As more content creators, activists, and story tellers strive to compete for attention, many are experimenting with other media to create broader reach. The need to use “transmedia”, or multi platform story telling, is growing and some exciting developments are happening to meet the demand.
On the forefront of exploring this space is Alison Norrington, an accomplished novelist, playwright, and journalist who is also the founder of storycentralDIGITAL and Conference Chair at the StoryWorld Conference. In an effort to bring together producers, creators, ad agencies, brands, story tellers, tech companies, and more into the fold, we spoke with Alison over email to hear her thoughts on transmedia and where it’s going.
1. In your words what is transmedia?
Over the last 18 months transmedia has been oversold, undersold, sniped at, hyped up and the term itself the focus of excessive debate and passionate opinion. For me, in its simplest form it is an exciting approach toward storytelling that infuses a storyworld with gaming behaviors (which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a game – just that it’s a FUN experience). To think outside the confines of the traditional boxes that have held ‘stories’ requires vision, strategy and innovation.
Transmedia storytelling is the successful organic flow of narrative over a host of platforms, each one excelling at what it does best. For example, StoryWorld Conference speaker Helen Ross Klein was the voice behind @BettyDraper (a character from the AMC series, ‘Mad Men’). What better place than Twitter for the pouting, sulky, mono-syllabic Betty to have a presence – on a platform that offers musings and statements in only 140 characters.
2. What makes a good transmedia project?
Here’s where the definitions begin to cause confusion and, possibly some bad press for innovations in storytelling. A good transmedia project should not be focussed primarily on ‘transmedia’ – ‘transmedia’ is an approach toward a story/project and perhaps to begin with an idea for ‘a transmedia project’ suggests that it’s platform-centric, which is a flimsy way to kick-off.
The focus should begin and end with the development and scope for a fabulous, engaging, and robust story. Transmedia isn’t the defining quality but the amplification of amazing stories, so the key touchpoints remain as vital elements – a well considered storyworld with robust 3-dimensional characters and a tight knowledge / awareness of genre and audience behaviors are a solid start. A robust multiplatform storyworld will be so because of a strategic focus on audience / viewer / player / user behaviors at pre-development stage. There are pillars that uphold a strong transmedia property and those that focus on user engagement, immersion, extractability, discoverability, 2-way narratives, amongst other things – are the ones that benefit from the increased scale and scope that multiplatform storytelling can bring.
3. Why is it important to network with the right individuals and teams when creating a transmedia project?
I often liken the complex approach to telling a story over multiple platforms (both on and offline) to spinning plates. There are a host of elements to consider that reach far beyond traditional, linear storytelling. A well compiled, bespoke team can bring their specific skillsets to the transmedia storytelling table – skills that dial in to experience design, user interaction, social media, game-play, narrative design and will also touch on traditional storytelling platforms such as theatre, novels, console games, TV and film.
A great example of the importance of networking with the right individuals is co: – “a story-led innovation collective for the 21st century C-suite“. It’s the innovative brainchild of ex-JWT’s Ty Montague and Rosemarie Ryan which has brought together a network of skillsets to build a bespoke team. Co: collaborators Brian Clark of GMD Studios and Mike Monello of Campfire NYC will both be speaking at StoryWorld on ‘Interactive Storytelling’, ‘Sustaining Discoverability’ and ‘Pitching & Selling Your Idea’.
4. What opportunities exist for those looking to create a transmedia project for social change?
Opportunities for creating transmedia projects for social change are vast, but in order for any multiplatform project to succeed it must be engaging, relevant and genuine. People are used to being ‘sold to’. We live in times where we are bombarded with demands for our attention and charities or media for social change are already becoming diluted in the ‘noise’. I was speaking to transmedia activitst, Lina Srivastava recently, who will be speaking at TEDx Transmedia in Rome (on September 20th) about the ‘space’ between raising awareness and triggering activism. TEDx Transmedia is a one-day event that, this year, is focussing on Socially Responsible Media.
The bottom line is that our social habits have already changed. There’s a quote that jokingly suggests that ‘Facebook is where we lie to our friends and Twitter is where we tell the truth to strangers’ – a fun stab at the way we communicate and present ourselves in social media spaces. Social change per se depends on raising awareness and building that audience to a point where they will ‘lean forward’ and ‘do’ something. Transmedia storytelling has its foundations in 2-way narratives and gaming behaviors – which is exactly what social change demands – a dialogue about the ‘issue’, conversation to raise awareness and then the lean forward moment where passionate advocates get out of their seats and begin to instigate the change that’s needed.
@CatBinLady is a humorous look at a Twitter narrative that was born from a news item in the UK where a middle-aged woman randomly placed a passing cat into a rubbish bin, but was caught on CCTV. Before long @CatBinLady appeared on Twitter with a punchy, character-centric series of tweets which garnered followers that swiftly hit double-figures, despite @CatBinLady only following one person: Kanye West. Those who wanted to know more about @CatBinLady clicked on her bio to find a direct link to Royal Society for Protection of Animals donation page.
Submarine Channel’s project ‘Collapsus‘ is also an innovative transmedia project that combines animation, interactive fiction and documentary and follows an impending energy crisis. Collapsus was initialized to raise awareness of the global issue of peak oil.
5. What can we expect from the StoryWorld Conference?
StoryWorld Conference won’t offer a standard quick-fix for ways to expand and extend your story over platforms and audiences. It can’t hand you a firm template for a business model that you must build your Intellectual Property on and it certainly won’t bring all of the answers, but it will bring a super-smart collective of people together from TV, publishing, film, theatre, advertising, gaming, social media, and legal to share their case studies and hands-on experiences from practitioners that have earned their stripes. I recently wrote a blog post on ‘Why I Said ‘Yes’ to StoryWorld’ that explains what to expect from this exciting event.
Transmedia MeetUp group members from LA, New York, London, Vancouver, and Toronto are planning to use StoryWorld as the first global Transmedia Meet Up.
In addition to 2 days of a program fit-to-burst with speakers from commercial entertainment corporations and freelance innovative storytellers there is also the StoryWorld unconference – a networking day packed with workshops and discussions. The StoryWorld Speed-Mentoring sessions offer the opportunity for 15 minutes (pre-bookable) 1:1 mentoring with transmedia professionals. The “StoryWorld/storycentralDIGITAL InProduction Showcase” offers YOU the chance to showcase your well-considered multiplatform story on the main stage.
And, of course, with StoryWorld Conference kicking off on Hallowe’en, who knows what else might be at play…..
6. Lastly, I want to know: what do you see for the future of transmedia?
I think that the fizz will go out of the term itself as consumers / viewers / players / audiences begin to expect and seek out surprises and further engagement with their entertainment. I hope that over the next 5 years we will see exciting storyworlds built with spaces that invite audience engagement, collaborative gameplay, and opportunities for fans to immerse themselves and impact on the story.
I suspect that we will begin to see less of a divide between stories that ARE multiplatform and those that aren’t. Audiences are increasingly more connected and will engage with a flow of content that is accessible, immersive, bite sized, on demand, and on the devices that we use day-to-day.
Following our interview, Alison was kind enough to offer a discount to Games for Change community members. Register before their early bird deadline of September 16th and save $200 – If you use the discount code “G4CSW11“, you can save an additional $50. Those looking to register can do so on the StoryWorld conference website.