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The BBC's Television Centre in London

In a run-down part of West London, between the overpriced boutiques of Portobello Road Market and the consumerist cathedral of Westfield shopping mall, there lies a concrete ghost town, a haunted hallmark to a bygone era. Its curved, doughnut-shaped facade, flanked on both sides by red-bricked studios, is instantly recognisable to anyone British as the BBC's Television Centre.

For nearly sixty years it was the home of the corporation's TV output, and within its ten studios, some of the most famous moments in Britain's modern cultural history were made. When it opened in 1962, it was the largest complex of its kind: a purpose-built "television factory' designed solely to mass produce television programmes.

That is, until the BBC mothballed it in the spring of 2013.

Its closure (and conversation into offices and flats, with a few of its original studios remaining) caused public upset in the UK. It is a cultural icon, people said, and deserves to be preserved. But its closure was necessary and inevitable. The world is starting to move on, and the media is moving with it.

But the public response is fascinating. People view BBC TV Centre as a British tradition, as engrained as the royal family, bacon butties or a milky tea. But the building, and the industry it housed, is a mere human lifetime old. What is traditional about that?

It was all just a blip!

In researching this issue of Inside the Story Magazine, I was lucky enough to have a good conversation with writer Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (you can read the interview in full a little further down).

We discussed immersive storytelling and interactive narratives, and midway through the interview, I absentmindedly asked him how this new form of storytelling differed from 'traditional media', by which I meant print, broadcasting and the internet up until now. Frank is a soft-spoken kind of guy, but his rebuke was swift. "I really don't think of it as traditional at all," he told me. "It's really the past 100 to 150 years that are the aberration, the industrial age of mass media, of one-way broadcasting."

Of course, he's right. We casually use the word 'traditional' to describe something that is less than two hundred years old and, in its most familiar form, just decades old. How quickly we adjust and forget. What's more, Frank argues that these 'new' forms of interactivity are really taking us back to the real traditional forms of storytelling, before mass media shook things up.

It is a realisation happening across all sectors. In employment, writers like Seth Godin remind us that the 'traditional' 9-to-5 office job didn't exist 200 years ago. People like Sir Ken Robinson remind us that 'traditional' public schools are just factories for children - industrial inventions for an industrial world and, again, less than two centuries old.

And so it is with media. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century came along and brought with it the mindset of mass production, cost efficiency, reaching many for less, producing something identical over and over again.

A brief foray into the history of cinema reveals just how quickly and deeply it too became industrialised. Less than fifteen years after its invention, the small businesses touting kinescopes on Broadway were replaced by aggressive corporations producing films en masse: Biograph, Vitagraph, Kalem, Lubin. By the 1910s the strategy was all about getting as many films made as cheaply as possible. Studios set up multiple director units in order to streamline the production process, with several films being shot in the same room at the same time. As early as 1914, Paramount appeared as the first national distributor of films.

Broadcasting has 'silenced' the audience for nearly a century

Cinema was the first industrialised art form. Radio and television followed obediently in its path.

But then, unexpectedly, along came the Internet, a medium that refuses to be industrialised in the same way. It started connecting people directly, somehow making them immune to advertising mass media strategy. It demanded excellence over mass production; in the industrial age you could make a mediocre TV show and people would watch it, but on the web, unless it is remarkable it sinks straight to the bottom.

And within years we are seeing the Industrial Age begin to crumble before our eyes. Jobs are changing, education will have to change, and so too will the media and storytelling. But before we mourn, we must remember it was all just a blip: a 200-year anomaly on the curve of progress. It is no more traditional than penicillin or genocide.

The artist formally known as the audience

Shut up and give us your money

In its short lifespan, the industrial media has done one thing, though, which is to silence the audience. We are the producers, and they are the customers. Their job is to shut up, consume and give us their money. But before that, the audience played a different role.

Matt Locke, founder of Storythings, has been looking back at the history of the audience. "Many years ago, audiences were as noisy as Twitter is now, and the call and response between the stage and the crowd was an integral part of the show," he says. "It's only been in the last few 50 years or so that audiences have been quiet. So quiet, that they became almost invisible to the people telling the stories."

Now they want back in, and the changing job of the storyteller is to design stories that make space for the Artist Formally Known as the Audience. So it was all just a blip. A fun blip, sure, but a blip nonetheless. The television factory, with its high walls and iron gates, has closed, and now we are free to invite the audience into our storytelling.

Building worlds

And that is what Issue 3 of Inside the Story Magazine is about: the new forms of interactive and immersive storytelling that build worlds for our audiences and let them back into our stories.

In Building Worlds, another in-depth essay, we explore how interactive experiences are designed and whether the design of the narrative changes with it. And in Setting the Standard we present some of the must see immersive documentaries that have set the bar.

The opportunities of the future lie in genres not platforms, argues Matt Locke in an exclusive essay: The Stacks, The Patterns and the Money. Find out why, and what that means for storytellers.

This issue features not one, but two story masterclasses to help you up your game. Learn how to use progression to guide your audience through your story in a more compelling way - it's one of the most useful articles we've published so far. And in The Nine Old Men, discover the storytelling rules that helped the early Disney story artists reinvent animation.

And of course there are full interviews with some of our masterful contributors, including Frank Rose and Ingrid Kopp.

Do you have something new to say about storytelling?

Finally, a look ahead to the fourth and final issue of Inside the Story Magazine. Each issue so far has concentrated on a specific theme (science, visual storytelling and immersive storytelling). The fourth issue we are opening up to smart storytellers with something to share about the craft of narrative design.

We're inviting a few high-profile contributors to pen something special but, at the same time, we're inviting you to submit your own pitches. Do you have something new to say about storytelling and how it is done? Do you want to take the cover off and share the inner workings of something you have produced?

