Last night I scared my wife telling her about the horror movie I’m outlining. She couldn’t sleep; I felt bad. But that’s not the scariest story I know. The scariest story I know starts like this:
Well-wrought this wall: Weirds broke it.
The stronghold burst…
Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen,
the work of the Giants, the stonesmiths, mouldereth.
Rime scoureth gatetowers
rime on mortar.
Shattered the showershield, roofs ruined,
age under-ate them.
And the wielders and wrights?
Earthgrip holds them—gone, long gone,
fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers
and sons have passed….
When people think of a single character connecting two fiction worlds, it’s usually part of a franchise universe. Like Marvel’s behemoth. I’ve recently developed a few TV show ideas that are woven together by a single character but in a way different than the classic TV “crossover.” We’re getting primed for this next step. Transmedia story extensions merely add another lane to the road, or a new track to the mix. Here’s a preview of my thinking…
First, some history: Audiences love crossovers. This is an old TV tradition, Lucy from I Love Lucy appeared on The Ann Sothern Show in character back in the 50s. There’s a lot to like with crossovers. If you’re a production company such as Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and you’ve got a bunch of shows on the air, the cross-promotion works for you just as much as it does for the network. Bruckheimer’s shows crossover all the time because he knows how to make money.
It’s really too bad about Xbox TV Studios. Nancy Tellem and XBox Television Studios seemed to be heading in the right direction:
The company is taking the unusual step of only greenlighting shows that can be combined with the interactive components to encourage users to engage across consoles, phones and tablets. By hiring a team of young Hollywood executives and pairing them with software engineers, Microsoft wants to finally crack a code that the entertainment and game industries have had trouble doing alone.
In the early days of online politics, we invented a way to unfold key points of a campaign’s narrative in different online niches — depending on which demographic we needed to clue in. For example, the 2,100,000 active bloggers in the atheism subReddit could be counted on as a receptive audience for messages warning about theocratic Governor Huckabee, and for fundraising for the secular group “Doctors Without Borders” rather than faith-based charities.
Some strategists proposed using meatpuppets – a practice like sockpuppetry, except you drop the intel in online conversation using real interns or real staff identities versus invented personas. Most politicians and political organizations feared blowback from opponents, so almost every linkdrop came from the organization’s official office accounts. Also, we usually linked to some news story that was already out there on the internet rather than a leak.
This is what I mean when I urge storytellers to think of unfurling their stories "outside the box." Only Stephen Spielberg calls it "the square." “I believe we need to get rid of the proscenium,” Spielberg said. “We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or whether it’s a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and we’ve got to put the player [viewer] inside the experience. That’s the future.” (Steven Spielberg, June 2013)
Netflix’ great House of Cards has this character named Zoe Barnes who writes for a political news website called “Slugline.”
In the wake of the NSA’s PRISM wiretapping controversy, I went looking for slugline.com. Nothing. What an obvious missed transmedia opportunity!
Yes, some fans are having fun on Twitter but it doesn’t appear directed – yet.
It wouldn’t take much effort to maintain an online presence at Slugline.com. The payoffs could be great fun for the audience. In the show, there are interesting political intrigue bits mentioned in passing about the political context of that world, many of which serve to paint a fuller picture of the characters’ tense lives. Because the writing is so good, many threads are picked up in subsequent episodes, they converge and become plot points. But lots of these political tidbits don’t rise to that level. These could be used as set-ups for online payoffs which are focused via Slugline.com.
Evan Shapiro of Pivot wrote about the decline of the traditional nationwide scheduled television model, sometimes referred to as Appointment Television; when everyone watched the same revenue-generating commercials at the same time:
“While we will never return to the days when 67 million people watched All In The Family each and every week, I do think we will see a return to live viewing around shows of social significance — especially if we build access points to those shows for the viewers who most want them.”
I’m a fan of newspaper procedurals. There’s something obviously heroic about the search for truth. I loved the way Lou Grant and The Hour breaks a story every episode. I loved how the internal office dynamic was used in The Newsroom and All The President’s Men to add conflict, stakes, and emotional investment. I even loved it in season 5 of The Wire where a part of the scrivener’s drama was existential: the collapse of the industry around them. My friends who work at the paper are amazing human beings. My grandfather who worked at a paper was amazing. So I wonder:
With American TV borrowing so much from Scandinavia, England, and Israel for our best TV shows, how about we borrow from Europe’s best transmedia television phenomenon: The Spiral.
What a sensational experience.
American TV has a long history of adapting foreign TV shows. From classics like All in the Family, Cheers, The Office, to even American Idol and Survivor. Some of the smartest, most original shows are imports. In Treatment, The Killing, Homeland, Shameless and more. I don’t know if it’s Hollywood risk aversion / underestimation of American audiences, but innovative TV often comes to us from abroad.
My interest in transmedia storytelling exists at the intersection of my obsessions with participatory culture, new media, and entertainment. I believe storytellers can create deeper experiences for their audiences when they unfold a story and its world via multiple venues, and when they invite audiences to participate meaningfully in that world—especially when storytellers strategize the unfolding of the adventure on multiple media from the outset of the project.
