photo credit: Kevin H. via photopin cc

photo credit: Kevin H. via photopin cc

I was speaking with a producer friend of mine this week, and she told me a disturbing (if familiar) story, with a surprisingly inspiring conclusion.

She recently exec produced one of 2014’s “bigger” independent films…which is set for theatrical release soon. They did just about everything right. The film is written and directed by a well known, highly respected auteur on the indie scene, with a  long career. It stars two very well-known character actors, who are just about household names if not quite “movie stars.” The budget was modest. It premiered at one of the pinnacle A-level film festivals. There it was bought by one of the biggest mini-majors in the business, and has since sold 18 territories worldwide. Even before theatrical release, the investors have all made a significant percentage of their money back…albeit not all of it (and certainly no profit).

She was lunching with one of the films other producers recently and she asked him… “If the film grosses 1 million dollars theatrically, do you think we’ll see any more money?” He said, “probably not.” So she said, “Ok what if it grosses 3 million?” And he said “probably not.” “10 million?” “Probably not.”

She said that’s when it dawned on her…. producing and selling an independent film the traditional way (i.e. selling all rights out of a festival premiere) is simply not a business. (BOOM…head exploding). In any other business, making back a percentage of your investment is not a success story. In indie film, we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, that’s the way it goes” and move on to the next one.

The lack of a sound business model in independent film is what we at TFC have been trying to address all along. The “old way” of producing and selling indie films is actually a shell game at best, a way of moving money from one spot to the next that is equal part a gambling game and equal part a con-job. Sure, there are a few unmitigated success stories every year…just enough to create a delusional atmosphere that casts a spell over thousands of filmmakers who think they can just make their movie and walk away as it magically finds its way into the world and fills their pockets with cash.

Anyway, it just so happens that my producer friend is currently working on a new film, and with the production schedule being the way it is, she knows for sure it won’t be done for at least another year. And after that, of course the inevitable wait for the right Festival premiere, which can take several additional months. As such, she figures that this time she has plenty of time to re-imagine the traditional model, and approach the film as an actual business. My producer friend comes from an entrepreneurial background, where she created and sold tech companies.

This time, this film, she vows, she is going to approach the distribution and marketing of the film the way she did with her tech companies in the past, and build it like an actual business. Not wait around for some other company to come in later and supposedly do it for her.

My producer friend and I plan to sit down in the next few months and have detailed conversations about what that actually looks like, but for now, I am going to use this post to outline some of the basics….and (hopefully) create the beginnings of a road map that others can follow.

NOTE: I am aware that I have been vague with the particulars of the first film mentioned in this post…which may annoy some readers. This was intentional of course, A) I don’t have permission to reveal the details, and B) the basic principals and outcomes are transferable to most every film that has received distribution offers out of a major festival in recent years.

In any case, here we go…some of my basic guidelines to approaching an independent film like the building of any other business.

1) Break down and list every source of potential revenue for the film – and plan how to capitalize on them all. This may seem self-evident, but I’ll wager this is the most overlooked of all independent distribution strategies. That’s because most filmmakers want to sell their film outright, and count on the distribution company to do all the right things. But most distribution companies only do a few things well (if any), and they will inevitably leave numerous stones unturned.

Start with a comprehensive list of every way you can see your film making money, i.e festival screening fees, domestic sales, international sales, theatrical-on-demand (i.e. GATHr or TUGG), community screenings, traditional theatrical, DVD sales at live events, other merchandising, digital downloads etc. Then figure out how many of these you can do yourself, and where you’ll need help from others.

2) Know from the beginning who your audience is – and have a strategy for how to reach them. I know, I know, this is dismaying to most filmmakers. Most filmmakers see themselves as artists first, motivated by self-expression, and actually hope that their film is for everyone, not just a select target group. But remember, just by making an independent film, you are de facto not making a film for everyone (unless you have movie stars)…since the vast majority of the global population doesn’t consume independent film on any kind of regular basis.

In independent film, niche is king AND queen, and you need to think of your target audience as your core customer base. Approach them like any business would…who am I selling to and how do I reach them? And if your core customers love your product, then they’ll tell others about it too. Think long and hard and soul search on this question…if you don’t know who your film is for, you run the risk that it will be for no-one at all.

3) Smart marketing is everything. Hollywood studios find their audiences by essentially buying them, spending vulgar multi-millions on TV ads, billboards, publicity firms to access late night TV talk shows etc….basically putting their product in front of everyone who doesn’t live in a cave. But chances are you can’t do that.

Smart marketing actually stems from question 2…who is your core audience and how do you reach them? And here’s where the important question comes…where do those people congregate such that you can actually speak to them? If you determine that your audience is “women between the age of 30 and 40,” that isn’t particularly useful because that’s too disparate to reach. Not ALL of them congregate in the same place. But if you determine there is a certain set of bloggers and websites that your audience reads and by obtaining coverage or placing ads, you can reach them there, well that’s something you can wrap your head around.

I usually advise that filmmakers start well in advance and build a big excel grid of every organization, every website, every blogger, every tastemaker, every everything they can think of and methodically reach out to them with news about their film. You usually can’t do this until you’ve actually starting shooting..so you can at least share images and teasers etc…but please don’t wait until you are finished with the film. This process takes too long… often by then it is too late.

I shouldn’t have to mention that this is of course where social media comes in as well. You want your social media strategy to start on Day One of shooting if possible. And, as always, you’ll want your social media strategy to be as interactive and engaging as possible…not just a platform for naked self-promotion.

4) Have a rigorous and vigorous approach to crowdfunding. Independent filmmaking can seem downright depressing at times…but it’s times like this we should thank our lucky stars for the relatively recent phenomenon of crowdfunding. What a miracle it is….and the best part of all….you don’t have to give the money back. Plus you are building up an audience that is motivated to see your film succeed.

These days it seems reasonable…for the right project…to launch crowdfunding campaigns in pre-production, for finishing funds, and to jumpstart your distribution, as long as you have a compelling message to impart to the world. And a great video of course… it all comes down to the video (and to a lesser extent the perks). Remember, however, that a crowdfunding campaign is hard work…its like a whole other job, which can certainly seem daunting during production. But if you don’t work hard at it…it won’t work. The good news is, if you DO work hard at it, the success rate is amazing!

5) Explore the granting world. Like crowfunding money, grant money is money you won’t have to pay back (meaning the best kind). Grant money is usually a better fit for documentaries of course, but we’ve also worked on plenty of narrative features with a theme or message that attracted grantees. Also, don’t forget that there are also (some) grants for outreach/distribution, for films with an important social message. To pursue grants, you’ll probably also need a fiscal sponsoring organization to back you, which can be The Film Collaborative or a number of other independent film non-profits. To read more about TFC’s fiscal sponsorship progam, go HERE.

