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“Publikum can be used both for creative decision-making during the writing phase and in post-production”

Industry Report: Market Trends

Niels Alberg • Partner, Publikum

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The Danish expert explained how Publikum can assist creators during the early-development stages and help them build their audience

Niels Alberg  • Partner, Publikum

We met up with Denmark’s Niels Alberg, co-founder of Will&Agency, who talked us through Publikum, a new service that combines deep anthropological audience insights with AI technology to provide novel inspiration to filmmakers. In contrast with traditional audience research and other AI-based services, Publikum does not try to predict the commercial success of a project or to dictate a certain creative direction. Instead, it provides qualitative insights aimed at assisting artists during their creative process. The platform is backed by the Creative Europe - MEDIA programme, and is currently cooperating with the Danish Film Institute, the Netherlands Film Fund and the Norwegian Film Institute.

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Cineuropa: What is the project’s main mission? When did you start developing it?
Niels Alberg:
Around two years ago, the Danish Film Institute commissioned a project to us aimed at observing how Danish film creators worked in the early-development stages. In numerous cases, despite their good intentions, the cinemas had many empty seats. So the institute asked us if we could help identify the main phases of the creative journey, where a major awareness of the audience would be of benefit to creators. We own two brands: the newest is Publikum, while Will&Agency is our core company, which does strategic research based on anthropology. For over six months, we involved the Danish film industry, and listened to screenwriters, directors and producers to see what we could deliver in terms of audience insights. We went through a lot of their projects, and the filmmakers realised how beneficial anthropology could be instead of collecting big data to better understand their audience. After following the projects of a few creators working with audiences in the early-development stage, we realised we could make a tool of our own. So we created a platform called Publikum, a service helping to deliver audience awareness during early development by combining AI technology and anthropology. In particular, we work through a process that we call “treatment-emotion-connection”. Somehow, we’ve built this tool as a sort of European response to the American way of doing things, where AI algorithms have been trained with scripts over the last 20 years, in order to identify what works with an audience and what doesn’t. [...] If we now combine that [big data] knowledge with “softer” data, like anthropology, maybe we can get the best of both worlds.

How does this “treatment-emotion-connection” process work?
In the first stage of our tripartite process, we will receive a treatment or a script. We will read it through and have a staff meeting with the production team, including the director, the scriptwriter and the producer. Then, we offer our anthropological takes on how people can identify with these stories and select the core themes. We call the next phase “issue crawl”, wherein we use this piece of AI technology that we’ve developed with Aalborg University (Denmark) to help us scrape around 100,000 online documents, and then insert the theme that we agreed to focus on. So let’s say that we choose to analyse “shame”. We can get a semantic analysis of how people talk about shame and what they connect shame with. Thus, we make sure that if writers are thinking about shame, in some way, they’re also aligned with how people are connecting shame with other emotions. They can make sure they’re not going in the wrong direction, or if they want to, they can take that path to provoke the audience or something like that. For our last stage, we developed an app for mobile anthropology, where we conduct interviews with the potential new audiences over their phones. For four days, the participants share their takes on the story’s central themes, but potentially also on anything that could benefit the project, such as the lead characters, their looks, the film’s score and so on.

Could you give a practical example of your work on a particular production?
My example comes from a Norwegian comedy-horror that we worked on recently. One of the themes we discussed with the team was narcissism, which was really important for this movie. These types of themes are crucial aspects to consider if we want to help movies to travel a bit. Often, we tend to focus on the domestic market, but how can a movie also be successful in Denmark and Sweden, for example? So we looked at how narcissism is perceived in those countries. We could see that in Denmark, for instance, a narcissist is someone who really needs to be aware of himself, and he’s actually a very dangerous man, somebody you shouldn’t end up in a relationship with. Meanwhile, the Swedes’ perceptions of narcissists were quite the opposite. They argued that society stimulates people to become narcissistic and that we need to take care of them. And in Norway, it was different again. Narcissism was only connected to the authorities, and especially politicians.

So, our tool doesn’t provide filmmakers with any “hard conclusions” on what to do with their treatment of narcissism, but it gives some directions and explains how different people can identify with it in the different countries. Therefore, Publikum can be used both for creative decision-making during the writing phase and in post-production, when it comes to “positioning” the movie with the audience.

Which markets do you currently serve? Are you planning to expand throughout Europe?
We currently operate in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. We only kicked off the project last November, so we had a really busy time readying the platform and worked with the first slate of pilot projects. And yes, our next step is definitely to approach new European markets.

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