ReelChanges.org, a brief account of my experience and learnings

Reelchanges.org does a lot more than merely using internet as a means of delivering information to the users. The site is originated out of the idea of supporting independent filmmakers around the globe by empowering them with means to communicate about their media proposals, to find audience, patrons and media distributors.

The team included a bunch of documentary filmmakers, journalists and technology experts. It was at this stage, quite the time when everyone was brainstorming that I joined this team as a UX consultant. Initial responsibilities included defining the design brief, gathering background information about various aspects of non- profit media production – distribution and informing the team about related design possibilities.

In parallel, started the phase of identifying different user personas with their individual needs. A set of workflows and scenarios were sketched pertaining to each user category. Somewhere I also got started with the task of breaking up and then structuring the information to come up with the system architecture.

Initial set of paper sketches as wireframes and system diagrams proved to be a handy communication tool within the team. We did run a couple of iteration cycles using these. Besides carrying the advantage of a faster turnaround time, these paper prototypes proved valuable for the team whenever it came to convey thoughts to the team members with different backgrounds, especially when most of us were accustomed to relying on text based communication. These wireframes soon became the basis for generating visual designs (high fidelity UI mock-ups) for this project. We also had points of difference around issues like usage of colors and visual language but the process followed helped us to embrace and appreciate good elements from different points of views. Moving ahead, these images were delivered for front end HTML implementation cycles which made me taste its own set of constraints 🙂

In Aug 2008, the team released the alpha version of ReelChanges.org. Since then it is kept on a content aggregation mode before we could embark on a new cycle of design enhancements. This is also a period when we are testing this idea with a live segment of users, patrons, documentary filmmakers and commercial content distributors.

Credits: Hal Plotkin, Texity Systems

Related resources: Click here to view a set of process sketches of this project.

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Movies to watch

Godard’s Les Carabiniers 1963

Chris Marker’s Si j’avais quatre dromadaires 1966

Buena Vista Social Club 1999

Au Hazard Balthazar 1996

Old Boy 2003

The Great Indian Butterfly 2007

Waltz with Bashir 2008

Nero’s Guest

A mind full of ideas and a crowd full of support…

Not so long ago when it used to be a nightmare for Sridhar, a documentary filmmaker from Ahmedabad, to arrange funds for his projects. He had to personally visit and write to a number of institutions and individuals asking them for their support. In few fortunate instances when he had some financial support in the beginning, it was still difficult to sustain the same during all the stages – from ideation to completion- of a project. But now with this web initiative called ‘ReelChanges’, things are getting a lot better for him. He can inform a larger audience about his project details, ask for funds in parts during the production and once completed can even market his documentary films to a potential broadcaster. On the other hand, an audience i.e. a site user gets to learn about a topic he might be unaware of and can probably help a struggling filmmaker like Sridhar get his project completed by making a monetary contribution. With some filmmakers who have multiple projects in their online portfolios, the users will be able to help them out in the one they find the best. However visiting a site that hosts a quality bunch of documentaries on issues- ranging from arts, music, education, indigenous cultures to youth, politics, and environment- also qualifies as a sole motivation for many.

At a different site by the name ‘CNCnews’, citizens are busy posting questions to the government- demanding answers and reactions on issues of public interest. However as we can easily predict; most lawmakers and executives would like to cut corners in answering questions posted ‘online’. To curb this possibility, a group of journalists then follow these executives in the political corridors with the same questions. It is often the case with this web site that a single question gets endorsed by a number of citizens, making it ‘a must to answer’ for the concerned lawmaker. The cycle completes with journalists posting back these answers on the site for users to review.

These examples are currently few but one just needs to look around and notice the huge success of campaigns like the “Hard Rain” and “Jago re”. The former is a charity program to support globally a series of public exhibitions about climate change, poverty, the wasteful use of resources, population expansion, habitat destruction and species loss. However in both these campaigns, internet is being used to inform and gather local participation and support.

So who all should be counted in this new class of trend setters? Are these only the filmmakers, journalists or activists? Probably not! These are the common people- like you and me- enthusiasts from different fields- who have realized the true potential of this medium- not just merely as a tool to inform but more as a tool to attract and encourage public participation. They are establishing a parallel image of the internet- proactive and collaborative; other than a daily morphine dose of social networks, news, stock trading, pictures, video and porn. And it’s not the first time that they are trying to use technology ‘unconventionally’ to their advantage. Owning a website or a personal blog can’t be the only solution, especially in the times when the success of an entire idea depends on whether you make it to the first few results of a search engine or not. The future now lies in creating shared platforms- often non-profit – for people with different interests but possibly with similar ends to meet. It’s increasingly about lessening communication gaps amongst individuals while discovering opportunities to appreciate and support mutual efforts.