6) Pre-sell as little as possible. This is a quandary for many filmmakers. You need the money to finish the film, but then when it’s finished, those rights are tied up and you can’t exploit them in a way that you’d like to. And, again, unless you have bona fide movie stars, your film will be infinitely less valuable before you finish it than when it is premiering at a major festival like Sundance etc. Time and time again I hear filmmakers say, “I pre-sold my film to x territory (usually broadcast) because I needed the money, now I wish I could just give them the money back.”

7) Parcel off your rights in as many pieces as possible. This is something that TFC’s founder Orly Ravid has specialized in….i.e. engaging as many different companies as possible to handle as many different rights categories as possible. This goes back to what I said earlier, different companies are better at different things. This “parceling” is particularly important because many all-rights holders are using many middle-men companies to get to various platforms etc. You want to be as DIRECT AS POSSIBLE with your various points of sale, cutting out as many middle-men as possible.

8) Explore Transmedia. This is admittedly difficult for the vast majority of independent, character-driven narrative features…although there are some notable exceptions. But for genre/sci-fi features this is an area rich with possibility, through games, contests, spin-off stories etc. And most often overlooked is the potential for documentaries to explore transmedia, especially since most documentaries have countless hours of footage they aren’t using in the finished film itself. And for issue-oriented docs, there is usually a wealth of other sources, both scholarly and journalistic, that can be folded into your website. For documentaries, your website should be an equal “entry-point” into the issues raised by the documentary, and should ultimately lead to more viewers/consumers of the film. That is the very essence of transmedia…multiple entry points into the larger experience.

9) Have a well-thought out strategy for digital distribution. My aforementioned producer friend was in the tech business, so her focus is on possibly creating her own portal where her target audience can download the film directly, thereby cutting out all middle-men entirely.

Nonetheless, in today’s world you have to expect (hope) that the most viewers for your film will be paying customers in the digital realm. And thankfully, just getting your film onto a few big digital platforms these days isn’t particularly difficult (to read more about the digital distribution offered by The Film Collaborative, go HERE. But here is where #2 (target audience) and #3 (smart marketing) come in most importantly….if you just throw your film onto iTunes, how is anyone going to know it’s there?

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great companies you can hire that work for very little money to assist you with the marketing part. So this may be yet another job you and your team might have to do for yourselves.

10) Keep the budget as low as possible. This may seem like the most obvious point of all, and yet it is incredibly subjective. I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when hear filmmakers say “we kept our costs down…it only cost 1 million dollars!” Well, a million dollars isn’t what it used to be….and I mean that in the reverse way it is traditionally meant. With the plethora of cheap digital cameras and desktop editing leading to an explosion in independent film, supply WAY outstrips demand… and a million dollars is quite an expensive indie movie these days. Most importantly, at a million dollars chances are there is probably no amount of DIY distribution techniques that will recoup your investment, and you’ll be back in the initial quandary, meaning you will NEED a significant traditional sale from a distributor to have any chance of making most of your money back.

So, when I say keep your budget low…to be honest I am talking more like $100,000. And I know that’s not always possible. So if you can’t do it for something in the low six-figures, you’re back to that place where you need to start thinking about movie stars.

11) Put a minimum of 10 – 15% of your budget aside for marketing and distribution costs. This is a VERY small percentage of your budget that really will only enable you to start building a core audience, but a core audience can grow wider if word of mouth is active.

Again, I know this is easier said than done. Even if you line-item that with the best intentions, many filmmakers will pilfer along the way for a few extra days of shooting, etc. But chances are you’ll find yourself with a finished film with no more money to get it out into the world….no money for festival trips, no money for smart marketing, no money to hire a publicist, etc. Recognizing that even the initial stages of marketing and distribution require capital, we at TFC implore you not to fall into the trap of being cash-strapped right at the time you need it most.

Most of all of what I have outlined above fall under the producer’s responsibilities, and are sometimes referred to the work of what might be called the PMD or “Producer of Marketing and Distribution.,” and are crucial to development of a producer business model for indie film.

Interestingly, sometimes I think there is a clearer business model for directors of independent film. Directors have a clearer path to a business model that makes sense…direct an indie gem, premiere it at Sundance to great acclaim, and then get hired by Hollywood to direct commercial TV and film (think Christopher Nolan, who seemingly went directly from Memento to Batman). But producers seem to start at step 1 with every script.

It is my hope that by following the guidelines listed in this post, at least some of the groundwork to planning a profitable business model for an independent film can be laid out in advance.

 

August 19th, 2014

Posted In: crowdfunding, Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Long Tail & Glut of Content, Marketing, transmedia

Tags: , , , , ,

Australian crowdfunding platform Pozible has been around for almost 3 years, but my first personal experience with it has happened as a backer for my friend Christy Dena’s cross media project AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS. I asked Christy to give me some feedback from her experience as a creator using it to raise $15,000 AUD in hopes that she might help other Australian filmmakers who are considering crowdfunding.

What made you choose to crowdfund on Pozible? Is the majority of your creative team Australian? Where are the majority of your donors located so far?

CD: “It is a predominately Australian team. In the beginning, I was keen to have an international team. But it just became too difficult over distance and there is nothing better than sitting around a table talking about things. I’ve had international people involved – like Juliana Loh from Canada who is doing the art side of things for the iPad prototype.

I investigated going through Kickstarter first– either in the USA or UK. I had family and colleagues who were willing to let me use their bank account (because Amazon Payments requires a local bank account). But Amazon Payments reports earnings over a certain amount to the tax office, and so we couldn’t risk that happening with family and colleagues.

Kickstarter is news. Press are less inclined to talk about a project on some lesser-known platform. There is also the brand-association that comes with Kickstarter – you use Kickstarter if you’re truly international and serious. I think that is what some people think. But Pozible has been going for a few years now, and the Australian public is getting behind it more and more – though not to the degree of Kickstarter. We’re used to buying things overseas, and aren’t good at supporting our own all the time.

That being said, the response internationally has been phenomenal. We have backers from over 14 countries! These backers didn’t care about the platform, they wanted to support the project, support me, support the team. And so that is wonderful. It certainly is easy to use, and doesn’t have the obstacle of Amazon Payments (backers can use credit card and Paypal). So it is more accessible.”

What kind of perks did you choose to offer? I think many filmmakers have a difficult time deciding what to offer outside of DVDs, tshirts, digital downloads etc.

