Tribeca and the Ford Foundation Get Behind Socially-Conscious "Transmedia" Filmmaking

Call us old fashioned, but we sometimes like to sit back, unwind, and remember the good old days—say, the second Clinton term; that was a particularly great time—when a movie was just a movie.

Sure, you'd inevitably see commercials for a certain movie, or read critics' reviews, but ultimately, the end product was a single, standalone thing. Those days, of course, are long gone. With the advent of social media, the definition of "movie" has come to resemble a sort of mini-ecosystem of cross-platform delivery channels and synergies. The industry term is "transmedia" cinema.

Most films nowadays have their own social media presence, while some have their own apps. What's more, these channels need to "talk" to each other. A Tweet points followers to a YouTube video, which points viewers to a video game, and so on. Producers embrace this approach because it can broaden the film's reach. Viewers like it, too, and over time, most will possibly come to demand a cross-platform movie experience. But who's writing the rules on the transmedia cinematic experience? And who's helping filmmakers and directors—many of whom simply want to make a film—adapt the end-product for video games or even virtual reality? 

The answer is the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) and Ford Foundation's Just Films and their TFI New Media Fund. The fund "supports non-fiction, social issue media projects that incorporate film content with such media platforms as virtual reality, video games and interactive websites, among others." The fund recently allocated a total of $150,000 to three projects. They are:

  • 6x9, which examines the psychological damage caused by solitary confinement. 
  • The Argus Project, which asks, "If police wear body armor to project themselves, what does the public need to wear to protect themselves from the police?"
  • Roll Red Roll, an augmented, live-action role playing game based on the documentary Roll Red Roll that explores the aftermath of a sexual assault in small-town America. 

And therein lies the unique value proposition at the heart of the TFI New Media Fund. We could sit here and pine for the days of Titanic or (our personal favorite) Field of Dreams, but such nostalgia misses the point. Those films, while entertaining, are substantively different from the kinds of socially focused films that interest TFI and Just Films—apples and oranges, if you will.

By addressing inequality, police brutality, and other kinds of social challenges, these types of projects, by their very nature, are uniquely attuned to the crowdsharing, audience engagement potential inherent in social media and other "transmedia" channels. When viewed through this lens, the sky's the limit for transmedia cinema, particularly when it has an avid supporter in Ford, who, as we've recently noted, is doubling down on its commitment to fighting inequality.

(That said, we hope you can forgive us for daydreaming about an A League of Their Own virtual reality experience.)