What I Know About Cross-Platform Storytelling: Liza Faktor
The visual documentary producer and curator on developing photographic stories across different media
Liza Faktor is a producer and curator, and a co-founder of Screen, a visual storytelling production company. She was the founding director of the Objective Reality Foundation, and the co-founder of Agency.Photographer.ru. Liza has produced video and multi-platform visual documentary projects and curated over twenty exhibitions. She is a recipient of the Howard Chapnick award for advancement of photojournalism (2002 and 2016) and has served on juries worldwide including the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia Contest and the 2017 World Press Photo Digital Storytelling Contest.
Faktor specializes in bringing stories with complex narratives into the public domain, tailoring the way they are edited and published according to the platform or media in which they will sit. This includes working with Magnum’s Michael Christopher Brown on his documentation of the Libyan revolution. Here, Faktor shares her insights into cross-platform storytelling, along with a selection of her favourite Magnum images, presented here with Faktor’s commentary.
Can you tell me a bit about the work you do at Screen?
I work as a producer and curator with visual storytellers who come, like me, from a traditional photojournalism background and are tackling complex narratives in innovative ways. They all use different tools, some work with film or installation, some collaborate with the community. A lot of this content is challenging to place between film, editorial and art markets. A few years ago I co-founded Screen to develop and distribute such projects across media, film, art and performance platforms. Our work ranges from exhibitions and cultural events, to short films, video installations, community engagement projects and immersive narratives.
The most significant projects I have been working on are Michael Christopher Brown’s Libyan Sugar, Zackary Canepari Flint Is A Place (a cross platform episodic series about Flint, MI) and Dominic Bracco The Backs of Men (a theatrical performance and installation on roots of migration from Latin America to the US). We’ve been rolling out ‘Flint Is A Place’ for a few months now in a very unorthodox way, with elements of the series appearing in various media outlets and physical places before the project is actually finished and launched as an interactive web documentary. Dominic’s project will get its first performance/installation treatment this May in Mexico City and I’m very excited about showing the results of more than two years worth of production on the project.
Michael’s Libyan Sugar is a deeply personal narrative. If you saw the book which came out last year you are familiar with the photography and writing but it only covers part of the experience. Michael and I started going through the media he collected in the field over 3 years ago with a goal of developing an installation to accompany the book. When embarking on the project we didn’t know exactly where we would land, which made this process so enriching and exciting for both of us. It is a process, it takes time to develop a complex narrative experience – in this particular case – years, literally. We wanted to create a truly immersive experience of being Michael at the time of the events depicted in the project and taking that journey with him that hopefully would leave the viewer in a better place.
That’s why we chose the ‘old’ format of a physical installation incorporating video projections, prints, soundscapes and artifacts that Michael had collected in Libya. We didn’t want to involve digital technology to facilitate the project, standing by Michael’s original vision for what the project would look like.
We worked with a great film editor and multimedia producer Adrian Kelterborn on building the video pieces. Designer and art director Ramon Pez was instrumental in thinking about the installation and the role artifacts would play in it. And further down the road we got very lucky with finding a sound designer and artist Amir Husak who created soundscapes for the installation. I love Libyan Sugar work on many levels, it definitely made me a better producer and a better person. I am looking forward to showing the installation later this year.
What are the practical steps and considerations to take into account when approaching the telling of a story through multiple platforms?
The most important thing to consider is which platforms make sense for your story and are going to serve it best. What are you achieving or saying differently when pursuing more than one platform? Whether it’s the web, performance, film, book, installation or something else you need to think about unique storytelling tools and solutions that only this particular platform can offer and enrich your project.
On a practical level, each new platform brings with it another set of various skills and another marketplace that you are not necessarily familiar with. To work at the intersection of media platforms and markets requires understanding the logistics of these industries and teaming up with cinematographers, coders, film editors, directors, audio engineers, photo editors, curators, creative directors and so on. Don’t try to do everything alone, make sure to get people on your team who have a set of skills different from yours and are fluent with media and disciplines that you are including in your project.
You make the point on the Screen website that what you do is not ‘multimedia’ but ‘transmedia’. Can you explain what this means?
I make that point when I’m talking to photographers, and in an educational environment in particular. The term ‘multimedia’ is still circulating in the context of photography and editorial media market, even if the term had lost its meaning a while ago in film or art contexts, for example. Multimedia means literally a combination of media – text, audio, images and so forth. Which could be anything really. Transmedia, as interpreted today, means telling a story across multiple platforms (and specifically splitting the narrative between platforms), usually involving digital technologies. It’s important to realize, though, that transmedia wasn’t born yesterday, it’s old and has been derived from traditional cross-platform storytelling. The purpose of creating content in this way is to engage diverse audiences which otherwise do not overlap with each other, using techniques and forms that these audiences are most accustomed to when consuming stories, whether it’s entertainment or news.
How should this shift in terminology affect photographers/storytellers when approaching a project?
In the end, terminology is just words, and the vocabulary for innovation in storytelling is being developed as we speak. Do not get stuck on whether to call your project cross-media, cross-platform, transmedia, interactive or hybrid. Think about the freedom that this approach gives you in bringing the narrative that you care about to the audience. Collaborate with others. Use your imagination and make great stories.
Liza Faktor will be presenting at the Magnum Professional Practice workshop in New York with Peter van Agtmael on April 1 &2, aimed at enhancing documentary practice. More information on the workshop and how to apply can be found here.