CD: “I spent a long time researching other campaigns and what was offered and therefore what is expected. This was tempered with statistics about what price-points are the most popular. I also figured into the equation production time. While I love tangible products, I didn’t want to spend 1 to 2 months creating and shipping rewards when we needed to get down to work.

I researched buyer psychology around pricing too – the effects of early-bird deals, price points, urgency, and limited offers. And so that is why there is the early-bird pack for instance – though I got the volumes wrong on that one (they should be more limited). In the end it was a mix of all of what I found in my research, production constraints, and just what I enjoy making too.

We have the basic $1 Kudos, $7 App Pack, $25 Soundtrack Pack, $50 Special Creator Pack (which includes the Creator’s Log I will be writing about how we created the whole project) and the Early-Bird $39 version of the Creator’s Pack, $79 Prologue Pack (which gives a specially-created audio prologue), $90 Tester Pack (in which you can be involved in user-testing the next version), $100 In-World Pack (in which people can get an Artist Assassin Profile or A Philosophy Game included in the release); $130 I Want It All Pack (which includes all of the previous); $250 Sponsor Pack (which gives a sponsor branding in the app, as well as 3 apps); and a $350 Consulting Pack (which gives a 2 hour meeting with myself and a crew or cast member). The packs provide a mix of all of the rewards.”

Your pitch video includes some animation which isn’t often used. Who made the animation? How did you decide on this component for your pitch? Will animation be a component of the finished project?

CD: “The animation was created by a talented new member of the team: Simon Howe. He did a fantastic job. I had the issue of needing a good strong video for the campaign, but we don’t have any final art for the websites and I didn’t want to show our prototypes. I needed to get across the concept of what we’re doing, but I didn’t want to just talk to the camera. I personally love animation and thought this would be the most entertaining and effective way to communicate the concept of a web audio adventure.

One of the things I’ve discovered through research and testing is that audio and animation or just audio and drawn imagery is really a perfect marriage. As soon as you have some level of abstraction, the audio and imagery just fold into each other effortlessly. In the project, there will be drawn imagery and some moving elements, but it isn’t an animation project.

I’ll most likely release a de-brief of my crowdfunding experience – the strategies and insights – afterwards. And of course, the Creator’s Log included in our perks will give tons of juicy information about the various influences and creative decisions I’ve made for the project along the way.”

Thanks to Christy Dena and her team for sharing their experience with Pozible so far. I can’t wait to hear how the project turns out!

 

 

February 25th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, transmedia

Tags: , , , , , ,

Written by Sheri Candler

This week’s post should help those who are thinking about giving transmedia/cross platform storytelling a try. Andrea Phillips first encountered cross platform storytelling over a decade ago and has been writing in the space since 2005 as a full-time, free-lance transmedia author. She worked on the interactive treasure hunt Perplex City, HBO’s immersive online sensory experience The Maester’s Path for its show Game of Thrones, and with musician Thomas Dolby on an online experience for his concept album, a community-based web game based on Dolby’s entire discography called A Map of the Floating City.

I interviewed her upon the release of her new book A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences across Multiple Platforms and asked about the differences between this form of storytelling and more traditional forms, whether this takes a different skill set and how she sees this field evolving over time.

SC: Are there different principles of storytelling for transmedia?

AP: Yes and no. The basics of telling a good story are going to be the same no matter what medium you are using, but if you are going into a big transmedia project, you have to leave things more open ended than you would traditionally. You have to give yourself opportunities to extend the story late and more places where things aren’t answered, more loose ends.

In the book, I talk a lot about Chekhov’s gun, that traditional storytelling principle where if you have a gun on the mantle in the first act, then it has to be fired. (ed note: from Wikipedia: Chekhov’s gun is a literary technique whereby an apparently irrelevant element is introduced early in the story whose significance becomes clear later in the narrative. The concept is named after Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. The phrase “Chekhov’s gun” is often interpreted as a method of foreshadowing, but the concept can also be interpreted as meaning “do not include any unnecessary elements in a story.”) But in transmedia, this isn’t a good technique because you want to put lots of things in the story like this, you may need something later to use and, if it has been precedented,  you can build on it.

There are lots of things in transmedia that go against the idea that the story will unfold 100% the way you envisioned. Sometimes the audience won’t react to something the way you expected them to and one of the fantastic things about working in digital media is the ability to adapt to the reaction you are getting. In films, studios do test screenings and change the ending if the audience reaction is poor or not what is desired. With an interactive narrative, you actually have a chance to change the whole story if it is playing out differently than you had envisioned. If the protagonist is portrayed as unsympathetic, you can either change the story or use that info to help him get what’s coming to him.  It’s really fun stuff!

SC: Some storytellers might say “I have my whole vision for a story and I don’t want to constantly evolve it.” Is there a mindset change to this kind of work as well?

AP:  “There can be, but let’s step back. There should be wiggle room, but it doesn’t have to be the whole story. The classic story of Hamlet doesn’t become a better play if you let the audience vote on the ending. You don’t necessarily want your audience deciding what the story is, but if you give them even the feeling that they have a part in influencing the outcome, it is a very powerful tool for participation. They have an investment in the story just as much as the author does.

SC: The main component I see in this is making the story interactive. The difference between the traditional way and the interactive world that we live in now is the ability to have participation rather than passively watching or reading what is put in front of you. Do you think that when we talk about educating audiences or drawing them in to the storytelling, does it depend on their age or their mindset or their history of playing video games or collaborating with other people?  Is there an audience boundary that is keeping this from getting bigger?  Or will this just evolve over time as we see more of these kinds of projects?

AP:”I think there are some audience boundaries, but also context boundaries. Sometimes you just want to sit quietly and read a book and not have to click on something or go look something up later.  Sometimes people will want a single medium story and that will probably always be the case. The trick is to provide that single medium experience for the audience who still likes that,  while identifying the audiences that want to be more engaged with the story. It is surprising, it doesn’t always have to do with age or gender or tech savvy. First find the audience that really loves your story and once you have a fandom, or base of supporters who really love the stories you tell, they will want whatever you can give them. Digital media winds up being a fairly cost effective thing to give them more of the story. It is much cheaper to roll out a social media footprint than it is to make subsequent films for instance. You are still giving them things that they want that will keep them involved in your story, until you do have the ability to get that second film, or subsequent project out.”

SC: What kind of budget considerations are we talking about when one wants to make a transmedia project? Does it mean you have to have the budget of The Dark Knight Rises or Prometheus or The Hunger Games? Or can one do it with some simple tools and elbow grease?