We are paying $150 in hard cash for each article of 1,000 - 1,500 words that we publish, and it's a great opportunity to get your name and work in front of influential producers and publishers.

The deadline for pitches is the 11th August 2013, and we will need the final copy by no later than the 20th September 2013.

So don't delay: email editor [at]

Enjoy reading, and as ever, please get in touch with your thoughts, ideas and complaints to the above address.

Adam Westbrook | Paris, July 2013



The audience want to be involved in our stories. The answer is to create immersive experiences which hook them. But how do we do this without sacrificing the story? Some of the leaders in interactive and immersive storytelling explain.

WORDS: Adam Westbrook


On a cold November night in London, journalist Nick Curtis was on his way to prison.

"We were herded into a hallway by yelling guards," he writes, "told to strip to our underwear and put our clothes and possessions in numbered sacks that contained our prison uniforms. Then we were marched through showers where a naked man lay crouched, bleeding, on the floor, to cells where we were banged up."

If this sounds like a horrific experience for Curtis and the 400 others, you might be surprised to know that they paid to go through it, part of a growing demand for London's most popular underground event, Secret Cinema.

The realistic 1940s inmate experience (complete with riots and a black market), Curtis writes in the London Evening Standard, concluded with a showing of Frank Darabont's cult prison drama The Shawshank Redemption, creating an "oddly nuanced" immersive experience.

It is this immersion which is the much sought-after effect storytellers want to achieve in all genres and across all platforms. Not only do we want to grab our readers, viewers, listeners right off the bat, we want to keep them with us. In a world where 20% of YouTube viewers click away after less than ten seconds, keeping people engaged is imperative.

The thing about immersion is that it is not some new technical fad. You can follow this principle on paper or in front of a group of friends at a party. Yet the discussion about creating interactive and immersive story experiences, particularly for non-fiction producers, has focused largely on the digital tools which might allow us to do it online.

Is that the point?

Certainly, some of the most interesting developments in immersive storytelling have happened offline, according to the go-to person when it comes to the topic, Frank Rose. In 2011 he published The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories.

"There have been a number of immersive theatrical experiences which don't rely on technology at all but are kind of informed by technology," he tells me from New York. He's referring to London's Secret Cinema as well as to Sleep No More and Then She Fell, both performed in New York.

"These types of live in-person experiences are really starting to proliferate, and what's really interesting to me about them is that they don't rely on any technology at all beyond the most rudimentary, and yet they are incredibly immersive."

Making room for the audience

The thing that makes these events unique is that phrase dreaded by stand-up and theatre goers everywhere: Audience Participation. Nick Curtis says with some surprise that no one broke character in 'Shawshank Prison': "The selling of drinks and snacks was conducted as if it were a black market. In a quiet moment I found myself shooting hoops in the yard with two strangers, exchanging nods like weary lifers."

Now, when considering all the elements that go into making a story - plot, structure, theme, character - storytellers in both fiction and non-fiction are realising the need to make room for The Audience too.

After a century in the dark, they are starting to join us on stage again - if we ask them.

Technology has played a big role, certainly for non-fiction producers seeking new ways to tell their stories. Interactive documentaries, sometimes referred to as iDocs, have proliferated in the last three years, collecting awards along the way.

Click here to see seven ground breaking non-fiction narratives

But what does this mean for the storyteller? Do we have to surrender control of our stories? "Personally I don't think its a question of surrendering," says Rose. "It's no accident that the most popular stories - whether we're talking about movies or TV shows or anything - are, right now, stories that have really strong authors."

It's a point of view supported by one of the most important people in online storytelling right now: Ted Serandos, the Chief Content Officer at Netflix. "Interactive viewing of a presidential debate is fantastic. Or a sporting event, fantastic," he said on a recent panel. "When I want to watch storytelling, when a professional storyteller is going to tell me a story, why change the ending? Why hire him if I'm going to change the ending? I never really understood that attraction."

But Rose says there's opportunity for more. "I think that what authors do have to do these days is to allow room for the audience in ways that they didn't have to think about before. What happens is with any story, whether it's a book or a TV show - and this has been true throughout history - if there's a story that really matters to them, people want to inhabit that story."

This audience involvement is key to the approach at Portland-based Second Story, an interactive story studio where even the company's name reflects the story that the audience tell themselves.

They recently hired former New York Times multimedia editor Andrew DeVigal to lead their content strategy. "We build a framework so that the user can tell their own story, in other words their own second story, based on the backbone narrative of the exhibit or the installation or the museum," DeVigal tells me. "So there's a way for people to interpret that particular piece of story, and to interpret it through their own lens, and that's both the challenge and something we're taking on."

The narrative then, only becomes visible in hindsight.

Trying to involve the audience is no easy thing, though, especially for those of us brought up on the previous age of mass communication where the audience was silent and near invisible.

"One hundred years of mass media broadcasting has made us lazy in a way because as storytellers we could just take the audience for granted. We didn't have to think about them in any sense beyond whether they would tune in or would they show up at the box office," says Rose, "and now that's no longer the case."

He cites the Guardian's Open Journalism project as an example of non-fiction storytellers inviting the reader into the process.

"As my friend Matt Locke likes to say, 'the storyteller calls out and the audience responds, and the storyteller responds to that.' This is the kind of thing that has to happen now...and if anything that's even more important in journalism than it is in fiction."

Changing story?

From a story design perspective, the big question all this interactive potential raises is whether it changes the way we build our narratives. And opinion is divided.

"Yes, it does," argues Guy Gunaratne, co-founder of Storygami, a new interactive video platform that is in development thanks to support from Richard Branson's Virgin empire. He describes a current web series project he's producing for Virgin Media, which he says has pushed the storytelling skills of his team. "This content was going to breathe and manifest threads and story arcs far beyond the initial thrust of the narrative. We'd be linking external content and providing tangents that would enrich the viewing experience, and so we had to think along those broad strokes. All this whilst making sure the 'anchor' content was still at a high standard."