High engagement yields high-payoffs. In politics, this would be like when you turn your orgs’ mission statement into a narrative that reads like a DIY movement. The Dean campaign was that kind of thing. Similarly, Sleep No More is my kind of theatre project. And on TV, Syfy‘s Defiance is what I want to see more of. There’s a lot more TV shows with cool transmedia integration every season. And the demand is growing.
A stat from Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future, of the Annenberg School furthers one my favorite theories about TV’s evolution. When talking about second screen usage, he notes that: 42% of TV viewers were online at the same time that they watched TV – looking at related content (a still-growing number that tripled in just a few months).
I think it’s obvious that the 42% of TV viewers who go online to see more about the TV content they’re watching do not go online to find and watch the exact same video clips that they’re watching on their TV machines. What are they looking for? And why?
So what the hell is Transmedia? It is not watching a TV show on an iPad. That’s “watching TV.”
It is not telling many stories in the same universe on one TV screen. That’s “franchising,” like the Marvel Universe movies.
Ideally, transmedia is the telling of a story on multiple platforms. By this definition, the earliest example of transmedia storytelling is with the Bible: a book, plays, music, paintings, stained-glass, sculpture, and meetups (designed to trigger every one of our five senses) all helping tell the story.
There’s two paths forward with a TV series based on Source Code.
One is to do a police procedural where everything that happened to Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) in the movie has no bearing on the show. Simply introduce some nearly dead federal agents who work for Project Source Code who are transported into the bodies of civilians killed in devastating events. The agents do quick police work and stop the perpetrators from committing future atrocities. It’s like Quantum Leap or, more closely, the time-traveling procedural Seven Days – which also saw government operatives traveling back in time to prevent disasters.
Clay Shirky wrote a great article that contained another example of how we must adapt or die:
Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn’t a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.
The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won.
If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format…
The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.
Parks & Recreation is great. And it’s also doing a lot of transmedia storytelling right.
I watch TV with a device on my lap, and when Amy Poehler’s character ran for City Council, I went looking for her campaign website because that’s literally my background: I used to do transmedia storytelling strategy in politics. I was happy to find that NBC, the production company, and/or the writers had a funny site up and running. Bravo.
The site’s full of great callbacks to jokes from previous episodes. There’s funny writing in character voices. And like any real campaign website, you can sign up for election updates, newsletters, you can take actions for the campaign, you can even buy real merch, and they invite you to follow the characters on social media. The characters have twitter accounts.
I pulled this out of the memory hole:
THANKS BUT NO THANKS
Free Publicity In ‘Crazy People’ Costs Advertisers Some Pride
April 19, 1990 | By Yardena Arar, Los Angeles Daily News.
The new Paramount comedy, “Crazy People,” starring Dudley Moore as an adman fixated on truth in advertising, is filled with fake ads for real-life goods and services-none of which paid a penny for the exposure.
Of course, the exposure isn’t exactly a real-life advertiser’s dream.
“Would the Hindenburg have paid for placement in the newsreel?” AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson asked rhetorically during a conversation about the AT&T ad in the film.
As in Rush Limbaugh.
Script not done – well see what it’s looks like – could be good hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-cusa…
— John Cusack (@johncusack) November 4, 2012
I can only hope this focus on Private Parts in leaks to press is a head fake designed to keep dittoheads interested. The model of Private Parts is problematic because that was a fully authorized underdog hagiography. And if Rush doesn’t endorse the project (which I doubt he’d do unless he’s EP and/or gets huge gross points) then no dittoheads will pay Cusack to see it. Neither do I see reality-based Americans going to see it unless to gloat in the schadenfreude were it a tragedy, or to boo at his villainy.
Gen Y and the early Millennials are the last group of people who will remember broadcast ubiquity and an advertisers’ ability to rent a captive audience. They’re also the last who remember the internet as a collection of websites. They’re very key to the future budgets of Film and TV because of this history and adaptability.
First, some background: the internet’s most recent evolution was described by Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson in his provocative article “The web is dead, long live the internet” as the rise of apps, offering smoothed-off portals to the mountains of data out there on the internet. Custom tools, good for no other purpose but as the app intends.
I’ve been writing a lot about multidimensional (multi-screen) storytelling in film and television. The goal is to use the New Media forces that some perceive as a threat to the industry, and instead, use these things to our advantage.
First, how does one properly use New Media at all? It’s obvious that the internet is more nimble than an older industry like Television or Film. So start by looking at the shifting ways smart websites make money. Can these lessons be applied to television? Yes, some.
Around 2003, after Democrats were walloped in the midterms, and the established liberal advocacy organizations in D.C. proved unable to register any victories against President Bush, the Professional Left was desperate. So desperate that many Dems and lots of orgs actually hired a bunch of bloggers and technology geeks to try something new – anything new. I was one of those strategy kids. I always brought my background in theatre/film to the table, stressing the need for a coherent story with respect to “the battle of narratives” element of politics. However much I stressed story stuff like identify the bad guy, or choose conflict, our essential challenge was to figure out how to use the nascent internet to do good, and do it well, in D.C.