April 15, 2024

Digital Storytelling III: Immersive Production — FALL 2023

Digital Storytelling III: Immersive Production — FALL 2023

How to register for this class

Silence in Moonlight (2021) by Lance Weiler — part of a blockchain worldbuilding experiment made with AI and glitch processing

You can take Digital Storytelling III — Immersive Production without having completed DS I or DS II. The DS courses are designed to be taken in ANY order.

The fall semester will have room for 18 students.

A word about receiving credit

This is a research arts course and doesn’t have credit. If you wish to register for credit you can do so through independent study. If you’re interested in receiving credit please let me know.

Please note that this course will include in-person as well as virtual sessions conducted via Zoom. We will also make use of Miro boards. For more on Miro boards please visit http://miro.com

About the class

Digital Storytelling III: Immersive Production is a mix of theory and practice. Teams of students work to design, build and deploy a digital storytelling experience that is staged for the public at the end of the semester. The course combines project work, mentors, emerging technologies and collaborative methods to create a dynamic hands-on immersive environment that mixes story and code.

Over the course of the semester, the class will work as a team to design and produce an immersive experience that mixes storytelling, play, and emergent technology. At the end of the semester, the work will be staged for an audience during our final class. This course is similar in nature to the labs that I’ve helped to develop and/or mentor for organizations such as Sundance, Tribeca, the IFP and others.

We’ll be working together to create an immersive experience that will be staged at the end of the semester for an audience of industry experts.

For the fall semester, we will be exploring experiential futures. Together the class will design and produce an immersive experience that embraces speculative design, worldbuilding, digital placemaking and MDA theory. The theme/topic for the immersive experience will be determined at the start of the semester. In past years themes/topics have included violence within social media, biases within AI and an Existential Haunted House centered on the Climate Crisis.

Students prepare an “Existential Haunted House” centered on Climate Change at Wildrence. In the fall of 2019 my Digital Storytelling III class collaborated with Wildrence’s co-founders Yvonne Chang and Jae Lee

Finally, the class offers an amazing opportunity to collaborate with leading industry practitioners working in film, TV, theatre, gaming and emergent technology. Guests will join the class and become active participants together we’ll develop the immersive experience that will be staged at the end of the semester.

Learning Goals

In this course, students will:

Gain an understanding of team-based emergent media production through lecture content, mentoring, and hands-on experience in the creation of a significant digital storytelling work.

Practice critiquing digital storyworlds through regular peer review during the design, implementation and deployment of team-based works.

Develop deeper design research and thinking methods through ideation

processes in the creation of their specific piece.

Practice digital production processes that exercise iterative testing loops, minimal viable product creation, and agile methodologies.

Learn emergent business models and skills in order to prepare them to be adaptive leaders and team players within a constantly shifting digital media landscape.

How the course works

1. Students work as a team

2. An RFP (request for proposals) is presented to the team

3. The RFP details a theme, location and time of a live event that will be staged at the end of the semester.

4. The class works together and with mentor/guest speakers to design, build and deploy a digital storytelling experience

Mentors/Guest Speakers

The course has mentors/guest speakers who are accessible to the students

throughout the semester who cover the following subject areas…

Experience Design

Creative technology

Machine Learning

UX strategy & design

Service design/product development

Data Science

  • All skill levels are welcome and the course is open to students across the university.
  • Students who seek to earn credit may register for independent study.
  • Please note that this class is limited to 12 students and a full syllabus will be provided in advance of class.

The course provides

- An introduction to immersive storytelling through a group project that will live beyond the classroom

- An opportunity to collaborate with experts working at the forefront of storytelling, game design, immersive theatre and social impact

- An opportunity to test work outside the classroom at events such as Story I/O (a special fall gathering taking place at Lenfest) and at a series of events this coming fall at Lincoln Center

The following are some logistical details for the course. If you have any questions please let me know.


Please note the syllabus for Digital Storytelling III is a living breathing document. Once you’ve been excepted into the course you’ll receive a link to a medium page that will detail the semester and provide some recommendations to help you prepare for the course.

The syllabus is subject to change based upon the needs of the course and project that class is producing. The following will give you a sense of what will be covered within the class.

Syllabus (subject to change)

Here is an example of the syllabus.