But others aren't so sure.

"I think perhaps we are in danger of over-exaggerating this," says Ingrid Kopp, digital director at the Tribeca Film Institute. "It's also important to differentiate between interactive stories, and interactive engagement around linear stories."

"To me this form of interactive storytelling is still looking at a three-part structure that people are familiar with," argues DeVigal. "The idea of an open-ended narrative is...the main cause of confusion for a lot of people going through experiences that we're trying to develop.

"The traditional three-act structure is key when you're trying to tell a story in this way... I think there has to be an opportunity where we can easily identify the beginning and the ending too," he says.

To learn about the details of story structure click here to read Issue 1

Rose agrees that interactivity is not changing the narrative's essential structure. "There are certainly examples where it does, but with something like the New York Times' Snow Fall interactive, for example...the technology really seems to amplify, rather than to change, the nature of the story. It's still basically writing. I think writing is still incredibly powerful, and the truth is, these tools, the digital graphics and other devices, really amplify that and expand upon it but certainly don't supersede it at all. It would be a powerful piece of writing even without those."

Make good decisions

However, one thing that most people agree on is that interactivity for interactivity's sake is not the way to go.

"The most common mistake is to think 'oh it's the web, it's interactive, now I can let people do a million different things. I can give them 20,000 options to click on'," says Jesse Shapins, co-founder of interactive storytelling platform Zeega. "That doesn't work well for storytelling experiences, so the key is setting people up to have a balance of telling a story - there is a narrative thread - allowing people to introduce moments of choice, but to be really thoughtful about those choices."

It's a sentiment echoed by DeVigal.

"We jump into 'how do we make this beautiful, how do we make this interactive?'" he says.

"I'm finding that we're asking the 'how' we would tell these interactive stories, rather than the 'why'. So you'll see there are presentations out there that are fancy presentations, but the question that we often skip is 'why are we doing this in this interactive form?' There are certain stories that are easier if they're told in Instapaper. So that's the first question - when you see one of these beautifully made parallax experiences, honestly ask yourself 'why is it presented in this way? Was there a value, was there an enlightenment that it created?'"

Breaking free of the screen

Finally, you can't talk about interactivity without talking about the technology.

Across the world, the race is on the develop the next platform with interactivity built in. Zeega and Mozilla's Popcorn projects have made early inroads, but there are more on the way including Storygami, and now TouchCast, a New York based start-up this year.

"If you think about it, everywhere else we see the connected web really enhance our experience. For instance, text isn't just text when we use hyperlinks - it becomes a discovery tool. Why hasn't this happened with video?" asks Guranatne.

"Interactivity needs to fit into what we already know: we shoot, we edit, we layer interactivity and then we publish. That's the end goal.

"...What attracts intense engagement and elicits an emotive response is a sense of layered meaning and subtext. Interactivity therefore can be more than just adding arbitrary features but can actually help fire up your imagination if it's done right."

There's no one with their ear closer to the ground in this new frontier than Kopp. She's spearheading Tribeca Film Institute's experiments in marrying film-makers with coders to create unique interactive documentaries, or iDocs.

"This is a new form, so I think we need to give it time to settle down and find its way. We are all a little susceptible to bright shiny object syndrome when it comes to technology at the moment, but at the same time my role at the Tribeca Film Institute is to keep an eye on technology and constantly think about what new innovations mean for storytelling.

"There will be projects that don't quite work, that don't build on the history of crafting narratives, that forget about things like beautiful sound and powerful story arcs that take us on unexpected journeys. But we need to be able to experiment."

But there's always someone with a bigger idea. And it's no surprise that person right now is Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg. Alongside long-time collaborator George Lucas, he recently predicted the 'implosion' of cinema as we know it and the rise of an internet-based distribution in its wake.

His goal too is full immersion - and for him, technology holds the key.

"We're never going to be totally immersive as long as we're looking at a square, whether it's a movie screen or whether it's a computer screen," he told the audience. "We've got to get rid of that, and we've got to put the player inside the experience, where no matter where you look you're surrounded by a three-dimensional experience. That's the future."

from the very first frame, everything in your story must point in some direction that makes sense to the viewers...usually this means forwards!

Bombay Flying Club


Which stories push the boundaries of narrative structure through immersion and interactivity? There's still a lot of experimentation to be done, but here are seven pieces that have set the bar. Now it's your job to take it, and raise it one.

Bear 71

When you ask producers of inspiring pieces which stories they think push the boundaries, this one pops up more times than any other. In Bear 71, an immersive map-based narrative designed in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, we hear the world described through the voice of a grizzly bear while we explore a national park. There's plenty to click on, although the free-flowing map gives you little sense of direction.

Black Gold Boom

Published on interactive platform Zeega, which just secured a round of development funding, Black Gold Boom explores how oil drilling has changed one part of North Dakota. There are some interactive options, but the narrative is very much a linear one.

Alma: A Tale of Violence

This is a difficult watch, and it's down to the challenging content rather than the interactivity. In Alma, a former gang member tells, with candid detail, stories of life and death in a gang, all while looking you in the eye. The viewer can supplement the video with optional b-roll, although it's not always clear what this adds.

Killing Lincoln

A masterclass in narrative progression, Killing Lincoln, created for National Geographic, has lots going on. It keeps all the ingredients (like audio clips and original documents) quite concise, so you move on quite swiftly. And best of all, you really feel the tension as you approach assassination day.

Clouds Over Cuba

It's always interesting to see how web producers take on one of television's toughest challenges: the history documentary. Clouds Over Cuba, while well produced, is little more than television's mix of archive and voiceover. On occasion you're able to click on elements for extra context or analysis, which is definitely an improvement on getting it the way TV decides.

