How to pitch interactive projects to the NFB

Diversification is without a doubt one of the keys to freelancing successfully. And although opportunities in traditional media seem to be on the decline lately, publishing innovations and new media present writers with exciting new possibilities. The trick is knowing where to find them. I stumbled across one recently and set out to get you the low-down on pitching interactive projects to the National Film Board of Canada.


An evolving medium

Writer/interactive producer Jennifer Moss and digital content strategist Nicholas Klassen work at the NFB’s Digital Studio in Vancouver. They say digital interactive storytelling is still evolving.

“This whole medium is still being carved out and created,” says Moss.

With projects ranging from simple photo essays to more complex creations involving text messages and social networks, Moss says interactive storytelling combines the best of filmmaking and traditional storytelling with new forms of narrative.

“Some include social media sub-narratives, others are non-linear stories that you can access in any order. You can navigate through story worlds using almost video game-like navigation systems,” she says “They place the user in the situation so the story is all around you and you have control over how you access it.”

Klassen says that while they are able to put together a team of designers and developers to bring these complex projects to life, writers are at the core of every interactive project that the NFB produces.

“If someone has a good idea, that’s all that matters,” he says.

Moss says that that digital interactive storytelling is rife with possibilities.

“All bets are off, there are really no rules,” she says. “But there are certain steps that you go through in the pitching process.”


Crafting a pitch

There’s a loose framework to consider if you’d like to pitch an interactive project to the NFB — it’s a variation on the traditional five Ws of journalism:

What is it? Is it an app for tablet? Is it something that would sit on the NFB website? Both? Is it a photo essay? Is it a 3D world?

What is the story? What is it about at its core?

Why do you want to do it right now? Why is it relevant?

What is the reason it needs to be in this medium? Why wouldn’t you just make a film or do a magazine spread? What will this medium bring to the project that will enhance it and and deepen it?

How will you adapt your storytelling to take advantage of the internet and what it offers? (Hint: connectivity is key here)

How does it work? When people come to your project, what will they physically do?  Moss says this part of the pitch can be more or less detailed depending on where you are with your project.

In fact, Moss says the details don’t need to be hammered out completely before you pitch.

“If the idea’s good and deep it will inspire a producer to want to run with it,” she says. “Essentially what you’re trying to do is get an NFB producer either here or in any city where there’s an NFB office to champion your project. You want to inspire people.”


Tips for a successful pitch

Although the Vancouver studio is the centre for the NFB’s English interactive projects (there’s also a French studio in Montreal), every NFB studio across the country produces interactive projects.

“A first-time freelancer might actually have more luck pitching through whatever their local NFB office is and forging a relationship that way,” says Moss. “The NFB works a lot on relationships, building relationships with individual creators over time. So if you want to come in from scratch, if you’ve never worked with the NFB before, it might be wise to tiptoe in with a nice, elegant, quiet little project which is nevertheless impactful, and then gradually build up to something bigger.”

“It’s more realistic that a simple photo essay would get green lit than a Bear 71,” Klassen says, referring to one of the more ambitious recent projects the studio produced.

Moss also advises writers to be aware that NFB interactive projects have a long time frame, estimating that the average production time for a piece is between 18 months and 2 years.

“Do not pitch one of these projects if you’re in a rush,” she says. “It’s not the radio, it’s not the newspaper. It’s more like pitching a film.”

“It’s also worth noting that we are not a funding body, we are hands-on producers,” says Moss. “But it can be so great when you get all these creative people, the thing gets rolling, and when it finally takes off you get a really nice gelling of talents and abilities. It’s really satisfying to see it roll out.”


Funding in stages

Moss explains that the NFB funds projects in phases.

“They fund an investigate to allow you to deepen your research and your writing and partner up with people and write a more comprehensive plan,” she says. “Then they fund a development phase if the investigate went well.”

Not every project the NFB develops ends up getting produced, but writers and creators are given deliverables-based contracts and paid for their work at every stage. And whether a project makes it through to the final production stage or not, the opportunity to experiment with writing for this emerging medium offers huge potential for professional development.

“It really is like someone gives you a whole bunch of new crayons for your box,” says Moss. “You have all these new ways of thinking.”

More information on pitching to the NFB is available on their website. Pitching guidelines are available on the film professionals page and more information about the NFB’s digital projects can be found here.

Moss also recommends that writers interested in pitching read up on interactive storytelling, social narrative and forensic narrative. And whether you’re planning to pitch or not, the hours of innovative entertainment available in the interactive section of the NFB site are well worth digging into.



Posted on August 29, 2012 at 7:27 am by Rachel · · Tagged with: , , ,

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