F/S Remote Show #1: Best Experience
This edition from hosts Christy Dena & Lance Weiler
How can we tap into our memories to uncover what makes a great team experience? How can we make sense of our journey from career changes by fringe-dwellers? Welcome to the first Forward Slash Story Remote Show!
Forward Slash Story is an annual residential lab for creatives who work on the fringes. It is co-founded and run by Christy Dena and Lance Weiler. Unlike (the many great) labs around, F/S focuses on developing the person not a project. Sponsored by Columbia University’s Digital Storytelling Lab, the last two years it has been run in Nosara, Costa Rica (with generous support from Harmony Hotel), and before that in The Hamptons, USA. The application-only event attracts applications from around the world, with 20 people chosen each year from multiple countries and artforms. So what is this Remote Show?
The rules of the Remote Show: alumni team up in pairs and give a prompt to all the alumni to gather announcements and give them things to do each month. The results are published here for alumni and anyone to see! This first month we have an update on what some of our alumni have been doing, and we dig into our collective experience to uncover what makes a great team experience. Enjoy!
What have you been doing?
Here is a selection of alumni from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Forward Slash Story residentials tell each other what they’ve been up to recently:
Helping Stitch Media to ship the second in our range of interactive kids books. Working with game arts organization Hand Eye Society on games in public parks. Struggling with fellow F/S-er Byron to complete the Sisyphean odyssey that is the videogame about his clown act. Strapping PS Move controllers to foam swords and duct taping magnets to pool noodles.
F/Sers, Greetings from Santa Monica, CA, the home of Silicon Beach (Twitter, Google, Snap, Yahoo). Come visit, won’t you? Caitlin Burns, Jamie King, Matthew Mills, Lee-Sean Huang, Mark Harris and Caitlin Fisher already have. Jan Libby lives just around the corner.
If you haven’t checked out my Blog, Surfing Hollywood, I encourage you to do so as I write about the most current Sales Trends in Television development, one of my fields of expertise. My most recent post details my favorite Trend in TV right now: Adaptations of Books, Magazine Articles, Comics, WebSeries. One might call this trend an example of Trans Media, no?
In fact, I am taking my own advice and am developing several series based on Books: One is an adaptation of a best-selling Romance novel that I acquired the rights to and am partnered with an experienced TV writer who has just completed the first draft on spec. The tone of the series is not unlike the well-regarded but little seen Outlander on Starz (also, an adaptation of a popular series of Romance novels).
We sat down yesterday for a Table Reading with a group of Actor Friends, an incredibly helpful Tool in our Kit. Next up is a quick Polish before shopping the Script (and Book) to prospective Buyers. Fingers crossed!
A second project I’m developing is Moscow Rules, a half-hour based on a friend’s experience working as a Consultant for Sony International on the Russian version of Roseanne, called Katya! I call it a Coming of Middle Age story.
October/November is usually the busiest of months for me, primarily because I make funding recommendations/decisions for the digital program I run. We’ll make announcements in a week or two after we notify Congress; stay tuned for links to the press release and awards — it’s a really varied roster, and I’m quite proud of what’s to come.
We also are deep into this year’s iteration of the Games For Change Student Design Challenge, which we decided to co-sponsor over the summer. The theme we’re working with — Local Stories & Immigrant Voices — tasks students with creating a game around the intersections between the past and their present, digging up the stories, culture and hope latent in their streets, homes and communities. We managed to bring on-board a really amazing group of collaborators, ranging from New York Historical Society to the Heinz Center for History to Texas Humanities. So far, it’s been an incredibly productive space for teachers/students to work in.
The big news here is that I’m working on an interactive audio drama for Earplay with Dave Grossman, formerly of TellTale. I’m also doing my annual conference duties, helping put together the Game Narrative Summit at GDC and the narrative track at the East Coast Game Conference.
OK, what I’m doing besides slacking:
1. Building a website/IOS/Android version of a start up. It is a business that allows Celebrities or Experts to chat with fans with money going to charities. (my paying gig)
2. Developing a sci-fi TV series and transmedia based on six book, award-winning (nebula awards) series. Possibly with a fellow F/S alum.
