"I work hard to keep up with the evolution of storytelling, transmedia, interactive, VR & AR. I enjoy every moment - when I stop enjoying it, someone else should have my job."
For anyone who finds the coming VR revolution exciting (that's just about everyone!), speaking with Caitlin Burns is invigorating. She finds herself at the forefront of the industry's frenzy to learn how to create multi-platform storyworlds and VR environments. Luckily for the PGA, she's the new Vice Chair of the NMC.
Burns credits hard work at the right place at the right time with prompting many of the advances in her career. Of course, her passion, skill, and openness to new ideas are also key. Her first break came during her years at NYU, where she was a theatrical design student minoring in environment systems science. An internship with PGA member Jeff Gomez at Starlight Runner put her in the right place when an opportunity to work on Disney's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise presented itself.
"They wanted a transmedia team when it was still quite unusual. I had the right skills to dive into the movie and pull out the details. During my time with Jeff's company, I was his AP and learned the ins and outs of producing for a wide range of platforms. After a couple years, I had started my own slate of projects there."
At Starlight Runner, she worked on 'Avatar', 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', Microsoft's 'Halo', multiple Disney Channel series, and Hasbro's 'Transformers'. In her own time, she created independent work.
'McCarren Park', an interactive transmedia experience, is a Burns production that combines a smart phone application portal with film, social media components, narrative blogs, location-based unlockable material, and live events. The microbudget production launched at the Tribeca Interactive Day in 2012 on Moveable Feast Mobile Media's App for iOS. It was then screened as part of the First Annual New York Film Festival Convergence track. It's now available as a full-length feature at www.jurassicparkslope.com
VR & Transmedia Pioneer
Her shingle - Caitlin Burns and Associates - is 2 years old and has tackled a variety of transmedia and franchise projects. Including 'Osos de Anteojos', a children's property in Colombia, and partnering with Campfire to support the new Disney Channel Franchise, Disney 'Descendants', which just announced a sequel off its summer 2015 success as the 5th highest rated cable movie of all time. It also topped the charts in music, set records in tablet views, and topped the New York Times Bestseller list. It is currently running an animated series that will run through 2016, 'Disney Descendants: Wicked World', produced by PGA member, Jenni Magee-Cook.
One of her current projects is 'UNICEF Kid Power' (http://unicefkidpower.org), which launched this month. A campaign of content connected to wearable wrist bands, every step a kid takes earns points to unlock therapeutic food packets for malnourished kids around the world. In-school programs have been piloted throughout 2015 and classroom activities have earned just under 1 million points testing the prototypes. The bands are in pre-order now, and will hit stores in December. "These projects are saving kids' lives. The 'Star Wars Force for Change' program and Target are partners. 'Kid Power' was tested in schools for years with 3rd grade classes. It works because kids who are 8 or 9 love to participate. In the content we make a direct connection between the fun and the impact."
Burns is also the COO of datavized, a new immersive design studio. The group is recognized as innovators in virtual reality production and has built prototypes to demonstrate the disruptive power of virtual data visualization.
Today's VR experiences are produced in shorter forms. "It will be a while before we figure out the 'feature-film' experience of VR. The hardware isn't in the audience's hands yet, even though Google Cardboard is easy to get. In fact, Kellogg has printed the board on some of its cereal boxes in New Zealand. In 2016, Oculus will finally ship and the whole market will suddenly open up."
Burns believes that building a sustainable VR culture - beyond games, for example - will be the future. "Everyone is excited, but the audience is not defined yet. Broadband and mobile were also once new experiences for a new audience. I see lots of investment, but how quickly will the audience follow?"
"VR is the difference between watching 'MacBeth' on stage and being a part of a fully immersive experience like 'Sleep No More'. The challenge is that VR audiences have unlimited choices. We'll still need smart editors, cinematographers, directors, and producers to decide how to tell the story and direct the viewer's experience."
PGA NMC Vice Chair
Burns was recently re-elected for her 2nd term on the NMC Board and appointed Vice Chair. Her goal is to make sure there are growing venues for meeting and sharing in friendly ways. "We've produced great panels and workshops and will be expanding that program with new courses for producers from all councils. Planned topics include social media, networking, web development and technology tools. Early next year, we're scheduling a Master Class like the recent LA social media event."
"I was one of the first 3 PGA members in the transmedia category. The PGA really pioneered multiple platform crediting and provided a great opportunity for me to be a proponent for people working in a whole new way."
"Ultimately, what we can do best and what I like to do most is put together events where people who haven't met before get a chance to meet and mingle. Building a peer network I can talk to is crucially important for expanding my understanding about what producers do and where we're going. It leads to more work and insight I wouldn't have had. I'm super excited to meet people in all chapters and connect them to people I know."
Question of the Month: With so much for audiences to look forward to, what's THE most exciting thing?
"The exciting next thing in VR is that we can't anticipate the playing field until the hundreds of thousands of pre-ordered headsets are in the audience's hands. We have so much to explore to understand creative narratives and evolving business challenges; we can't do that without them. I am passionate about what will excite that audience and to learn with them what they love and what they want."
"Media is also transforming education; the possibilities boggle the mind. Google Cardboard is pushing devices into classrooms as a low cost option that works with mobile phones. My kids have reading and math exercises on a tablet that will fit into the wider experimentation in some schools. I'd never seen a smart board until I walked into their classrooms. Education and technology is also working for adults studying complex issues and aiming to understand the world around them."
"As a producer, you have to know the technology, but more importantly you must keep an eye on core messages and themes. That's when the best work happens. My best projects stimulate conversations across multiple platforms."
"My favorite audience is my kids - they're brutally honest and that makes it so much better when they get excited about something I'm working on. We've got our UNICEF Kid Power Bands and my daughter is dressing up as one of the Villain Kids from Disney 'Descendants' for Halloween. Critics and audiences are one thing, but when you can share what you love with the people you care about most, it's the best."