Snow Fall

There's not much to say about the New York Times' (perhaps over-) lauded piece, that hasn't already been said, but this from former editor Andrew DeVigal is nice: "The magic of Snow Fall is you're able to consume all the different types of media content based on lowest number of interactions possible, and in this case the minimum interactivity was basically scrolling. That was the beauty of Snow Fall, the subcompact presentation of that narrative is in some sense a clean interface."

The Gun Show

Developed during a hackathon hosted by the Tribeca Film Institute, The Gun Show has a couple of interesting narrative features. One is the PacMan-style navigation - you explore the story by wondering through a mockup of a gun fair. More interestingly, the creators have built an open-ended video documentary which dynamically sews YouTube clips together. Viewers can even add new clips to the end of the doc.

The Stacks, The Patterns and the Money: Why genre will drive the next stage of the content revolution

Interactive and immersive storytelling is obsessed with the technology that makes it possible. While there's still a lot of innovation to be done, has the ship sailed for creating your own platform? In this exclusive essay, Storythings founder Matt Locke argues that the future isn't platforms, but genres. What does that mean for non-fiction storytellers?

WORDS: Matt Locke

In his closing speech at the 2012 SXSW festival, Bruce Sterling made a subtle, but very important, distinction in how we discuss digital culture. He suggested that we should no longer discuss the internet as if it were one thing, but instead we needed to discuss 'the stacks' - the ecosystems that frame our engagement with digital culture from back-end cloud storage, through devices and platforms, to the apps and content itself.

"In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about 'the Internet,' 'the PC business,' 'telephones,' 'Silicon Valley' or 'the media,'" he said, "and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are remaking the world in their image."

Less than a year later, this subtle distinction has become glaringly obvious. Our experience of the internet is almost wholly contained within these new stacks, and their strategies are beginning to harden the walls between each stack, removing our ability to move content and profiles between them. Its going to get harder and harder for new businesses to disrupt these stacks, and more likely that the next wave of innovation will be layers of products or services that live in and around these ecosystems. The focus is moving from technology to content, from infrastructure to formats. The innovations will develop from understanding the new patterns of attention on the stacks and designing business models that support cultural production in these new ecosystems.

At Digital Shoreditch earlier this year, I talked about the emerging patterns of audience behaviour and how these seem to be different based on genre, not platform. Drama is increasingly viewed in multi-episode binges, whilst big Saturday night entertainment shows have to be live, creating trending topics on Twitter that drive new viewers to tune in. News is now consumed as a constant stream of live blogs, updates, tweets, photos and videos that are only later curated into stories.

Binge viewing

We're starting to see new formats and business models based on these patterns, and the next five to ten years will see genre-specific content business models replacing the all-genre schedules of broadcast TV. We've seen signs of this already - premium live sporting events and movies moved to subscription cable and satellite platforms in most markets in the 90s, as cable and satellite companies recognised their value in driving subscriptions. Similarly, most investment in high-end drama comes from platforms that have direct transaction or subscription models, as these platforms can make more money from the audience binge viewing drama than from platforms using traditional display advertising.

For example, Netflix are making a feature out of binge viewing in their drama commissioning model, giving directors and writers the space to experiment with new forms of storytelling. The makers of House of Cards said they approached the project as a '13-hour movie' rather than a traditional series, with a different narrative structure that was less reliant on cliffhangers at the end of the episode and other hangovers from the broadcast era. Understanding audience bingeing and how this affects storytelling looks like a much more productive route for innovation in drama than the over-hyped 'transmedia' concepts of the last few years.

The emerging patterns around other genres are harder to spot, but there are signs that new formats are beginning to work based on deep understanding of patterns of audience behaviour. The team at UK broadcaster ITV saw that mobile and social media has driven consumption of news into a 'stream' pattern, with audiences looking for the most recent content, then reading on to complete a wider picture of the story. Their new digital news product, developed with UK agency Made by Many, moves radically away from the traditional editorial or brand taxonomies to present the news as a constantly updated stream of different content elements. Designing around new patterns of audience attention has been a huge success, driving a six-fold increase in traffic and a 456% increase in uniques.

One of the most interesting genres at the moment is also one of the most confused. There is increasingly a crossover between the TV and film genres of current affairs and documentary and the newspaper genres of features and long-form journalism. All these genres are struggling to find the business models that will support them long-term, and as a result we're seeing new ideas, products and business models evolving.

You won't finish this article

There are many issues that long-form factual content has to solve, from funding journalistic research to discovering new economic models and fund distribution. But the most interesting new ideas are starting with the most basic problem - how will audiences find the time to read or watch long-form content? What will be the most sustainable attention patterns for long-form journalism and documentaries?

Farhad Manjoo's recent post for Slate, You Won't Finish This Article, pointed out that around 50% of audiences don't make it past the half-way point of feature articles online. Documentaries were the joint-second most common genre of film releases in the UK in 2011, but generated only 1.4% of box office revenue, compared to the 21.8% of revenue generated by the same number of comedy releases. If these traditional forms of long-form content are no longer aligned to audiences' patterns of attention, what kinds of patterns are there around factual content?

A few weeks ago I was on the innovation jury for Sheffield Doc/Fest, and there was a clear distinction between the shortlisted projects. Half the projects were experimenting with technological innovation, presenting factual content in complex 3D environments or in 360 cinemas or creating tools for audiences to curate and re-present their own collages of content. The other half experimented with patterns of attention, presenting a story as a scrollable stream of audio, text and video, or telling a story through five-second film clips automatically taken every 10 minutes like visual Facebook updates, or presenting a simple but dream-like combination of two linear video streams.