3. Published my Ph.D. Dissertation in May, “Storyscape, a New Medium of Media: about designing for the mothership model”.
4. I went on a Driveabout up the East Coast for two months and saw Marc Ruppel in DC and had a mini-reunion with Matt, Caitlin, and Sean. I also saw Lance briefly at cool talk he did at (I really need to find out what I missed at the end.)
From Grant Howitt (UK, F/S16): I released Royal Blood, a rules-light heist roleplaying game in which you’ll need tarot cards and coins, in part thanks to the feedback I received during my time in Costa Rica. I’ve also spent a lot of time sorting out the fulfilment for Unbound, my previous Kickstarter project, which is nearly done — and gearing up for the next one, too, called Spire.
In Spire, you play ex-slave dark elves trying to subvert the rule of capricious and alien high elves in a towering, ancient city; we’re having a lot of fun working on the setting, and I’ll freely admit that being part of F/S has allowed me to reframe my work as art, not craft, and to take my work seriously. Which helps when you’re trying to handle a massive project like this one!
With my studio VRTOV and in collaboration with the BBC R&D department we have published The Turning Forest for Google Daydream. Originally premiered at Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Storyscapes exhibition, it can now be experienced on Daydream compatible headsets. This was a big technical undertaking for our team but in terms of distribution and reach we could not be more happy. Same goes for our partners at the BBC.
1. Sisters, a Northern Irish feature film with my co-producer Lee Magiday (The Lobster). It’s a drama feature about an inspirational educator and the radicalization of one of her star pupils during the conflict in Belfast. BFI/NI Screen funded development.
2. My English language, Berlin set The Last Day of Rain with Danish genius Karsten Fundal, has become two separate projects: an immersive musical/opera and feature film.
I served as Artistic Director of the ELO 2016 Media Arts Festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Next Horizons showcased the refereed and curated work of 55 artists from across the globe.
At the end of the summer I worked on an augmented reality exhibition for the Canadian National Exhibit, drawing in colleagues from the University of Toronto and Brock university and involving students. Our work was disseminated to tens of thousands of people over a ten day period.
I’m just completing a very cool collaboration with Bangkok-based journalist Richard Ehrlich, translating his very trippy novel Sheila Carfenders, Doctor Mask & President Akimbo into a text for Oculus Rift. An almost complete version of this “political fable of robots, sex work, hallucinogens and the consequences of power” was exhibited this past summer and we’ve just updated for the Rift and hope to put finishing touches on it for a San Francisco exhibition in February. https://projeqt.com/caitlin/sheila-carfenders-doctor-mask-president-akimbo
My main bit of news is that I’ve left my job at Innovation Unit and will be setting up my own social design practice with 3 other designers in the new year. The idea is to explore in more creative ways the intersection between empathy and social action. We were fed up with working within public sector silos and want our work to reflect the complexity of people’s lives, so the main idea is to structure our work in seasons, a bit like a theatre, and to build our work around universal themes that all humans can relate to. The theme of the first season is HOPE! Well needed at the moment… As part of this, we are starting the Half Full podcast to gather stories about people moving from anger or frustration to positive action.
Here’s what I’m up to, almost exclusively via my company, Spacestation:
“For Flint” — A documentary short profiling three courageous residents of Flint, Michigan. In the wake of the Flint Water Crisis, a poisoning of the city’s water supply allowed to happen by inept officials, a community comes together through arts, music and education. Directed by Brian Schulz, Produced by Matthew C. Mills. Currently in consideration at a handful of film festivals.
“On The Line” Food Network VR — I am directing my first VR project with Food Network, bringing viewers an immersive experience in a bustling New York City restaurant kitchen. Shoots in December, releases January 2017
“The Filling Is Mutual” — I directed 6 episodes of this culinary comedy show featuring Jenny Zigrino and Jen Saunderson, alongside a featured comic. Together, they make a joke-inspired recipe and laugh their asses off. Premieres in January on http://www.ifc.com/comedy-crib
“Wedding Season” — Another IFC comedy series I’m directing, starring Laura Willcox and Don Fanelli. The intrepid couple takes on a different hellish wedding trope in every episode. From annoying speeches to overwrought vows, you’ll laugh all the way down the aisle. (Oh man, sorry, that’s some bad writing right there.)
