Thankyou, Neil Armstrong RIP. You brought media storytelling to life.

I’m so sad to hear the news of Neil Armstrong’s passing. I vividly remember the moment when those words were spoken, clear as a bell. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” 20 July 1969, a moment that was broadcast around the world to an estimated 600 million people.

Media storytelling comes to life…

photo of Neil Armstrong about to set foot on the moonThe moon landing was a most remarkable moment for a six year old to watch live. I can remember my utter disbelieve that I was watching this happening. Right now. Up there. On the moon! Wowee! The tension in the control room, the beeps, the fuzzy pictures, their weightless movements all formed a vivid impression. This moment truly brought storytelling to life for me!

A moment that changed the world

I doubt anyone would disagree that the world changed at that moment in 1969. Not only did it bring us directly in contact with a new frontier beyond our planet, but it changed our relationship to broadcast media and storytelling and perhaps most importantly of all, it radically shifted our perspective of our place in the universe. By being able to look at earth from space, we literally saw ourselves and our achingly beautiful fragile blue home for the first time, ever.

Was this the first social media moment?

I think it’s taking a while for us to come to terms with the self-awareness, mediated by technology, that this moment gave our species. In fact, I think the impact is still only now rippling down into our DNA and changing the way we think about and do things. The Earth Day movement grew directly out of this time, and continues to evolve and inform our lives on every level. And it showed us the potential of using digital media to connect – and reflect – the planet in real time. It’s interesting to think of social media being born in this moment, isn’t it?

logo of the consulting company Media RisingThis image of Earth Rise wasn’t taken by Armstrong, but he was on the back-up crew for Apollo 8, one year earlier in 1968, when these archetypal shots were taken. These shots of the earth from the moon belong to all of us, both literally and figuratively: NASA has given these photos to the world by making them public domain ie copyright free. Thanks NASA! In fact, the photo above of the earth from the moon is the inspiration behind my new logo for Media Rising. What do you think?

Journey in Peace, Neil Armstrong. We will never forget you.

Portrait of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 mission

The shiny new Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano University

For a few years now, I’ve had the privilege to be regularly invited to offer guest lectures at Capilano University’s Documentary Program, part of the School of Motion Picture Arts. I’ve got to know a few of the fine folks over there, including longtime creative partner Michelle Mason, whose latest film A Song for Carlos took us to Spain on a development shoot in July 2011. I’ve edited all Michelle’s award-winning documentaries, including The Friendship Village (2002) and Breaking Ranks (2006).

Mandy's reflecting inside and out, Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

Reflections on the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

I love teaching! It’s always a pleasure to share knowledge with those coming into the industry. For the last 5 years, I’ve been primarily teaching editing and story, which will always be my first love.  Then about a year ago,  I was excited to be invited to join the Advisory Board and to start teaching social media to both the faculty and the students at Capilano’s School of Motion Picture Arts Documentary Program. I find it curious that so few of this year’s documentary students appear to be interested in engaging with the online space as either a marketing or creative narrative tool. It’s my hope to plant the seed for thinking about social media as a vital, dynamic new extension to the documentary filmmaker’s toolkit.

This week I had the opportunity to teach in two of the shiny new classrooms in the shiny new Bosa Centre for Film and Animation. It’s really quite a remarkable award-winning building, complete with 8,000 square foot sound stage, sound mixing studio, cutting edge camera gear, a 200-seat 3D theatre, the largest tv screen this side of Toronto and purpose built classrooms and labs for costuming, editing, animation, cinematography and a whole lot more.

Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

The Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano Univerity School of Motion Picture Arts

At a time when the Canadian documentary industry is facing some challenges during this digital transition and economic stony ground, it’s encouraging to be part of this exciting grand vision for the future.

