Focus on Cross-Media with Michel Reilhac

New forms of storytelling: case studies with Michel Reilhac, independent transmedia storyteller.


Lunch organised by, MIPTV, April 8, 2014

Hosted by Yves Jeanneau, Sunny Side of the Doc


Michel began by stressing that transmedia is not just a new way of organising data and content, e.g. putting online extra content left over from making a documentary. That will not be watched. Similarly, the product approach of spending years to raise the budget to make a film, then making it, giving it to a distributor to sell, finding no one wants to buy it and then starting all over again “is dead.”

Taking the user’s point of view

The whole landscape is changing. It is about looking at the content from the user’s point of view not from the angle of the producer/director. Delivering an experience is the basis of all he is now doing. It is also wrong to think that transmedia participatory storytelling is really only about technology or thinking just in terms of devices. Most of the products that are exciting for the user are also looking at much more traditional platforms. In the world of transmedia, that can also include plays in the theatre and live events as major ways of raising people’s awareness on issues dealt with in a documentary.

What it is important to recognise at the same time is that there is a shift in the way we are using the virtual dimension of our lives. Social networking has become a way of filtering relationships with others. Recent research has shown that people are realising that virtual friends are not enough. We need real life friends, but not necessarily as many. People would rather have fewer followers and a few real friends.

The funding challenge

There is a challenge in persuading broadcasters to fund transmedia projects because it is difficult to show success stories to prove that the projects are delivering hits to their website, which is how they see the return on their investment. In the meantime, broadcasters are sceptical and concerned about not losing market share to other media.

What makes matters more difficult is the fact that a transmedia project has to be timed very carefully. The whole narrative depends on precision in timing and making sure that a documentary, for example, is broadcast at exactly the right point in that narrative.

Moreover, many broadcasters are organised internally into different programme units – documentaries, web content, fiction etc., and it is very difficult to reconcile those units to bring them together to collaborate to integrate all the elements in an interactive story world – games, apps, real life events etc.

For the time being, the money labeled “interactive content” is marginal, i.e. ten to one hundred, and maybe exceptionally one hundred and fifty thousand euros. A complex storyworld cannot be built on that basis. So the interactive content needs to be broken down into units each of which may be financed in a traditional way with a little bit of money for each which combine to provide the full finance.

An emerging interseasonal trend

One example of the way things he sees things moving in the next three years, which will tie in broadcasters with other media, is interseasonal online activity between series to ensure that the audience is not lost to other storyworlds. There are already the first examples of this in the US, e.g. in the case of Homeland. It is a way of making the fictionalised storyworld permanent. Fans can go back to and interact with the previous season and broadcasters can build fans’ expectations for the next season. This can give broadcasters a stronger hold on ownership, but it still scares them because it is complex (and costly).

Transmedia is not a genre but an ingredient

He sought to reassure the audience that in his view transmedia is not a genre in itself. This is not a transition from linear TV to a whole new job. Transmedia is an ingredient; it’s part of storytelling today. People are not going to stop watching stories in a passive way, but all content will have built-in interactive options. This is to the current landscape what bonus content was to DVDs. In some cases, there will be 0% interactive content; in others 100% (e.g. the Canadian Fort McMoney project presented at a workshop on the Creative Europe MEDIA stand during MIPTV). In others, it will be somewhere in between.

Passive viewing is not dead, therefore, but needs to be complemented with all kinds of different layers. Stories will become multi-layered depending on the level of interest and the availability of access to the Internet and sound to go with it.

The secret will be to make interactivity available as an experience; it cannot be forced on the user. Interactivity must also be simple. The idea is that interactivity be included based on the organic needs, so there will be some interactive content for some people some of the time.

Emphasising his point that traditional film makers should not feel that they have to break with the past and totally re-train, he explained that there are already tools that are already in use, such as mindmaps and timelines, which can be adapted to interactivity, since they are tools designed to use for working with others and one of the characteristics of creating an interactive story is having to work with others. He gave Tiki Toki ( as an example.


Michel illustrated his emphasis on focusing on the user experience by showing Cinemacity, which was produced by Arte ( and the French national film centre (CNC), and in partnership with the city of Paris and the Forum des Images. The first three financed its budget of EUR 350,000. What is particularly interesting about the fact that Arte co-financed Cinemacity is that it contains no linear content.

Cinemacity is an app which geolocates film clips throughout Paris in the very locations where they were shot. It is then possible to download the film through a partnership with a VOD company. That company provides the rights to the film clips as it will get its return through the downloads. It has the right to provide clips of up to 2.5 minutes.

Cinemacity also incorporates “Tag”, a fiction-walk split into five three-minute episodes and specially produced for Cinemacity. The app is available in French, English and Germany. What it does is superimpose a layer of fiction on reality.

Currently only available in Paris, there are plans to franchise it to Berlin and New York, and then Brussels and a score of other cities. Franchising, Michel said, is becoming the economic model for the app. In this case he retains the rights to the software, and the franchisor pays an upfront fee and an annual fee for maintenance and development.

The partnership with Arte had made it easier to find a German partner in Berlin, where Wim Wenders has moreover thrown his full weight behind the project and the locations from his Angels of Desire will be fully integrated into the app, providing users with a vehicle for rediscovering Berlin.

Michel hopes to find a similar figure from the world of film to act as fairy godmother for New York, but noted that he is already receiving spontaneous approaches from major brands wanting to act as commercial sponsors.


He illustrated the importance of user-generated content with Shadow ( Shadow is an innovative alarm clock designed to get round the fact that 95% of dreams are forgotten after people wake up. It brings people slowly out of their sleep and allows them to record their dreams, select key words and then verify later what they have recorded in their semi-awake state.

If it works, it will provide a massive database of something that has never been studied, i.e. the world or dreams, including whether there are recurring dreams that are common or dream subjects which are specific to certain groups of people.

He described it as an interesting way of shaping real life into a story because the content by provided by people providing their own story. It has raised some USD 120,000 in crowd funding.


Michel gave the web documentary, Alma (‎), as an example of a simple but effective use of interactivity. Alma is the confessions of a woman who was for five years a member of one of Guatemala’s most brutal gangs. This is essentially a linear product, but there is an option to shift the screen so that images of the slums where Alma lives slide down over the linear images. This can be seen as a means of shielding the viewer from the horrors of her confession, but for some it makes those confessions more bearable. It thus creates an ethical and moral dimension to creating this interaction which has implications which take us into as yet uncharted waters.