Spacestation is returning for the 5th year in a row as a sponsor of the Cinema Eye Honors, an exemplary documentary film awards program in early 2017, founded by AJ Schnack and also sponsored in part by HBO, ESPN, Field of Vision, and the Ford Foundation.
I began working on the programming of the tutors at Moniack Mhor this year and had a lot of fun inviting all my favourite writers to the centre. The first programme I have contributed to in this way. That has been the main achievement over the last few months as I a still finding my feet in Stockholm (and recently, as a new mum!) I hope to have several exciting projects on the go in 2017.
As some of you may know, I often find myself noticing things that others overlook and thus getting tangled up in things that are just too interesting to pass by. I met that band of self-possessed teens that had calmly dropped out of high school to “pursue other options,” for example, and followed them around for a full semester of their alternative schooling. And then there was that woman in the park, sniffing around with a thing that turned out to be an anomaly detector — that drama took half a year to play out. And let’s not even mention that whole rabbitholey thing during the oil crisis.
So this time it was those Pokemon Go players in Eugene, Oregon who were, to me at least, clearly not playing Pokemon Go. I don’t want to say more than I should, but I suppose you should know that one of those Silicon Valley zillionaires does not have head in butt but instead has eyes firmly fixed on a positive future, a future of abundance in fact. Like, try this: Think about something scarce — i.e. something you want but do not have, such as gigabit internet or an unpoisoned apple or a free hour to read a book. Now ask yourself a simple question: is this scarcity natural, or has it been engineered?
The Silicon Valley zillionaire thinks that in remarkably many cases, the scarcity has been engineered. And the SVZ is something of an expert in this area, because how do you think s/he became a zillionaire?
One cool thing about being a zillionaire is that you can un-engineer scarcities. You could, for example, turn the entire downtown of Eugene, Oregon into a free transportation zone: walkers, bikers, driverless cars. And unzipping that engineered scarcity of transportation then makes it possible to unzip more, like all that streetscape you can play with once all the parked cars are gone.
Which brings me back to what those faux-Pokemon Go players were looking at on their iPads: not Pikachu, but visions of Eugene in the grip of an Abundant Future. I haven’t yet hacked my way into their visioning system, but it’s just a matter of time. Check back with me early next year, if you’re at all interested…
From Illya Szilak (USA, F/S14):
May 2016 completed digital narratives residency at BANFF Arts Centre in Canada, produced trailer with Sasha Stanojevic for Atomic Vacation. May 2016 became Oculus Launchpad fellow. June 2016 gave a talk on Narrativity and VR at The Electronic Literature Organization Conference in Vancouver. September 2016 Oscar Raby and I were awarded a grant from The Sundance Institute/Arcus Foundation to begin production of a VR experience based on my online narrative Queerskins.
September 2016 Curated “We Have Always Been Digital,” a series of performances of digitally-born writing and poetry at The Kitchen in NYC. This afternoon of interactive presentations showcased a range of dynamic forms from bots and games to interactive online works, and offered audience members the chance to engage with works and authors after the performances.
November 2016 Invited to be keynote speaker at Université Paris 8 Conference “Worlds and Technologies”, presented talk entitled “Queering the World: Cyborg Bodies in Virtual Geographies.”
I am currently focused on making Atomic Vacation a narrative game for VR and online play that will hopefully be presented as an interactive art installation/popup souvenir shop for the end of the world . I am working with my longtime collaborator Cyril Tsiboulski (Cloudred Studio, NYC). Atomic Vacation tells the story of Shizuku, a girl robot, the lone inhabitant of a rocket ship on a mission to find habitable planets. When nuclear disaster decimates Earth, she sends a final message back. Atomic Vacation is her postcard from the near post-apocalyptic future, a reverse Turing test, a narrative game for VR and online play that we hope will change your understanding of what it means to be human. The dev blog is housed on Facebook.
Here is a brief description of a recent project for which I have received funding, along with a small group of International collaborators.