If you haven’t visited the Bosa Centre yet, I encourage you to find an opportunity to do so. Let me know what you think…

Documentary, Reality and the Future

For a couple of years now, we’ve been grappling with the very real possibility of the demise of the Canadian documentary. The industry as we’ve known it over the last 20 years has been dealt a number of life-threatening blows, a lethal concoction made up of  equal parts economic turn-down, cancelled broadcast strands, government funding cuts, the emergence of low cost Reality TV, digital technology and the Internet. The number of Canadian docs being made has been steadily dropping over the last 5 years, by as much as 21% according to Getting Real 4, the Documentary Organization of Canada‘s most recent economic profile of the Canadian documentary production industry. Ironically, for audiences, the documentary has never been so popular. Download the detailed report here: Getting Real.

Getting Real About Documentary

This trend isn’t exactly news. Many doc filmmakers are struggling as the market shrinks and turning to crowdfunding sites such as IndieGogo and Kickstarter with varying success. Over the last couple years, I’ve responded by successfully rebranding as a media-savvy storyteller, educator and social media content strategist. But my heart isn’t able to let go so easily; I’m still set on finding a way forward for the beloved genre.  As part of my involvement with the Documentary Organization of Canada’s National Board of Directors, I’ve helped spawn an audience development campaign to raise awareness about the plight of this endangered storytelling species.

We Love Documentary logo

www.WeLoveDocumentary.com

We Love Documentary launched at HotDocs 2011 and will form part of a longterm campaign in conjunction with DOC’s advocacy efforts. Plus I’m currently developing a fun interactive cross-country roadtrip project that will engage documentary audiences, filmmakers and changemakers across the country: get ready to Get on the DOC Bus!

So while I haven’t exactly been hiding out from the changing media landscape, my experience at last week’s VIFF Film Forum was a rude shock to the documentary ego.

The Beginning of the End Game

The first indication that we’re in an end-game scenario came when Storyville Vancouver was cancelled. We can only speculate why no international broadcast commissioners came to hear BC doc filmmakers make public pitches this year.

The next clue came when I checked out the VIFF Film Forum program: for the first time this year, ‘Documentary Day’ was renamed ‘Factual Day’. What used to be a day of talks dedicated to the genre, this year, was a disorienting mashup of what I might call FactuReality.

Cartoon about Reality TV: chickens watching a chicken roasting on a spit.

Reality TV: It's all about the sizzle

Sessions included documentary’s Pursuit of Objectivity (which the excellent panel agreed was not the point of documentary at all); producing a punchy sizzle reel to upsell your Reality series; CBC’s new online interactive experiences; and the transmedia project Collapsus experiments in cross-platform storytelling. All interesting and tangentially relevant, but I missed the usual networking with my fellow doc filmmaking colleagues, who were, for the most part, noticeably absent.

Good Luck With That

The real sting was delivered during the tail end of the day, at the Industry Networking Cocktail reception. After Minister Ida Chong officially opened the Forum, I found myself in conversation with Don Fast, Deputy Minister of BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “What do you do?”, he asked me. I began by cheerfully replying “Well, I was a documentary filmmaker, when there was an industry…” But before I was able to tell him about my creative re-branding and ask his thoughts on the future, he changed the subject. I heard all about his daughter, the actress. At the end of our conversation, he shook my hand with a friendly smile, saying “Good luck with making  documentaries.”

I’m usually pretty optimistic, but I have to admit I left feeling rather discouraged. What do you think, dear reader? What does the future of documentary look like from where you sit?

The Story Behind Social Media for Writers

I’ve been working with a lot of authors recently. Social media, writing and storytelling make cosy bedfellows; no matter which way you fold it, they need each other, and together they make a great team.

Wired Words Logo

Wired Words: A Symposium for Writers of Every Ilk

Last weekend,  I was invited to speak at Wired Words, the first BC Federation of Writers annual festival on Saturday September 10th, 2011. 50 local authors, writers and storytellers gathered in the stunning historic courtroom of the BC Maritime Museum to talk about everything narrative, ePublishing and digital media. It felt particularly poignant for this old-time house of law to host a twitter workshop.

