Handing Over the Story: Patricia Bergeron on Interactive Storytelling

Patricia Bergeron will speak at SJIWFF's Scene and Heard Film Industry Conference this weekend.

Interactive storytelling is an exciting medium because it allows us look at the relationship between creators and audiences in a new way. Local artists are being recognized for their innovative contributions to blurring the division between artists and audiences through interactive media.   

Local producer Chris Brookes’ interactive app Bannerman Quartet uses a GPS to play recordings of audio stories set in different parts of Bannerman park as the listener walks through those areas.

Brookes recently won the Special Achievement Award for New Media from Prix Marulic, an international audio festival in Croatia. The app gives the listener control over the pacing and structure of the piece by playing stories based on how the listener chooses to move through the park.

Other Ocean Interactive is another of the many examples of successful innovators working in interactive storytelling here in Newfoundland. The St. John’s based gaming company is credited with making major advancements in virtual reality gaming with their game Giant Cop.

Like most video games Giant Cop destabilizes the binary between artist and audience by allowing the player to decide what choices the protagonist makes within the narrative. The virtual reality aspect of the game means that players also decide how the protagonist (a giant cop) physically moves and interacts with the world of the game.

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival will put out a call for submissions for the third year of their Interactive Incubator Project contest later this summer. The contest invites women from Atlantic Canada and Quebec to submit their ideas for interactive projects.

In the fall, winners are brought to St. John’s to attend the Festival where they are paired with mentors for consultations about their project. They are also given various in-kind donations by sponsors to help bring their projects to life.

The Festival has invited Patricia Bergeron, a producer with a focus on interactive storytelling, and owner of the production company Leitmotiv, to St. John’s for the second weekend of the Festival’s Scene and Heard Film Industry Conference 2016, happening between June 17-19th.

Patricia will be hosting a workshop titled Interacting with Interactive where she will give advice about specific programs you can use to tell an interactive story. She will use successful interactive projects to illustrate how the medium can stretch the limits of storytelling by giving ownership of the story to its audience. The workshop is open to people of all genders and experience levels, tickets are available at www.womensfilmfestival.com.

I asked Patricia to talk about her experiences as an interactive producer and what advice she has for people interested in creating their own interactive project.

What is interactive storytelling?

Good question. Definitions are numerous but I think that interactive storytelling is when the story is not fully controlled by the author. The users can touch, change, experiment, participate in, destroy, and play with the story. The control might be elsewhere or totally absent. It’s when the story is being told because someone is going to interact with it.  Interactive storytelling is my way, your way, to imagine and be in the story.

Are there stories that lend themselves more easily than others to an interactive narrative?

Of course. A lot depends on the author’s  generosity and how much “control”  the author is  willing to give to the users. When the author abandons / gives up voluntarily the control they possess over the work, it  opens the work up to multiple interactions. And everything depends on the content, on what is being told.

The Interactive part of a project is built on the content, on the intentions. It’s not about the technology. Technologies will come afterward to support the idea.

Is interactive storytelling changing the types of stories that get produced and who gets to tell their story?

The most important aspect of an interactive work  is who experiences the story – the spectators, the users —who will “use” the story. Interactive projects are in our hands because we are able to change our behaviors around getting/curating/experiencing cultural content.

I might say that people working in the interactive field are being very contaminated by other disciplines. But at the same time, I think all creators are contaminated by others.  And of course, creators in interactive have to be ready to fail, redo, fail again, redo again. Interactive work is an iteration process.

And the types of stories are not that different, they are defined with the same criteria: a good dramatic arc, strong characters, etc.  Good storytelling!

What made you want to be a producer? How did you come to specialize in interactive media?

After studying filmmaking, I wanted to edit films but I got hooked in the early stage of the web, in 1995. I was doing website design, coding, videos, etc. I slowly started to manage bigger projects and clients. In 2000, I worked at the National Film Board as Project Manager and after that Producer, for films and interactive projects. I’ve been freelance since 2008 and  now I own my own production company (Leitmotiv) where I produce  films and interactive projects.

I guess you don’t learn to be a producer, you become one! And I love it! Working hard to assemble talents, creators, passions and resources for a project, from the beginning to the end, with all the ups and downs of creation, that’s for me!

So I’m a pure product of this transitional generation, shooting in 16mm in 1992 and coding for the web in 1995. Now, I’m producing films and interactive projects. I’m a bi-producer!

How do you negotiate being a woman in a field dominated by men?

I’m doing my job as I, Patricia, do it. The environment is sometimes “macho” and I try not to play that game with male colleagues. When men say sexist things, I tell them to stop it. And I’m trying as much as possible to work with women. At Leitmotiv, the projects that I produce are mostly women-driven and I’m proud of that.

What interactive storytelling projects are you most excited about?

I’m looking forward to the “end of the virtual reality fantasy” – by that I mean to I want to get deep into the real questions virtual reality brings up : performance, presence, interactivity, ethics, theater, space. I’m looking forward to mixed reality projects.

I’m always excited about interactive projects when the content is deep, relevant, authentic, generous. The latest “coup de coeur” on the web is a webdoc about Syrian refugees in Lebanon called Life on Hold.

What advice do you have for someone interested in bringing an interactive project idea to life?

Look around, experiment with other interactive works. Question why it has to be an interactive story and who is going to use/interact with your project. Who is your public? Be specific about it. And do it.

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