Telling Interactive Stories with Jen Moss


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.