Matthew Stenback can make an app for that

    Posted on: Friday, March 13th, 2015

One of the perks of being a Canadian millennial is that I don’t have to work too hard to understand coding. The language translates fairly easily when you grow up digital, and I have been able to build on the small amount of html I taught myself when I was in elementary school. This was an absolute necessity, as I needed a way to best express my specially cultivated pre-teen, punk-rock, suburban angst. Where I am from the go-to online journaling sites were Livejournal, Xanga and Asian Avenue (please see “About the Author” photo to understand just how hilarious that profile was… I’m fairly certain my user name was BubbleHoneyPuff or something just as ridiculous). I am not sure what young Newfoundlanders used in the mid-nineties, but I am fairly certain there were versions of this type of basic coding being written in online diaries across Canada.

Now, I can parse out a WordPress problem, but I am always floored by people who can envision great things and build them from scratch. Matthew Stenback (MS), the founder of Brownie Points, is a self-taught programmer who uses these tools to creatively improve the world around him.

Matthew is giving his first workshop this weekend as part of the Scene and Heard Film Industry Conference. He’ll be at NIFCO tomorrow morning at 10am to teach us all about the basics of mobile app development. Matthew took the time to answer a few questions for us about his career, mobile apps and the workshop tomorrow.

Matthew Stenbeck

SJIWFF: Tell us a bit about yourself.

MS: I’m a self-taught programmer and designer. I founded Brownie Points and co-founded Common Ground coworking. I love all things entrepreneurship and product development. I’d rather be the guy in the background making stuff, than the one in the front talking about it.

SJIWFF: Where did you get the idea for Brownie Points?

MS: I got the idea in University when I was shopping downtown one weekend. The downtown area just felt like it’s own community and I thought there might be an interesting way to tie all the stores together. I also noticed that hardly any of the stores had a points system or any sort of modern marketing tools. The way my mind works, I’m always puzzling out how things could be better, so naturally I started to dig into that problem. Brownie Points was my way of connecting independent businesses, and modernizing their marketing tools at the same time.

SJIWFF: How did you develop the skill set to bring the vision for Brownie Points to life?

MS: I got really interested in video game development during University so I started programming in my spare time. The skills I learned while developing my game translated pretty easily over to other platforms and programming languages. I’m self taught, but I don’t really feel at a disadvantage because of that. In fact I’d say that most CS students probably learn more outside the classroom with their side projects anyway :)

SJIWFF: In your own words, why is app development important for artists/organizations/businesses?

MS: In my opinion, learning the process of app development is useful for almost anyone. Without the knowing what’s involved in making an app, it might seem too complex, too expensive, or unrealistic for a given organization or project. But the reality is, most mobile apps are fairly simple to make. Once you understand the process, you can make much more informed decisions about whether or not it’s right for your business, project, or event.

SJIWFF: What is your favourite mobile app?

MS: Instapaper. It’s focused, useful, well designed, and it’s not trying to be all things to all people. It does one thing, and does it really well.

SJIWFF: What are you most excited to cover in your workshop this Saturday?

MS: Well it’s my first time delivering a talk/session/workshop, so I’m pretty excited just to be doing it! But in terms of a topic that I’m most excited about covering, I always love talking about managing the scope of a project, keeping the purpose focused, avoiding feature creep, that type of thing!

Tickets are still available at the LSPU Hall Box Office for Matthew’s workshop.
See you all there!

Telling Interactive Stories with Jen Moss

    Posted on: Wednesday, March 11th, 2015


I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Moss (JM), Interactive Producer, in October when she joined us here in St. John’s for the [Interactive] Film Industry Forum. At the time she was still working with the NFB/Interactive, a platform for Canadian digital projects (documentary, experimental, narrative), and gave a presentation alongside Kat Baulu, one of the NFB’s creative producers.

Since her last visit, which was filled with laughter, excellent twitter exchanges and much dancing, Jen is now working as an independent producer, working on projects with Al Jazeera and Simon Fraser University. We had to bring her back!

Jen will be here on Saturday March 14 at 2PM for a workshop at NIFCO on Interactive Storytelling, part of Scene and Heard 2015. Jen took the time to answer a few questions about her career and her recent projects. I can’t wait to hear more about what she has been up to and about Al Jazeera’s Life On Hold, which launches the day after her presentation!

SJIWFF: How did you get involved in interactive producing? Is this always what you wanted to do?

