Documentary can be found here: http://ataraciuk.github.com/Permalance
With Permalance, we wanted to tell the story of job insecurity in certain skilled areas. Specifically, how artists, designers and others are assigned responsibilities of a full-time job (40 hour work week for example) but on a regime of freelancing, i.e., without the benefits of a full time job (paid vacations, healthcare, dismissal compensation).
For achieving this, we wanted to collect real stories from people that got stuck in that situation. Also, we wanted to interview experts in the field to bring contextual information – a labor lawyer, an economist to talk about the economic background the allows this, a historian to give background on labor unions, etc. The idea we had in mind for a connected documentary was to produce a branching story style from the real stories footage that we would have, and build a kind of ‘choose your own adventure’, where the viewer would be put in the situation of a ‘permalancer’, and he would have to choose how to proceed through the situation. Then, based on his choices, a video from a collected real story telling a similar situation or resolution would be played.
Our principal problem was finding people that would agree on telling their personal stories. Even if it would be only audio (no camera appearance), and completely anonymous, people didn’t want to be recorded, for fear of having trouble in the future in their jobs, even they were frightful of the possibility of being fired. The lack of time to produce and edit footage didn’t help either. We ended up with a branching story (videos connected through nodes that the user chooses from), where each part doesn’t feel that connected with the other, because it’s more contextual information about the job market and situation, and the economy, but I think the central narrative that ties everything together is a bit weak. Regarding this, a branching story structure I don’t think it’s the best way to illustrate what we came to in the end, and I think I fell in the trap of doing technology implementation before having secured the story. Well, the vision and storyboard were made in the very beginning, but complications all along the way for getting footage ended up forcing us to have another narrative, without acknowledging it. The technology implementation (interactive webpage) was finished way before we could have all the footage that we intented, assuming footage would be easy to get and add to the website, but it was not the case. Also, in this project there were lots of troubles mixing the ‘coding and web’ part with the video and production part.
From the technological perspective, I’m happy with what was achieved. I really liked working with Popcorn, and all the possibilites for user interactions when mixed with jQuery. I do believe there is a new way of telling stories (and documentaries in particular) with the web, where the user can set his own pace and look for more information while still watching. Having links with information synced with the video is a very powerful tool, where the user is given the initiative to continue doing his own research, and then resume the documentary. In my opinion, a connected documentary it’s a very good tool for mixing the good qualities of both the more passive-like activity of watching tv (in the sense of watching high-quality made content from experts), with the more active-like activity of the using a computer, where the user can research by his own and set his own pace. A branching story where the user can choose which story to follow, or which theme to delve upon, is also a powerful tool for user engagement. Building a branching story flow, from an interactive point of view, is also a more interesting application of html5 video capabilities than just showing contextual information synced with the video. But it is also very difficult to achieve, content-wise, a cohesion between the different video parts.
I’d like to follow this class work by coding a jQuery plugin that allows users to easily build branching stories. The user would input json-formatted data with the nodes. Each node would have info about which video to load, to which other nodes you can go from there, the text to show when you want to go to that node, and links to show during the video at specific times.