Amanda Murphy, Executive Producer, Storyfutures Academy

This time, we’re pleased to bring you three key SXSW takeaways from Amanda Murphy, BAFTA award winning Executive Producer of Storyfutures Academy. In this previous post, UK content creator, Deepa Mann-Kler shared her experience as part of our UKRI US Immersive Mission 2019.

SXSW 2019 in Austin, Texas was both a first for me as a Producer and for Storyfutures Academy (SFA), the UK’s Centre for Excellence in Immersive Storytelling run by National Film & Television School (NFTS) and Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) which I was representing. And wow, what an extraordinary few days of utterly inspiring keynotes, virtual cinema firsts, tech innovations, serendipitous meetings and our first ever pitch to a savvy international interactive crowd which was nothing short of nerve wracking!

We were there as part of the UKRI US Immersive Mission delegate trip along with representatives of all the UK bid winners of Creative Industries Clusters Programme and Audience of the Future programmes, hosted by the Arts & Humanities Research Council who really took care of us.

Here are the top 3 things we learnt:


There were so many great lessons from VR pioneer (and former principal filmmaker for Google) Jessica Brillhart whose Convergence Keynote was awesome.

A stand out for SFA was: The notion of STORYTELLINGS – that there isn’t just one story to tell, there are many stories, many perspectives, many experiences. The shift in language is from frame to world, viewer to visitor, points of interest to attention and engagement. For the visitor ‘in the world’ there are many potential experiences.

Jessica Brillhart during her Convergence Keynote SXSW 2019

This could not have been better demonstrated than in what was the most outstanding VR piece in the virtual cinema (I thought): ELEVEN ELEVEN by Syfy and NBC Universal, directed by Mehrad Noori.

ELEVEN ELEVEN by Syfy and NBC Universal, directed by Mehrad Noori

ELEVEN ELEVEN is an incredible multi-linear narrative experience in which you have 11 minutes and 11 seconds to work out who you will join aboard the rescue ship before the planet of Kairos goes up in smoke.

You’ve got 6 different characters and stories to choose between (they all intersect and you can jump from one to another) all while selecting from a number of sophisticated modes of movement (you can teleport or walk or jump to the top of the island for an aerial view) as the clock is ticking away and your heart rate racing. I loved it!

Along with Mechanical Souls, a rather more cinematic feel piece from Digital Rise and Serendipity Films about humanoid robots hired to assist with a fancy Chinese wedding, it did feel as though some great Storytellings were on show here.

Technically accomplished Mechanical Souls uses an AI driven narrative engine to deliver a one of a kind tailored experience complete with tracking shots (something I’d not yet seen in VR) which added an unnerving but clever edge.

Mechanical Souls, directed by Gaelle Mourre


A second and rather important message at SXSW was:


They are the new film-makers tools.

We all need to learn them or certainly understand what is possible to achieve with them. They give limitless power to imagine worlds and create them. Some went so far to say that it won’t be that long before all media is delivered through them.

The message was loud and clear in Jessica Brillhart’s keynote:

Slide from Jessica Brillharts Convergence Keynote & Nonny de la Pena on her new web platform ‘Reach’ at SXSW

There was also much talk at SXSW about the democratisation of all kinds of tools used in immersive and the merging of author and consumer.

The big players like Unity and Facebook are certainly working to this end (e.g. Facebook’s React 360 tool and Quill), as is immersive journalist and ‘agent of change’, Nonny de la Pena (Founder & CEO of Emblematic group) who has developed REACH a new web platform that allows people to tell their own story in room scale virtual reality – a simple drag and drop tool that allows you to make full volumetric walk around content!

So, it seems there is no excuse for all us interested creatives but to roll up sleeves and get stuck in! Royal Shakespeare Company’s Sarah Ellis added to the discussion around growth in promoting the need to learn to work with people and methods we don’t know.

Her cross-sector collaboration work is with Magic Leap, Unreal and various University Insight and data teams. This resonates perfectly with work we are doing at Storyfutures Academy to bring storytelling talent across from the traditional screen industries and forge new cross sector pathways. so much to learn for us here.

RSC Director of Digital Development, Sarah Ellis on characters created as avatars in motion capture technology
Photo by Julia Nottingham © RSC


The third loudest message was GREATER ADOPTION OF VR AND AR ON ITS WAY.

On a couple of panels (THE FUTURE FOR VR AND AR and IMMERSION AT SCALE: AR/MR WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING for example) folks like Steve Kroenig (Consumer Technology Association), Tony Parisi (Unity Technologies) and Alex McDowell (World Building Institute) talked of broader adoption of 5G and edge computing on its way, and the rapid improvement of technology powering the virtual experience (untethered headsets, eye tracking capability and the imminent arrival of haptic feedback).

With the promise that the visitor will be able to interact and explore in increasingly more realistic/natural ways, the belief is that VR for entertainment (and for good) is truly on its way. And AR for enterprise and training and improving our lifestyles.

There were a few great distractions that added to the SX experience too like the appearance of David Byrne and even The Fonz on our flight, as well as some beltingly great music from Yola (formely Yola Carter) at the British Music Embassy where our UKRI Mission launch was held. And more than enough Reasons to be Cheerful (Byrne’s keynote title) at having bagged a place as part of the UKRI US Immersive Mission Delegation along with other Audience of the Future and Creative Industries Clusters programmes.

We made a bit of noise ourselves (in many ways) with a pitching session for all of the upcoming UK projects at the Capital Factory. Let’s hope it’s the first of many for Storyfutures!

Amanda Murphy (front) with fellow UKRI US Immersive Mission Delegation. From left:
Kate Welham, Harry Kerr, Sam Michel, Polly Dalton, Matt Samsan, Damian Murphy, Tara Solesbury, Deepa Mann-Kler

About Amanda Murphy BAFTA award winning Executive Producer, Storyfutures Academy, Royal Holloway, University of London. Amanda is an established Executive Producer with a track record in large scale TV Productions, such as the UK’s first Big Brother and Supernanny which sold to 47 countries. In May 2019, she won a BAFTA for the film ‘Missed Call’ in the Best Short Form Programme category. She is Executive Producer of Storyfutures Academy, awarded £10m in funding, as part of the £33m Audience of the Future challenge. Storyfutures Academy aims to pioneer immersive experiences across the creative industries and develop cutting-edge creative training and research programmes in immersive storytelling.

About UKRI US Immersive Mission 2019
The mission ran from 6-13th March 2019, with visits to world leading immersive businesses in San Francisco including Facebook, ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm and HTC Vive. A bespoke programme of XR showcases and networking events also ran the during technology, film and music conference SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Delivered by the AHRC Creative Economy Programme for UK Research & Innovation, the mission aimed to explore the challenges and opportunities of the US immersive landscape, build connections with top US businesses and raise the profile of the UK Immersive expertise.

This year’s delegation included research organisations and companies supported by over £110m of UK government funding including the Creative Clusters and Audience of the Future programmes.

About SXSW
The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW® is the premier destination for discovery. You can read more at https://www.sxsw.com/about/.

Watch SXSW 2019 Highlights

Main image source: Dan Oritz at Think Jam

SXdipity: explaining “Serendipity SXSW Style”