These projects felt like they understood the way we watch video now and pushed those patterns a bit further, rather than asking the audience to learn a new pattern from scratch. More importantly, these projects felt like they were creating formats that could be built on by other projects, whereas the technologically innovative projects felt like one-offs. They're part of a burst of interesting developments around long-form factual content, including Medium, started by Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter; Matter, started via Kickstarter and acquired by Medium within four months; and Wibbitz, a fascinating app that takes feeds of factual content and automatically produces a short mobile video.

Watching what's happening around long-form factual and documentary formats will teach us a lot about how to build a business model around culture in the 21st century. The focus is on designing new formats based on new patterns of attention, and then finding the best way to make these sustainable. We've moved on from the first era of technological innovation that build 'the stacks', and we're now into the second era of innovation, based around formats and genres.

The content industries will continue to fracture, not around platforms but around their ability to sustainably produce different genres of content as new audience patterns emerge around them. Some traditional media outlets will end up making less content in certain genres, and new companies will emerge specialising in formats developed for specific genres. This is how the content revolution plays out: first we build the stacks, then we understand the patterns, then finally we might be able to make some money.

Matt Locke is a former head of multiplatform commissioning at Channel Four in the UK. He now runs Storythings, an agency committed to finding new ways to tell stories through projects, events and consultancy.

Great stories connect the specific to the universal, connecting all of us to the story.
And hopefully to each other.

Bob Sacha



Published in 2011, Frank Rose's book The Art of Immersion was one of the first to explore what immersive and interactive storytelling might look like in the future. Two years on, Inside the Story Magazine sat down with Frank to get the inside track on where immersive storytelling is heading next.


It's been two years since The Art of Immersion was published. What's happened since then in interactive and immersive storytelling?

First off in television, or at least in US television, the idea of extending the story or the program into many dimensions beyond just the program itself has really taken hold. Partly it's because of the whole so-called second screen phenomenon, but also just the idea of extending the narrative itself through webisodes, through games, or even through talk shows. The Walking Dead, which is probably the hottest TV show in the US right now, has a spin-off talk show about it, which is also incredibly popular. This is the sort of thing I wrote about in the book, and now it has almost become expected at this point in TV.

The other thing that's happened I think is there's been a number of immersive theatrical experiences which don't rely on technology at all but are kind of informed by technology. Just as movies are informed by video games aesthetics, this genre of immersive theatre - and I'm talking of things like Sleep No More, Then She Fell and Secret Cinema - these types of live, in-person experiences are really starting to proliferate, and what's really interesting to me about them is that they don't rely on any technology at all beyond the most rudimentary, and yet they are incredibly immersive. They resonate with the way that games and other digital phenomena have changed our expectations in terms of entertainment experiences.

A lot of this discussion talks about the technology but not much about the story. Does the narrative structure change with immersive storytelling?

It depends. There's certainly examples where it does, but with something like the New York Times' Snow Fall interactive, which I thought was a really remarkable piece, the technology really seems to amplify, rather than to change the nature of the story. It's still basically writing. I think writing is still incredibly powerful and the truth is, these tools, the digital graphics and other devices, really amplify that and expand upon it but certainly don't supersede it at all. It would be a powerful piece of writing even without those.

I think the basic thing is we're still experimenting. There's still so much experimentation to be done, and the tools themselves are hardly locked down and probably aren't going to be for quite some time. At the same time the things that we're inventing to do with them keep proliferating and changing, and it's not entirely clear what's going to take hold and what's not going to until you put it out there and see. The one thing that has not changed at all since I started on the book is this atmosphere of intense experimentation, and I think that that's going to continue for some time.

In The Art of Immersion you coin the term 'deep media' to describe more immersive story experiences.

To my mind the whole point of depth, the idea of immersive, means being able to go farther and deeper into a story than before. That's what makes it different from so-called traditional media (which, by the way, I don't really think is traditional at all: it's really the past 100 to 150 years that are the aberration, the industrial age of mass media of one-way broadcasting). What we're really doing now is finding ways to return to a much more traditional form of media and of storytelling and communication.

As the creators of interactive story experiences, are we going to have to surrender our authorial control over the narrative, to let people 'create their own journeys'?

I think that's one of the central questions right now. Personally I don't think its a question of surrendering. It's no accident that the most popular stories, whether we're talking about movies or TV shows or anything are, right now, stories that have really strong authors. Stories like the Walking Dead or Mad Men or, to cite an earlier example, Lost. Clearly people respond to an author that has something to say and wants to say it.

I think that what authors do have to do these days is to allow room for the audience in ways that they didn't have to think about before. What happens is with any story, whether it's a book or a TV show - and this has been true throughout history - if there's a story that really matters to them, people want to inhabit that story. They want to enter the world of that story, in some sense of make believe. And really, when you think of the so-called willing suspension of disbelief, it is just a blurring of fact and fiction, a blurring of the line between our real existence and a sort of pretend existence that we enter into when we read or watch a really well-told story.

I think this is one of the trickiest things to negotiate, this new and evolving relationship between the author and the audience. One hundred years of mass media broadcasting has made us lazy in a way because as storytellers we could just take the audience for granted. We didn't have to think about them in any sense beyond whether they would tune in or would they show up at the box office. And now that's no longer the case.

As my friend Matt Locke likes to say, 'the storyteller calls out and the audience responds, and the storyteller responds to that'. This is the kind of thing that has to happen now. I don't believe in 'choose your own ending' or 'choose your own adventure'; I think that's a really primitive form of interactive storytelling, and personally I've never seen one that's very successful. But I do think that there are much more subtle and in some ways ingenious approaches that can be taken and need to be taken.

This is all very well for movies and novels, but is this any good for non-fiction producers? Can journalism and documentary be immersive in the same way?

Both journalism and documentary can benefit from this a great deal. I think the Guardian has done some really fascinating and pioneering work in this regard with their open journalism platform [GuardianWitness] that they introduced last year. Basically what we're talking about is opening up a dialogue so to speak between the author and the audience and not treating the audience as a purely passive consumer, and if anything that's even more important in journalism than it is in fiction.

