CMG Grantee Alex Finn Discusses Using Interactive Media to Create Impact

This week we caught up with Action Grantee Alex Finn, who recently released his short film Becoming a Whale Heritage Site, to talk about the variety of interactive media he and the World Cetacean Alliance are using to promote their campaign. Here's more on how they're using multiple films and formats to create impact:

CMG: "We noticed that you released your primary film on Wirewax. What is that? What advantage does it have over other platforms?"

ALEX:  "Well, I’ve been managing interactive and nonlinear media for a few years now. I’m actually co-founder of a startup that is making an interactive platform, and Wirewax has been around the longest. It’s one of the more established platforms and, to be honest, that was the biggest reason we used it. I’ve seen a lot of interactive platforms come and go, so we wanted to use something that would exist in a year’s time, you know? A lot of the competition is sort of in flux, and we know Wirewax has been there for 4-5 years. Functionality-wise it’s a fairly clickable platform, easy to get the links in, and it’s free! 

CMG: "How did you decide which parts of the film would have an interactive element?"

ALEX: "We needed two things for the project – the first was a narrative to talk about what a Whale Heritage Site is, so we needed a voice, a human voice, to tell us that story... It’s a bit hard to tell a linear narrative in 360, so I wanted to do a traditional part that could follow a narrative. At the same time, a really important element we wanted to get in was to be able to put people on a whale watching tour, as these people are the decision makers in these other destinations and a lot of them didn’t realize how big this was to tourists. 360VR was just perfect for that.  Then we’ve got this problem with having two formats that we’re using and it just made sense to have these embedded in the main video, so you can come back to them afterward and check them out – you have a bit of flexibility.

So, we’ve got the main film talking about the tours and responsible whale interactions, but the other aspects of whale heritage sites - like culture and history and education and creation stories involving whales that go back for years - are really interesting. Trying to cram these extra pieces into a 5-minute piece doesn’t make sense - it would get really busy and complicated. You can come back after watching the main film to these additional pieces and get a bit more context of the behavior and life of these people and the whales. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into getting these pieces of footage and it’s still valuable information, but without a place in the film necessarily. But when you have interactive elements you can have these pieces. They don’t need to interrupt the main story and you can keep that primary film with it’s own space separate. It really gives an opportunity to give other little bits a backstory. It does have some issues though - it’s not always a seamless transition, but I think as the technology evolves we’ll get to a stage where it actually becomes a lot easier and smoother."

CMG: "Tell us more about the 360VR companion pieces. How do they work with the primary film and fit into the campaign?"

ALEX:  "For me, VR is tricky – it’s not quite evolved yet and people are still trying out different things. There’s some great stuff out there and also some really bad stuff, but what is special about it is it puts you right in a place and gives you this immersive experience. It may not be able to hold you for a longer narrative but, for short bits, can put you directly in a place and you can have a look around. I like that aspect of it. For that, it works really well."

CMG: "How did you shoot the 360VR portion of your film?"
ALEX: "We used a GoPro Omni, which is fairly new. We had to hire one in – I think we were about a month behind delivery in this country (the UK) so getting it was quite hard. I was 7 days out and the equipment still had not come in, so it was quite intense. But it did come in and I’m so glad it did because it removed a lot of the post-production and a lot of the complicated stuff that goes on with the 6-camera rigs. It’s still not quite the ideal solution. It’s a stepping zone [in VR cameras]. You have 6 GoPro cameras and that’s a lot of data to deal with afterwards, lots of processing. The rig itself has 6 exposed GoPros that aren’t waterproof so when you’ve got that on the front of a kayak filming it’s pretty unnerving, but it’s a step in the right direction. I imagine in another year there will be more solutions and it will be more versatile."

CMG: "What is your history using 360VR? Is this your first 360VR film?"

ALEX: "It was my first time making a 360 film and it’s still evolving and that’s what is so exciting about it. It’s still so new. I spent a lot of time prior to the film consuming as much as possible just to get my head around different types of VR stories. I learned a lot of tips and tricks just by watching as much as I could. You learn how to capture not only the whales but the people reacting to the whales. I’ve been on a lot of boats and seen a lot of whales and this particular place it really does stop you in your tracks, so it was great getting those first-hand reactions. The atmosphere on the boat was just incredible – they were all whale watching tour operators, naturalists, and educators - so they have all experienced it before, but they still get a real kick out of seeing the whales every time. Technical issues aside, we were set up to shoot the people more than the whales so it really came out well."

CMG: "How do you think interactive technology fits into conservation campaigns in general? Is it only for certain projects, or should everyone be using it?"

ALEX: "I think everyone should be using it – certainly for online video. For your classic kind of feature or documentary that’s in a film festival, it’s less useful, but I think for online purpose it should certainly be used. I’ve got a start-up company building another interactive platform (called vvdio) mainly because I’ve used all the others and think “I want it do this, why doesn’t it do this?” so we actually decided to make our own. In that period of time I’ve been able to look really closely at what they work really well at – and it’s engagement. You want a video that people watch online to do something, not just be something people watch and move on from, and VR makes it easier because you can direct the viewer to click and it takes them directly where you want them to go. They’ve got no excuse to disappear down the YouTube well-hole and forget where they started. You can get them to go directly to your landing page, your registration page, your application page and it's so much easier. Even at the most basic level just getting people to click something and follow along – it works.  It works for marketing and advertising. There is a great experience for the viewer. I think it can help NGOs, and campaign videos and film in general. And that all boosts engagement."

CMG: "Last but not least, what impact are you hoping to achieve from Becoming a Whale Heritage Site? And do you think the interactive nature of your media will affect the outcome significantly?"

ALEX: "What we want the film to do is to help whale heritage sites become the global accreditation system for responsible tourism for whale watch destinations. So, the purpose of this video is to recruit those destinations. It’s going to be shown to tourist board members around the world, policy makers, and people in those destinations, and after watching the film and hopefully getting a very clear understanding of what a whale heritage site is, then they can jump right into the whale heritage website with the free heritage site application. We are aiming for a very quick onboarding process, and hopefully that interactive portion makes that process a lot easier. 

CMG: "Any closing thoughts?"

ALEX: "Well, I would also just like to include that I was really pleased and amazed to find CMG and what a great organization it is. Not just making a film but making a film for the sake of doing something is so great, and inspirational. It makes you think “what else can we do to focus on the impact?” Oftentimes, films end and a lot of people may have seen it but to get people to actually DO something is superb."

Well, Alex – we feel the same way!  It’s always phenomenal to find a filmmaker who is excited to create films, but also wants to create action and impact. Learn more about Alex Finn and his project on his grantee page HERE.  And many thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk to us for this special blog post!