudding and The Technical Challenge

In this guest post Justine Potter, CEO of Savvy Productions (a full-fledged movie, television and music production company), reflects on a core challenge facing all cross platform production projectshow do you successfully weld together both the content and technolgy modules?  

At a recent event to highlight the TSB’s cross platform production fund, I was asked to contribute to a panel as a producer who works cross platform on a discussion about the perfect cross platform production.

I talked about the issues faced with the current funding model…It was just before lunch, so my mind was on food.

The Bake Off

When baking a cake, you must buy all the ingredients, mix them in a specific order and then, when the recipe is correctly mixed, and proven you bake the mixture to create the cake. 

It is not possible to make a cake by baking the eggs first then baking other ingredients separately later. This is baking bad.

But broadcasters and funders perpetuate this practice with silo’d funding, which means you never have all the ingredients from the start. Producers must separately apply for money for content or technology or distribution or marketing or educational add-ons at different points in the production life cycle.  The TSB funds technology only under Cross Platform. Drama TV series generally wait a series or two to test their success before ‘adding on’ something online or go for big brands.

For cross platform ‘productions’ (I’ll use the term production to represent the experience or content as a whole) the ingredients might be: script writers, storyliners, experience designers, web designers, UX designers, games makers, technologists, social media experts or whatever, but the process is the same.

Decide what you want to make. Get all the ingredients in place, find out what needs to be mixed in what order and then cook it.

So why so much naval gazing continues to ponder why we haven’t yet moved forward much since 2009? And is it actually possible to make any headway in the current system?

Commissioners are often powerless to fund or influence multi platform production elements, and that's assuming they’re not clueless too.

Are we more afraid of failure in these risk averse, money conscious times? Surely success depends on a) how you measure it and b) making sure you’ve got the right experience and team on board to negate that risk?

The Technical Challenge

Would you expect an untried, untested method or recipe to be perfect at the first attempt? If you’re truly attempting something new, probably not, but you’ll only know where you went wrong and how it needs to be made in future if you’re given the opportunity to try.

If you’ve never baked a thing before, with years experience you can give it your best shot and the results may be surprising and deliver something new that we can all benefit from.

At the recent Power to the Pixel event, it was telling that the projects that were generally admired as innovative came out of Canada and often funded by the National Film Board of Canada interactive division: http://www.nfb.ca/interactive and the Canada Media Fund http://www.cmf-fmc.ca  - a place with varying funding tranches that insist that productions must be funded as cross platform from the beginning of development.  Can the British funding bodies and broadcasters learn from this?  Or are out agendas just different?

The Technology Strategy Board Cross Platform Funding is really focused on visual effects technologies so is it really Cross Platform Funding?  And if it is, how do you take the content out of cross platform content productions? And why should we?

There are still a few die hards willing to try, but experiences can be frustrating and longwinded to prove any new model.

With a recent project my associates had to self fund a demo then use technology-only funding to carve up a pre-existing show to prove that if you’re making meaningful second screen experiences where audiences realtime interact with a TV programme, it changes the pace, construction and dialogue of the show itself…All these hoops to then sell the concept to a broadcaster, mean the innovators must have deep pockets or friendly bank managers.

In the last year we’ve turned down potential funding for an interactive drama prototype experience because by the time the technology / cross platform funders caught up, the TV element had been entirely written and was in production.  The writers were never afforded the opportunity to think beyond the box and bolt on wasn’t an option.

We backed out of technological funding for audience engagement in documentary content because we had to sell and build the technology before and separate to the programme.  Yes we could have done it, taken the money and run, but what headway would have been gained? And to what end?

Talking with Skins producers recently, they highlighted the familiar, continuing issue.  The funding for content (in this case returning TV series) and the ‘multiplatform’ funding were funded differently, from different pots, by different people and at different points in the production cycle.  This is the norm and not uncommon.  But Skins was a while ago. Have we moved on since then?

In the end as a business, making money through broadcasters, you do sometimes have to accept that to get a commission through you must work on a cross platform project and build each part as a separate ‘module’.  It involves planning it across multiple platforms then unpicking it to sell to each area, making it separately and then getting writers good enough to interweave plot lines after the fact to appear as one…. Believe me, this takes skill. In our most recent drama case, we used a different platform for a different story perspective: 3 perspectives – that of the police, a parent and a victim had 3 different audiences, and one was interactive, one audio, one video, hence 3 different platform

Three years separate the different commissioning dates and production cycles.  I introduced so many people within the BBC to each other, I reckon if I leave production I’ll set up a dating site. I think my hourly rate will work out at about 11 pence.  Passion, weirdly, holds no weight with my bank.  But commissions, however compromised, do.

What would need to change to broadcasters to cook the production in the best way for the content?

In-house producers tell me they can’t try because its not in their remit.  There are successes, but I’m not convinced the big breakthroughs will come via broadcasting. I hope I’m wrong.

UK Indies considering cross platform take note.  You’ll need to gather a big address book and network until you are purple; with everyone.

Me? I’m off for a Skype meeting with Canada 

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