Fiction tends to overshadow it because there's so much money in it, in the big media properties at least. But many of the same techniques can apply to journalism, and I think that the idea of a partnership between journalists and their readers or their viewers is really important and can immensely benefit journalism.

Conventional 20th century journalism was all about 'we're the experts and you're the reader, you're the consumer', and any kind of journalism now has to recognise that's false and that there are no experts who know everything and consumers who know nothing. That's a false view of the world. Often your readers know more than you do and certainly might have something to contribute to it. That doesn't mean that you give up the controls. Any journalist is still responsible for what they write. But to invite the audience to join in the conversation is an incredibly important and powerful tool. It's one of the things frankly that has been the dividing line between blogs and newer forms of journalism and conventional mass media newspaper approach.

What are the jobs to be done? What have we still got to figure out?

So far we've had some successful prototypes and not much more than that, and obviously some unsuccessful prototypes as well. Part of the problem is that the technology and the delivery platforms are still changing, and it is going to be hard to really figure things out until that has settled down a bit. But on a fundamental level, print media is in the throws of a major revolution and it is now about to hit television.

We're going to move from a world of broadcasters that are carried on dedicated satellite and cable platforms to something that's delivered over IP, and it's not at all clear whether channels as we know them will continue to exist at least as anything other than marketing platforms.

In terms of the modes of storytelling and so forth, obviously this relationship between the author and the audience is something that still has to be worked out. I think that ways in which the audience can participate and talk back through social media and other means and the usage of transmedia still needs quite a bit of work.

Frank Rose is a correspondent for Wired Magazine. He is the author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories. He lives in New York City.

The Documentary Hackers

In the last few years the iDoc has emerged as a popular new form of non-fiction storytelling. Produced for the web, it combines audio/video narratives with the interactive features of the web. The Tribeca Film Institute is one of iDoc's biggest cheerleaders; we spoke to their director of digital initiatives, Ingrid Kopp.

INTERVIEW: Ingrid Kopp

You do a lot of work at Tribeca on 'hacking' documentaries - what does hacking a documentary mean?

This refers to a series of hackathons we run called Tribeca Hacks, bringing together content creators, technologists and designers to work together to build a story prototype, usually over two or three days. We run these hackathons all over the United States, usually in partnership with other organisations.

The focus of Tribeca Hacks is on building new kinds of partnerships between film-makers and coders and on getting everyone to think about new ways of creating work together.

We recently did a five-day hackathon with Mozilla [called the Storytelling Innovation Lab], supported by the Ford Foundation, and we were thrilled with the results. Your Hospital May Be Hazardous To Your Health, a Frontline/ProPublica project, was published on day five of the Lab, and the quality of all the projects was really impressive. It was an added thrill that the teams put their code on GitHub so that other people can see how they created their projects and can take the code and make new work.

One of the big differences with multiplatform storytelling is that we have little control over what our audience is doing when they watch our work. They might be on the train or in bed. Is there any way to mitigate that?

I think the same is now true of all kinds of storytelling - unless you are screening your film in a cinema, you really can't control the audience, and even then they may be asleep, or heaven forbid, texting their friends!

I understand why this causes anxiety for creators, but I think the solution is to embrace this (with the exception of texting in cinemas, which I draw the line at along with Alamo Drafthouse), understand how people are consuming media across different platforms in different ways and think about creating the sort of user experience that audiences will love so that you can be sure that they will be engaged wherever they are. This is not easy, but I think it is a reality that we all have to grapple with now in an attention economy. It's not just new media that has to deal with this, that's why TV broadcasters are experimenting with social TV, second screen apps and creating unique online experiences.

Do you think making an interactive story changes the way we approach narrative design and structure? If so, how?

Yes, I do think that new forms of storytelling are challenging traditional narrative structure, but I think perhaps we are in danger of over-exaggerating this. It's also important to differentiate between interactive stories and interactive engagement around linear stories. We fund both kinds of work, and we're interested in pushing the field for both because for us it's all about engaging audiences using the full spectrum of storytelling possibilities available today.

I love how some creators are using the web as a creative medium and using everything they have learned about narrative design and structure to create new kinds of experience. I think Hollow is a great example of this.

I'm also inspired by how work outside of the documentary community is showing what is possible when you harness the web as a storytelling medium. Look at Take This Lollipop and Wilderness Downtown for example.

Jonathan Harris has always been someone I have looked to for inspiration here too – he understands how technology can work in the service of art, but he pushes back too and I think this is why is work is so interesting. I Love Your Work is his latest project.

Is there a danger that all this focus on the technology and the form of interactivity leaves old-fashioned storytelling in the shadows? It's easier to build a flashy interactive than to study the principles of narrative, isn't it?

This is a new form, so I think we need to give it time to settle down and find its way. We are all a little susceptible to bright shiny object syndrome when it comes to technology at the moment, but at the same time my role at the Tribeca Film Institute is to keep an eye on technology and constantly think about what new innovations mean for storytelling. This requires a degree of open-mindedness and experimentation. There will be projects that don't quite work, that don't build on the history of crafting narratives, that forget about things like beautiful sound and powerful story arcs that take us on unexpected journeys. But we need to be able to experiment.

Documentaries have always been in flux, they have always changed in relation to changes in technology - consider sync sound - and the history of film is fairly short, so I like to take a long view and think about how to support film-makers and artists as they try new things and how to pay attention to audiences as they try new things too - which includes making their own work!

Which leads nicely to your next question...

You said in an interview recently that the audience are also "makers" - do you think we could do more to involve the audience in build the story itself?

