Prepping for the Future with the Vision Machine iPad App

By Greg Pak I came up through independent film. Then I snagged a meeting with Marvel and spent most of the last eight years writing comic books. Now I've just completed an iPad app version of one of my graphic novels that combines elements of both comics and film. Here are a few thoughts about what inspired me as a filmmaker and comic book writer to plunge into the transmedia world of the "Vision Machine" app project and what I've learned.

Why "Vision Machine"?

A few years ago, Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation approached me with the idea of creating a comic book that would help independent media makers imagine the technological, political, and social changes that will affect us over the next fifty years. As an indie filmmaker, sci fi guy, technology freak, and comic book creator, I was immediately hooked. What resulted was a 80 page sci fi thriller that follows three filmmaker friends as they confront the incredible potential and danger of the iEye, Sprout Computers' latest piece of revolutionary personal technology. The iEye allows users to instantly record anything they can see or imagine, then edit, add special effects, and share it with the world just by thinking about it. Our heroes plunge into a mind-blowing utopia of creativity... and then, of course, the other shoe drops.

With its emphasis on copyright, trademark, privacy, and surveillance, "Vision Machine" let me explore questions that I'm always thinking about as a filmmaker and a citizen of the digital world.

And then ITVS came along and let me take the project to a whole new level.

The Future Is Already Here

New digital technology is already good enough to deliver fantastic storytelling experiences to readers and viewers. I want to be telling stories for decades. So I figure it's a smart move to jump on any chance to create stories that work natively with new technology.

Soon after I completed the "Vision Machine" comic book in early 2011, I began talking with Karim Ahmad and Matthew Meschery at ITVS about the possibility of working together. Our plans eventually focussed on diving into brand new technology by making the interactive iPad app version of the comic book that's now downloadable for free from the Apple iTunes Store.

The iPad allowed us to add a soundtrack, animation, "extras" buttons, and a Twitter feed to the "Vision Machine" comic book. I've seen a few adults unfamiliar with the iPad hesitate when they first open the app. But every kid who opens the app dives right in, swiping, reading, watching, listening. A generation is growing up accustomed to interacting directly with stories on touchscreens. That's an audience I want to win.

A Chance to Tell a Huge Story with a Smaller Budget

"Vision Machine" is a big, fun genre story that would cost millions of dollars to produce as a feature film. The iPad app version cost a tiny fraction of that -- and it allowed me to work with a fantastic composer and brilliant animators, sound designers, and voice actors.

New Creative Opportunities

As a filmmaker, I'm typically putting a movie together with the assumption that my audience is sitting down and watching the whole thing from beginning to end without interruption. But the reality of non-theatrical viewing is that people stop and start programs all the time or have their attention divided by "second screen" activities like live-tweeting. That might be anathema for certain kinds of stories. But it could be a huge opportunities for others.

"Vision Machine" is a story that features a piece of personal technology that creates a cloud of popup windows and augmented reality information streams around its users. So it completely fits the theme and vibe of the story for the app to feature real pop ups that provide additional information and commentary. For example, as you're watching our heroes try out their iEyes for the first time, you can tap on an "IRL" button and see a video of Tribeca student filmmakers talk about what they'd do if they had iEyes. Other extras videos feature internet superstar Jonathan Coulton, tech journalist Andy Ihnatko, and Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain director Jennifer Jenkins, all of whom have smart, funny, and sometimes scary things to say about the real world topics raised by the story.

There's No Money in It -- Yet

The "Vision Machine" app was funded by the ITVS as part of its (awesome) sci fi Futurestates program and is being given away for free under a Creative Commons license. So there's not yet a proven business model here for similar independent projects. But a few years ago, I hesitated before "giving away" any of my short films on Youtube. Now a decent number of videomakers have built enough audience to make a living from their Youtube channels. Similarly, someone's going to crack the market for this kind of enhanced entertainment app sooner rather than later.

Using Social to Build an Audience

I've been fooling around on Twitter for a couple of years now partly because it's the comic industry's water cooler and it's just plain fun to trade jokes with fellow creators and fans. But I've also been using Twitter (and Google+) to plug my work and hopefully build readership. Exactly how much of an effect those tweets have on sales is hard to gauge. But in the past year or so, the value of social networking to independent media makers has begun to register in hard dollars. A slew of independent comic book creators have been using Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise thousands for their dream projects. Kickstarter has become a kind of distribution venue, essentially allowing indies to fund books through presales. And the biggest prizes have gone to those who are savvy users of social networks. In short, building a Twitter following now has a real chance to enable a creator to keep on creating.

