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AFI workshops interactivity

Institute looks to 'raise the artistic level' of enhanced TV

Recognizing the creative potential of the fundamentally different convergent viewing experience, the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles has partnered with computer chip manufacturer Intel to sponsor the third annual AFI/INTEL Enhanced TV workshop.

“What will really make an impact? What will raise the artistic level? We want to stimulate those debates by having major talent engaged in that debate. The tech platform will make no difference if the consumer is not compelled to participate in the program,” explains Nick DeMartino, AFI’s Director of New Media & Strategic Planning, of eTV.

Rather than address engineering problems caused by competing technologies, the AFI workshop gears itself towards design flow, concept and e-enabling creatives by exposing them to new tools and technology.

The goal for each of the eight project producers is to develop a prototype of an enhanced TV version of their existing production. Martino points out that since no R&D unit exists in Hollywood, this is a way of exposing producers to the best minds in tech innovation. And since the tech side does come into play, mentors come from companies that form a who’s who of the interactive field and include Razorfish, Pittard Sullivan, NBCi, Spiderdance, AGENCY.com, MTV Networks, WebTV Networks, Steeplechase Media, and Liberate Technologies.

On the content side, several producers of documentaries (“The Roman Empire: The First Century AD”), game shows (“Blind Date”) and narrative dramas are taking part in this year’s workshop.

In partnership with Granada TV, Michael Piller, a creative force behind “Star Trek: Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine” has brought “Day One,” a WB mid-season pick up, to the workshop.”Day One” follows a group of survivors as they navigate what’s left of the world after an environmental cataclysm. The sci-fi genre seems a natural for experimentation. “Do I see opportunities? Yes,” says Piller. “Dangers? You bet. It’s fair to say its very much in the theoretical stage. The advantage for live TV is clear. However, applying enhancements to a weekly series is not as clear.”

Piller is not enthusiastic about having his audience “multitasking,” but recognizes that fans of the genre are always looking for ways to deepen the experience. “Interactivity gives the audience a chance to explore this new world, to further explore the show’s thematic issues. I want to create an experience so that the home user can feel part of the expedition,” he adds.

This new creative palette compels content creators to think like writers but act like architects. For a program to succeed in the interactive realm the interface must engage the traditionally passive audience as well as flow with and dimensionalize the narrative.

Barbara Martinez Jitner, producer of “American Family” and vice president of TV at El Norte Productions, hopes to end up with a functioning prototype in time for a spring 2001 airdate. Because one of the characters in the show has his own Website, making the show interactive is an organic extension of the storytelling, she explains.

“Creatively it’s wonderful to do an enhanced version which is a direct part of show’s narrative. It will make it more real for the audience,” says Jitner.

After participating in last year’s workshop, Rob Mikuriya, co-creator of the PBS kids’ series “The Eddie Files” received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for a second-generation prototype that enabled him to further localize the production by incorporating segments from local PBS stations.

“Now we can tailor shows so that each child could have their own unique experience, becoming a one-on-one experience,” explains Mikuriya.

For industry mentor Tracy Fullerton, president and CEO of convergence tech player Spiderdance, the workshop is vital for the future of the industry. “It’s essential to the growth of the market that a language is established for the development of convergent media. (The AFI/INTEL Enhanced TV workshop) is a space where people are free to envision the possibilities, where they can cross company and technology lines and imagine what’s possible.”

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