Week 1

Welcome, Intros & Goals

- Playtest

- Lecture: An introduction to Story Thinking

- Exercise: World Cafe — surfacing the collective intelligence of a group

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 2

- Check-in

- Lecture: Worldbuilding — balancing storytelling and interactivity

- Playtest

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

- Story I/O collaboration opportunity

Week 3

- Check-in

- Guest Lecture TBD

- RFP (request for proposals) is shared and explained

- Prototyping exercise

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 4

- Check-in

- Fireside Chat: The Art & Craft of Finding the Core

- Class starts the design process

- Teams form

- Design Constraint #1

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 5

- Check-in

- Lecture: Designing for an Aesthetic

- Fireside chat with the creative producer and experience designer

- Teams work with our guests

- Design Constraint #2

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

- Meetup Opportunity at Lincoln Center

Week 6

- Check-in

- Case Study: Pulling back the curtain on an immersive production

- Class discussion team roles and responsibilities

- Review current class prototype

- Design Constraint #2

- Teams iterate their prototype

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 7

- Check-in

- Lecture: Bridging the analog and digital divide

- Playtest: the class presents their work for a small group of working practitioners

- Our guests work with the class to improve the prototypes

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 8

- Check-in

- Lecture: MDA

- Prototyping Cafe — teams continue prototyping

- Check out: next steps

Weeks 9–13

- Check-in

- Mentors/Guest Speakers based on class needs

- The class continues to prototype and test their digital storytelling experience that they’ll stage at the end of the semester

- Check out: Reflection and next steps

Week 14

- Class setups up the experience

- Guests arrive and are briefed

- Immersive experience is staged at Lincoln Center

- Guest feedback

- Open discussion on next steps and possibilities

- Check out: Final Reflections

Class Google Drive

We’ll be using a variety of google services to facilitate the collaborative aspects of the course. Everything for class will be available and archived within an Immersive Production folder on google drive.


For those receiving grades, they are based on the following…

50% collaboration and teamwork

30% on final project

20% based on documentation

Office Hours

Office hours are available upon request. They can be scheduled before or after class.

Key Dates

Mondays 6 pm — 9 pm

There will be a number of additional opportunities discussed when class starts. These include workshops, meetups and field trips.

Some background materials for additional context

Emergent Technology in Performance

Watch the latest episode of the American Theatre Wing’s Emmy nominated series Working in the Theatre. This episode features the work of Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab.

About Lance Weiler

Lance Weiler is a storyteller, entrepreneur and thought leader. An alumnus of the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, he is recognized as a pioneer in mixing storytelling and technology. WIRED magazine named him “One of twenty-five people helping to re-invent entertainment” when he disrupted the industry with the release of his first feature, The Last Broadcast. Weiler co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced, and ultimately self-distributed The Last Broadcast which was made for $900 dollars and went on to gross over $5 million dollars as the first all-digital release of a motion picture to theaters via satellite. The distribution methods that Weiler introduced have since become the standard for digital cinema distribution today. After the success of The Last Broadcast, he began to work extensively as a writer, director, and producer, developing TV and film properties for FOX, TNT, Starz and Endomel.

Weiler approaches his work from a systems thinking perspective. He often develops new methods and technologies to tell stories and reach audiences in innovative ways. For instance, he created a cinema ARG (augmented reality game) around his second feature Head Trauma. Over 2.5 million people experienced the game via theaters, mobile drive-ins, phones and online. In recognition of these cinematic innovations, Businessweek named Lance “One of the 18 Who Changed Hollywood.” Others on the list included Thomas Edison, George Lucas and Steve Jobs.

In addition to his own projects, Lance often collaborates with other storytellers. In 2010, Lance was nominated for an International Emmy in digital fiction for his work on Collapsus: The Energy Risk Conspiracy. In 2014, Lance was Creative Director and Experience Designer of Body/Mind/Change, an immersive storytelling project in collaboration with David Cronenberg, TIFF, and the CFC. Body/Mind/Change was recognized for its innovative use of story and code, winning the MUSE Jim Blackaby Ingenuity Award and receiving a Webby Honorable Mention in the Games and Augmented Reality category.

Since 2013, Lance has been a Founding Member & Director of the Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab (DSL), leading the lab’s activities and helping to shape its enduring vision. The DSL’s mission, to explore new forms and functions of storytelling while encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration, focuses specifically on the ways in which story can be harnessed as a tool to innovate, educate, mobilize, communicate, and entertain.

Weiler’s creative uses of emergent technology have made him a highly sought-after thought leader in the entertainment industry — in particular supporting companies in reshaping their media holdings for the 21st Century. He has consulted on programs and initiatives for IBM, Twitter, Microsoft, Samsung, Chernin Entertainment, Ubisoft, Penguin Books, the U.S. State Department, CAA, Ogilvy, McCann-Erickson and others. In the process, he has helped to create, design and shape entertainment properties that have reached billions of people.

Over the course of his career, Lance has developed a unique understanding of interdisciplinary teams and how to grow businesses in an ever-shifting digital landscape. After speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2012, Lance was invited to serve on two steering committees, one focused on the Future of Content Creation and the other centered on Digital Governance.

Lance is a world-renowned speaker. He has given talks at UN and World Economic Forum events, MIT, USC, NYU, Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Tribeca, Toronto, Berlin and Los Angeles Film Festivals, Games for Change, the Future of Storytelling Summit, VPROs Conference of the Curious and TED.

In addition, Lance has written for publications such as QuartzGOOD MagazineFilmmaker and IndieWire on the future of storytelling.

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