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New Frontier: Sundance Opens Up Conversation Between Hollywood and Tech

05/23/2012 11:32 am ET | Updated Jul 23, 2012

"It's about story." That's pretty much the refrain you'll get from everyone who works at Sundance, and it never gets old. In fact, it's really rather refreshing each time you hear it considering that for most of Hollywood, it's about money. But it's no surprise that for Sundance, even when it's about technology, it's really about story.

I recently sat down with Michelle Satter, founding director of the Feature Film Program, in the Sundance offices to chat about how their New Frontiers program is helping open up the conversation between filmmakers and the tech crowd to facilitate collaboration in the name of storytelling.

"We wanted to come up with a different name than "transmedia,'" Satter said in reference to the New Frontier Story Lab inspired by the New Frontier exhibition held annually in Park City, Utah. For those of you who haven't been to Sundance or skipped over that section of the festival, it's primarily about artists working at the intersection of film, art and new media technology. What does that mean? You can take a look at some of the work online. Artists use film, games, mobile apps, performance and animation to create a unique platform by which to tell a story.

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"We put our stake in the ground around story, not technology... but the next generation of storytellers realizes that audiences want to participate and not just with an alternate ending to a film... We're also looking to use technology to improve the integrity of storytelling. It's not just for marketing."

For anyone who's been getting their bread buttered on the Internet lately, you may have noticed your writings or short films have been reduced to the term "content," which seems to remove some of the artistry associated with it -- as if anything to fill the space will do.

"For us, it's not about developing content, it's about developing stories and developing artists that work in between filmmaking and new media technologies" noted Satter. "It's about how to connect pieces of a story into something greater than its parts."

Conversations needed to start happening between the storytellers and those in the tech sector looking to create technologies to enhance the narrative experience. Sundance recognized the need to get everyone in the same space, storytellers were calling for a greater understanding of the new media tools at their disposal and tech entrepreneurs were requiring an understanding of the mechanics of complex storytelling and world-building. To accomplish this, Sundance started rebuilding their New Frontier program around 2007 and it's been gaining popularity and interest with each passing year.

"In my years in the business, this is definitely the biggest shift [in technology] that's happened," said Satter. "There was desktop editing, cameras that made filmmaking cheaper and more accessible... but what's happening now, it's hard for everyone to keep up."

In 2011, Sundance held their inaugural New Frontier Lab. In a similar spirit to their screenwriting, directing and producing labs, the New Frontier lab exposes emerging artists to established technical advisors and screenwriters to develop "a rich story world with meaning," said Satter. It was such a success, they're continuing with the endeavor. And it looks to be an interesting outlet for experimentation that we should all be keeping an eye on.

The good folks at Sundance provided so much insight into the New Frontier program and how they're moving forward with new media technologies, I can't contain it all in one post that you guys will read on your coffee break -- including more on the New Frontier lab experience and how Sundance is working with artists to get a handle on online fundraising and distribution models. So stay tuned.

Photo Credit: Evolution, Directed by Marco Brambilla, 2012 New Frontier Artist. Photo provided by Sundance Institute