AP: “You definitely can do it with simple tools. The Alternate Reality Game community (ARG) is a group of fans who have gotten together to make experiences for each other out of pocket change and love.  You don’t need a Dark Knight budget to make a transmedia experience. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr are relatively free, shooting video isn’t free, but if you are already shooting a film, just adding on additional videos probably isn’t going to be so expensive. It is the sort of indie spirit thing as any other indie art project would have.”

SC: I hear indie filmmakers say “OK, I’m going to have a film. And then I’ll think about all of those other story aspects because those are more of the marketing or promotional efforts that come later.” Or they only see this effort as something that will fill the theater or sell DVDs. Is this a good idea or should it be planned from the start so that it is all incorporated together?

AP: “I am definitely, definitely of the opinion you should plan it all up front. Mainly because if you just tack something on later, it is going to feel tacked on.  If you want it to reach its maximum power, then you have to make it all in one piece and plan for how everything will interrelate.  Even from initial writing, initial conception.”

SC: In reading through some of the ideas on transmedia projects from filmmakers, I feel like some people paint themselves into a corner. These story tangents go off onto other paths and then disappear because they haven’t been clear about how it all weaves back into the overall project.  Also, Lance Weiler has talked about how in his early projects, games they created to be solved by the audience in a week, only ended up taking a day and it caught the creators by surprised so they had to scramble to keep up.

AP: “This is one of the rookie mistakes that I talk about in the book. Never deploy anything unless you are ready for it to be solved. The audience is always smarter than you think it is. They are as smart as the smartest 20 people among them because they all collaborate. They will always outthink you, never think you will be smarter than your audience. Also this may come from a more marketing mindset. Some people think they will put an interesting bit of something out there, as a marketing tactic and they don’t give it much mind as to whether it leads anywhere. It gives the audience a negative feeling about your story. When you set up an expectation and then there is no payoff, it is extremely frustrating for the audience.”

SC: What do you think about all of these transmedia events, and new media funds, and new emphasis on transmedia storytelling in independent film? It seems like creators are being told this is the only way to be creating stories now. Many times these events seem a little haphazard and confusing, like they are being programmed by people who also don’t know much about this form of storytelling.

AP: “I think it is a confusing time for the creators. The audience doesn’t care about this conversation at all. They just want to know if this thing you are putting in front of them is worth their time or not.  They don’t care if it is transmedia, cross media or who it was funded by.  In one sense, it is an important conversation because creators have their careers to think about, but from the audience perspective, none of this is relevant if we aren’t doing good work.”

SC: Right, this is a time of experimentation. Where there is chaos, there is opportunity and you have to look a little harder for it. There is no one process that has been developed to succeed, and as an independent filmmaker, you wouldn’t want that anyway.

AP: “I had an interview with a gentleman who was very frustrated with me because he kept asking me for  a blueprint on the one right way to make a transmedia project. And my answer was it depends on what you are trying to do.  The book is not the one true way to create a transmedia project as much as it is a flowchart of lots of different ways. There are things you can do, and there will be trade offs to doing that. It is much less about rules than about my advice on what you can do depending on what you are trying to accomplish with your work.

The interesting thing about transmedia right now isn’t the stories, but the structures. We are in an amazing period of experimental structure and I am not sure this has happened in storytelling ever before. There has been experimental structure in individual arts such as writing with the novel, and in film. But now we are seeing this happen across all media and figuring out how to use multiple media and include the audience with digital tools in order to tell a story. The thing that fascinates me is how people fit all the elements together in their story.”

SC: As time and money are needed to create these stories, what do you see as sources for revenue? I think we shouldn’t come into this thinking if it doesn’t make millions, it isn’t worth doing. But what do you see as a way of generating revenue?

AP: “First I’d like to say that anyone who doesn’t think an artist has a right to make money is on the wrong side of history.  There is no shame in commercial art. I do see some interesting things revenue wise. You for sure see the Hollywood studio model which largely depends on licensing and on selling movie tickets, a very traditional and stable way of making money.

But I also see things like Accomplice which has a live performance aspect, short, location based experiences where one buys a ticket to see it. I’ve seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries which uses the Youtube advertising revenue stream and you can also see projects selling merchandising (posters, comics, tshirts). There’s really no limit which is the other interesting thing.  Not only is the storytelling structure changing, but the business structure is too. You can hypothetically make money any way you can imagine. The question becomes how much time and money are you spending to make the project, and is it more than you could ever get in return? Knowing that only comes with experimentation and experience.”

SC: Are many film schools teaching this kind of scriptwriting/storytelling? I don’t think that many are doing this yet.

AP:  Quite a number are teaching this actually. Emory, UNC, FSU, Ball State, MIT, Columbia, USC, all have programs. There is definitely an academic interest in it and especially in film schools. I am much more excited to see this being taken up by film rather than only by games. Film has been considered much more legitimate as a storytelling medium in the hierarchy of culture so transmedia is becoming much more legitimate too from its association with film.

I do think it is valuable to teach these skills to students. Film, theater, and creative writing students because it is something that exists in the world and sheer exposure is a valuable thing even if you aren’t choosing to work in it in your individual career.”

SC: Do you think this will evolve to where stories will only be told this way? I see this as a way to be in dialog with an audience and it is becoming more and more expected that the audience will be able to speak with creators. Will it be possible to say, “Oh I am not going to be in talks with the audience, I’m just going to write it as a straight book or film?” Is this really going to be  an optional thing in 10 years time?

AP: “I think it will stay optional. As I said, sometimes the audience doesn’t want the whole experience. There will also be a significant number of creators who aren’t comfortable working this way or have a creative interest in not making their story interactive. I do think in the commercial space that you may not be able to get funding for your webseries or film if you don’t have a transmedia plan though. That is a reality I can very easily imagine.”

SC: In getting back to the book, tell me how it is laid out

AP: “The book is in 5 sections. The first is an introduction to transmedia. The second is an intro to storytelling. Further sections cover structure, production and then big picture which is ethics and money.  The structure section is the heart of the book.  I talk about considerations like using email, will you send it via your character, will the character answer? I don’t say, ‘You must use these social media outlets.’ You can’t  say that, it depends on what you are trying to do and I, as the author of this book, do not know what you are trying to.

SC: Ethics, that’s an interesting section to include. What are ethical considerations to creating transmedia projects as opposed to writing a book or making a movie?