JM: Ha! That’s funny. I did not even really know what ‘interactive producing’ was, nor that I wanted to do it, until I was well into my 30’s. I was not one of those goal-oriented people who I admire so much. I studied playwrighting and other forms of Creative Writing at the University of BC. That is where I developed my interest in storytelling. I was then hired at the CBC in Vancouver and sort of organically evolved into a radio producer there, working on some of their flagship national programs. When Loc Dao of the National Film Board’s Digital Studio was expanding his team, he hired me because he was looking for someone with experience producing for a national audience, who also had some concrete skills such as writing & audio editing. I had a great deal to learn on the fly about the interactive form when I went to work at the NFB. I’m still learning, and I still consider interactive producing to be something of a black art. But I have come to view interactive work as one of the most exciting frontiers of the creative sphere, and really enjoy the way it brings all manner of creative and technical people together.

SJIWFF: You are an Interactive Producer. In your own words, what is the difference between interactive media, transmedia and multi-media? Is there one?

JM: These terms are all related & overlapping. Multi-media is the umbrella term, and just means there are several forms of media involved in a project. It would not necessarily require those things to be related by theme or to be interactive. Transmedia is a bit of a trickier definition, but to me it’s when a multi-pronged or multi-media project is related by theme, and occurs over different platforms (e.g.: film, tv, web), but is not necessarily interactive. Interactive projects have a more pronounced role for the audience to play, and tend to be more immersive in aim. Audience (or user) choices determine the path they will follow through the story, and through the various platforms (web, tablet, phone, social media) that the story may pop up on. Some thought is given to the mechanism of interactivity, and how it relates to the actual theme of the story being told.

SJIWFF: Your work at with the NFB often explored documentary subjects through interactive platforms. What are the elements you need to consider when planning for an interactive doc? Are there benefits to using this platform over traditional documentary filmmaking?

JM: Who is your audience, and where is your audience? What platforms are they consuming media on, and when? What are the parts of the story that suggest action? Can that action be translated into a form of interactivity with the audience? Eg: in Bear 71 there is a theme of surveillance in the wilderness, so part of the interactive mechanism of this project is to have the user turn on their web cam, & become part of a “surveillance wall.” The benefits of the form are that you have a whole new creative role to consider, and its fun to do so. The audience becomes almost like another character in your story. Plus of course there are the general benefits of the internet – larger audience, accessibility, etc. So if you have a social justice doc that is hugely important: eyeballs on your material. Plus I think this form speaks to a generation who grew up playing videogames, and now expects their entertainment to be interactive.

SJIWFF: You’re working with Al Jazeera on a new interactive project that is soon to be launched. Can you tell us a bit about that project? Does working with a news broadcaster change the process for interactive projects?

JM: That is a great project – not quite launched yet – that deals with a the huge problem of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 1/4 of that country’s population now consists of refugees from Syria. So how to humanize that issue and make people care, while still getting across the scale of the problem was the challenge of that piece. And yes – working with a news organization is different. Their online audiences tend to be less used to the interactive form, and are more used to reading than watching. So this is something you consider when you look at, say, the balance of copy & video in a project, and the complexity of the interactive approach.

SJIWFF: Do you see a wider application for interactive platforms in journalism?

JM: Absolutely. You can make people feel like they were there, and you can do this in a timely manner. You can bring in social media to incorporate real time evolution of a story. You can talk to your audience as a story is breaking. You can let people explore what might happen if one choice is made, versus another choice. You can help people see & feel the stories in a whole new way that is immersive. You can help people see their own role in a story, and the impact of their choices. In our media-engulfed world it is another tool to help make people care.

Meet Jen Moss this weekend at Scene and Heard. To purchase a ticket for Interactive Storytelling, visit the LSPU Hall Box Office.

Got an interactive story idea? Jen Moss is offering private consultations for interactive projects on Sunday March 15. To register for those, email before March 12, by 5pm.

    Posted on: Friday, October 17th, 2014

Hey all,

Very excited to share with you that the screening for Fed Up will be starting at 4:00pm today at the LSPU Hall! Real soon!

This documentary takes on the effects of the sugar industry on obesity levels across the United States. I, personally, am pumped! Find out more here, and hurry!

SJIWFF: Friday Lunch Time Documentary “Web Junkie”

    Posted on: Friday, October 17th, 2014

This is not The Fog of War. Collateral damage here is familial. No one is speaking, with decades of hindsight, straight into the camera. This is not a miniseries about The Civil War or Jazz. There are no talking heads. There is no historical footage. There is no presentation of statistical analysis. There is no precedent. There is no commentary at all.

I need a hug. I need to give a hug. I need everyone to hug everyone just for a minute, while I recover from watching Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam’s singular documentation of a few months inside one of China’s internet addiction camps. I say “documentation” because “documentary” has certain ingrained associations. In this film, the work these women have done is unimaginably large but also unseeable. They worked to gain complete access to an enclosed treatment facility in (what is to them) a foreign country. This is not about them.

