5 Reasons Why My Next Film Is Coming to the Web First

by |

My current film, Battle for Jerusalem, started out as just that: a film.

It has since evolved, to my surprise, into a multimedia experience, with a website and a location-based mobile app. Oh, and a film!

But veering from conventional wisdom, the film will be the last piece to launch. So how did I decide on this topsy-turvy approach?

1. The Story

Originally, I thought Battle for Jerusalem would follow a group of artists and activists working to keep the city democratic in the face of growing religious fundamentalism. But, as with most documentaries, real life happened, and the story changed. As I began to delve into the happenings on the ground, I became intrigued with one character in particular, Rachel Azaria, a city councilwoman. Her story resonated with me the most and also showed the most potential for a traditional narrative: She’s fighting gender segregation policies, while her ultra-Orthodox opponents are trying to destroy her credibility and her career as she runs for re-election.

Even after discovering Azaria, I was reluctant to let go of the young Jerusalemites I’d already interviewed. They told fascinating stories that deepened my understanding of their city. But they simply had no place in a 90-minute story arc. What to do?

By embracing a transmedia approach and producing a series of short films for the web, I realized that I was giving viewers a new way to explore the story. (And it would also mean that I wouldn’t have to leave my beloved characters on the cutting room floor.)

2. The Storytelling Method

I was only able to begin to untangle Jerusalem’s complexities and land on a focus for the film by immersing myself in the city and speaking to many different people. It’s impossible to tell the story of a city as multifaceted as Jerusalem with just a film, but while a film can dive into one area or character and uniquely tug on emotional heartstrings, other media expressions allow an audience member to explore online as they might explore a city offline. I realized I could convey that experience with a virtual tour.

I’m now creating an online experience, where users can remix an interactive collage of Jerusalem’s diverse neighborhoods, people and interests to discover short films profiling dynamic political, social and cultural leaders who align with the user‚Äôs selections. The same short films can be viewed via the mobile app as “micro-stories” mapped to locations in the city.

Each of the elements informs the overall story, but each has its own function for the audience: The film tells the story by connecting to one pivotal character, the website allows visitors to discover the context and underlying issues, and the app is a tool for exploring the city of Jerusalem actually or virtually.

3. Timeline

The shift to a new protagonist, the city councilwoman, meant a shift in production. Azaria’s re-election campaign isn’t until fall 2013, so I have a year and a half before principal photography begins. But, I already have profiles of many colorful Jerusalem characters based on my original concept that I can use right now for the site and app.

I am still figuring out the most sensible release schedule for each piece and platform, but my overall attitude is, Why wait? It’s liberating to free the video and other storytelling elements from the confines of the feature film.

4. Audience Engagement

I’d already begun to build an audience for the project, through an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, conversations over Twitter and Facebook, articles in traditional media such as The Jerusalem Post, and in-person speaking engagements. By creating multimedia elements, I am attempting to grow this core group and keep them engaged for the two or three years it will take to complete the film.

Each element can have a life of its own, but also help feed into the others, giving potential audience members many different pathways into the story.

5. Funding

If I had 10 bucks for every person or foundation that said to me, “We don’t fund films,” I’d have easily funded this film already. However, many of these same groups do have an interest in funding outreach or “new media” initiatives. I now have a new way of pitching my project to potential funders.

Next Steps

These factors are of concern to most filmmakers in one form or another, and I wonder whether more and more people might start taking a multimedia approach
to address them.

Since I decided go the web-first route, everything else has begun falling into place. I’ve created some pilot videos and have been invited to screen them and speak about the project at several events.

With this comes another realization: The “transmedia” experience isn’t just about technology. It includes live viewing experiences too. In my case, screenings of short films from the website can be organized topically around the interests of specific audiences.

The next step is to find design and technology partners to help flesh out my ideas, build the site and app, and make this vision a reality.

Liz Nord is a documentary filmmaker and multi-platform producer who has produced and shown work in Europe, the Middle East and throughout North America. Her first film, Jericho‚Äôs Echo: Punk Rock In The Holy Land, a critically acclaimed documentary about young Israeli musicians, screened at over 100 festivals and venues worldwide. In 2009, she shot a short documentary on-location in Haiti for musician Wyclef Jean’s NGO, Yele Haiti. In 2008, she ran MTV’s Emmy Award-winning election coverage.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

Liz Nord
Liz Nord
Filmmaker and multi-platform producer Liz Nord (Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock In The Holy Land) is embracing transmedia with her new documentary project, Jerusalem Unfiltered and as director of Lyka's Adventure Labs. She has produced media projects around the world, including MTV's Emmy Award-winning 2008 presidential election coverage, and has presented on a wide range of creativity and media-related topics, notably as a TED speaker at TEDxDumbo.
  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

    I’m so excited to hear about your plans, Liz! Though I don’t make films, you’ve left my mind buzzing with ideas about concrete ways I can get more creative with writing…

  • http://twitter.com/phillipdjwa Phillip J Djwa

    This is a great description and a thoughtful way to approach your project. Love the thinking behind it and your process as you’ve described it.¬†

  • http://www.facebook.com/amsellem Michael Yoav Amsellem

    Gret Great Great… Not only I love the topic, Jerusalem, the axis, cultural fight and real life within it, the innovation… and the director :-)
    I’m just a fan craving to see it !

