iBook Production: how to enter new terrain

Lisa French and Screen Hub correspondent Mark Poole have turned their history of the AFI into an iBook just in time for the third AACTA Awards. He explains the process. 

“Shining a Light: 50 Years of the AFI” is a book first published in 2009 by ATOM. Since then, the AFI has morphed into AACTA, wrestled with its sponsorship issues and rebadged the awards. So we were delighted to be able to upgrade the book, and release it on Apple’s iTunes store just in time for the 3rd AACTA Awards.

The sheer accessibility is amazing. We have a defined audience focused on the combat of the awards, and for a pretty modest $5.99 they can read it on their iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

We are familiar with traditional publishing, and digital film production, but we could see that combining the two would be a challenging learning curve. This is some of what we learnt.

So why make an iBook?

Shining a Light was the ideal candidate for the digital realm, because it would bring the book alive with snippets of the interviews the authors have done with many of Australia’s iconic filmmakers they talked to for information about the book: people like John Flaus, Bob Weis, Denny Lawrence, Annette Blonksi and many others.

Putting the book onto the Apple store allows people to access it whenever they need information about Australia’s makers of film and television content. Because the AFI is such an integral part of the screen sector, the book is far more than a narrow account of the institution. Spanning 54 years, from 1958 to the present, It maps the progression of our industry, particularly since the revival in 1970 to today, and the interviews accumulate to an important oral record of our film history.

Barry Jones, speechwriter for Prime Minister Sir John Gorton, explains in the book how he and Phillip Adams sold the notion of supporting a film industry when Gorton unexpectedly became PM after Harold Holt went missing off Portsea. It was Gorton who began the revival with an initial capital investment of $1 million, in 1970. This enabled the AFI’s Experimental Film and Television Fund, the first film funding organisation, to support such iconic filmmakers as Bruce Beresford, Scott Hicks, Paul Cox, Yoram Gross and Peter Weir.

How is an iBook different?

The main thing is the accessibility to a global audience. These days everyone has a smartphone in their pockets, and many have other devices too such as iPads that are capable of downloading books in digital form. Even your 87-year old Dad can use an iPad and for many, the tablet is a more accessible way of reading books, in part because you don’t have to physically drag several weighty tomes around. As well it’s often easier to search an electronic version of a book than it is to sift through an index in the hope that what you’re seeking can be found there.

Ever since the AFI decided on a name change to the AFI/AACTA Awards, the authors knew they would have to update our history. This edition of Shining a Light includes a new chapter on the AFI’s initiative in establishing the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in 2011, and its implications. As well, this new edition has updated its database of AFI/AACTA award winners and nominees spanning from 1958 to 2012. And since every year a new set of AFI/AACTA Award winners and nominees come out, an iBook makes it possible to update the database, and purchasers will be told that they can download the latest version as soon as it becomes available.

How much does it cost to make?

For the adventurous and digitally astute, you can make an iBook yourself using appropriate software. For Shining a Light, the authors chose to pay others to do the encoding, design work and uploading necessary. Peter Tapp, publisher of ATOM, is familiar with the process and sponsorship was raised to engage the appropriate technical support staff to make it happen. The fact that the book was already in digital format via Adobe InDesign software was a help.

That contract was signed a while ago, and prices have changed. He pointed out that it was a large project, with many pages, a lot of clips, and additions to the existing text. The price range depends very much on the number of interactive elements such as galleries and music clips. At the moment it will range from $3500 to $7000, depending on scale, and what the client can afford.

How long does it take?

As with the price, the time the process takes depends on how complex is your material, how much needs to change and the additional extras you include. Shining a Light has more than 60 video clips from our interviewees. The process of selecting the clips from the hundreds of hours of material we had at our disposal took a while, and the clips had to be encoded to Apple’s specs so they would play back via iOS devices. We were determined to include them for their oral history value.

So what are the takeaways?

Firstly, if you’re embarking on a book project in the 21st century, you should futureproof it. If you are recording interviews as you go, consider videoing them, using high quality gear. It’s not rocket science, but you do need to know the basics. Being filmmakers, we used broadcast quality equipment and one or two lights to light the interview subjects, and broadcast quality audio equipment to record pristine sound.

We also made sure interviewees signed the appropriate releases.

Secondly, consider getting the advice of a publisher as early as possible. Think ahead. If you are amassing stills to augment your work, consider digitising them at high quality and in colour.

Thirdly, who is your audience? Are they iPad savvy, or technophobic? Ipads are pretty easy to use but some people resist technology – yes, some people still don’t possess a mobile phone, and there are probably more in that category than you realise.

Was it worth it?

You be the judge. It will only cost you $5.99, the price of a latte and a muffin, to find out!

Shining a Light: 50 Years of the AFI

Mark Poole

from Screen Hub