Wired Words at the BC Maritime Museum Courtroom

BC Maritime Museum Courtroom, VIctoria BC

Writing in the 21st Century

A plethora of insights and tools were discussed at half a dozen insightful presentations: ePublishing, blogging, online marketing and digital printing. I gave 2 presentations, one on Social Media for Writers and the other explored film editing as it relates to writing and literary editing (more on the that later!). All were extremely well-received. Here’s a review of the day, with video interviews of Lorne Daniel and yours truly, written by Craig Spence.

Mandy Leith at Wired Words Festival, Victoria BC

Wired Words participants talk social media with Mandy Leith. Photo: Kim Goldberg

Connecting the Dots

Social networking is a great way to engage with not only readers, but the bookstores that sell your tomes, the publishers who print them and the reviewers who get the word out. Plus, writing blog posts is great way to practice word craft. In addition to a blog (I recommend WordPress.org), Twitter and Facebook page and Youtube (for video trailers of your book), there are a wealth of useful social media tools for authors. LibraryThing, Shelfari and Goodreads are only a few of the sites that offer online networks for sharing your personal library, reviews, published works, and of course, connecting with other writers and readers.

Writers need Social Media: Social Media Needs Writers

“Online tools are the fastest and easiest way for writers to begin building an audience, get better at their craft and network with others.” comments publisher Jane Friedman, whose blog is a great resource. Another great website, chock full of social media tips and links is The Creative Penn.

It’s very rewarding to provide social media support to authors as they launch their new books. I’m currently assisting local author John Shields’ new virtual book launch on September 21st, 2011: The Priest Who Left His Religion: In Pursuit of Cosmic Spirituality. I simply love the myriad of places that story and media come together. As a media-savvy storyteller, it’s my stock-in-trade.

What social media strategies have worked for you and your book or publication?

A Good Story Isn’t Perfect. Neither are Blog Posts.

It’s been far, far too long since I last posted here…why is that?

Blogging is a Commitment

It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about interesting stories I’ve wanted to share over the last few adventurous months (more on that later, promise!). But every time I’d think about writing a blog post, I’d feel strangely daunted and intimidated by the task. What to do, what to do…

I recently had an aha moment — I realized I’ve been labouring with this idea that everything I publish here needs to be polished, poignant and, well, perfect. After all, I’m an editor who understands just how long it takes to craft good, meaningful stories. And yet I’m starting to believe that the true value of blogging is to offer up authentic, tasty, narrative bites that can be easily digested. That’s an art in itself, that I have yet to master.

So when I came upon this inspirational video the other day, it seemed like a perfect  segue and a great opportunity to approach blogging with a different perspective…

Creativity is a Process

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

So I need to give myself time to find my own blogging style by experimenting and practicing, to see what works for me and of course, you, dear reader. So I’m going to keep it simple and keep sketching in order to find my own natural, easy blogging voice.

Sketchblog v. Masterpost

I’ve had this conversation with a lot of other bloggers and I suspect it’s a common complaint. How to do you deal with the practice of blogging? What are your stumbling blocks? What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Reinvention, the Big Bang and Empty Mind…

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and reinvention lately….

As a documentary filmmaker and editor, the last three decades has been all about crafting good stories. More recently I’ve been exploring the use of story to engage community through OPEN CINEMA‘s programming and publicity. And now that social media and transmedia are reinventing our media ecosystem, it’s forced me to grapple with my own personal and professional reinvention as a transmedia producer, story architect and social media marketing strategist. Mostly, it’s been exciting and rewarding, but it’s also edgy and challenging.

