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Mark Atkin Crossover Labs

In conversation with Mark Atkin: Interactive Filmmaking at Thinking Digital

21st May, 2015

This week we’re up at Thinking Digital in Gateshead; a conference for those curious about how technology is shaping the future. If you haven’t already got yourself a ticket there’s no need to miss all the fun, you can Livestream the event by registering online (which we highly recommend you do!).

We kicked off our visit with the Interactive Filmmaking workshop, brought to us by Crossover Labs in collaboration with Sheffield Documentary Festival. It’s part of a series of workshops across the UK that have each focused on a different platform or tool for creating interactive films, culminating at Sheffield Doc Fest next month (5th-10th June).

As a team of digital creators, mN has been excited about interactive filmmaking and interactive storytelling for a while now. We’ve been following the new platforms emerging in the market, which provide editorial tools to help anyone add interactivity and digital layers to video content.

The workshop here at Thinking Digital gave us the opportunity to gets hands-on with one such interactive video tool; Storygami. This drag and drop web application makes it super simple to add layers of related content to your film by adding time-based markers. It was great to play around with the web app first hand and we’re looking forward to testing out more ideas when we introduce Storygami to the rest of the team at mN.

After the workshop we caught up with Mark Atkin, Director of Crossover Labs, to give us his thoughts on the emerging field of interactive filmmaking:


Can we begin by asking how you think interactive films are changing the experience for audiences?

It’s more about engaging with people, that’s what’s really interesting: the deeper level of engagement. Once you become an active agent – able to participate rather than absorb – you approach it in a different way. You can learn from it, putting yourself into the narrative. It helps to inspire greater empathy with the characters and the events.

Everything is tending to become more and more interactive – we look at media on a device and we expect to press something. Interactive filmmaking offers a multitude of opportunities, it all depends on what the creators intend to do. At the very least it allows the integration of social platforms, whether that’s live or over an extended period of time.

Rather than 45 minutes on TV or 90 minutes in a cinema, it allows the audience to have a dialogue for an extended period of time. They can spend more time within the experience, exploring the story, the themes and the context, or engage with it in stages whenever they want, on a device that suits them. What you’re creating becomes much more dynamic and fluid, in extreme cases even allowing co-creation with your audience.

What new opportunities are there to tell stories and deliver content?

If all you have is film, then the film has to deliver the context up front and answer those questions because the audience will make their minds up very quickly. It has to grab their attention in the first few minutes. With digital and interactive experiences you don’t need to do that, the beauty of it is you can deliver that context in a separate stream.

Your brain doesn’t need to absorb information in a linear fashion to understand it. This is what we do every day, to make sense of the world; we’re looking at a headline in a newspaper, hearing something on the radio, looking it up online and so on. Non-linear narrative is perfectly easy for us to comprehend, so we create very sophisticated levels of layering in an interactive film where background information or source material for a documentary can all be delivered in a stream. This can all be viewed first, at appropriate moments in the film, or at the end. It is totally up to you; different people want to watch in different ways.

In your opinion, how easy is it to distribute an interactive film and generate awareness around projects?

When it comes to distribution the more traditional relationships with media channels are still valuable, but another key thing is making sure there is a wealth of shareable content within the film that can help spread the word. There’s also a risk that because it’s an emerging field it could get lost in newspapers or on TV.

At Sheffield Doc Fest’s interactive exhibition last year we had 12,000 people visit in 5 days, and it was a huge cross section of society – not just Guardian readers or Channel 4 viewers who are more likely to be interested. This made me think that doing things like public exhibitions could really help – festivals, in all their forms, are definitely becoming an important part of interactive filmmaking and helping to launch projects.

What’s the best mix of skills and where do you see the best results?

You get the best results in highly experimental R&D spaces and labs. The real convergence between different creatives (filmmakers, digital teams, game designers and traditional media) is just starting to happen. They learn things from each other- and take the methodologies and new contacts back to their organisations. It absolutely transforms the way they work and takes away any mystery about those interdisciplinary conversations. Crossover Labs are helping to facilitate and support these collaborations.

Thanks for chatting to us Mark.

If you want to find out a little bit more about Crossover Labs, check out their Twitter page.

Image courtesy of Sheffield Documentary Festival © Jacqui Bellamy