Building Storyworlds:

the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c

a look inside an ongoing Story R&D process at Columbia University


I spent some time over the holidays finalizing my materials for the course I’m teaching this semester at Columbia. It marks my fourth year at the university and I’m looking forward to experimenting with new forms and functions of storytelling. While the elements that constitute a good story remain the same, the telling is what is dramatically shifting. Therefore the focus of the class is to explore new ways in which stories are being created, funded, produced and experienced. In a sense it is a journey through the possibilities, pain points and realities of an ever-shifting digital landscape.

The class is broken into theory and practice. A wonderful mix of guests join us throughout the semester as the students design, prototype and prepare for a final presentation of a team project. In the past this has been rather ambitious. In 2012, the class developed My Sky is Falling, an immersive experience that enabled participants to step into a science fiction story that was co-designed and co-authored with foster youth. The project moved beyond the classroom and to date has run multiple times at events like Learn Do Share, and the UN / IFP’s Envision program. In addition, the framework for the project is being adapted by a number of foster care organizations as a tool to train potential foster care parents and social workers, in effort to help them understand the emotional journey of a foster youth as they age out of care.

At its core My Sky is Falling represented a departure from the way storytelling is taught at Columbia. It pushed at the edges of story and code and looked to impact measurement/data as a creative tool. The results of the experiment lead to creation of the Digital Storytelling Lab @Columbia whose mission is the following.

“The Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University will design stories for the 21st Century. We build on a diverse range of creative and research practices originating in fields from the arts, humanities and technology. But we never lose sight of the power of a good story. Technology, as a creative partner, has always shaped the ways in which stories are found and told. In the 21st Century, for example, the mass democratization of creative tools — code, data and algorithms — have changed the relationship between creator and audience. The Digital Storytelling Lab, therefore, is a place of speculation, of creativity, and of collaboration between students and faculty from across Columbia University. New stories are told here in new and unexpected ways. Join Columbia faculty and industry innovators as we explore the current and future landscape of digital storytelling.”

So as I start this new semester, I’m excited to experiment and share the results. To follow along you can visit the class tumblr and/or step into our first Digital Storytelling Lab year-long project Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things.

Below is the syllabus for the course…

The following is subject to change.

NEW MEDIA PRODUCING: “Building Storyworlds: the art, craft and biz of storytelling in 21c”

A course with Lance Weiler

Official tumblr for the class — http://www.buildingstoryworlds.tumblr.com

Assignments will be posted into the class tumblr. Students have the option to post using their name or anonymously. Posts will range from 250 to 500 words.

RECOMMENDED EXPERIENCES

“Sleep No More” http://www.sleepnomore.com

“Then She Fell” http://thenshefell.com

1/26/15 CLASS #1 — Welcome and Introductions

Welcome to the course: An overview of the course, how it will work and what’s expected

Class exercise: The power of a question

Lecture: A historical & future look at the art, craft and business of storytelling

Group session: Tapping a Group’s Collective Intelligence

Assignment: Device usage and media consumption review — instructions will be given in class

2/2/15 CLASS #2 — Emerging trends and opportunities

Open Share: discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: An overview of emerging trends, which are impacting film, TV, gaming and publishing

In Conversation with Ingrid Kopp Tribeca Film Institute and Curator of Storyscapes

Showcase: A look at interesting immersive storytelling projects from around the world

Assignment: Pick two projects from the showcased work and write a short review of your experience. What worked or didn’t and why? Consider how you would improve the experience. Each review should be between 250 and 500 words and please include a screen grab from your experience.

2/9/15 CLASS #3 — Design Fiction

Open Share: discussion around previous week’s class

Lecture: Where storytelling, prototyping and design collide

Class Exercise: Rapid prototyping — build and tell

In Conversation with Peter Sims (best selling author of “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries”). The conversation will focus on the value of prototyping and the emergence of the creative entrepreneur.

Overview of final pitches: An RFP (Request for Proposal) is provided to frame what is required for the final project pitches. The class splits into teams.

Assignment — Teams determine roles and assignments based on what they feel needs to be accomplished.

2/16/15 CLASS #4 — Scripting for Multiple Platforms & Immersive Experiences

Open Share teams share their plans and provide updates on their projects

Lecture: Finding the story you want to tell and crafting the world that will support it

In conversation with Chuck Wendig (novelist, screenwriter and game designer)

Group work session: Teams work on their final projects

Assignment: Take an idea from the group session and expand upon it. Craft a user narrative for the idea.