Over the last few weeks, I’m grateful to have found myself amongst a like-minded  tribe of storytellers, brought together around an innovative virtual campfire. “The Reinvention Summit” is a model for the remarkable use of online networking and social media tools to engage people around the future of storytelling.  It was an honour to be a Summit Producer, a speaker in one of the 32 presentations, as well as one of over 500 virtual delegates from across the planet. The ideas, connections, conversations and twitterstream (#story10) that flowed from this gathering have been nothing short of inspirational, with revolutionary undertones. I particularly appreciated the sessions offered by Lance Weiler, Gunther Sonnenfeld, Nancy Duarte and Jim Gaines.  Big ups to Michael Margolis and the design team at GetStoried for having the chutzpah to pull off such a grand experiment  — and succeed!

The Big Bang

Now that the Summit is over, I’m left with an elemental complex of ideas and flash points.  I know they will eventually find their true orbital patterns within my narrative solar system, but for now, we’re still at the Big Bang stage. Thankfully my understanding of story allows me to trust the transformative relationship between chaos and order. The post-Big Bang universe must have been pretty messed up before it all settled into something relatively predictable.  Likewise, I’m in the eye of this hurricane of change and for the moment, it’s hard to know where and how it will all land.

A Quantum Guttenberg Moment

My professional reinvention lies at the confluence of a number of factors: the economic downturn has punched large holes in the broadcast media funding model, which has been the mainstay of the Canadian documentary industry, so documentary commissions and contracts are few and far between. Meanwhile, cheap digital filmmaking equipment, Web 2.0 and mobile technology is offering easy access to media tools, turning everyone into a documentarian of sorts. Consider the effect that the invention of the Guttenberg press had on writers and readers, then quantiply it: the social media revolution effectively puts a printing press and broadcast network into everyone’s pocket. The good news: it’s reinventing the way we create, share, experience and watch content and stories. But the bad news is that it’s challenging the way traditional professional media creators like myself make a living.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been diversifying, retooling and exploring this new terrain with plenty of excitement and a modicum of success. I’ve been offering media education in both traditional film and social media, while exploring transmedia,  interactive storytelling and marketing. But we’re still standing on the threshold between the old and the new, a foot in both camps, so to speak. It can be dizzying, disorienting and, at times, overwhelming.

Reinvention is messy

The Reinvention Summit was like a therapeutic irritant, creating a space to really dive into this liminal stage of transformation and collectively explore its boundaries. Along with my new narrative cohorts, we discussed everything from brand strategy, hip-hop, Maori myths, education, civic engagement, transmedia and much much more.  It was fascinating, and a lot to take in.  But reinvention isn’t a simple one-step process; it takes time, it’s messy and deceptive.  So now I’m grappling with how to make sense of it all: thinking, writing, soul searching, talking and reading a lot. But I’m itching to break out of the mold; I feel the butterfly’s hunger to shed the cocoon,  an urgency to spread my damp new wings out into the world,  to catch a glimpse of the bright, bold, unfolding story.  It’s taking shape nicely, but it’s not quite cooked yet.

Empty Mind

Then today, I stumbled upon this little story that offered fresh insight, and stopped me in my tracks.

“There was an American professor who had made a lifetime’s study of the Japanese tea ceremony. He was the western expert. He heard there was an old man living in Japan who was a master of the tea ceremony. So he made a special trip to Japan to see him. He found the master living in a small house on the outskirts of Tokyo and they sat down to have tea together. The professor immediately started talking about the tea ceremony, his study, all he knew about it and how he was looking forward to sharing his learning with the old man. The old man said nothing, but started to pour tea into the professor’s cup. While the professor talked, the old man continued to pour the tea, the cup filled and the old man kept pouring. The tea split down the sides of the cup in a stream onto the floor, yet the old man did not stop. “Stop!” said the professor. “You are crazy. You can’t fit any more tea in that cup. It’s full.” “I was just practicing,” replied the old man, “for the task of attempting to pass learning to a mind that is already full.” (Source http://www.lifepositive.com)

That’s when I decided to take a break from trying to figure it all out. Stay tuned for more on this process as it unfolds; but for now, there’s nothing like a long walk on the beach to empty the mind…..