The project is called “The Tropogies of Climate Change” and it is a 1-year pilot study (2017) within The Seed Box Collaboratory a much larger Environmental Humanities research project (where I am also a project leader) that was funded for 40 million Swedish crowns through the Mistra and Formas organizations (2015–19). The goal of the pilot sub-project is to address the new expressive modes and methods for writing about and publishing work on weather and climate change. It is a collaboration between the editors of Culture Unbound (in the UK) and The Open Humanities Press (in Australia) and researchers in the US and Sweden. Researchers will host a number of living lab workshops and publish a series of “living books” (experimental art and media publications) to explore how to express the storytelling languages and visual forms of a rapidly changing global environment. I will focus on editing a living book called “digital imaginaries/posthuman visions” about the impacts and effects of the so-called Age of the Anthropocene. I hope it will be available in 2018. More about “The Seed Box” is available here: https://www.theseedbox.se/?l=en
From Lee-Sean Huang (USA, F/S16)
1. I was recently interviewed by the Liverpool-based Ethos Magazine about fresh ideas.
2. My partner David Reed and I were panelists at StoryForward NYC’s event at Adorama on Nov 13 about storytelling for social good.
3. Fellow F/S alum Christian Howard and I were in DC last month for the launch of the ADELPHI Strategy Collective, a collective intelligence and storytelling project that my company, Foossa, is facilitating to harness big data for improving social equity.
From Matt Forbeck (USA, F/S16): My latest book just shipped. It’s called Dungeonology, and its a combination of the bestselling series of -Ology books and Dungeons & Dragons.
Also, at New York Comic Con, LucasFilm announced that I’m writing the junior novel for Star Wars: Rogue One.
- I started my own company together with Anders, whom you met when you visited Vaasa, in April, and have been focusing on getting it up and running. rethinknms.com for anyone curious :)
- we’re handling the communication efforts of the EU Interreg project OSIRIS — http://www.interregeurope.eu/osiris/ — centered around regional open and social innovation
- our first production for YLE premiered on their VOD service last week. Called “TU BE or not to be”, it centers around a 15- year old YouTubers journey to meet famous online video creators to find out what makes a good YouTuber. Right now in negotiations for the sequel, which would take the lessons learnt and launch a talent/reality series trying to launch new YouTube stars. Link: http://areena.yle.fi/1-3763645 and in negotiations for co production deals in Germany and Norway.
- we’re producing a beta version of a geo-locative information app, video based, of our hometown of Vaasa, Finland.
- we’re in a consortium submitting a very interesting EU project proposal next week — will tell more as soon as I can, if it — hopefully — gets accepted
- we’ve produced sooo much corporate storytelling over the past six months — thought leader campaigns, TV spots, online spots etc. Pays the bills :)
Here are some of the haiku my bots have been making lately. They combine haiku by Basho with tweets by Clinton and Trump. You can follow them here: https://twitter.com/realHaikuTrump or https://twitter.com/HaikuClinton
1) I started a Residency at LEIMAY in October to develop a new dance piece, Shards of Glass (working title), using biotechnology, kinesthetic engagement & play to transform trauma, which I believe is stored in the somatic system (systematic oppression) using sounding bodies & generative live drawing to create a real-time collective narrative.
2) I was also invited to be a Fellow at MIT DocLab 2016–17 to build out the Empathy Engine & Media Machine to translate the knowable underlying mechanisms of empathy into an engine to simulate the variables that move us to act.
3) In addition to this, I will be the inaugural Fellow at USC Norman Lear Center to employ Empathy Engine & Media Machine (research side) to a Gates & Huff Post study on VR.
I am still, however, looking for a permanent institutional home for the Limbic Lab (of which the Empathy Engine & Media Machine are one toolset). The Lab seeks to understand the social-psychological and neurobiological impact of news, social media, film, games, interactive media, VR/AR, biomedia and other culture change strategies employing “intelligent technology” — the internet, mobile devices, immersive displays and wearables — by identifying the cognitive and affective cues which enable or disable empathic engagement and pro-social behavior.
4) I am organizing a symposium in March: Codes & Modes: ReFraming Reality, Virtuality & Non-Fiction Media. The intent is to create an intervention into the uncritical excitement about emerging technologies to establish a space for conversations that are not being had. Submissions due by December 15th!
