The National Film Board of Canada has always been a favourite on FWA, with their diverse output and strong creative vision.

In the next in our The story behind... series, Lawrence Weber- on behalf of FWA- caught up with Loc Dao- Executive Producer/Creative Technologist of Digital Content and Strategy at NFB- to talk about their past and future and with Loc and The Googles- Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons- about their co-creation “Welcome to Pinepoint”, a beautiful story of a town that no longer exists.

For those FWA visitors, me included, who don’t know much about the NFB, can you tell us why and when it was started?

The National Film Board was set up in 1939 to give the world a unique perspective on Canada by producing and distributing creative work, be that interactive projects, social-issue documentaries, auteur animation or alternative drama.

Our goal is to actively explore what it means to connect with modern audiences and to create new ways of producing artistic, inventive and socially relevant content, in the age of the Internet.

We’re are a creative producer and work collaboratively with creative filmmakers, digital media creators and co-producers in every region of Canada, with Aboriginal and culturally diverse communities, as well as partners around the world.
Since we started we have created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 4 Webbys, 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies.

That’s a pretty rich heritage. How has the type of work you create changed over the years?

Over the years we’ve evolved from a film producer to a documentary film producer, animation producer and now a producer of interactive works.

3 years ago we started a conscious effort to transform the NFB and make it more digital. We started by launching NFB.ca and the screening room that brought hundreds of films from our collection of 13,000 films to audiences on line - for free.

We then released iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry Playbook apps which let's users view the digitized films.

Then 2 years ago we launched our first interactive documentary- Waterlifewhich was the beginning of our interactive programming. 

Since then we have produced over 30 interactive projects in English and French and have some exciting projects launching over the next year.

I’m really interested in your commissioning process at NFB. Can you tell us how that works?

We primarily invite proposals to be submitted from Canadian creators or international projects with a Canadian co-creator. We also have projects that come from partnerships where we ask creators to work on a certain theme or project. We also partner with international partners such as Arte in France/Germany, the Discovery Channel in the US and have licensed our work to SBS in Australia.

That process seems to produce a real diversity of work, as two examples take Pine Point and Flub Utter. Is that a conscious thing?

Our mandate gives us a lot of opportunity in what projects we can investigate. The stories and interactive concepts let's us program what we call a slate of content that balances our content offering on the story, themes, interactive treatment, media types and platform.

There is a lot of buzz around Transmedia content, do you think your content can be defined like that?

We have three ways of treating prospective projects, based on the story we are trying to tell- Film, Interactive or multi channel. Where budget allows, we can use multiple channels and use them to tell transmedia stories.

Our goal for transmedia is using the same content with different treatments depending on the medium. The treatments may hit on the same points but in a different form.  Our Test Tube project, for example, uses the same database of content to produce multi-lingual web properties, iPhone and iPad apps and a licensed Discovery property.

If we take Pine Point as an example, how did that project come into being?

We had originally conceived of Pine Point as part of a project we were doing around the death of the photo album. We brought it to the NFB, and they loved the story. Over the next year or so, we worked with them to turn it into a piece that would work in an interactive environment. There was a lot of back and forth - where we would bring in our ideas, and the NFB would let us know what was working, (or not), offer us alternative paths and encourage us to find solutions. Their approach was definitely not prescriptive, but rather, very collaborative and supportive of the creative process. 

Who was it that knew about the story of Pine Point?

Loc: Mike was reminiscing one night and decided to google Pine Point where he had been as a child to play in a hockey game. He stumbled on Richard Cloutier's web site on Pine Point and was hooked.

FWA: It has a beautifully home made feel to it, which really supports and develops the story it tells about a lost town. Was that treatment part of your original concept

Goggles: Our background is in print - we worked at Adbusters magazine, where we helped introduce an aesthetic that reflected a more human quality in design – handwriting, smudges, objects, tape, etc. and our most recent major project before Pine Point was a book (I Live Here) that was almost completely hand-made. We've always tried to incorporate this human level of design into our work. The NFB recognized this, and strongly encouraged us to continue with it for Pine Point. It certainly suited the material we were working with.  

FWA: In some ways, although a lot less based around technology, it feels like it comes from a similar place as Wilderness Downtown. Do you think digital media people are now finally starting to put away the technology and think about the narrative?

We do think that storytellers are finally entering into a space that was traditionally occupied with more technically minded people, as longer form content makes its way onto the internet, and people start looking there for it.  

As for the 'technology first' aspect – part of the problem seems to be that the technology was almost too good –it represented an irresistibly full toolbox of everything media has been able to do, but in one place, plus a bunch of new things that weren't possible anywhere else.

We wanted a story that looked as human as possible, something that is tougher in a digital environment.  Using technology sparingly, and only where it furthers the story, is something we were really conscious of, and something the NFB was absolutely insistent on.

Definitely, I think creatives ultimately want to create deeper meaningful work; we are seeing more approaches from people putting story first. Our film and story telling heritage means that we have always started with the story and human connection first, even if those stories were for digital channels.

What was the biggest challenge in the Pine Point project? How did the personal stories, pictures and objects get sourced

Interestingly, it was probably in trying to hide all of the technology, to allow for a space that was truly immersive, and didn't remind you that you were experiencing it through a computer. Sound was a huge part of this, as was the full screen ability of the site, but there is a lot of sophisticated programming and creative/technical solutions that the very excellent Mod7 (the Flash team) and the NFB's own technical team helped us come up with.

The personal stories, objects and pictures came from the people who are featured in the piece - Kim (including her excellent music video) Richard, Lyle and Wayne - but also from people like the former mayor of the town and other very generous Pine Pointers. The video footage came mostly from a tape that was made in the last few weeks of the town's existence.

Lots of people reading this will be working away on projects for clients who demand to know exactly what return they will get for their budget. As a non-commercial organisation, do you/are you obliged to set targets? If so what were the targets for Pine Point

We set goals for projects, which include definitions of success. Audience and engagement are important goals for us. Specifically for Pine Point our goals for audience were 100,000 visitors in the first year and we achieved that 3 months after launch. It has also won several awards including 2 Webby awards, a Banff World Media award and a Sheffield Innovation Jury Award as well as an FWA SOTD.

What traffic driving techniques did you employ to get people to see it, other than an FWA award of course!

We've had some press about the project; the awards like yours help a lot and real world projects like a live performance version at IDFA and SXSW and screenings at 2 New York outdoor film festivals bring attention from different audiences.

In terms of the future for NFB what type of work do you think you will be creating in 2 years time? Will mobile devices become specific media channels for you.

We are content creators and distributors that are technology and platform agnostic, so we will always follow users on to devices when the time is right.

We have an Augmented Reality mobile app in development by the artist Stan Douglas.

The app brings a user to two historically important places in Vancouver in 1948 and let's them experience these spaces in a 360 and 3D (really 2.5D) environment. Stan is an incredible artist that has recreated spaces before - he has a piece that is near our office, that is a frozen in time moment during the 1971 Gastown Riots in Vancouver.  This new project will take his vision to the next level and let users enter the space.

Thanks for taking to the time to talk to FWA

About the Author
Lawrence Weber is Head of Digital Production at The Brooklyn Brothers London.


National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
The Goggles
Welcome to Pinepoint


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