“While producing our experiences with LBE venues, we need to keep the story at the core of the project ” - Mads Damsbo, Mikkel Skov (MAKROPOL 2/2)
Producer of digital content since 2011, the Danish company Makropol has experimented on all media: LBE since 2014, VR film... On the occasion of the release of their latest productions (END OF NIGHT, ARTIFICIAL AWAKENING, SHADOW...), we met Mads Damsbo, founder and producer, and Mikkel Skov, strategic director and producer at the studio. Part 2.
Building a LBE experience in… 2014?
M. D. - One thing that we learned from THE DOGHOUSE, that was extremely powerful, was the potential of differentiated storytelling. The idea that one subjective narrative could then be discussed with someone else's narrative - and create this conversation that extended the life of the piece way beyond the 20 minutes that you were in the headset. It’s a big takeaway! The second thing that we learned was the whole idea of throughput. Our experience was not only a collective one, but it was something that you could do together, that actually was quite a high throughput of people. We could have ten people per hour to see the experience. I think almost 10,000 people have seen THE DOGHOUSE now throughout the years, which doesn't sound like a lot. But in our XR world, that's a lot of people! Especially before the headsets were even available for anyone…
M. D. - It has been true for a lot of our projects like TASTE OF HUNGER, ARTIFICIAL AWAKENING, ANTHROPIA, DOOM ROOM… These are all projects that use the idea of high throughput, so that at least ten people an hour can go through the experience. END OF NIGHT was trying to prove something different about the long form narrative. Finally, the main takeaway is quite obvious - we could do a lot better today. What we realised after we've done it is that 50% of people get sick in THE DOGHOUSE. Cameras are placed on people's heads, they move around erratically, you get cyber sickness, the cameras are shitty quality, etc. That’s why (drumroll!) we decided to develop a long-form DOGHOUSE 2.0! It will be an updated version of the experience with the existing technology and knowledge we have now. With a completely different strategy for how to release it. It is super exciting to go back to our roots.
M. S. - On the LBE version of END OF NIGHT, if you see this as a film - and not an experience - that was really important for me to go to whatever dialogues I had with museums and exhibition places to understand their needs, the venue itself. The idea was to create a little cinema, a special place for it. We were super, super lucky that we worked together with The Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen from the beginning. They were kind of thrilled about the idea. Now we have a permanent installation set of 2 years at the Museum. We helped them make the business case at first, obviously. It was used for the CPH:DOX festival. This is a good example we show worldwide with our partner Astrea.
Working with physical venues
M. D. - The main issue that has been discussed, of course, millions of times within the industry is like where are the venues and the distribution network? Like who? Who's going to be the ones, the gatekeepers of the content and the one facilitating the experiences? Museums, galleries and public venues that curate different types of experiences are a good guess. They must be ready for more interactive pieces. As a producer, if you decide to do something that's venue specific and commissioned through a museum, then that's one sort of project that you can follow and it could probably work. Or, on the other hand, do you create something that is originally your idea and then you use venues for distribution?
M. D. - I hope the physical venue world will start to look at itself as a platform for other kinds of content that might fit into their context. And a lot of venues can share the same interest, or topic. They could take a XR project in, and contextualise it. This is a big challenge. Do you go for this physical venue from the beginning - or do you want to create something completely free of limitations of where it should be physically? The second version is more interesting because that leaves you open with options for how to release it online, how to release it in different formats. And it becomes much more about the story as the core of the project and not the final output.
M. D. - In fact a really big part of the new DOGHOUSE project - where we've been funded to do in our development cycle - is to not only write the synopsis of the project, but it's to actually explore what are the different potential formats of this 2.0 piece. Is it an LBE? Online and collective? Flat film? It’s possible from the same story universe to pull out all these different formats, and thereby (potentially) not only reach a lot more audiences, but to have a much easier time financing a larger project. That's going to be a crucial move forward for these kinds of projects. We have to explore all the potential solutions, and make sure that they are all viable. In many ways, that brings us back to the beginning of being a transmedia company!
M. S. - In order to come up to that level of production, we need to work with some bigger players within the distribution part as well. It's important for us to be right now with the deals we made, non exclusivity. We want to keep on expanding. The big potential that I'm seeing right now is still the online part. The amount of headsets around the world, development when we are beginning to call it “film”, the gamer generation (but not only) actually really have an interest in going into other types of interactive works. We're just proud of being part of that journey. And for the next five year, the online part will be the way to finance what we are doing. Of course, we are looking a little bit at computer games. They actually have their own independent distribution economy. And I truly believe that there is a really good distribution window at that place.
M. D. - Well, we have all these projects that we're now seeing how they will react in different markets. But Mikkel and I, as a partnership, are sort of splitting apart for a while. I have a couple of new projects that are sort of slowly developing. As I said, including a project called DARK ROOMS, presented this year at NewImages in the Development market.
M. D. - We had a lot of ambitions with our projects at MAKROPOL, and we learned a lot from our successes and mistakes. We're sort of waiting a little bit to not to not commit the same hubris again.
M. S. - We are restructuring our production model, keeping a real optimism as well! We will stay in the immersive field, in the North. We will go creatively high for the next steps, as we always do. We just need to take the ship in the right direction. We have proven now what we can with our energy and strength and whatever we can that, yes, there is a life for this industry.