A few years ago, a group of bright minds decided to support visual storytelling and founded Screen.
They are photo editor and curator Jamie Welford, producer and curator Liza Faktor, filmmaker and cultural producer Frank Kalero, media producer Ivan Sigal, interactive storytelling pioneer Bjarke Myrthu, agent and multimedia producer Anna Zekria, recently joined by photo editor and cultural producer Monica Allende.
They put their skills together to define the future of sustainable storytelling and have taken on producing outstanding solo projects such as Libyan Sugar by Michael Christopher Brown, The Backs of Men by Dominic Bracco and Uncomfortable by Laia Abril.
Their next big step: A brainstorm lab for storytellers!
Blink’s Laurence Cornet spoke to the co-chiefs of content Jamie & Liza and the Screen Lab’s executive producer Amber Terranova to see what they have been up to.
Laurence: How did Screen come about?
Liza: Most of us have a traditional journalism background, and like many others we have played with multimedia tools. Five years ago, Jamie (Wellford) and I did a show called Projections of Reality to aggregate groundbreaking visual storytelling. That’s how Screen was born; we wanted to get away from the conversation about technology and new tools and focus on the subject matter of the stories.
Jamie: We are trying to channel the energy of discovery. Not knowing is thrilling and requires courage. Collaborative is the theme of the day. How do you build on that? You begin to work with designers, enlightened thinkers and put together a combination of people to walk down the path of turmoil. It’s a group effort.
Laurence: Concretely, what does that mean?
Jamie: The question is: “Can we take self-initiated projects further? How to diversify them and make them bigger in a way that we collectively believe in?”
Traditional media has a really painful standard. I have worked in it long enough to say that publishing a project sometimes kills it. How do you move beyond that and actually engage with it in a deeper way? Is it possible to diversify it further? The answer is obviously yes. There are many variations on a theme, and ways to look at it.
With the Projections of Reality exhibition back in 2010 we presented 22 pieces at the crossover of photography, multimedia and video – multi-channel video installations, web-based projects, and interactive documentary films by Tim Hetherington, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Alex Majoli, Yuri Kozyrev, Magnum In Motion and the New York Times. It was a collaboration of artists, architects and designers. We have curated several projects since then, between Barcelona, Brazil, Goa, Paris and Dubai, among other places, and at one point decided to move even further with the idea of collaborative projects.
Liza: A recent example is The Backs of Men, Dominic Bracco’s project exploring the roots of migration and the modern American frontier. Dominic has been shooting for five to six years on the border in Texas, Mexico and Honduras working with Jeremy Relph and other journalists. He’s been writing a fictional play based on the characters he met in Ciudad Juarez. By the time we met last year at the New York portfolio review Dominic had already enlisted a brilliant theatre director Danya Taymor to work on the production of his play, he’s done extensive outreach in universities and highschools across the U.S. and Mexico talking to students about the patterns of violence and poverty that their fellow migrant friends have come from.
The material is overwhelmingly rich, both visually and thematically. Now, how do you approach something like this and make it digestible, entertaining and epic at the same time? You need people with different expertise to find the right tone: film editor and multimedia producer Adrian Kelterborn, art director Ramon Pez, creative technologists Mandy Mendelstein & Ivaylo Getov are now all attached to the project. I’m super excited to work with all these immensely talented people. The project generated quite some buzz at the Sheffield Doc/Fest where it was presented at the Crossover Market just earlier this month.
We are aiming at the multimedia exhibition and the play to be released in 2016, with a web documentary and a book to follow.
Laurence: How would you define your role at Screen?
Liza: We act as a production company. We are assessing each project’s potential to speak across platforms. Depending on the form – a book, a web documentary, an exhibition or a video installation – we’re going to respective buyers to raise the money. Our task is to act as a bridge between the markets and try to make the project reach a variety of audiences.
Jamie: In the world of ideas, there are many stages for people to explore them. Screen is another stage. It’s certainly not the only one; it’s not a novel idea, but it’s a continuation of creating space where creative ideas can be realized and explored – exploration being a really operative word. There are phenomenal ideas out there that are not expanded. We expand the storytelling journey with what we think is a remarkable collective of people.
Laurence: How do you find these projects?
Liza: Between all of us and our collective involvement with the agency and the editorial business over the years we have established long-term relationships with photographers and journalists who have consistently been producing groundbreaking content. We also come across exciting work at portfolio reviews, workshops, or the authors just contact us.