2/23/15 CLASS #5— A look inside a top immersive storytelling shop

Open Share: discussion around previous week’s assignment

SPECIAL CLASS: Tour of Campfire’s offices. Campfire is one of the top immersive storytelling companies in NYC. http://campfirenyc.com

We’ll sit down with the creative and production team at Campfire to hear how they design, build and manage innovative storytelling projects.

Class Exercise: Rapid idea session — create and sell an object from the future

3/2/15 CLASS #6 — Story and Code

Open Share discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Creative Code finding a new grammar for storytelling

In Conversation with Creative Technologists: Leading Creative Technologists join us for a conversation about using code creatively to build entertaining and emotionally charged experiences.

Group work session: Teams work on their final projects. Our guest creative technologists sit with teams and give feedback.

Assignment: Write a post about a game from your childhood. What about the game did you enjoy and why? 250 words + include image of game.

3/9/15 CLASS #7 — The Art of Play

Open Share: discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Creating playful spaces

Special Collaborative Session: An introduction to game design with Nicholas Fortugno (Playmatics, Come Out & Play Festival)

Group work session: Design, Paper Test and Prototype a game that relates to your final project. Nick spends time with each team and provides feedback.

Assignment — Play a game that was mentioned during class and write a short review about the experience. Produce a 250 words or more post with images.

3/16/15 No Class Spring Break

3/23/15 CLASS #8 — Experience Design & Evoking Empathy with Technology

Open Share discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Experience Design & Evoking Empathy with Technology

Class Exercise: Finding a deeper understanding of what you’re building

Assignment — Write a 250 to 500-word post that identifies an emerging trend and how to apply it to storytelling. Could be a new technology, service and / or cultural trend.

3/30/15 CLASS #9 — Creative Producing — the changing roles of the producer

Open Share discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Being adaptive in an ever-changing digital landscape

In Conversation with Loc Dao (Executive Producer NFB) shares how he and his team produce their slate of immersive storytelling projects.

Group Work: Teams are joined by established producers who provide feedback on their final projects.

Assignment — Each team will determine assignments based on what they feel needs to be accomplished. Teams also will prepare to give a status report during the next week’s open share.

4/6/15 CLASS #10 — Disruptive Business Models in Entertainment

Open Share teams give status report on final projects

Lecture: An overview of emerging and traditional business models for entertainment properties.

In Conversation with Brian Clark (GMD Studios, IndieWire) about disruptive business models in entertainment.

Group work session: Teams work on their group pitches and Brian sits with each team gives feedback.

Assignment: Each team will determine assignments based on what they feel needs to be accomplished. Teams also will prepare to give a status report during the next week’s open share.

4/13/15 CLASS #11 — Finding and Telling Stories with Data

Open Share discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Finding and telling stories with data

Class Exercise: Create Community Impact with Data Design. By cataloguing cross-sections of our actions, emotions, and thoughts, how can we better understand our behaviors? Particularly, how can we better understand our community environments? This special session with Sarah Henry (data researcher / systems designer) will enable teams to further develop their projects.

Assignment: Each team will determine assignments based on what they feel needs to be accomplished. Teams also will prepare to give a status report during the next week’s open share.

4/20/15 CLASS #12 — Breaking down the Pitch

Open Share discussion around previous week’s assignment

Lecture: Pitching and the art of listening

Special presentation on pitching: Nick Braccia (creative director Campfire) will share his process for pitching. He has successfully pitched studios, game publishers and major brands.

Group work session: Teams work on their group pitches and Nick visits each team acting as a sounding board.

Assignment — Each team will determine assignments based on what they feel needs to be accomplished.

4/27/15 CLASS #13 — Final Pitches

Group work session: Final team preparation for pitching

Pitch: Teams pitch to a panel of high level industry experts.

In Converstation with our industry guests: The topic of discussion will be Stepping into a Disruptive World — what can one expect in a changing digitallandscape?

5/4/15 MAKE UP CLASS IF NEEDED

Required Reading List

“Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free”

Author: CORY DOCTOROW

Publisher: McSWEENY

“The Art of Immersion — how the digital generation is remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the way we tell stories”

Author FRANK ROSE

Publisher NORTON

“Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries”

Author PETER SIMS

Publisher SIMON & SCHUSTER

“Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.”

Author ED CATMULL & AMY WALLACE

Publisher RANDOM HOUSE

“Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things”

Author: DAVID ROSE

Publisher: SCRIBNER

Interested in reading more? Here are 40 must reads related to story, gaming & design. see the list

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