Zombies Get Interactive

It's literally impossible to enter the Austin Convention Center during SXSW and not notice somebody blogging, vlogging or otherwise engaged with a digital device. But the interactivity expands beyond documentation of the event itself to many of the projects looking for attention at it. At the trade show, a collaborative filmmaking project called "Lost Zombies" […]

It's literally impossible to enter the Austin Convention Center during SXSW and not notice somebody blogging, vlogging or otherwise engaged with a digital device. But the interactivity expands beyond documentation of the event itself to many of the projects looking for attention at it.

At the trade show, a collaborative filmmaking project called "Lost Zombies" set up shop with a gigantic road sign declaring, "ZOMBIES ARE REAL."

The movie comes from a handful of California-based designers assembling a fake documentary about a zombie outbreak. The website for the movie invites users to contribute video footage, music and other media as they build the world in which the outbreak takes place.

Applying a distinctive crowd-sourcing strategy, the creators plan to use much of this media for a feature film that they intend to complete by the end of the year.

At SXSW, "Lost Zombies" landed a Web Award nomination and garnered plenty of attention from curious SXSW attendees.

With 7,500 registered users since their launch last summer, the project is on a roll. However, they have yet to figure out how the many thousands of contributors will get paid once the film is completed.

While some people have offered elaborate footage and other complex ingredients, others have developed smaller elements of the world, so the "Lost Zombies" team is considering a point-based system to work out the rights issues. "Right now, all the content is owned by the content producers," said co-creator Skot Leach. "We have no intention of taking other people's money."

Responding to user feedback, Leach and his colleagues recently implemented "The Grid," a feature on the site comprised of 128 squares. Each week, a new square lights up, asking people to contribute a fresh piece of information (photos, video, etc). Leach hopes this will make it easy to categorize various contributions.

Whatever the outcome, Leach estimated that they are 50 percent done with it. They hope to start cutting the feature later this year and complete a rough cut by September. "We've seen a wide range of totally amateur stuff," Leach said. "The community sort of owns this film."

Nearby the "Lost Zombies" table at the SXSW trade show, two authors signed copies of their recent publications; both cover the vibrant intersection of film and new media that involves projects like "Lost Zombies" and many other recent attempts at transmedia storytelling.

Henry Jenkins, author of "Convergence Culture," came to Austin this year with the updated edition of his book, which brings his essential studies of fan culture into the 21st century. Jenkins launched MIT's Comparative Media studies lab years ago, and now he's gearing up for a new gig at USC this summer.

Jenkins said he plans to spend the next year working with a number of his MIT students, many of whom work with new models of film and television distribution, after he moves out west. At USC, where he'll move between the media and cinema schools, the professor hopes to find more versatility than he had at MIT.

Stationed next to Jenkins, Cinematech blogger and journalist Scott Kirsner unveiled copies of his new collection of interviews, "Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age." The book contains 30 discussions with different artists who have managed to cultivate their careers through unique online tactics.

Kirsner, who also moderated a panel on digital distribution this morning, categorizes the book according to various artistic practices: "Film and Video," "Music," "Visual Arts," and "Writing." Kirsner posted additional interviews along with audio and visual content at the book's site, but the physical publication contains plenty of insights on its own.

"We've entered into what I call the era of digital creativity," Kirsner writes. "Artists have the tools to make anything they can envision, inexpensively."

Which brings us back to "Lost Zombies."