Interactive Storytelling

Hollow is an interactive documentary that merges cinematic techniques with web-based storytelling to encourage a dialogue about the issues that small-town America faces.

The project examines the lives of 30 individuals living in McDowell County, W.Va., an area that is representative of many boom-and-bust areas across the country. McDowell County has lost almost 80 percent of its population since 1950 and continues to lose more young people every year due to a lack of economic opportunity. This rural brain drain has left many counties across the nation with an aging demographic and failing infrastructure. However, many people—approximately 22,000—continue to live and work in McDowell. They feel a great sense of pride and belonging and believe they are there to help improve and move the county into the future.

Focusing on the residents who have stayed during the tumultuous times, Hollow is a story of hope and home and strives to not only address the issues through storytelling but help provide potential solutions. Using HTML5 technology to merge cinematic and emotional storytelling with the web, the stories of residents have been brought to life for the outside world to understand the often overlooked sector of our society. The interactive documentary provides a “lean forward” and “lean back” experience and encourages each user to not only consume media but also be an active participate and contribute to the narrative.



Appalachian stories are often oversimplified and stereotypical. The simple statistics of drug abuse, obesity and other problems often create a narrow, impersonal picture. McMillion encountered too many stories of hope and pride to craft such a bleak “black and white” picture. She wanted to challenge preconceptions and create a more authentic view that included the day-to-day human stories of McDowell County.

Filmmaker Elaine McMillion’s project “Hollow: An Interactive Documentary” bridges that gap between the storyteller and the audience. The project is practically a living, breathing thing; viewers can subscribe for updates on individual people. Such connections create insight and understanding.


Anyone who saw promise for the future of web-based journalism after watching/reading The New York Times’ highly innovative “Snowfall,” will positively be drawn to the work produced at “Hollow.” It is next level.

Maybe the most magnificently presented, web-aware journalism I’ve ever seen. But more important than the visual achievement is what it does — documenting the lives of people who live in a mostly ignored rural community, far from the traditional media bastions and bubbles.


  • Elaine McMillion Sheldon: Director, Producer, Cinematographer

  • Jeff Soyk: Art Director/Web Designer and Architect

  • Robert Hall: Technical Director and Senior Developer

  • Russell Goldenberg: Interactive Developer

  • Tricia Fulks: Associate Producer and Researcher

  • Sarah Ginsburg: Editor

  • Kerrin Sheldon: Editor

  • Billy Wirasnik: Sound designer

  • Lee Strauss: Original Music



  • 2014 Emmy Nominee in New Approaches for Documentary

  • 2014 ONA Excellence & Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling award

  • 2014 Webby Awards: “Web Community” honoree

  • 2013 Peabody Award

  • FITC 2014 Awards Finalist in “Narrative” and “Best Visual Design” – March 2014

  • SXSW 2014 Finalist in “Activism” and “People’s Choice” awards – March 2014

  • World Press Photo 3rd Prize Award for Interactive Doc – March 2014

  • FWA Site of the Day (Aug. 28, 2013)

  • FWA: Adobe Cutting Edge Project of the Week (Nov. 11, 2013)

  • Finalist for the DocLab Storytelling Award at IDFA – November 2013

  • CSS Winner of the Day (Sept. 27, 2013)

  • National Coal Heritage Foundation: 2013 Research and Documentation Award


The Disaster Resilience Journal is a 42-day journal that brings you stories about natural disasters around the world and how people are preparing and responding to those threats.

The short online serialized articles, released daily via social media networks, blogs and word of mouth are told across many mediums and through the web platform. Each day brings you a photo, text and/or video essay, Skype interview, game or quiz. People from from rural to urban and East to West, share the stories of the disasters they face and the steps they have taken to overcome those threats.

The Journal was commissioned by the European Commission’s Department for Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection (ECHO), and draws on its work with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and National Societies from Europe and the world.

Mike Robbins of Helios Design Labs and I spent months researching, writing, interviewing and chasing down images and videos. Honig Studio in Berlin made the games and quizzes come to life. Ultimate acknowledgement must go to Virginie Louis and Eva Oyón from the Red Cross EU offices in Brussels who imagined and schemed and wheeled and deal-ed to make the project happen.

The Drug NExt Door

When final exams loom, do students at West Virginia University take pills to boost academic performance?

The Drug Next Door is a mixed-media, mobile-first storytelling project created by West Virginia University students, and led by Sarah Slobin (Wall Street Journal), Dana Coester (WVU), John Temple (WVU), and Elaine Sheldon. Using audio, video, graphics, data visualizations, and mobile-first design, we produced this piece over the course of 4 months.