Willy Wagtail is an animation collaboration with my mother Suzanne Clutterbuck. Sound is unmixed and has more work to be done specifically on the voice levels.
In early 2016 my sister Charlotte who is poet invited her sisters, extended family and others to collaborate on an exhibition. The exhibition was called Bird Connections. Bird Connections was an intricate and delicate web of collaborative forces. It was based on small teams connected into a two week entity which included three major events: the opening, the film screening and the agardishBirdEdition. Full information at the medium post.
TEDx Australia at The Sydney Opera House, my talk was entitled “Your Mind is a Remote Control”.
I was then invited to Mutek Festival and the international NFB XP Women in Tech international workshop in Canada. Here is a press article expanding on it further.
Games for Change Festival, I was presenting within the Neurogaming and Health section
I was commissioned to create a prototype for my RIOT project in June and spent 3 months developing it for exhibition. The British Council invited me to showcase my work at Fakugesi Festival South Africa August. The RIOT prototype which was exhibited at The Festival of the Mind; in Norway at BIFF Festival; and at the Future of Storytelling Festival New York. Speaker on Women in VR and New Media Panel. The RIOT prototype was also featured in a very interesting article in NBC News .
Invited speaker at the Google Cultural Institute Lab in Paris.
I will be in New York during December and January for meetings regarding funding where I intend to start shooting R&D for RIOT in January just in time for the inauguration.
Best Team Experience
So how do we understand what makes a best team experience via memory? This thinking is based on a change management philosophy/approach called “appreciative inquiry”. It is an approach where you solve problems not by looking at the problems but by looking for and emphasising what is working. One of the effects it has is it grounds those involved with a memory of success, and gives you ground-up-created guidelines for successful things to occur. The key is: through your stories of best experiences we will uncover what are our (all F/Sers) best practices of teamwork.
So F/S alumni was asked what is your BEST EXPERIENCE of working in a team? Any experience is included. It doesn’t need to be a creative project — it can be with family or mending a fence. Whatever. They just need to share what comes to mind when they think of their best experience; and try to unpack/share some thoughts on the qualities of that experience — what made it the best? What we discovered is surprising and heartwarming. Read through the stories and find your own emergences of best practice, bared here by F/S alumni for each other and for you, or cut straight to the emergent list we saw at the end:
My best experience of working with a team was likely when I was the president of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and we were developing a tabletop roleplaying game called Deadlands. It was the vision of company co-founder/CEO Shane Hensley, and we had lined up a team of passionate young developers, all of whom saw something special in the game and were dedicated to launching it in the best way possible.
We made millions of mistakes along the way, but every one of us was all-in. We put in twelve or sixteen hour days for weeks on end to get the game to its launch at Gen Con, the largest tabletop games convention in the US (and, these days, the world). We cut it so close that we had to have a pallet of books trucked directly down to Milwaukee from our printer in Canada. Fifteen minute before the show opened, our truck was still third in line to get into the loading dock at the convention center, and I led a group of us to go open the back of the truck and grab as many cartons of books as we could carry to get them to our booth before the hordes of gamers roared into the show.
In a lot of ways, that was a stressful, torturous time of my life, but I still loved it. The entire team at Pinnacle all had a common purpose, and we were flat-out determined to make it happen. In the end, all our efforts paid off, and the game was a huge hit.
On the movie, “In the Soup,” we screened many cuts for a core group of actors and team members to help us refine the picture. It was a far more inclusive process than is normally done on projects and created a community of collaborators for the final edit without taking away from the director’s creative control or vision.
In the wake of a tragic hurricane in Haiti, I worked with over a hundred people to produce “SOS — Help For Haiti,” a star-studded telethon sponsored in part by The Clinton Foundation, that raised over a million dollars. Within a matter of 48 hours, we assembled like Voltron and put together a show that would normally take 3 months to mount. The award-winning, expert crew were all connected by a shared compulsion to *do something.* I’ve never been part of a more efficient operation. It was a ballet backstage and a frenzied panic in the control room. It was a positively electric set. We all had one common goal: Make a great show to raise a bunch of money. Anything goes in live television and that team was exceptionally well-prepared to make something better for the people of Haiti.
