Transmedia, a human-centered approach – Interview with Jen Gilomen from BAVC


The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) is one of this Startup Weekend’s amazing sponsors. Learn more about who they are, what they do, and what prize they offer to the lucky winners.

Jen Gilomen, Director of Independent Media, generously answered our questions.


SWTransmedia: What is BAVC in a few words?

Jen Gilomen: It’s hard to sum up BAVC in a few words since so much goes on within its walls. On any given day, we have rock-star preservationists reviewing precious archival materials and turning them into usable digital files, public media partners dropping by to cook up a collaboration, youth musicians and film-makers collaborating with coders, documentary storytellers and transmedia artists swapping critical feedback with experts, professionals from Bay Area tech companies getting trained on all sorts of software and digital media, and public access TV producers live-streaming with guests from City Hall or a local non-profit in our studio. It is a vibrant, creative, and always interesting place to be.

SWTransmedia: How is BAVC fostering the emergence of transmedia in the Bay Area?

Jen Gilomen: BAVC has always embraced new tools and technology for storytelling that inspires social change, starting with Portapak video in the ‘70s. I always refer to Portapak as the “spacesuit” camera because of the giant backpack-type battery that made it portable, and the fact that it enabled the ship of BAVC to launch. At the time of BAVC’s creation (1976!), our founders saw this gadget as the wave of the immediate future, democratizing access to media by opening up who exactly could create media, and inviting others in to learn how. “Transmedia” is the latest in a series of media innovations that excite us at BAVC, because we see enormous possibilities for engaging diverse audiences in authoring, exploring, remixing, sharing, and debating the most important stories and issues of our time, and it becomes increasingly possible to innovate in this space the more connected and digitally empowered our entire society becomes. The Bay Area is a great place to be now, too, because of the confluence of creativity, ingenuity, experimentation, and entrepreneurship that exists here like nowhere else. So while BAVC doesn’t have to do much to foster the emergence of transmedia, we can continue to be the place that democratizes access to the tools of its creation for social good, and the place where folks from many sectors come together to learn, experiment, and create meaningful work with it.

SWTransmedia: What interest do you have in transmedia?

Jen Gilomen: I’m a documentary storyteller myself, and see enormous value in “transmedia.” I define transmedia not necessarily as a single story told across multiple platforms, but rather as a human-centered approach to designing messages, with a particular interest in messages that take the age-old form of a story. Which means I am platform agnostic in terms of “designing” a story and determining why, how, and when it will be shared. I think documentary storytellers in particular serve their projects best when they consider those networks of human beings formerly known as “audiences” before choosing not just what story to tell next, but how best to tell it. By pulling from many traditions– film, user experience and product design, journalism, entrepreneurship, education, grassroots advocacy campaigns, gaming, exhibition, and the old-fashioned building of human networks and social capital – we open ourselves up to true innovation in the form of documentary, and increase the possibility of having the stories that we put our hearts and souls into producing enable real and measurable impact in the world around us. The most interesting thing about transmedia right now for me is the way storytellers are straddling the line between authorship and engagement. The magic and audience feedback that used to happen pretty much only during a Q&A after a film was screened is now happening at all phases of a transmedia project and in more interesting and actionable ways, which is empowering to me as a storyteller.

SWTransmedia: Do you have any examples of transmedia projects that recently emerged from BAVC?

Jen Gilomen: Our recent crop of Producers Institute and MediaMaker alumni are creating really interesting stuff, and we’ve also been following the roll-out of projects that were developed here over the past few years. At Sundance right now for example are American Promise, When I Walk, and Coral: Rekindling Venus, all of which came through BAVC’s Producers Institute and developed useful, engaging, and innovative transmedia projects; the makers of Wonder Women! (a former MediaMaker project) are touring their film internationally while bringing to fruition their awesome feminist superheroine game that they developed here in October at the 2012 Producers Institute, Pete Nicks has made both a splash at festivals and dent in the health care conversation with The Waiting Room while Yoav Potash’s film Crime After Crime is making real and targeted impact on policy. Every year brings a new batch of great projects, and there are many more that we’ll see come out this year. We’ve produced “behind the scenes” shorts about many of these projects, which is a great way to learn about how the creators’ ideas were conceived, developed and morphed through the collaborative processes we facilitate.

SWTransmedia: Can you tell us more about BAVC’s creative programs, the Producers Institute and MediaMaker fellowship?

Jen Gilomen: Our creative programs are always evolving to meet the current needs of media artists and storytellers, so each year the programs are a little different. The MediaMaker fellowship, which has been offered annually since 1991, used to be more about what filmmakers needed at the time – access to professional equipment, postproduction tools, and other in-kind services to complete their projects and get them ready for exhibition — usually for broadcast on PBS. That all changed in the past two decades of course, as the tools and needs of the producers changed. Now they have a (sometimes desperate, or at least eager!) need to understand the shifting technology landscape and the best way to approach their projects, design their stories, and bring them to fruition with actionable funding, distribution, and engagement strategies. So through the MediaMaker fellowship, BAVC now acts as a guide and facilitator of the transmedia world, helping storytellers come together to learn, to develop and shape their projects, to experiment, present their ideas and work in progress, get critical feedback from peers and experts, and build a community of stakeholders around their projects. BAVC’s Producers Institute for New Media Technologies is a social impact laboratory for documentary storytellers, and something of a launch pad for transmedia projects with social justice goals that are selected through a competitive national call for entries. So it is more of a development and prototyping lab and process, and takes place over one intense week in the fall. Ultimately, folks who participate in our creative programs join the growing the aforementioned cadre of BAVC alumni who are moving and shaking and continuing to produce brave new work, so the programs provide an important aspect of professional development and field-building that has a ripple-effect in the wider community of funders, creators, and partners.

 SWTransmedia: Do you think the Bay Area has a strong potential for the further development of this scene?

Jen Gilomen: Heck yes. “Less talking, more action” has worked for us Bay Area folks for a long time now. With no disrespect to our many excellent local educational institutions, there’s a lot to be said for pursuing your interests and passions, experimenting with new technologies, networking to find like-minded (or better yet, complimentarily-minded?) collaborators, and working together to “make stuff” and likewise, to “make stuff happen.” We have such a strong community of media makers, tinkerers, advocates, enrepreneurs, techies, hustlers, hackers, gamers, freelancers, artists and thinkers, there’s huge potential here in the Bay for the community to grow and be really innovative across many sectors working in collaboration with one another. That’s why we’re excited about Startup Weekend, the Transmedia SF meet-ups, and other opportunities to get a bunch of “doers” together to stir the pot and make new soup. When it comes to community, you always get out of it what you put into it, so I’d encourage anyone who is interested in doing and making to come to these events with their devices juiced and their sleeves rolled up. I have a feeling we are on the cusp of another wave of innovation and exchange of ideas.

 SWTransmedia: Finally… Can you tell us more about BAVC’s prize to Startup Weekend winners?

Jen Gilomen: Our prize for the winning team will be an evening Strategy Summit here at BAVC, modeled after the very useful development lab events we put on for our MediaMaker fellows. We’ll consult with the winning team following the Startup Weekend to customize the event agenda and invite list, with the goal of bringing experts and potential collaborators to the table for feedback and input on the winning team’s project and strategies for its next phase. BAVC will provide the space, refreshments, and facilitation, will invite guests to attend on behalf of the team, and will document notes, feedback, and action items from the Summit. The event will be a great opportunity for the team to regroup, refine and present their idea, get strategic input from potential stakeholders, and move to next steps after the Weekend. The Strategy Summit at BAVC will help the winning project to gain clarity and direction to move forward.