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Interview: Why The Tribeca Film Institute Turned Its Attention To Gaming

Interview: Why The Tribeca Film Institute Turned Its Attention To Gaming

February 15, 2011 | By Chris Morris

February 15, 2011 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC

[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris catches up with the Tribeca Film Institute's director Beth Janson as the prestigious film-making body launches its TFI New Media Fund -- for projects that wed traditional film-making with interactive projects like video games.]

One of the film world's most prestigious festivals is taking an interest in the video game space.

The Tribeca Film Institute (a nonprofit group affiliated with the Tribeca Film Festival) and the Ford Foundations's JustFilms initiative have announced the creation of a new annual grant -- the TFI New Media Fund -- for projects that wed traditional filmmaking and new media.

That's a broad definition -- and can mean anything from games to apps to micro-blogs -- but it's one of the first times the group has given a head nod to the gaming industry. (Ironically, the film world's attention comes just as Christopher Tin basks in the glow of his Grammy victory for "Baba Yetu," from 2005's Civilization IV.)

The idea, says the group, is to let filmmakers and game makers better showcase works that go hand in hand together.

"One of the things we want to do with this is connect people," says Beth Janson, executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute tells Gamasutra. "We want to connect filmmakers with developers who understand the two worlds. That's what's exciting about this. These two worlds are coming closer and closer together. We definitely want to encourage those sorts of actions."

The grant will award $750,000 this year and bump that figure up to $1 million for the following five years. Selected projects will each get $50,000 to $100,000 to support cross-platform storytelling as a key component of audience engagement. Those projects must be tied to documentaries or scripted works based on true stories. (In other words, don't expect Ubisoft to walk away with a grant for its Assassin's Creed Web shorts.)

Recipients will also be required to document their collaboration with game and app makers in order to create a resource pool for others.

"In terms of what we're looking at doing, a lot of filmmakers have done some creative things in building audiences for their long form work in terms of engaging audiences, but every time a filmmaker goes to do something like that they start from square one because no one is culling all the knowledge for that," says Janson.

"With new media, we're kind of at the beginning of that. We want to look at things like: Where are the things you need to be aware of. What are the points you need to hit to have a strong story and make an impact?"

There are, of course, plenty of transmedia projects that already tie the film and game worlds - even with documentaries. But the vast majority out there are studio creations that are more interested in boosting a film's box office totals (or residual incomes) than they are in promoting the film's central cause.

"The goal is to really take people who we know as the best moving image story tellers in our world - the film making world - and help them make that leap into other technologies," says Janson.

"It's something a lot of people in our field are talking about, but when it's getting produced in the U.S., it's generally just for marketing purposes or it's pulled together, like independent filmmakers are so good at doing. ... We wanted to take an organized look at the field and come up with some best practices for the community as a whole."

The program is obviously geared more towards independent game makers and smaller development houses, as the focus is more on social causes than substantial returns - something that would tend to turn off publicly traded publishers.

Developers and filmmakers will retain all of the rights for the work they do. While the new media label program does have a wide focus by design, Janson says it would not surprise her if a large number of projects lean towards the gaming and app world.

"Part of the goal of this program is to reach people who aren't reached by a traditional documentary," she says. "If there's an issue that it's important to reach teens, for instance, that might be a place where a game would work well. We're really waiting to see. I think gaming is the natural place where people interact and get engaged in the process."

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