AP: “When you are putting pervasive elements into the world, things that look like they are real, you do wind up with ethical considerations. For example, a common trope is flyers for missing persons. I consider this not just ethically poor, but also bad design.  As a consumer walking down the street, the first thought is not, ‘Oh my gosh, this must be part of a game or film. Let me take down this number or website and partake of this entertaining experience.’  It is probably, ‘Oh, what a terrible thing has happened. I am going to lock my doors when I get home.’ Creators need to think about the context someone will have when they happen across this material.

My favorite example I use in the book is the Parkinson’s Disease example. Let’s say you have a fictional pharmaceutical company and you make a website for it, as is the way for any transmedia project.  Typically, there will be news published on this fictional pharmaceutical website. So you make some fake press release about Parkinson’s Disease, announcing the results  of fake trials of a drug that improves symptoms and is expected to come to market in 3 years. Now, imagine that this website gets some Google juice and someone who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease is searching the internet for treatment options and finds this news. They make a treatment decision based on your element of fiction that was not signposted as fiction for someone who found it by accident on Google. That’s problematic because you could do harm to someone out in the world.

Many times creators don’t think about these things until something bad has happened. Things happen in the real world because of content we put out there. The world isn’t yet accustomed to questioning everything behind a story to see if it is real. All you have to do is look at how many articles from The Onion get reported as news.

My thanks to Andrea for spending time talking to me about her work and her new book. I have read the book and it is excellent, a real primer for those interested in learning more about creating interactive stories using both online tools and offline experiences. I especially liked her descriptions of World Building as it is something I don’t think creators spend enough time thinking about. World building is a good exercise whether you are creating a story structure on which to hang technology and user experiences or you are thinking through all the elements you can create and layer to immerse an audience into the world of your characters for marketing purposes, to pull them into the story experience. Every story exists in a “world” and creators should strive to bring the audience into it, let them experience it from many angles, give them something to do there, not just assume passive viewing.

For more on Andrea’s thoughts about the future of storytelling, see this video

 

 

 

November 7th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Sheri Candler

In the continuation of our look at recent cross platform/transmedia projects, this case study will be particularly relevant to those working with low budgets and ambitious plans. Writer/director Jay Ferguson’s initial inspiration for Guidestones came from his late father’s fascination with serialized shorts. Growing up in the thirties and forties, Ferguson’s father went to the cinema and was ‘hooked’ on serialized shorts where bad guys tie distressed maidens to the train tracks and such. Ferguson thought that the internet would be an ideal place to try to recreate that experience for this century.

Again, thanks to Storycode.org for providing the video presentation (found at the bottom of this post) from which these notes were culled.

Jay Ferguson, writer/director, 3 o’clock TV

Synopsis

Two journalism students, investigating an unsolved murder, uncover a global conspiracy centered around the mystery of The Georgia GUIDESTONES, an enigmatic monument nestled in a farmer’s field in rural Georgia and inscribed with directions for rebuilding civilization after the apocalypse. The story is based on a real monument and on the real account of a Toronto woman’s experiences.

GUIDESTONES uses elements of transmedia and ARG storytelling to take viewers on a thrilling chase that crosses two continents and three countries in search of the truth. The project uses a hybrid mix of traditional narrative and formal and non-formal documentary styles.  Shot vérité style in Canada, the USA and India, the series moves seamlessly between the real world and the fictional account of how a young woman named Sandy stumbled upon a murder mystery.

Three minute episodes, 50 in total so far, with audience participation elements.

Intent:

Ferguson wanted to tell stories by professional storytellers that would guide the audience  an online and offline experience.  He observed that, though audiences wanted to participate in the story somehow, no one wants to pay for online content.  Also, how to keep audiences coming back? Too many webseries start out with the first few episodes being ok then die with audience numbers. Ferguson and his team have endeavored to keep up a fast paced, engaging story that pushes the audience to continue the journey.

Funding:

A mix of self funded, Canadian Independent Production Fund, some matching grants from the Ontario Media Development Council , sponsorship from Samsung, Carbon Clothing, Major League Baseball/Toronto Bluejays, Pizza Pizza (Canadian Domino’s).  The online platforms (Hulu, Youtube) did not put in any money. The total budget is around $300,000 CAD. Estimate to reproduce at market value would be $1 million.

Revenue streams:

Product integration, merchandise/music/ringtones, rev share from Hulu. Recently launched on iTunes and considering a DVD to sell. 

Audience demographic:

While there were certain demographics in mind, the production recognized that different audiences will want to interact with the series, so  different ways to view the project were developed. In the Push version, one can sign up for the show and have the episodes delivered via  e-mail to experience in ‘real time’ as the characters are exploring the mystery. The Linear version is for those who want to be more passive and treat it like a traditional serialized show.

Background of the team:

Jay Ferguson is an award-winning filmmaker who has contributed as a writer, director, producer and cinematographer to over 15 feature films. His work with institutions such as The National Film Board of Canada has garnered him several awards, including the top cinematography award at the Atlantic Film Festival (Animals, 2005) and from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (Inside Time, 2008). He was nominated for a Gemini Award in 2005.

Jonas Diamond is the CEO of iThentic, joining the team in the fall of 2008. Jonas is producer of the award-winning animated series Odd Job Jack (52×30). The series received a Gemini, CFTPA Indie, Banff Rockie and Canada New Media Award for Best Cross Platform Project. Additional Accolades for Odd Job Jack include a nomination for Best Interactive Program (2006) and Best Animated Show (2005) at the Banff Rockie Awards, second prize for Best Interactive Design (2006) at Vidfest, Best Convergent Project by the Banff Institute as well as multiple Gemini and Canadian Comedy Award nominations. Jonasʼ producer credits includes Odd Job Jack, Hotbox and Bigfoot for The Comedy Network / CTV, Pillars of Freedom for TVO, Turbo Dogs for CBC / NBC, The Dating Guy, skatoony, Sons of Butcher and the upcoming Geofreakz MORPG for Teletoon, The World of Bruce McCall, and the interactive storyteller Legends of Me as well as many other projects for various platforms.

Actress Supinder Wraich plays Sandy in GUIDESTONES

Development phase:

It took 3 years from conception to launch.

Thinking through each platform:

50 webisodes were shot and edited for use as video links, the main storyline.

50 different websites were needed to house the clues for each webisode.

Content was hidden online for viewers to research the clues given during the webisodes.

One of the really hard things was creating 50 story arcs. Each episode is on average 3 minutes long and it is difficult to find an interesting opening, build the story and then a climax to lead into the next episode in such a short space of time. For feature films, you may only have to do one or two of those, but 50 is a lot. The interactivity was very difficult to make happen…very time consuming.

