An animated crowd of artists, entrepreneurs, and appreciators—including Jimmy Wales, Questlove, Reggie Watts, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York—gathered Wednesday night on the just-poured floors of the "Made in NY" Media Center, a collaboration between the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) and the City of New York. Though not technically operational yet (the mixed-use space won’t be open for business until November 1), the event marked the launch of the latest addition to New York City's revitalized media scene.
The "Made in NY" incubator is intended to be a hub of interaction and collaboration between techies and storytellers in New York City. Applications are still coming in, and acceptances are just now going out. IFP has never worked within the tech world before, though the marriage is a more natural one than it might at first seem. "Technology has always driven storytelling, in a way," says Joana Vicente, head of the IFP and the leader of the Media Center. "Look at the history of film and how technology has changed it throughout the years. Now we’re at a time when a shift doesn’t take 10 years—it takes months. So it makes sense that people develop technologies and stories together."
The incubator facility sits in the belly of the 20,000-square-foot "Made in NY" Media Center building located in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, at the corner of Jay St. and John St.—right in the center of the neighborhood’s thriving tech community. In contrast to the Community Workspace near the main entrance—a nicely furnished lounge with tables and chairs open on a first-come, first-served basis during normal business hours, where no application is required and membership costs $150 a month—the incubator is private and will be open 24 hours a day via key-card access.
For $450 a month, incubator members will have access to dedicated desk space, reserve-able conference rooms (each with moveable furniture to accommodate different working styles) and editing and production suites, as well as use of a high-tech screening room and proximity to creative professionals in the film, TV, video, gaming, tech, and advertising industries. "First and foremost," Vicente explains, "we want people in the media world and in the storytelling world," which can mean a multitude of entry points. Also essential are those who will bring different skillsets to the table—gamers, coders, designers, app developers, marketing and businesspeople—to strike a balance of disciplines and industries, and to ensure diverse encounters where collaborations actualize.
The responsibilities of membership run beyond payment. "We want you to be a part of a community," says Vicente, "to give back and team up, to share your work with other people." Storytellers have a lot to learn from the New York City tech industry—and vice versa. Vicente illustrates the symbiosis like this: App developers are artists who come to art from a different angle; while creating an app, a developer needs help from filmmakers, for example, to deepen and enrich the storytelling; at the same time, filmmakers need help from app developers to get out the word about their film in more effective, broader ways.
"There’s more in common than people think," says Vicente. "You have to have a good story to tell and you have to be able to tell it. Everyone is creating, and I’m excited to bring these simultaneous conversations alive."
"Made In NY" generated more questions than applications at first, and Vicente says it has been difficult to offer people concrete answers, with no existing model for the project to point to. The members will help shape the future of the incubator, she says—and Vicente herself is learning along the way.
In doing so, she has the full support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, called "Made in NY" "the first government-sponsored incubator for transmedia."
"The way media is produced and consumed is changing dramatically," said Bloomberg. "Media creators and tech companies have a lot to gain from a strong, collaborative working relationship—and New York City will reap the benefits of that partnership in the form of job creation and global competitiveness."
At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, Vicente and her team announced that Questlove, frontman for the Roots and for the in-house band for the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, would be the Center’s first artist-in-residence. Questlove cut the ribbon himself—with his mind, controlling the scissors via a brain-wave-reading device, a taste of projects to come.
"It feels like the message we’re trying to get across is getting across," Vicente says of efforts to promote the young incubator. "People ‘outside the box’ are applying. That’s who we’re trying to reach."
Submissions have come from established names and from total upstarts—and surprisingly, many applicants are international. Vicente is impressed with the caliber of the applications. "The interesting part is that the people who are serious about [membership], are the right people. I was pretty amazed. In general, the quality of the applicants was incredible." Rather than a deluge of half-baked ideas, Vicente says, "the projects are fantastic. We could not wish for better."