I think I would go back to Shuffle which was a series of nights to showcase artistic happenings in the Highlands when I worked for plan B dance company. The nights involved several acts across different artforms, and the transformation of a black studio space on an industrial estate into a glamorous event venue. Around 10–20 people worked tirelessly in the days running up to the show, on everything from the publicity to cleaning the loos, to taking care of the performers. I think what made the event successful was a wide range of skills, a seasoned audience (events of this kind have been happening in the area for several years) but most importantly, that everyone was willing to lay egos aside and make the event the best it could be through hard graft because that was our collective aim. http://www.planbcreative.org/shuffle.asp
We used to run a game called Zombie LARP — it was a live-action roleplaying game about zombies, and really, we wish we’d picked a better name. Not knowing anything about live-action roleplaying games (having only played one and a half sessions of ’em before we decided to do it ourselves) we approached the game in an unorthodox way, and in an age when most LARPs were about long-form character interaction, dastardly plots and scheming, we built what amounted to a high-stakes escape room with a lot of moving parts back in 2007.
Anyway. There were five of us, who ran it — me, as a front man who did the shouting; my partner Mary, who was the brains of the operation; Tim, our art director; and Ben and Todd, who were brilliant field gamesmasters. Before the event, given my lax approach to my day job in pensions, I would push the organisation forward and spearhead the next session; but on the night, I was walking chaos. I would change plans on a whim because I felt it would be more exciting for the players. I would ignore rules, or encourage players to ignore rules, to make a better story.
It was only after a few events that I’d found out that Mary had been factoring me into her plans all along; she appreciated what I did in terms of random contributions at a player level, and instead of trying to stop me from doing it, she left a gap in her plans that she assumed I would slosh into like water.
I also have a story about working in teams — it’s about cooking with strangers. The social enterprise I used to run was about bringing people together to cook food that was destined for landfill and create community meals for the community to enjoy. Before the meal, we always had around volunteers in the kitchen. Most of them didn’t know each other. There was no recipe and no plan. Just a pile of unpredictable ingredients we had collected in the morning. From there, it was a big improvisation game. We spent about 15min co-designing the menu, and then 2 to 3 hours of improvised culinary chaos… It was beautiful to see people self-select into teams and exchange skills and knowledge, without it ever feeling like there were too many chefs… I think what made it work is the openness of the process as well as the sense of urgency — the pressure of guests coming to eat. Also the fact that we made a point of trusting people for what they had to bring, even if they didn’t feel confident in their cooking skills. I remember one time, we cooked in a children centre with parents on low incomes. When they saw all the veg, the first reaction was “Where is the meat?” It took a bit of convincing, but eventually, ideas emerged, and they got on with cooking. At the end they were amazed with what they had created. They totally owned it… I wrote about it in more details here.
Hmm… great question… I think my best experience was the result of different ideas and background but the same general way of working … (in my case work-binging, last minute panics, iterative work instead of pre-planning, odd food at odd times, everyone recognizing the same moments of urgency..). I think a collision of ideas can be destabilizing as well as exciting… but a collision of temperament is so much harder to negotiate if you’re truly working collaboratively.
As far team experiences go, there’s plenty to draw from on a number of projects recently, but I’ll step back and focus on what’s front and center for us right now: the future of the NEH and the future of the arts & humanities in the US. The election results bring with them enormous uncertainty for us and many other federal agencies, and there’s a risk of a certain type of paralysis setting in as a result. It’s there in everything my colleagues and staff do. But the thing that keeps us going is simple: after the election, we convened a series of meetings with senior staff to assess where we are and any strategies for moving forward. In the end, this was somewhat pointless — we simply do not know what the future holds for the federal government. What we did find as a team, though, was a common sense of purpose in moving towards that uncertainty, a stubborn refusal to acquiesce and a marked determination to press forward until we simply can’t anymore. Rather than see the past month as a failure of the humanities, we chose to see it as a vivid example of why the humanities matter, now more than ever, perhaps. So yes — this is an odd sort of team experience in that we came up with no solutions, no pathways forward, but instead found only a support framework to push on with, regardless of the outcome. In the end, this was exactly what we needed. The ship may indeed go down, but we’ll sit and watch the band play on together.