Production workflow:

The production used a very small crew and shot with a Canon 7d digital SLR in order to have flexibility and adaptability when on location. It allowed them to get into places that you regularly would not be allowed to shoot. In India, there were some places that do not regularly allow filming, but they were able to shoot some scenes in a few minutes and not bother anybody.

8 months in production, with 8-10 hour days

Location shooting: 3-4 weeks Toronto, 1 week in Georgia, 1 week in India

Post production meant bringing together all the elements of web and film. Before locking an episode, online properties needed to be created and sites linked to other sites so that the minute it was live, everything was in place for the viewer to experience.

Digital team included:

A graphic designer

Website builder

1 person to buy and manage urls

people to develop online presences on Linkedin and MySpace

2 editors full time

2-3 editors part time

a media manager

effects supervisor

effects editor

Brad Sears who designed the Push system and email system.

Deployment strategy

They launched the “push” system in February 2012. The viewers sign up via email address on their website to follow the episodes. Links are emailed to them with the episodes.  Emails are timed to coincide with the happenings of the characters (if something happens at 9am, the email is sent at 9am). It takes the viewer a month to experience the whole thing and it is evergreen which means anyone can start it whenever they like. There is no “starting” and “ending” period.

After launch, the team received a lot of feedback from viewers. High schoolers in particular were impressed that they could Google things they had seen in the show, and something was actually there online.  Also found that high schoolers do NOT use email like adults do. They communicate more via Facebook. Production team then modified the “push” system to run on Facebook.

For older people, they complained of too much email (50 episodes plus supplemental info). Some complained not enough episodes being released fast enough.  They modified their release pattern/experience. Now viewers can choose to experience via Facebook, email or in a linear version where they just watch the episodes on their own time instead of following along with the characters.  The linear version is on Hulu and on iTunes.

Building the Audience

Ferguson concedes that not enough money has been spent on publicity. Largely marketing has been a mix of public speaking, interviews in publications on the process, word of mouth by the viewers with a tshirt promotion for those who bring in 5 viewers. Brand sponsors are doing some of the promotion, particularly Pizza Pizza who play a 30 second ad for Guidestones in each of their stores across Canada. They are hoping that being on Hulu will help garner a larger audience for the project due to its large amount of traffic.  Both Pizza Pizza and Samsung have done prize promotions on their Facebook pages for the show.

Achievements

-The clue finding is actually going very well. People really love it and get excited looking for the content. The first season really taught lessons in how to create on-line interactivity…now the team wants to take it further and have many ideas on how to get even more interactive.

-Through connections gain on other projects, the team was able to broker an agreement with Hulu to host the series and have an advertising revenue share.

-The series is now selling on iTunes in the TV show section. The whole season download  is priced at $9.99 or one can buy them per episode for $1.99.

-The acting is critical to the storytelling and the believability of any story. Supinder Wraich (Sandy) and Dan Fox (Trevor) have a real honesty that is hard to find in actors. Both can act really well directly to camera because they are able to empathize with the characters and that brings this very genuine quality that audiences respond to, it is very hard to fake that emotion without the audience feeling it. Ferguson’s tip in casting is that when watching the actor closely, don’t worry too much about the words or the actor’s look necessarily, look into the eyes, see if there is a true belief in there. If they believe it, so will the audience.

Challenges

-To the conventional viewer, the non-totally immersed viewer, the Push system adds up if they are not able to get to the emails often enough and that became frustrating for some people who didn’t realize there was a more linear way to watch.

-The team was surprised that the South Asian community has not taken to the series yet as the “Sandy” character is a great character for the South Asian community. The series still struggles to get any real traction there.

-Promoting the show for a bigger audience. Most of the limited funds had to go into production. This is the classic conundrum for lower budget productions…all your money goes into making the thing and none into promoting it.[editor’s note: A word to the wise, budget in significant money for a publicist (traditional and one geared toward reaching fans directly), online advertising, video seeding, promotions, Facebook promoted posts, etc].

– Post-production has been about a year long with four working on it full-time and six or seven people working on it part-time, unlike editing a 120 minutes of content  which can be done in a few months.  Every single step of the way requires so many elements – a ringtone,  a song, a site to house that audio, a site to house a different type of clue that has to be searchable only in a certain manner… all these things are endless and each has to be built because there is no preexisting system.

-The only way they’ve been able to do this on a low budget is that the studio where they work [for day job projects] has audio people, graphic designers, visual effects artists, people who can build apps, all in-house. While they set out with a specific road map and  60 to 65% of that might have remained the same, about 40% has definitely had to change in post-production because they found certain approaches don’t work and when one things is changed, all the elements have to be adjusted since everything is built together. Everyone on the team understands that they’re trying to prove a point with this, build a new model, but it is really hard to do unless you have infrastructure behind you. At one point, Ferguson thought if grant money and sponsorship money didn’t come in, he would still try to do this on his own, but he now concedes this was a ridiculous notion! “It would have taken me 15 years to do and I wouldn’t even have the skills to do most of it.”

A huge thanks to Jay Ferguson for sharing his details for the benefit of all who are interested in these new forms of storytelling. Below, please find his presentation

 

Other sources used in this post:

http://www.ithentic.com/p/2012/01/17/commentary-jay-ferguson-guidestones-webseries-tips/

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/xedqq/iama_creator_of_a_web_series_alternate_reality/

http://wildeffect.com/jayferguson/

 

 

October 25th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Sheri Candler

To coincide with 2 large events of interest to the cross platform storyteller, London’s Power to the Pixel and Los Angeles’ Storyworld Conference, I wrote up this case study of a cross platform project that was featured on the Storycode site. For the visual learners, there is a video of the presentation at the bottom of post, but it does run over an hour and a half.

Cross platform case study from Canada

Jay Bennett, VP of Digital/Creative Director, Smokebomb Entertainment, Toronto

Project: Totally Amp’d

Totally Amp’d is a mobile-only (Apple devices) series created by Smokebomb Entertainment and  the first App of its kind for the underserved tween  (ages 8-14) mobile entertainment market. Telling the story of five talented teenagers who are brought together to become the next big pop group, Totally Amp’d comprises a 10-appisode live-action musical comedy series, an original soundtrack, and a suite of interactive activities designed to fully immerse kids in the action.

Intent:

To make an episodic show inside of an app which would incorporate all sorts of interactive elements including  music creation, movie editing and fashion design. Also, to experiment with the idea “We are the broadcaster” and see if it is possible to bypass traditional television gatekeepers and connect directly to the audience.