So for the "Vision Machine" iPad app, I wanted to experiment with creating a strong social element that could directly enhance the story while readers are reading. The finished app allows users to bring up a live Twitter stream that shows tweets that use the #visionmachine hashtag. So now I can hold a virtual public Q&A or deliver live director's commentary that folks can follow in real time while reading the book.

It's just a first step. But I'm excited about the potential to start a conversation within the work itself that can help build those social networks that may ultimately allow us mediamakers to keep our careers ticking along.

What I'd Do Differently

We designed the "Vision Machine" app as an iPad app, partly because that's the technology I was the most familiar with and partly because the Apple iTunes Store remains the easiest way for non-technologically obsessed consumers to quickly download and try new media like this. But when we debuted the app at the New York Comic-Con, at least two thirds of the people I talked with about the project shrugged regretfully and said they only had Android devices.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd strongly consider building a non-platform-specific web app that anyone could access on any device through a browser. That's a bit less sexy than an iPad app -- and it's a bit tougher to figure out how to make any money from it. But it broadens the potential audience and avoids potential gatekeeper issues with Apple's iTunes Store, which must approve every app it distributes.

My other big piece of advice for anyone considering this kind of project is to separate out art elements from the beginning, if at all possible. "Vision Machine" was created first as a traditional graphic novel, with single layer pencils. But animating requires elements to be separated from the background and the backgrounds to be fully filled in. If you know you're going to undertake this kind of project, separating out elements from the beginning will save you money and increase your creative possibilities later down the line.

Creative Commons

And one more thing... "Vision Machine" is a Creative Commons project, which means that you're free to remix or reuse the art, characters, and story, as long as you credit Pak Man Productions and release the material non-commercially under the same license. I'm still figuring out just how to fit Creative Commons into my work and what projects it makes sense for, so I was thrilled when Orlando suggested we use it for "Vision Machine." If you're interested in playing along, feel free to download the free graphic novel and check out the details at www.visionmachine.net.

Here are links: 
And bio: 
Greg Pak is a filmmaker and comic book writer best known for directing the award-winning feature film "Robot Stories", writing the epic "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comic book storylines, and co-writing (with Fred Van Lente) the fan favorite "Incredible Hercules" series for Marvel Comics. 

New Tool: Play Festival Films New Digital Distribution Ipad App

Play Festival Films is an iPad App to digitally distribute exclusive and independent shorts and feature films across the world. The following is taken from their press materials.

It used to behese films can only be watched at elite film festivals or through purchased DVDs. Play Festival Films elevates the existing digital distribution of your film by adding a new digital distribution channel on their platform and connecting filmmakers directly with their audience.

Check out the FREE iPad APP on iTunes

Further, you can enjoy and watch the free trailers, check the nominations and awards that each film earned at the various film festivals and read the biography and filmography of each film director. You can recommend the film to your friends by email from the APP itself. Each short film is offered at US$1.99. You can stream the film (using WiFi network connection) and/or download it to your iPad and watch the film anytime, anywhere. There is no expiration date for these films. Fans or film enthusiasts can watch upcoming free trailers and also interact with the film directors directly on Facebook.

Our special thanks to Sandrine F. Cassidy, Director of Festivals and Distribution at University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts for licensing the very good USC films for the worldwide digital distribution, exclusively on this APP. And thanks to the all the filmmakers on board and to the filmmaker, Michael Tringe, for selecting the good quality content and leading the communication efforts with all the filmmakers.

Mohit Mahajan, founder of 2wayTV said "On our platform, the independent filmmakers can build their worldwide target audience, monetize their digital content through electronic sell-through and get the feedback from their audience. Moving ahead, we will be adding at least one film each week and continue to grow our film catalog with only premium quality content, selected from the various film festivals around the world. In the coming weeks, we will be releasing the next version of the iPad APP with enhanced functionality and cool GUI interfaces."

Consumer Reviews Passionate for Shorts "Artistically interesting and amazing quality!" "I was really impressed with the variety, artistic merit, and overall quality of these short films, many of which come from the best filmmakers at the top film school in the US, the University of Southern California. Also really appreciated being able to watch each trailer before I bought the film, and liked being able to sort according to so many categories. The film downloaded so quickly that I could watch instantly, and I even enjoyed sharing the films to some my friends sitting close by. I highly recommend it!"