These photographers & filmmakers have great stories with great material to start with but something is missing because they can’t identify their technical or production needs by themselves. What are your deliverables? What’s your package in the end? Can you find companies to support your project? Can you work with your pre-existing audience in a productive way?
There are only so many projects that we can produce ourselves, but we have the formula that works, and we can serialize it to dozens of other projects. That’s why we have initiated the lab where there is a burning need for this kind of production help or guidance that is not out there in the market.
Laurence: Can we talk about Screen Lab in more detail?
Liza: Our Production Lab is a module of two five-day sessions, separated by three months in between. Participants come to the first session with content so that we can help shape it and identify the needs of each project. We then work with them on developing their work more specifically for the outlets that make most sense for their stories. Then, during the second session we help them distribute their work, wrapping up the lab with a pitching in front of real buyers. Depending on the needs, we get museum curators, broadcasting commissioners, film and cinema representatives. We have a very wide network and we tap into it for these projects that we believe in.
Our first Lab is held in New York with the support from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and is led by Jamie, myself, Adrian Kelterborn, Bjarke Myrthu & Amber. The next available session is in October with September 15th deadline. Link for the applications is here. The next Lab will be held in London later this year.
Laurence: What do you expect from the lab?
Liza: This lab is only the first one. We are already working on the next editions of the Lab with our partners in Europe and Brazil. As we are looking into the next generation of inspired visual storytellers, there seems to be a lot of demand for something like that, and many great projects we can discover, take on or simply connect to.
Amber: What sets us apart from a regular workshop is that we are a lab, which means that the projects are set on a production course. Screen picks up at least one project that comes through the Lab for further production and distribution. We consider all projects, but if we can´t take them on ourselves, we´ll help you find people who will.
Laurence: What makes a story interesting for you?
Amber: We are interested in themes that can motivate change or show a unique and intimate perspective on a topic. This change can happen on a legislation level or just within a small community.
Liza: The projects don’t have to be multimedia. It’s about what the story needs to get delivered. In our guidelines we specifially stress on the potential of story to be told across several platforms, as opposed to incorporate several tools.
Amber: We are open to artists as well.
Liza: Yes, absolutely. We are interested in all kinds of issue-driven visual narratives.
Jamie: It’s a good time to talk about project examples because with us right now is Joao Pina, who has worked on a project called Condor, about the involvement of North America in South America dictatorship. Joao, in which direction does your project continue to grow?
Joao: For me the main question is how to keep growing this? Not necessarily producing more work, but getting what’s produced towards a different audience. I started this as a classic press project. I wanted National Geographic to give me $50,000 and six months to a year to work on it. That assignment never came, and six months became nine years. In those nine years, readership shifted dramatically. I can now reach as many people on Instagram as National Geographic does with a printed magazine.
That’s great, but how can we reach more and, mainly, different people?
Liza: In Joao’s case, he already produced a book in three languages and an exhibition that now needs to travel widely, especially in the region – for people to know what happened forty years ago and build it into their historical memory. He also needs to produce a film out of all the amazing footage he has from the trials and the interviews he recorded with the survivors or relatives of the operation’s victims. We will join forces with Joao to achieve these goals and look into the digital platforms to widen the project’s audience.
Laurence: Do you have ideas on how to reach a different audience?
Joao: I have lots of ideas. I recently did a nine minute piece that can be used in a classroom, in a museum, online – pretty much anywhere. Now, the question is: “What resources do we need to really make something interesting out of this?” I don’t know but this is fascinating. The consequence of press being in such a bad shape is that you start looking into different ways out.
Laurence: Does the answer lie with your target audience?
Joao: The audience is much brighter than we are and get things the way we don’t. I am excited about having that conversation between the subject of the story and the people who are interested in it.
Liza: This is something that the great masters of advertising and visual communication such as Tibor Kalman and David Ogilvy never got tired of repeating: Always assume that your audience is smarter than you, don’t talk down to them. The editorial business tends to underestimate its audience, arguing that the readers and viewers are not interested in in-depth content. But look at video on demand market and the lineup for documentary films at Netflix and Amazon, look at the amazing impact that some of the films or public art campaigns have achieved because the audience gives a damn.
Now, that’s great, isn’t it?
Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.