Social UnMedia, Filmmaking and the Bigger Story

Scott Stratten doesn’t like the term ‘social media’ and he makes a good point. The word ‘media’ evokes an old paradigm,  a pushy marketing mindset that’s going the way of the Dodo. Traditional media is characterized by a privileged voice broadcasting a unified message to the masses, but now the emerging digital revolution is changing the game and giving everyone a voice. The key to getting heard above the roar is to authentically engage one-on-one, develop relationships and offer compelling content that pulls people into your (story) world.

Stratten, the dynamic speaker and author of the best-selling book ‘UnMarketing’ was one of the awesome Keynote Speakers at Victoria’s first Social Media Camp (#SMCV10) on October 3rd, 2010. About 500 people gathered for a full day of speakers, roundtables and networking opps, exchanging digital tools, tips and techniques — plus a whole lot of joie de vivre! The buzzwords were ‘content’, ‘engagement’ and ‘relationship’.  That sounds a lot like filmmaking to me. Or maybe we could call it ‘storytelling technology’. Let me explain…

Social UnMedia is All About Relationships

According to Stratten, the outdated concept of marketing as a job or distinct task no longer applies. “STOP that!” he scolds, jumping up and down like an adorable nerd. UnMarketing is the new normal;  everything  you say, do, don’t do, watch or ‘like’ online contributes to the persona, character or brand you are offering up to the digital ecosystem. Good relationships have always been a key to good business; except now they’re the lock, the key, the door and the entire treasure box itself.

Social UnMedia, (to borrow Scott’s UnSemantics!) is making it possible for everyone to be a broadcaster, and even better, you can now connect with each person individually, so you don’t have to shout.

‘Now Hear This!’ becomes Once Upon a Time…’

Social media amplifies everything, so it’s not a quick fix for anything. “If you suck at business offline, then you’re just gonna suck harder online!”, warns  Stratton. “People only spread awesome frickin’ content!” What makes awesome content? Great storytelling.

I’m ready for my Close-Up, Mr. DeMille!

The invention of social media tools to the evolution of the Internet is equivalent to the discovery of the close-up to the history of filmmaking. The movies came of age in the early 20th century, graduating into a true storytelling medium when D.W. Griffith, the father of narrative cinema, decided to move the camera from it’s proscenium arch wide-shot to a close-up of the actors for dramatic effect. At first the Hollywood producers were horrified, worried that audiences would demand their money back having paid to see the whole actor! But as we all know, the close-up led to the art of editing and the evolution of the language of film: a set of ever-evolving conventions that offer precise creative control over the story’s dramatic narrative, fact or fiction.

Overacting was the norm in turn-of-the-century silent-era films. Grand exaggerated gestures were necessary for actions to be noticed in the fuzzy wide shot. But acting styles were forced to change with the advent of the close-up, which accentuated subtle nuance, unspoken backstory, laser intimacy and vulnerable authenticity. The tiniest facial twitch can suggest a rich personal story, such as Marlon Brando’s performance in The Godfather or Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

So what does this have to do with social media? Like it or not, social media is the contemporary digital hearth around which our stories are being told. “It’s a social forge, a fiery pressure cooker that transforms (or destroys) everything that is fed into it.”  So says Julien Smith, #SMCV10’s other awesome Keynote speaker and co-author of the best-seller Trust Agents with Chris Brogan. Smith nailed it: “We are being called to expand our role and tell a bigger story.”

The Internet Moves in for its Close-Up

Social media is telling this bigger story in digital close-up. Echoing the cinematic revolution,  almost exactly a century later social media etiquette favours authentic human gestures over bold, brassy proclamations .  Conversation and engagement is what it takes to be a star in the social media universe, everything else is likely to find itself on the cutting room floor.

Storytelling Technology for Reinvention

I’m continually amazed with the ways in which good social media strategy mirrors the filmmaking process. As a filmmaker, I live in the realm of story and I’m very excited about the opportunity for transformation and reinvention that this new storytelling technology offers. What’s the bigger story that is calling you?