About 2wayTV Founded by Mohit Mahajan, 2wayTV is an international digital distributor of independent films. We license the digital films (exclusive digital sell-through via the APP only) and distribute them worldwide on the mobile devices such iPad and iPhone. Our "Play Festival Films" platform connects filmmakers directly with their target audience, monetizes their premium content and provides the analytics back to the filmmakers.

Website: www.2waytvllc.com Founder's Profile: www.linkedin.com/mohitmah Twitter: InteractiveTV, 2wayTV

Play Festival Films Website: www.playfestivalsfilms.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Play-Festival-Films Twitter: www.twitter.com/playfestfilms

Enzo Tedeschi on "Distributing Films via the Ipad" (aka Tool Review: MoPix)

I don't know about you, but I am pretty astounded by all the opportunities before us for Direct Distribution. If you recall, I have listed 32 different Platforms and Tools that filmmakers can now utilize. One such tool is the MoPix. I am excited that the Truly Free Film Community is coming together to try inform each other of what works (or doesn't) in this plethora of riches. Today, one of the producers from the great experiment in both Free & Crowdfunding, The Tunnel, is here to tell you about the mobile & tablet App building tool MoPix. Ladies & Gentlemen, Enzo Tedeschi:

Distributing The Tunnel as an iPad app using MoPix.

In making and distributing The Tunnel, my co-producer Julian Harvey and I have broken a few traditions. In fact we kinda threw out the playbook, from crowdfunding by selling off the frames of the film, to direct-distributing as much as possible, as globally as possible, and as close to a day-and-date release as possible. Our theory was simple - if our audience could find our film simultaneously on as many platforms as we could muster, the film would have its best chance at success. And one global platform that seems to be growing in audience at a rapid rate is the iPad.

Pricing up the development of a custom mobile app in Australia was discouraging. At $10,000 - $20,000 AUD to get it done properly, that was simply not going to happen on our paltry budget.

We were only a few weeks out from release when we heard about MoPix – and we got excited. These guys had built a platform for iPad, iPhone, and Android that would enable us to create an app to distribute The Tunnel directly via the App Store.

Talking to Ryan Stoner at MoPix, we were able to get in during their beta stage, and in a matter of weeks we had a custom-branded app that did everything we needed it to. The Tunnel was now going to be the first Australian film ever to be , and we were going to be able to do it alongside our other release platforms.

The process from our end was actually quite painless, and involved cropping a few images to size and sending those and the video assets over to MoPix. An iPad app came out the other side.

The benefits for us seemed obvious – the film was presented in a very slick way, completely branded so that it felt like OUR product, not theirs, and we could circumvent the pain that just about every indie filmmaker knows – trying to get our film into the iTunes store. The feature set was simple, but had everything it needed to feature an equivalent to our DVD extras. It also let us add a really slick behind-the-scenes photo gallery, which gave us a point of difference from all the other avenues in which the film was available.

If you think about the marketing and distribution of your film in the long term - which we always try to – App updates also create a way for you to keep your audience active. Soon, we’ll be updating the Tunnel app to include in-app purchases. This feature is great for two reasons. First, it enables us to keep selling content to our audience who have already purchased the app. Someone who has already put money on the table for your film is far more likely to keep buying, than someone who hasn’t invested at all. Secondly, when we push out the update, the act of downloading it to see what features have been added creates another interaction with our audience. It’s another small part of the ongoing conversation we’ve been having with our fans since the beginning – even before we had a film.

And while we’re on the subject of marketing – another thing that an app can do for you brilliantly is combine your marketing and distribution into one.

For our next project, we’ll be going back to MoPix to create an app that, unlike The Tunnel, is free to download. The audience will still need to buy the film in order to watch it, but we will create a free app with compelling media-rich content which basically serves as marketing material for the film, which will then be accessible via the in-app purchasing mechanism. Once again, if you can get your audience engaging with your ‘brand’ – your film – they are much more likely to part with their hard-earned.

I will say though, that being in the beta stage, it’s not a perfect solution just yet. It would be cool to see some more platforms integrated, like logging into GetGlue while they are watching The Tunnel on their iPad. But knowing how switched on the guys over at MoPix are, I’m sure they’re working on it. For now the ability to tweet a photo from the gallery, for example, or post it on Facebook directly from the app works great.

MoPix are currently still looking for films for their beta slate – and even though we haven’t set the world on fire with sales of our app just yet, we’ve sold more than enough units for the endeavour to have paid for itself. All in all it has been very worthwhile.