Funding:

Production funding came via the Canadian Media Fund Experimental Stream which supports the creation of innovative, interactive digital media content and software developed for commercial potential by the Canadian media industry or for public use by Canadians. Grant award was less than one million dollars (CAD) of which the video production budget was by far the majority of the budget, around $500K. The app technical development fell between $50-$100K. With an inhouse team this could have been lower, but they used a third party developer.

Audience demographic:

They intended the series to target 8-12 year old girls and focus on music and performance, capturing the American Idol/Glee set. Aim was to create the show for an older girl, a 14 year old, because then the 8-12 year olds will watch.

Background of the team:

Bennett came up through the ranks of digital advertising agencies conceiving and executing ARGs, puzzles and finding code in URLs to tell stories. He disagrees with that approach to storytelling because he sees himself as the average user, not someone used to looking for the magic rabbit hole in a story.  He wanted  the story to be more accessible through video because it is a medium the average user understands. While he believes that there are opportunities for deeper content, he would rather spend the majority of the budget on video content and much less on puzzles, games, ARG type experiences.

Smokebomb Entertainment is the digital division of Shaftesbury Productions, a leading Canadian TV producer.  Totally Amp’d is their first completely original project to launch.

They brought in Karen McClellan as head writer with experience in the children’s TV market as well as writers from from the young adult market to give the scripts a more mature feel. The cast they chose played within a year of their real ages, not having 22 year olds play 17, in order to have more authenticity.

Development phase:

During research, they found a lack of good content apps aimed at the female tween demographic.

Though they started out thinking conventionally ( a webseries with some interactivity as an app), the research showed that most people now have smartphones and tablets or would have them very soon so they decided to take the whole project into the app space and viewable on a mobile device.

They only developed the project  for Apple products (iPod touch, iPad, iPhone) because they felt that when people think app, they think Apple iTunes. There was a revenue incentive as well since people expect online content to be free of charge, but they don’t expect all apps to be free and they are used to paying via their iTunes account for music and other downloads. This would alleviate the need to access another way (like via credit card or Paypal) for people to pay.Since music was the major focus of the project, they brought in a professional composer who could create pop music worthy of its own release. Kids would know if they were being given “adult” music masking as teen pop and they wanted the music to be a revenue generator so it had to be top notch.

Also, they brought in a production designer to give the set a look that would be remarkable on a small screen. The result looked half real life, half cartoon, a bit like rotoscope. Elements of the set were painted on real glass plates that cost about

 

$2400 a piece to create, though much of the time they ended up using green screen and VFX which was even more expensive.

Thinking through each component of the app:

This an episodic show about the musical arts so possible  elements to include would be music, music videos, fashion, community where kids could discuss the content together, an avatar to use in the community, game to build up points within the community, unique production design that would make the project stand out and sharability on social platforms.

But legal concerns got in the way of building a community forum because legally they needed a moderation team, especially for kids. Big broadcasters have this, but if you don’t have that support (YOU  are the broadcaster, remember?), do you have the resources to do it? Also, the avatar idea was dropped because of the cost of building an avatar generating system, the game idea was dropped due to budget concerns and as was social sharing because of deadline issues and the ability of the app to handle pushing out that size of a file to a Facebook or Twitter page. Dropping social sharing was probably a mistake when it came to promotion.

Typical shoot for the video episodes:

6 days, 16 cast members, 72 shooting pages, 58 minutes of content, 10 episodes with an average of 5 minutes per episode, 2 RED cameras, 7 music videos.

The App

They intentionally tried to keep the app simple to use due to budget constraints and due to the age of the audience who could be as young as 5 years old. They needed something very intuitive.  The app encompassed both the episodes and  the activities. At the end of each episode, a new piece of video content would unlock.

There is a music studio with all the songs from the episode. One could remix the songs with a choice of different instruments, save the creations and play them back, record your own voice singing the songs so you could be the star.

There is a video studio for the music videos.  There are 3 screens showing different camera angles of a video  and the viewer can edit them however they want.  Editing was just a series of touching the screen and the app would remember the sequence and play it back.

Finally, the design studio for the fashions. Viewer is given the blank outline of the outfit and given a choice of material patterns, colors, decorations then dress the characters from the show, a la digital paper dolls, and put them in a scene background from the show. The creations can be saved and turned into wallpapers, screen savers etc.

Deployment strategy

With file sizes like this, wifi connection is a necessity. Although putting  the whole app out at once would be a huge download issue, the team thought making kids wait episode by episode would tax their patience. The file size was one gigbyte, about a 20-30 minute wait for download on iTunes.

They put out the first episode for free on Youtube, but to get the whole package, the viewer had to pay one price and it opened the whole app with all of the episodes and special content.

Deciding on a price point

Free was out of the question and 99 cents still felt like free. It would be difficult to raise the price if it started at 99 cents. For an hour’s worth of content plus the extra material, the price they settled on was $4.99. That is the median price to rent a movie on iTunes and so it would be a comfortable price point for most consumers.

Building the Audience

There was a 2 prong strategy; getting attention from the industry/technology audience and from kids/parents of kids who would actually use the app. Parents often browse the app store looking for interesting content for their kids. Since Smokebomb was the broadcaster, they had to be the promoter too.

For industry attention, they used the in house Shaftesbury Media publicity department.  In the US, they used a company called One PR.

They received lots of coverage from industry press and business press.

For kids/parents attention, they enlisted the help of mommy bloggers. They did a press junket for a group of 8 influential mommy bloggers to come to Toronto to watch a shoot, see the making of the videos etc. This cost about $15000, but in hindsight  they would have bought Facebook ads instead.  Not that the goodwill hurt, but to spend that money to get these people to write reviews, it is likely they would have written about it for free just like any other journalist.

For social media interaction they worked with Fisheye Corporation. Tools they utilized included Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, own website with videos and contests.

Created 73 video assets of behind the scenes of production in order to get viewers to know the characters more intimately with backstories and explanations on using the app and what the show would be like. This was slowly dripped out in the lead up to launch.

The team released iPhone recorded videos of music recording sessions, dance rehearsals, cast doing demos of the app to show how it worked. Prize giveaways consisted of asking viewers to record themselves singing one of the songs and uploading it to the Facebook page for a chance to win.  They Livestreamed the launch party on Facebook so the audience could join in and people could ask questions with the cast standing in front of the camera to answer. A street team was deployed at local pop concerts happening in Toronto with flyers promoting the show. This was all done in the lead up to launch day in order to build up audience anticipation.

Partnered with Wattpad, a young adult fiction site where amateur writers upload their stories without pay, but some writers have millions and millions of followers. They worked with 5 of the most popular writers and gave each a character from the story and had them write a backstory that did not previously exist. All the backstories led up to the first episode the viewer would see.