The world they show is so foreign, on so many levels that any commentary would have been wrong or cheap, or too narrow. Instead we are given the space to watch intimate scenes between lost and angry teenage boys and their lost and angry parents. Space to sort through which of our reactions are reactionary prejudice to this culture and this treatment, to the very idea that Internet addiction requires treatment, or that bootcamp is a valid treatment. The same space that these families and their society are being afforded (though in stark, metallic, semi-crowded and peeling spaces) in these treatment centres as they also begin to question how they have always regarded and treated each other.

Like most addictions, the roots of suffering in these families is not the drug (or World of Warcraft in this case), it is depression, anxiety, physical and mental abuse, lack of communication, lack of connection. It is acute loneliness. Through the web of judgements and discomfort and hairy questions raised by the setting and the subject matter, the absolute honesty of the parents and their sons in a series of group therapy sessions burns, like lit cigarette ash on polyester, an expanding circle of painful empathy.

The fathers admit, in even tones, to the abuse and fear they have meted out. To the mistakes they have made and the mistaken beliefs they have blindly adhered to. Then they cry, in front of everyone, sometimes silently, sometimes with loud sobs wrenched from inside them as the other parents keep passive faces but put hands on shoulders and hand pass tissues.

The boys’ admissions are equally grave. One dares his father to kill him and threatens to beat his father to death in one breath. One explains simply that he is not connecting to a computer when he goes online, he is talking to another person, someone just as lonely as he is, sitting in front of their computer.

Just as there is no commentary or judgement offered by the filmmakers, there is no conclusion. This is happening right now. There is not yet an outcome on which to reflect. The closest to closure we are allowed is a scene where the parents and the sons are all urged to hug. The arms of boys and dads are shown squeezing each other in desperate, visceral love. We are left with a long shot of one of the boys we have followed leaving the centre with his father. We watch them argue as they walk away from the barracks over who will carry the heaviest piece of baggage.

This movie is why I come to this film festival.


SJIWFF: Thursday Lunch Shorts – Mixed nuts (no peanuts!)

    Posted on: Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Well, looks like grief as a subject for film is trending. Two out of five shorts today were about dealing with a loved one dying, versus only one about romantic heartbreak and not a hint of romantic comedy anywhere to be seen [insert fist pump here]. This hour of five shorts was extremely well curated: two animated, two live action short-story style pieces, and one film-poem.

The tear jerker was thoughtfully put first so no one had to head back to work puffy-eyed. “In the Deep” by Nimisha Mukerji showed the love between a father and his daughter as she goes through the acceptance phase of her (likely) terminal illness. The best scenes were the ones where they can not help but oscillate between vexation and appreciation of each others lifestyles. The later scenes would have been stronger if this struggle-to-not-be-irritated with a loved one had been peppered throughout.

The camera work was understated and carefully executed. An opening shot of a body swimming underwater through rippling chlorine blue waves is held in our eye by the gentle rocking of the camera in the following shot where an older man sits on his sofa in a living room devoid of bright colours or underwater magic.

“Dog Sitting in Eastern Passage”  (Martha Cooley) was a surprise. The sound was part of the visual poetry of waving grass and waves rolling in. Landscapes working almost as emotions in and of themselves. These images were punctuated with written platitudes seen as shots of a journal lying in the grass. “Trust in the unexpected” “Everything you hoped for is coming true” something else about life being circular etc. What saved these from being utterly irritating, in retrospect, was the final journal entry. The denouement, filmed as it was being written, related the attempted mending of a broken heart while dog sitting in this rustling and dynamic setting, with the wonderfully un-cheesy line, “My heart – like a dog – kept bringing me your image.”

The next short, Re: Jess (Talia Alberts), Follows a young man in real time as he finds out about the death of someone important to him. The shift in his mannerisms from the overly practiced self-conscious posing as he executes a flawless brunch date to his awkward mumbling through the shock of bad news was gratifying to watch.

The other highlight of this short was a well shot scene where the film maker lets us watch the protagonist babysit. He can now start to deal with his feelings without a peer watching him. We, essentially, watch him in an unwatched state, with the baby serving to keep some emotional and physical interaction afloat to keep us engaged.

Another interesting device used was the smartphone as soundtrack. The low rumble of it vibrating in a scene in the forest is like a trumpet breaking into song. Later, the pinging of many text notifications, coming in faster and faster as word of his friend’s death spreads, is more deliberately mixed with a xylophone style pinging in the ambient music to blur the lines between the story and the atmosphere.

…and the other shorts … will have to just keep playing in my head as I must put down the laptop and pick up my toddler now… I am looking forward to seeing so many more that I will never be able to find the time to write about them. This year’s schedule is over-the-top packed. Lucky ducks us here is St John’s.