  • Hannah

    I love it! I wouldn’t expect anything less creative than this from you and continue to admire the adaptability and creativeness you bring to both the capturing of life and the ebbs and flows of it.

  • Erin

    I loved Nord’s first doc, Jericho’s Echo. This is a very unique perspective into the genre. Wonderful to hear from a filmmaker!

  • Pingback: The ITVS Indies Roundup | ITVS Beyond the Box

  • Liz Nord

    Thank you for all the encouraging comments! As you can probably tell, I’m very excited about this direction. I’ll be blogging here periodically to share things that I’ve learned along the way. Kim, I love the idea that this kind of thinking can affect other creative processes. I think that all of us “creatives” (writers, etc) could benefit from using multiple platforms for our work.

  • http://twitter.com/elizabethkarr Elizabeth Karr

    So smart what you are doing. Creating excitement and interest for your doc on the web and live events. Makes people part of the process and gets the message out there. ¬†I”m in the narrative feature world, and transmedia effective tool there, too. Look forward to seeing your progress.

  • Pingback: Embracing Transmedia: Battle for Jerusalem | i-docs

  • Pingback: Help! How Do I Hire a Transmedia Designer/Developer? | POV Blog | PBS

  • Jacob

    I’m in. I’ve produced hypervideo and numerous sites at subsumo and 3rdlensmedia.com! Email me at jacob@subsumo.com, cheers!

  • Erika Matias

    Blind Date Dilemma

    To date or not to date?

    TrIsta Martin is all work and no play. Late nights at the law office have all but killed her social life. And lately, the only fun she’s been having with the opposite sex are her anonymous and steamy conversations with Derek Sinclair, a hot guy she met online.

    But all of that changes with a blind date. As a favor to a friend, Trista’s online tryst comes to life when her blind date is none other than the hunky Derek.

  • Ksenia


    Ayla is on top of the world. A rising journalist at groovy Bling Magazine, she knows she can always count on her two best friends and co-workers to support her career.

    But when the coveted position of editor in chief becomes available, a fierce in-office competition ensues. Friends become enemies, salcious gossip spreads like wildfire and rumours ignite feuds …

    Ayla finds herself caught in the middle of it when some of her personal e-mails are leaked. Suddenly, all are interested in the sexy e-mails she has been receiving from bad-boy socialite Neville Bond.

    Their once secret relationship is thrust into the spotight. Can Ayla survive the sudden storm of paparazzi, privacy issues and parties she is now invited to … all the while fighting for her career? And more importantly, can she and Neville keep their passionate affair alive while in the spotlight?

  • Sally Hanan

    Abs Before Beauty

    Priscilla can’t help¬†herself;¬†all Mark Pringle has as an avatar is a photo of his abs. Smitten, she must find him to see if he is the PhotoShop expert she suspects. After all, she’s been fooled before….

    After many hundreds of miles, Priscilla quite happily finds Mark’s abs to be the real thing. But can she love him past his torso?

  • http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_19?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=the+foxworthy+files&sprefix=The+Foxworthy+Files%2Cdigital-text%2C254 Susan Hart

    Man Auction

    Janet realized she’d never bid on an online auction item and won before, but she and two coworkers were determined that the hunk appearinng on their screen would be hers to do with as she pleased, by nightfall.¬† At least, that’s what the promo said about him.

    When he showed up at her door,¬†she was shocked. He was nothing like his online picture.¬† Nothing at all–and for once in her life, she was speechless.

    Can she salvage this expensive first date and have¬†a great time with Mario?¬†¬† What if he doesn’t really like spaghetti, like his profile stated?¬† What if he isn’t Italian?¬† Janet will find out soon, because he had her at the very first words out of his mouth–Ciao, bella donna.¬†Il mio nome √® Mario.

  • Macha

    Oh yeah, and I wouldn’t consider Patricia Briggs a romance author, since I can count on one hand the number of romance scenes in all her Mercy Thompson books (and have fingers left over). That’d be the left most image in the 2000s image. Still amazing books worth reading though ;)