They promoted it on Wattpad with character videos explaining what the app was, encouraging viewers to read the backstory on Wattpad, and promoting the launch date and Facebook page.

Deployment implementation

Episode one was released for free on Youtube on Christmas Day.  They released lots of teaser clips in the lead up to the first episode release.  The clips were featured on AOL Kids which helped the episode reach 320K views.  Official launch was January 26, 2012.

There is a risk with doing this. If the audience doesn’t like the first episode, you’ve lost them forever.

Successes

-the project actually launched, and on time

-strong press and critical praise

-industry praise from broadcasters at MIPCOM who said they beat Disney and Nickelodeon to the punch

-Disney wanted to buy the app, but Smokebomb said no because when that offer came, the project hadn’t launched yet and they wanted to see it through.  Also, they would have to get agreement from each department head involved at Disney (broadcast, interactive, music etc) and that is very arduous and would take another year to sort out. Also, Disney would own it, there is no revenue share with them.  In other words, you get one check and any revenue success Disney has on it (or lack thereof) belongs to Disney.

-launched to great success with fans asking for more! This was a mixed blessing because there wasn’t anything else being created in the immediate future.

Lessons learned

Danger of the all at once release strategy

After 3 hours, the viewers had burned through all the content and wanted more. The danger in allowing binge viewing is all the build up dissipates in a short amount of time. If they had dripped out the episodes, which they hadn’t wanted to do because they felt the audience wouldn’t be patient, then they could have done more to stoke up the conversations in between episode releases and that would have taken 10 weeks to do, instead of 3 hours. As it was, the audience ate up all the episodes and then were gone to the next thing.

Danger of the file size

Since the app was 1 gig and had a 30 minute download time, some may have given up before the download finished.

Being the megaphone

In doing this without a broadcaster’s support, it is exceedingly difficult to reach millions and millions of people on your own, only a fraction of whom will actually buy and download. Undeniably, once the initial launch efforts were finished, the download count dropped. People are still downloading, but nowhere near what they were at the start. This is all down to having a strong and sustained publicity effort going. Once the promotional budget was spent and efforts ceased, the buying went down.

Selling the rights in other territories

[editor’s note: I know many creators count on the revenue stream they are sure to get from broadcasters/distributors] No broadcaster cares about buying the rights to 10 episodes of a webseries. They will only get 10 weeks out of it on TV and then the show is finished. They don’t want to work at building an audience for only 10 episodes, they want 100 episodes. Same for selling broadcast TV syndication, you can’t sell a show with less than 3 seasons.

Axing the social sharing capability

By axing the social sharing due to budget, they also disabled the ability for free messaging by the viewers to spread their efforts wider. The purpose of social networking is sharing content you are excited about and they didn’t enable an easy way to do that. People did find a way around it, but it could have been done more easily.

Next steps based on those lessons

-Perhaps strip out the episodes and put them online for free to build the widest audience possible.  Once you have that large audience, find opportunities to sell either advertising or to a broadcaster who will commission more episodes. [editors note: while this theoretically could work, many, many Youtube channels are already devoted to doing this and very few have accomplished it].

-Perhaps keep the interactivity portions to sell as an app, making the app shorter to download and cheaper, like 99 cents. With many more people watching, it is a much bigger pool of people to ask to buy a 99 cent download app.

-Extend the experience without making new content, new shows, because the production fund is spent so there is no money to make anything new. Perhaps they could build a website as a portal to discovery of other content already available online. Examples: existing unknown bands with the same music sensibility as the show and highlighting them; calls for UGC content as well.

-Look at this project as a pilot for TV or web series for a broadcaster. Truthfully, broadcasting is still where the audience is in a mass way. Are there viral hits on Youtube, yes  a few, but the mass audience isn’t consistently on Youtube yet. The ultimate goal is TV, mobile, games, live event, the whole package.

Questions to consider

-How do you create an app that massively catches on when tons of people are creating new things and uploading them every day?

-Once your app is found, how do you keep people engaged from week to week? What mechanisms are you creating to keep your project top of mind?

Thanks to Jay Bennett for being candid about Smokebomb’s process and outcomes. For the video of his presentation including the post Q&A session, watch this

 

October 16th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Sheri Candler

Lately, we have been getting inquiries on distribution strategies for transmedia projects in the indie film space. While it is my distinct impression that most of these “transmedia” projects are really marketing campaigns built around films and this extra material probably would not have financial value to a traditional film distributor, I want to investigate a bit more on projects that have launched as cross platform stories.

My knowledge about the transmedia space is limited only to what I have read about or heard about through those who have created such projects. Most of these people were hired by studios, game designers, or big corporate brands to create an immersive and interactive story experience often using digital tools and sometimes real world events to sell a product (a film, a game, a TV show, a car, a book, a mobile service etc). Within the realm of those who create these story experiences, there is disagreement about what constitutes a “true” transmedia project. Is it actually transmedia if it serves “the mothership” product as a sales funnel? Is it actually transmedia if it raises awareness and encourages activism for a social cause? Is it actually transmedia if it breaks a story into a million (or less maybe) pieces and spreads it out in satisfying chunks across many different, but interconnected spaces, online and otherwise? Is it actually transmedia if it provides the audience with a way to participate or interact with the story, perhaps offering the ability to influence the story being told?

The wikipedia definition:

“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling or cross-media storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, and is not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchisessequels or adaptations. From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.”

No mention of selling other products in this definition, but does it mean it can’t be used in that capacity? “Permeate their daily lives” is an interesting phrase though because it seems to suggest either bringing the story to life around the viewer or allowing the viewer to virtually, if not physically, step into a story being told or to have some life altering experience that would not have happened had they not encountered/participated in the story.

The man who coined the term Transmedia Storytelling, Professor Henry Jenkins, has offered his updated interpretation here.

Over the next few weeks, I will report back with case studies on what I have found through interviews with those who have been through the experience, launched projects into the world and lived to tell the tale. Also, I will review the newest book on the subject by Andrea Phillips called A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. Hopefully, I will find people who are willing to be open about the process and how they succeeded or what they learned for next time. This is a very experimental space where either a lot of money is spent by way of corporate marketing budgets that will only see a return through sales of a product (and usually do not ONLY use a transmedia experience to advertise that product); or through new media funds where there is no expectation of return or favorable outcome; or through very tiny, self funded budgets where producers are gaining experience and expressing their creative ideas while directly interacting with an audience.

Stay tuned…

 

October 4th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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