As far as teamwork goes: I have a rather dramatic true story that I can try to tell in brief. (Spoiler alert: the team work part comes nearer the end, but I have to set it up.) It’s not a traditional “team work/team building” experience, I guess, but it’s just what came to mind when you asked…
About 25 years ago in Georgia (USA), I had a very bad car accident on my way to a remote campsite. I was alone in my car, and I had a late start, and so it was dark, and I was in a heavily wooded area in the North Georgia mountains where most people had left for the season — since it was after summer, and there were few permanent residents in the area. Suddenly, to avoid hitting an animal that ran across the road, I swerved hard and drove my car off the mountain. Yup. After flipping over twice, I landed with my car stuck about 20 feet down the mountainside — with its wheels caught in a tree that I had bent over with the force of the car. The tree stopped me from plunging all the way down the cliff, btw. (I swear it’s true.) Because it was dark, and I was alone, I had to spend the night in the car, in the tree. Even though the car flipped over, it righted itself before it caught the tree, and I was still strapped in. It turned out (by a miracle) I only had a minor concussion.
And so when daylight came, I managed to manoeuver myself out of the car and climb up the cliff, which was terrifying, but I did it. I was in shock (understandably) and hallucinating all kinds of crazy things, as I wandered about and tried to find help. After more than an hour of walking I found an occupied house, a telephone, and I ended up on the line with a 911 operator who tried to locate me. Because I was in a remote area, and the senile old woman who lived in the house I had found didn’t even know her address (I know; it just kept getting worse), they had to trace my location via the phone. This meant I had to keep talking to the operator, even though I was crazy, traumatized, and panicked.
The operator though was so calm and focused, and she just kept me talking for what seemed like hours (but for what I think was prob. only one hour). She asked me lots of personal questions about my family, and my work, and she kept asking me to talk about what my plans had been for the camping trip. She was clearly trying to calm me down and keep me focused on minutiae to stop me from going totally nuts. I rambled and talked to her, and answered all her questions, and every time I got worried or wandered, she’d just switch tactics and tell me stories about her life, or her kids, or what was outside her window. I’d panic, and then she’d engage me again and calm me with her voice, and on it went in cycles. I can still remember, 25 years later, exact details of what she described to me was outside her window. (Who knows if she even had a window?? Probably not, but it worked anyway.) Her description is still so vivid to me because it was the overwhelming details and the musical lilt in her voice that put me into this calming trance as I listened to her melodically talk about the red and yellow flowers, and the bright sunlight on the tree tops, etc. Honestly, it was weirdly magical and soothing and surreal.
I’ve never felt that kind of a bond with a stranger before. I still dream about it sometimes — the car flipping over, and then her voice, and me holding the phone, covered in dirt and mud and leaves with torn clothes, listening intently. Eventually the police arrived, and I hung up the phone.
They were able to locate my car, and it took three wreckers to tow it up the cliff. It was a complete write-off by the time they recovered it. But I’ll never forget the way the phone operator just seemed to know what I needed and fell into this hypnotic, storytelling voice and completely tuned into me, so I could be located. Without her, I think would have spun into some kind of insanity. I was well on my way.
I never met her, and I’ve always regretted I didn’t even try. But that was pretty sweet teamwork in my book: me and her voice and a phone line in the middle of nowhere.
When I was 15 my Dad and I signed up to be research assistants on a paleontological dig in the badlands of Montana. We found ourselves immersed (in the desert) in a delightful community of scientists, students, and hobbyists. At first it seemed like there were a few incongruous ways of working all in play at the digging pit each day. But as we got closer and closer to pulling what we’d found out of the rocks (turned out to be some of the first embryonic dinosaur fossils excavated in North America, and the world), we all found our place on a team, in a spectrum from expert to noob. We all delicately brushed sand away from the fossilized Lambeosaurus eggs with the same care, holding our breath in the same way. We all shared stories around the campfire at night. We all learned new things about ourselves and about other people — I learned about rural Americans, who I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time with up to that point. And it all unfolded underneath the most beautiful big sky, with a beauty that — as I’ve mentioned — has been matched only by the stars and scapes of Nosara on my duo of trips with you to that beautiful land.