Yes, definitely. There are so many opportunities to involve the audience at any point in the cycle of project these days. But again - and I know I always have a caveat for everything I say but I really reject rigid definitions that keep popping up around interactive storytelling - this really should be something that works for the project in question. I don't think that audiences have to be "makers" in a project for it to be interesting or effective.

There are different kinds of interaction and experience that we can play with. This can vary from collaborative, participatory projects like 18 Days in Egypt, Sandy Storyline, The Johnny Cash Project and Highrise, to projects that start with a linear film that results in interactive outreach or tools like Map Your World.

IDFA DocLab and MIT Open Doc Lab have done a good job of starting to define the different kinds of projects with their Moments of Innovation Project.

On the flip side, The Onion recently ran a satirical piece saying users just want to "visit websites and look at them" Do you think there's a grain of truth to this? I feel like we see a lot of interactivity for the sake of it.

Of course! There's a grain of truth in everything The Onion says! Yes, absolutely there are people throwing interactivity around like it's going out of style. It reminds me of the "put a bird on it" episode of Portlandia, except it's more like "put a button on it".

That said, people do get excited by interactivity when it makes sense for the story. I think Gaza/Sderot is still incredible five years on because the interactivity tells the story of the border and how Israel and Palestine are always part of each other's stories.

I love it when the interaction IS the story and I'd like to see more of this rather than interaction as a layer on top of the story.

I also think that projects that incorporate lean forward and lean back options are very clever. Examples of this are Alma: A Tale of Violence and Bear 71 - in both cases you can watch the film without touching your keyboard or your mouse, but you can also get stuck in and have a more interactive experience should you wish to.

Finally, what's the most inspiring story that uses interactivity or immersion that you've seen recently?

I'm really excited by Hollow. It's a project we funded so it was hardly a surprise, but I was still blown away by what the team created, from the community film workshops right through to the beautiful web experience they built.

Dadaab Stories is a great example of building an experience on an existing platform (Tumblr in this case) and creating something beautiful and unique.

I'm very excited to see how CLOUDS turns out. I love that it's about creative code using creative code. Form and content come together beautifully.

Finally, Star Wars Uncut is joyful, fan-created genius, and I can't wait to see The Empire Strikes Back!

Storytelling is like sex. We all do it naturally. Some of us are better at it than others.

David Mamet



What gives a good narrative its pace and tempo? What makes sure it builds to a memorable climax? In the first of two masterclasses, Inside the Story Magazine breaks down story progression and gives practical advice you can apply to your next project.

WORDS: Adam Westbrook

You've probably heard people talk about the 'narrative arc' or the 'character arc' before, but they're two poorly defined terms that conjure up misleading definitions.

What we mean by arc is 'change' - something has to change in your character or story or, to be frank, it is not a story.

Progression is how you structure the change in your story. It's extremely simple to use and is one of the best ways to make your narrative as intentionally powerful as possible.

What do we mean by progression? In The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film TV and Digital Media, Bruce Block breaks it down into its most simple definition. "A progression begins as one thing and changes to something else," he says.

"Progressions are fundamental to story or musical structure and they're fundamental to visual structure."

Progression can be applied to all the elements at your command as a storyteller: the story itself (by which we mean events), the images, the sound, even the user interaction. Choosing which elements to apply progression to is a fundamental part of good story design.

Mapping Intensity

In order to control progression, we need to be able to see it. Block offers a simple and easy to replicate model for structuring progression: measuring intensity.

Why intensity? It's well understood that all stories peak at a climax of some sort, and its generally agreed that the climax is the most intense moment of your story. No event can be more exciting, engrossing, surprising or revealing than the climax. Progression is essential, argues Robert McKee in storytelling bible Story. It must never recede.

How you define the intensity of your story is up to you, but your climax should be the peak. Block suggests visualising the intensity of your story on a simple graph.

In its most simple form, a story starts with very little intensity, and then increases steadily to the climax. There are, of course, infinite variations.

This intensity structure opens the story with some intensity, a device intended to reel an audience in, and then builds to a climax, leaving room for a calming denouement at the end.

What's the point in designing a graph like this? Well, it helps you and your collaborators map the varying intensity of your narrative. What's the most intense scene? Where are the lulls in the story? Is it a rapid progression or a gentle one? Are there any places where the intensity recedes? Each story will be different, but viewing your story like this allows you and your team to apply the principle of progression to anything you please.

Applying narrative progression

As the masterclass in Issue 1 of Inside the Story Magazine explained, we storytellers are composers of events. We arrange and order events in the same way a musician arranges and orders notes and chords.

There are several ways we can build progression into our story structure says McKee. One is situational, "progressively building pressures that put the characters into more difficult dilemmas...demanding ever increasing will power." You will see this applied very clearly in movies, where the situation seems to get worse and worse for the hero.

"In Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) there are visual progressions as the birds gather and attack," explains Block. "Watch the visual progression in the cornfield sequence in North by Northwest (1959)."

Meanwhile, McKee argues this progression can be expressed across a whole story by the spheres in which his decisions and actions can have an affect. On the lowest level, a decision might affect just the character alone, but growing progressively intense, a hero's decisions might affect those close to them, society at large, or even the survival of a whole planet.

That's all very well for sci-fi flicks. But can the same be applied to non-fiction work? Although we're restricted to accurate rendering of real-life events, an awareness of progression can guide us to make more intentional story decisions.

It's informative when choosing a story in the first place - documentaries with an inherent climax are usually more likely to get commissioned - as well as deciding what events to include. If, while editing, feedback suggests there's a deadly slump in the middle of your story which is causing viewers to switch off, chances are it's because the narrative recedes, rather than progresses. In projects where you have some control over the orchestration of events, putting your characters through progressively intense situations can have the same impact.

At the very least, it guides you in increasing the tempo and pace of your story in the editing stage. Not paying attention to narrative progression leads to the inclusion of story-killing chapters and sequences.

