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World Congress of History Producers–Talking about new media and short forms

As I remembered, this is an exceptionally good conference for networking. I think people working in film and television are a bit more outgoing than publishing people, and they’re definitely looking for fresh ideas and approaches. The tone, though, isn’t completely at odds with academic conferences: people who do history film making are clearly committed to the subject and full of passion for their particular projects. Someone said at lunch, “You don’t make documentaries to make a lot of money,” which sounds a lot like publishing–at least the kind we’re doing.

But, like us, they seem to have a lot of fun and feel they’re doing something worthwhile. (And there’s no question that some networks and producers are doing very well indeed!) What’s surprised me most is the emphasis this year on new media, on “short forms” for mobile devices and the Internet. This came up last year, but it’s far more prominent now. Michael Katz from the History Channel mentioned a dichotomy I remember hearing about, too: big screen, small screen. Film makes are simultaneously developing in HD (High Definition–and don’t I feel cool, knowing about this?) and in tiny, short formats. I’m learning some of the jargon but need to find out the difference between off-takes and cut scenes. Apparently these are good sources of short form content.

The session this afternoon was called “Out of the Box: Producing History for New Platforms”:

New digital distribution platforms – whether broadband or mobile – are developing fast with a bewildering array of new jargon from EST to DVBH.

Who is taking advantage of this new technology?
What new opportunities does it create for history producers?
Will it open up history programming to a wider audience – and is there any money in it?
Are there opportunities for original productions or is it limited to opening up back catalogues?

We aim to get behind the jargon and find out what the real opportunities are – and what the timescale behind them is.

Again, one of the key points made was that what gets people to new media is the social aspects of it–the community that’s possible online. I couldn’t be more pleased, community being my own special subject, and an area of expertise for Berkshire. But the issue of creative control and quality is an issue here, too. One questioner made it clear that he didn’t like the idea of his film being “mashed up” (reedited by someone who’s downloaded it), no more than an author would enjoy having her/his novel taken apart, rewritten, and then distributed to the purchaser’s friends. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard the word “copyright” at all–maybe we need Ed Colleran here.

3 thoughts on “World Congress of History Producers–Talking about new media and short forms

  1. Karen, sounds like a great conference. Have you come across any examples of history films where ordinary people contribute material, and the result is edited by the film maker?

  2. I haven’t, but there is a lot of new interest in oral histories, not as a separate form but as something to bring into regular documentary makers. I’ll be watching for this. I’ve also been talking to a film director friend who encourages me to get a camera and start doing my own filming. This could be used for podcasting and web broadcast, but would be of quality to use for real films.

  3. Studs Terkel is of course the first person who comes to mind when ever I think of oral histories. His books have really demonstrated that personal reflection and hearing the voice of the ordinary person really adds to the listeners or readers understanding of what life is like for many people. New journalism attempts to do this I think. I actually think that blogging is really an example of new journalism except the journalist and the interviewee are one and same in the case of personal blogging.

    Many podcasts are shows rather than documentaries, are you thinking of doing something more documentary in style?

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