I think the experience cemented in me a realization that good teams bring a focus and dedication to the work, while leaving a space for reflection and connection off-the-job. It’s a bit of a double life, but each side doesn’t reduce the significance of the other with its presence in the daily routine — though the two modes of being with each other in a team are different from each other, they complement each other and make both kinds of bonds stronger. I now go looking for that in teams I assemble and teams I find myself working with/in, but as a kid who buried his nose in books and lego kits rather than sports.
Behnam, Steve and I came together to tackle the challenge of creating the Imagine Dragons Destination Unknown: A Hyundai Tucson Experience. This worked so well because we each came to the project with our own particular expertise: Behnam (Director, Producer), Jan (Writer, Social Media), Steve (Experience Designer).
But since we are transmedia creators, we’ve all had experience producing, writing and designing on other projects. We worked out the D.U. concept from those individual POVs, while having a complete understanding of all the elements needed for such a complicated experience/shoot. That said, with so many moving parts and brands to please, we first coupled design with story. After hitting on that, we then tackled the production challenges of that design/story together. All the while managing the expectations of our client, Greenlight Media and Marketing, the brand, automaker Hyundai and media partner iHeart Radio.
● The team approached Design with Production and Story in mind.
● The team approached Story with Production and Design in mind.
● The team approached Production with Story and Design in mind.
As the deadline approached, we were able to stay really nimble and respond to a steady stream of revision requests and notes. Our experience in the space and knowing each other well really came in handy here!
One of the most successful projects I’ve started up was The Mill Sessions. The reasons I think are many — we had a couple of very clear goals we wanted to achieve (or at least explore), we had some good research to lean on, we had a team where everyone got to do what they liked the most and were the best at, we had the right facilities to complete what we set out to do, and we managed to reach all the goals we had set out for ourselves and more. But yeah, a perfect storm of all the different small things that need to work together to make a project run smoothly.
From David Fono (Canada, F/S14):
A couple of years ago I decided I needed to be more “strategic” with my professional choices. I put the word in quotes because there’s something very funny about applying warfare-derived terminology to the practice of making silly games and websites, but that’s what it’s all about these days. We need to have aspirational objectives and tactical plans for pursuing them. Certainly, I’ve wasted my share of sleeping nights feverishly crafting nonsensical mobile Bluetooth-driven radio-drama scavenger-hunt ARGs that left me with nothing more than a few amateur photos and a paragraph in a print-only local newspaper. So now it’s all cost / benefit ratios and so on.
But one of the best things I ever did included a moment in a hotel room with a team of seven or eight unpaid volunteers, buckling down in an overnight session to attempt something Herculean, for absolutely no good reason. Now, of course, there were reasons: “We said we would” and “It’ll be a great experience” and “Why not?” But if you put this particular endeavour through the lens of smart career decisions, the results are rather grim. This was a creative project, you understand, so it’s not like we were making the world a better place; and it was the special kind of creative project with no clear audience, and no business plan, and no marketing plan, and no resources, and no backing. And I did mention it was absurdly ambitious? And yet there everyone was, and there everyone stayed. When I look back on this moment I think: “How the hell did no one just stand up, quietly leave, and never talk about it again?”
The answer to that is complicated, but if I might simplify it for the purposes of a pithy observation: Blind faith. Which is to say working with that group was like being part of a religion, or more accurately a cult. It’s not necessarily faith that what we’re doing is important, but more simply that we need to be doing it, and that we’re bonded in that need, and that we can trust that bond. That kind of faith never makes sense from the outside, but when you’re in it, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I still feel like I ought to make reasonable decisions about how I spend my time, but man — sometimes when you throw reason out the window, and just drink the kool-aid, beautiful things can happen.
So What Happens in a Best Team Experience?
- Every person does what they are so experienced at, they do it with ease, without crippling doubt or mental struggles/the task at hand is not beyond their ability;
- Everyone is united in working towards a specific, time-limited, goal;
- Any personality traits that don’t serve the task or goal are put aside;
- The work and the personal are intwined as all of our selves are involved at that moment;
- The agreement to achieve the goal is unwavering, no matter how unusual, continuous or high-stakes the obstacles…