Applying visual progression

Whether or not you have control over the narrative structure and events within your non-fiction story, all audio-visual storytellers can use the elements of their medium to express progression subconsciously.

We'll focus on visual progression here, but of course, audio or interactive storytellers have their own cues. Visual storytelling, whether images, movies, video or even animated GIFs, follow basic visual principles, and these can be controlled by the storyteller. These include space, line, shape, colour, tone and movement. There's not room to explore them all here, but Block's The Visual Story offers an excellent primer.

And how do we apply visual progression with these elements? Simple: by making each element (or a combination of them) progressively more complex as the story advances. You can do this inside a shot (for example, making shots visually more complex throughout the story), or across a series of shots (by increasing the contrast between shots throughout the story).

Take something simple, like colour. As the visual storyteller, you decide you want the colours to reflect the increasing intensity and complexity of your story. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how colour works, so let's say you decide that you want the saturation of the colour to act as a subconscious guide for the audience. Using Block's simple intensity graph, you can plot the rate at which your story gets progressively more intense and then map your colour palette to that. For example, the less intense scenes and sequences will be less saturated or dominated by cooler colours, and the climax of your story awash with intensely rich, warm colours. Some of these things can be done in post-production and can be applied to any story fiction or non-fiction.

With more storytellers and academics taking inspiration from video games, it doesn't hurt to look at this form of entertainment. Here, progression has been built in since day one. You always start on level 1, the easiest and quickest level to complete. Usually at the end of each level there's a boss who's harder to defeat than the other bad guys. The bosses get harder to defeat as you go through the game, until you're at the hardest level of them all. Meanwhile you'll probably see the visuals and sounds of the gameplay increase in intensity too.

Ideally the complexity of your visual storytelling will mirror the intensity of the narrative itself. Or perhaps, unable to dictate the narrative structure of a factual story, you can give the audience subconscious cues by creating progression using the images themselves. Either way, understanding progression and building it into your story elevates your storytelling.

The Nine Old Men

A year ago, former Pixar story artist Emma Coats shared Pixar's 22 rules for storytelling. They offered a glimpse at the secret elixir that has spawned universal stories like Up, Finding Nemo and Wall-E. But before Emma and Pixar, the original Disney artists had their own rules. They were known as the Nine Old Men, and here's how storytelling worked for them.

FROM: The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

The storytelling 'formula'

This basic pattern was being used by Disney's story artists as far back as the 1930s as they pioneered feature length animation.

Once upon a time...and then one day...and just when everything was going so well...when at the last minute...they all lived happily ever after.


Seven rules of storytelling

  1. 1

    Avoid scenes or activities that are only continuity (unless it helps to create atmosphere).
  2. 2

    Avoid scenes where the only function is to explain the story.
  3. 3

    Make sure the story or situation of the moment is really interesting; the characters should not carry the weight.
  4. 4

    Be sure the characters always have the opportunity to come to life in each scene.
  5. 5

    Look for places to show the character thinking.
  6. 6

    The story point will ideally be done in caricature (for animation purposes).
  7. 7

    Tell the story through broad cartoon characters.

On developing Snow White

"Today we can easily see the ingredients that made it work so well. The crew concentrated on just the essence of the story situation, not letting any part become over developed; they used carefully planned dramatic staging rather than explanatory scenes; and they underplayed the emotional aspects of the acting. As a result, audiences were swept along, caught in a web of their own imagination, convinced of the intensity which was never actually shown."



Thank you for reading the second issue of Inside The Story Magazine. It's taken many hours to produce, plus the help of some superb contributors. I hope you've found it useful and inspiring.

If you've enjoyed it in anyway, please spread the word to anyone you know who cares about telling compelling stories, no matter the medium.

If you've got anything to say about this issue, good or bad, please feel free to email me - editor[at] - I'll do my best to respond to every single email I receive.

Contribute to Issue 4

Do you have something new to say about storytelling in the digital age?

In the final edition of this magazine I want to feature the ideas and work of other people with something to say. If you have some ideas or wisdom you want to share please send a short pitch to editor[at]

We're looking for articles between 1,000 - 2,000 words, and we pay writers who get published US $150.

We're interested in insightful comment, research and general articles, but please, no "10 top tips" pieces or product placements.

The fourth issue of Inside Story Magazine will be published October 2013

The email again: editor[at]


Inside Story Magazine is created and edited by Adam Westbrook and published by Hot Pursuit Press, a small publishing house experimenting with web native publishing. Sub-edited by Melissa Wilson-Craw. Thanks to the contributors to this issue: to Frank Rose and Andrew DeVigal, Jesse Shapins, Guy Guranatne, Ingrid Kopp and Matt Locke. Thanks to Marco Arment, Craig Mod and Marc Thomas for inspiring the style and format of the magazine with their own innovations and ideas. Inside The Story Magazine is built from the Starkers Theme by Viewport Industries with WordPress and hosted by Bluehost. Transactions are handled by TinyPass. All information in the magazine is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. If you spot any errors please email editor[at] All images included in this issue are in the public domain or released under a Creative Commons Licence for commercial use with attribution.

    Cover Image: Shanghai, Summer 2009 by Jacob Montrasio, released under a Creative Commons Licence for Attribution. Television Centre by FutureShape on Flickr. Cinema Audience images in the Public Domain. Radio Listeners held by the John Oxley Library, Queensland. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Cinema Poster 1902, Albert Morrow, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Prison bars by Mikecogh on Flickr. Computer Screen by Gregloby on Flickr Ollie Johnston: Photo 1989 by J-E Nyström. Snow White image Public Domain on the Wikimedia Commons Tribeca Hack photo: Tribeca Film Institute. Diagrams created by Adam Westbrook

Inside Story Magazine and its written content © Copyright HotPursuitPress 2013. Publication or resale of any part of this magazine without permission is prohibited.