The entertainment business is engaged in nothing less than the reinvention of narrative, and the leading edge is something called transmedia. It’s in this corner of storytelling that a next wave of developers, gamers, filmmakers, writers and composers are creating immersive story-telling experiences that employ a variety of media, delivered across platforms. But here, “cross platform” means more than just on your console one minute and your smartphone the next. It means on your phone, your PC, your iPod, your TV, in the theater.
Who’s Doing It?
Companies engaged in transmedia can be grouped into three general sectors. First, there are native companies whose focus is original content across mediums. Next are marketing companies who create a wide range of original content around an existing product — think Game of Thrones or Hunger Games. And finally are the tech businesses who create platforms that other people can use to distribute content across mediums.
Most of today’s players are in the marketing sector since transmedia tends to end up as extensions of a brand that are meant to keep users engaged, as opposed to generating revenue themselves. One of the most successful companies in this arena is New York City’s Campfire. (Its early claim to fame: The founders produced The Blair Witch Project.)
Following the Community
Steve Coulson, Campfire’s creative director, says the company thinks more in terms of medium and platforms than technologies. Its goal is to get stories into where fan communities congregate and in ways they’ll consume and participate with them. Sometimes the solution is technological, like an app or a game.
“While there are occasions when we require a specific skill-set to execute a certain piece, that really varies dramatically from project to project,” he says. “For our core team, it’s more about understanding the constantly shifting communications ecosystem, e.g., where and how Instagram and Pinterest and GetGlue, and whatever other new platform is being used, or not being used, by connected audiences. We move at such a breakneck pace, there’s no time to explain ‘what XXXX is’ to a team. They all have to all be up to speed on what’s breaking through, and have ideas on how best to leverage it.”
Campfire’s needs are so broad that Coulsan could work with a PHP developer or an After Effects specialist, as well as someone who creates custom scents or wooden puzzle boxes, all depending on the project. Given Campfire’s diversity, he says — jokingly — that his ideal employee is Leonardo Da Vinci, someone who’s both an artist and an engineer.
“It helps to have people who know just enough in various technologies to understand what is possible and what isn’t. While I don’t require my team to be coders, per se, they need to know enough to know what can and can’t be done during the ideation phase.”
On the tech side, there are companies like San Francisco/Minneapolis-based Social Samba, which often works with television networks to create deep, scalable social experiences that extend the boundaries of the on-air broadcast. With programs as diverse as Psych and Clone Wars, they create worlds where fans can actively engage with their fictional heroes.
Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Williams says the company looks for people who love stories. “We want fans, not just hackers” he says. “Our projects are entirely driven by storytellers. Sometimes that’s a ‘producer,’ sometimes it’s a ‘writer’ and sometimes it’s a ‘show runner.’ We don’t really care what their title is.”
The prognosis for growth in transmedia is excellent. While Williams feels that current approaches are doing a good job of bringing fans into the story, the near future will likely use evolving technology to bring stories into the real world. For example, when turning on your phone after deplaning in London, James Bond could comment on the fact you just landed in his home city, then engage you in a story while you’re there. Williams also thinks that fan fiction will continue to be a driving force in development.
For more information on transmedia and its many permutations, n00bs may want to check out StoryCode, a New York based non-profit that serves as an educator, incubator and clearinghouse for all manner of transmedia projects. Austin’s annual SXSW Interactive conference also includes a variety of transmedia events in its programming, and is a great place to network. So is GDC Online, the Game Developer’s Conference.
Image: Markosun’s Blog