Collaboration is the Killer App – #DIYdays

Chuck Wendig at DIY Days NYC

#diydays was badass; met a great brain trust of peeps, and leave once more inspired to Make Shit and Make It Awesome. Kudos to @lanceweiler.


You might think that after three months of attending multiple publishing and technology conferences — not to mention enduring weeks of Applings (Apple Lemmings, as Forrester’s James McQuivey calls them) bleating about the Rapture of the iPad — that I might be a bit burned out on talking about doing things and want to get back to actually doing things.

As Wendig so perfectly put it, be “inspired to Make Shit and Make It Awesome”.

And you’d be absolutely right, which is why I’m glad I made it in yesterday to attend DIY Days NYC, a full day of presentations and workshops given by “an exciting lineup of storytellers and innovators from a variety of creative disciplines (film, music, design, gaming, software)” that was drenched in indie spirit, along with a fascinating side dish of contradiction and mixed messages. (Check out my archived tweets here.)

Indie film producer Ted Hope set the tone for collaboration and community with a great opening keynote that reminded me of my own schizophrenia as an indie-centric writer working in the publishing industry, hitting all the same notes as my personal mantra of publishing as a community service, before nailing the fork in the road:

“Commit to curate, to promote, to collaborate…. You’re not alone; we can make it better together.”

“Film, or any creative act, is a community organizing tool.”

“We have to prevent this world where aggregators get rich and the creators get a mere pittance.”

Ted Hope DIY Days from ZAFFI Pictures on Vimeo.

The issue of aggregators vs. creators came up in a number of ways throughout the day, most overtly in former Tribeca Film Institute CEO Brian Newman’s “anti-suit” screed that offered up a lot of red meat for the DIY crowd, but few real answers. His underlying thesis was a great one, though, pushing back on the idea that democratizing technology and new distribution channels equaled innovation:

By combining the latest technology and the things those technologies allowed, with the latest cutting edge theories, they created a new form of art.

And that’s where things got really interesting, as the battle over the definition of “transmedia” began, and the real world playing field was defined as residing somewhere between the extremist viewpoints of Chris Anderson and Jaron Lanier. Many of the speakers I saw defined transmedia from a marketing perspective, how to extend a brand/franchise across multiple distribution channels, with little attention paid to what’s at the heart of a true transmedia experience: story.

Two presentations really got to the heart of that, in very different ways: Chuck Wendig‘s ONCE UPON A PLAYTIME and Seize the Media‘s HOW TO DESIGN FOR TRANSMEDIA.

Chuck (who has given me the most excellent nickname of “The Dread Pirate LeCharles”) delved into the question of whether or not a game can tell a sophisticated story. He started by making the point that a game is still a game even without a story (eg: Tetris), but that to tell a truly effective story within a game, the writer has to let go of their ego and give up a certain amount of control, allowing the player to be the protagonist and have an actual effect on gameplay.

The most obvious example of this is Dungeons & Dragons, the pen-and-paper version, where there is nothing more frustrating than a Dungeon Master who refuses to let players deviate from the story they’ve devised. Technology is much better at simulation than interaction, though, and hasn’t evolved to the point where artificial intelligence can match wits with a savvy DM, which is why Grand Theft Auto’s huge sandbox was such a huge revelation in video-gaming.

After Chuck, Anita Ondine and David Beard of Seize the Media proceeded to blow my mind with their approach to designing for transmedia, literally putting the story at the center of their process, using metadata to tag character and story elements to identify various media opportunities. They’ve developed a process for screenplay annotations to identify cross-platform hooks and story relationships, and some of that data can be used for building basic AI into interactive platforms.

It’s a “storyworld” approach that shifts the focus from simply writing a book or a screenplay, to bringing the entire backstory (or World Bible) to life via a variety of experiential (and organic) touchpoints.

For a writer, it’s an amazing opportunity to leverage the full depth of their creations through a truly collaborative process — ideally starting after the first draft is written, IMO — instead of parceling out chunks of rights for a licensing fee and complete loss of control.

From a publishing perspective, it’s a perfect angle for agents looking to evolve past just making book deals and moving towards more of a managerial role, similar to what Movable Type Literary Group is trying to do, but at least two or three steps further ahead.

For me, it was an eye-opening and inspiring day that set some new wheels in motion and was just the latest kick in the ass telling me to get back in the driver’s seat and start creating things again.

My biggest takeaway was that ideas are cheap and much of the “conversation” these days is self-serving white noise; having a little business savvy is an absolute must, too, because the smoke is thick and the mirrors are warped.

Creators must create, connect and collaborate; that’s the killer app.

4 thoughts on “Collaboration is the Killer App – #DIYdays

  1. I am of course disturbed that somehow my picture lurks at the top of this post.

    Other than that fearful visage, great post.


    — c.

  2. Guy, it's great to see you blogging again, and making such great sense as ever. For me, this and your previous post go together. I spent most of last year evangelising the collaborative and DIY cause, and then, come the end of last year, all of us at Year Zero realised at the same time that we'd spent so much time (and it was very useful time, getting to meet incredible people and form new bonds and friendships) doing the preaching that we'd stopped doing the doing. So we set up our website with a blog so we could post free, original fiction every day, and set about DOING. We've spent less time on line, but we've written an anthology together we're incredibly proud of, and taken it on tour, performing with musicians at venues like London's Rough Trade Records. That's hooked us up with other creatives, and out of it we are now working on an album with some incredible musicians, and our tour culminates with an amazing night we're putting on together with the New York based outfit Knickerbocker Circus that will combine art, music and writing.

    It's very easy for creatives to spend time talking and contributing to the debate – and in one way it is IMMENSELY rewarding because of the fantastic people (like you!) you meet, in another it's great because you get lots of attention and traffic. On the other hand, for DIYers,at some point you have to create, and the way to go isn't to talk about how you are doing it differently from “the mainstream”, but to go out there and do it – to turn those friendships you formed at the talking phase into creative partnerships. Inevitably the process will have phases and cycles, but it's so exciting to feel like part of creating something new.

    BTW, have you come across Solidad Da Costa's great FastSlowFast poetry site?

    Oh, and we'll be holding a gig in NYC in the summer with Jenn giving it full throttle 🙂

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