You can learn more about The Tunnel at www.thetunnelmovie.net The Tunnel App Store link - itunes.apple.com Facebook – www.facebook.com/thetunnelmovie Twitter – @thetunnelmovie

Enzo Tedeschi is co-founder of Distracted Media along with Julian Harvey. Together they wrote, produced and edited The Tunnel - a project whose innovative approach has seen it hit international cinema screens despite being crowdfunded and given away for free online.

Before Distracted Media, Enzo co-produced and edited the controversial independent feature documentary Food Matters in 2008, a film which is still enjoying success around the globe, having now sold over 200,000 DVDs. He produced and cut the epic World War 1 period film Ghosts of War, and the award-winning short The Last One with director Carlo Ledesma.

As an ASE Award nominated editor, Enzo has worked on numerous television series, documentaries and award-winning short films. Recently he edited and oversaw the post-production path on Channel Nine's observational documentary series AFP for Zapruder’s Other Films.

Tool Review: Stonehenge Mobile Apps For Films

The other day, I posted a WIP list of some of the many tools and platforms filmmakers have it their disposal these days. It's hard to make heads or tails of them. How do we determine which ones we should use? Luckily we have each other to help sort it out. Ari Gold takes the leap today and shares his experience on working with Stonehenge to build an app for his film ADVENTURES IN POWER. Hopefully those of you have that have used any other tools or platforms will let me know and share a post.

In marketing my movie "Adventures of Power", I've said yes to every opportunity that came my way, from making collaborative videos with Youtube stars, to making a phone App for my movie, to standing on the street in costume. The Film Collaborative, which every filmmaker should work with, put me in touch with Stonehenge, a company that makes Apps for movies. Being an early adopter of new distribution technologies can be exciting because you write the rules; on the other hand it's sometimes hard to track the return on investment. Stonehenge made a really cool air-drums and film App for my movie, and we've had people downloading it all over the world. It was fascinating to see where the App has done well (I never would have predicted big downloads in Jordan, for example!). Unfortunately, in a world where people like to get their digital content for free, we've had tons more downloads than sales of the paid-version of our App, which includes the whole movie, and it's impossible to track how many DVD sales were driven by people getting into the App. But Stonehenge has been on-the-ball with making this experiment as good as it can be.

...///\\\... Ari Gold AriGoldFilms.com

Useful New Discovery Tool: BlipSnips

Discovery is deeply connected to relevance.  In our time-challenged culture, getting quickly to the meat of the message is crucial for attention gathering (granted, deep context is required fo true understanding, but that's an issue for later).  You don't want to just send your friend an article, but you want to tell them why you find it interesting.  The same holds true for videos, but it has been difficult to tell them what point of the video demands their attention.  Problem solved!  BlipSnips to the rescue! TechCrunch reported late last month on the new video tagging tool BlipSnips:

BlipSnips allows users to mark “moments” within videos that mark specific events. Users can also caption these moments with comments and descriptions.

Another unique capability within BlipSnips is the ability to tag Facebook friends within a video. This differs from Facebook’s tagging features because BlipSnips allows users to tag and mark friends within in the video, so a viewer can see where a friend makes an appearance within the timeline of a video (as opposed to just a general tag). And BlipSnips iPhone app includes all of this functionality. You simply log-in to the app via your Facebook credentials and you’ll be able to post and tag videos on the go.

Free Gift! Great New Translator App

Happy Holidays.  If you aren't in the millions that have already heard of this, add WordLens to the list of must-have apps (InstaPaper still being my fave).  No longer worry when they hand you the foreign language menu...

12/27 Update:  Okay, I was wrong.  The presentation only made it look free. It costs $4.95.  I agree with all the comments that this is deceptive and they should offer a true initial platform gratis and then have the add-ons cost.  I bummed.  Kind of like the toy that looks really great but breaks right off the bat.  Dang.

 

Dowload it for your iPhone here.

The Battle Is On: AppleTV vs. GoogleTV

Apple is going to go head to head with Google over control over web content on people's television.  A major revamp of AppleTV is headed our way to compete with Google's new set top box & interface.  Either way, indies will soon have  new worlds available to conquer.  It's going to be a whole lot easier to get your work positioned to be seen in the comfort of someone's home. Fast Company reports on many of Apple's revamps benefits, from a low $99 price to cloud computing storage (so you can watch anything instantly without having to prerecord).