Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The ”Why” of Transmedia

I’m thrilled to see a great many transmedia projects springing up all around the world, in different settings; from marketing campaigns for blockbusters and tv series to crowdsourced international mystery-stories, from web based crime fiction projects to socially engaged documentaries – the powers of transmedia storytelling are being grasped and acted upon my a steadily increasing number of practitioners. The like-button is firmly pressed for my part.

One thing I myself have found to be of great importance to keep in mind when developing stories and content for a transmedia project is the simple question ”why”? It might sound naive, but believe me, it can at times be a hard question to answer, at least in a way that would satisfy yourself, let alone anyone you would like to invest in your project.

A simple ”because I (or we) can” just does not cut it. That’s a sure-fire way of developing something that doesn’t fit together in the seamless and logical way that’s crucial for any transmedia project. There are just too many pitfalls along the way; there is no need to go digging them yourself.

”Because it’s cool” or "because it's what everyone is doing nowadays" are hardly better reasons. Yes, it will be cool, providing you get it right. Chances are you won’t, and it will not, therefore, be particularly cool. Yes, many others are doing it. This does not mean that you, necessarily, should be doing it as well.

If it’s a transmedia marketing campaign for a release of some kind, that makes it infinitely easier. It’s ”to raise awareness of this particular property” or ”to make people engage in the content and get more viewers in through word-of-mouth”. In this sense you know what you’re aiming for and your results are possible to observe, analyze and draw conclusions from.

Another reason, especially if we are talking about a transmedia campaign connected to an existing property (the new Pottermore instalment might be an example) can be ”to extend the storyworld and offer more content to an engaged audience”. This is a reason that probably could be adapted to most transmedia projects, and in that sense needs more clarification – is it ”to offer alternative or complementary stories set in the original storyworld”? Or is it ”to give the audience a playing field, a sandbox, intended for user generated content”? Is it something else?

It can also be ”to explain the background and the history of the main property in the story” or ”to expand on the mythology through new stories” or even ”to act as a behind-the-scenes view of the main property” (especially in the case of transmedia documentaries).

Whatever reason you have for developing transmedia content (and the answers to the ”why?” above are probably as many and as diverse as the number of transmedia projects in existence), ”Why?” remains a good question to ask, at any point of the development, production and execution phase.

PS. It was swiftly pointed out to me that one - perhaps one of the most central - reason for transmedia would be "to generate revenue" and in the long run "to increase the value of the IP". I will concur, although I will add that at the moment I think most of the transmedia projects we are seeing are pretty happy just to break even. Thanks Simon Pulman for pointing it out. DS

Friday, June 03, 2011

Transmedia, Time and Context

I’ve been totally bogged down with work the past few weeks. Sat in front of Final Cut Pro for most of the time, alternating with meetings and social media strategy planning... I can now confidently say that you can NEVER be too prepared to launch a new project. You can also NEVER be too ready to adapt to things that happen around you, that will influence the story you’re trying to tell. We’re up now, though, here, with the first installment. Working on the rest as we speak.

This in turn has led to me not being able to keep up with all the excellent posts on Twitter, all the new projects and seminars and meetups etc springing up all over the world. Will now try to make amends, not guaranteeing anything though!

Still, a couple of posts got my mind working overtime these past couple of days. Andrea Phillips wrote an excellent post on Time and Transmedia, highlighting the challenges facing anyone working in different time periods within a story, in a real world where viewers can start experiencing that story from just about any point possible. In the comments, Scott Walker pointed me to a post of his that I’d missed last year, on the challenges and possibilities of collaborative transmedia storytelling. Many good points, and with so many people moving into the field of transmedia from numerous different angles, these posts are simply required reading.

My point of view on these matters come from the field of creating a transmedia experience from scratch, without any previous brand or franchise to fall back on. It is an experience that is unfolding in real time, which at the same time will live and prosper drawing on the power of the long tail. In this context, context is, as we have found, crucial. There will be many people entering the story from many different angles, and the story might have unfolded to just about any point. As I see it, there are some points that need to be taken into consideration:

- The foundation needs to be solid. In order to attain this, you must have a grasp of the time line of the project, and a general notion of the story archs and the schedules involved. At the same time, you cannot lock everything into place (at least not with a project like ours, that is expected to run and run) or you will be stifled.

- The foundation needs to be communicated clearly and without any discrepancies. This goes for communicating outside the team producing the content as well as within the team. In this matter, the task of simplifying is crucial. Test and try and test again; if the story world and the basis for the stories you are about to create and tell people is blurry, press the ”sharpen” button immediately. This is not to say that everything needs to be told from the start – quite the contrary – but everyone involved, be it a viewer, a user, a programmer, a writer… everyone needs to see the same thing when they look at your story world and your story.

- Once this is achieved, you need to drop the reins, but give some clear options on how to interact, how to create within your world etc. This goes when it comes to letting an audience interact and create, but also when it comes to not locking down people on the project, but instead give them the right tools and the motivation to, themselves, create and interact within your project. It is nigh impossible to put all this on one person’s shoulders – much better (and much more true!) to give key people the mandate to interact with each other and with the audience, within the context of your story and story world. You’d be amazed at what springs up.

- Finally – don’t panic! With most projects you’ll be involved in that are of a more documentary type – like ours – there will be humans involved. Everyone will also know that there are humans involved. Everyone also knows that humans make mistakes. Mistakes can even be beneficial, as long as you handle them in a way that makes sense within the context of your story and your story world. In a life-affirming, warm story and world, you laugh it off and the audience laughs with you. In a dark and brooding and violent story arc, you behead someone on the team with a vicious snarl towards the audience, and the audience winces in terror but nods knowingly (and this is purely fictional then, of course. If you really behead someone on your team and refers to this post in your defense, I will not be held responsible).

All in all, there are soooo many aspects to think about. I won’t even go into the challenges of interacting with different brands and companies, all with their own strategies, or interacting with collaborators, also with their own strategies, as such instances are merely on a case-by-case basis. I will, however, report on findings along the way. And, yeah – comments are open.