Collaborative Storytelling

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In 2012 I was interviewed by The Next Web for The Future Of Mobile, alongside other experts in the world of mobile media such as Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (2002). We were asked to foreshadow how mobile media might change the ways that people act. 

At the time, I shared the view that we “should not only consider mobile media as screen media like TV or desktop computers, but a social interactive and multi-nodal network media that links to communities, provides new insights through visual communication, while providing access in many respects for a global audience. The notions of sociability and connectivity are and will be key in the future of mobile media.” 

Eight years on, I still agree with most of that statement but in 2020 I would substitute “visual communication” for “storytelling”. 

We have come a long way from the distinctive visual aesthetic seen in much mobile filmmaking prior to the arrival of the iPhone 4S in 2011. Nowadays, smartphones can produce broadcast quality video when combined with an external microphone, a gimbal or tripod, and apps like Filmic Pro, Luma Fusion and Adobe Rush. This makes them a television studio or editing suite in your pocket. But they also offer novel connections within communities through storytelling. 

I would like to share as examples three content co-creation projects I worked on last year, in collaboration with diverse communities that are not always well-represented in the mainstream media.

Surfacing rural stories

First, Tales from Yarriambiack is an online series of smartphone stories co-created with rural communities in south-eastern Australia. In collaboration with Hilary Davis from the Social Innovation Research Institute, we filmed in the townships Rupanyup, Murtoa, Minyip and Beulah, which are several hours northwest of Melbourne. A rough cut was produced on location in Adobe Rush and then synced through the Creative Cloud for final edits in Premiere Pro. 

Our entire storytelling process was approached through a conversation with the communities in rural Victoria; from scouting locations to selecting interviews, submitting extra smartphone video footage and editing feedback sessions online and in person. 

This collaborative storytelling approach brought multiple perspectives and voices to the project and allowed a community to create stories about their places and important sites. 

Revealing the positives of ageing

Another example is the OPERA (Older People, Equity, Respect and Ageing) project, which I carried out with Media and Communication researchers Diana Bossio and Anthony McCosker as well as Hilary Davis. 

Our aim was to raise awareness about empowered, resilient, active older people living in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and challenge themes of ageism, age discrimination and elder abuse by countering them with stories and messages about a positive journey of ageing. We used workshops to explore themes for the interviews, and to choose participants for the stories. 

Again, using smartphones and simple equipment, it was possible to work constructively with communities that had no media training or experience with interviewing, and we created a series of videos, and policy reports for the Victorian State Government. 

Explaining environmental issues

My most recent project is #Nucleus, a transmedia experience that celebrates and creates awareness about local nature and the environment through smartphone filmmaking. 

I co-produced an 11-minute smartphone film responding to this question in collaboration with nine smartphone filmmakers from seven Australasian countries for the Goethe Institute in New Zealand. This “eco-smartphone” film project was inspired by elements of indigenous storytelling.

We were inspired by the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga to create new affinities and connections with people and places. Kaitiakitanga denotes stewardship and care for the world around us; and in combination with smartphone filmmaking facilitated a democratic approach to storytelling in exploring issues of the environment and sustainability.

Our project included community engagement via smartphone filmmaking workshops in New Zealand and Australia, together with an open call for eco-smartphone films via the Mobile Innovation Network and Association (MINA). 

The submitted films were shown at a public screening in Wellington’s Embassy Cinema in November last year, and have reached nearly 5 million people via YouTube.

We also received praise from the German ambassador to New Zealand, Stefan Krawielicki, who called the project “an innovative approach to sustainability and ecology which are issues that are extremely important to governments all around the world.” 

So smartphones are more than just a content creation device for making great videos. They also provide new opportunities to open up storytelling to a more collaborative approach for community engagement. 

About the author


Smartphone Filmmaker

Max Schleser is Senior Lecturer in Film and Television and Researcher in the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies (CTMT) at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Australia), Adobe Education Leader, Co-Founder of the Mobile Innovation Network & Association ( and Screening Director of the International Mobile Innovation Screening & Festival. Max’s research expertise are Immersive Media and Creative Arts 4.0 with a focus on Cinematic VR and interactive filmmaking. His research explores Screen Production, Emerging Media and Smartphone Filmmaking for community engagement, creative transformation and transmedia storytelling.

Max’s experimental films, moving-image arts and cinematic VR projects are screened at film festivals and exhibited in galleries and museums ( His community engaged documentaries are broadcasted on TV and online (