By Nick DeMartino
Tracking transmedia developments as they unfold will be complicated, in part because this new entertainment format covers so much ground.
It is a world "where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways," says USC professor Henry Jenkins in his book "Convergence Culture."
To track transmedia, follow the people, suggests author Frank Rose. "The people who are most eager to experiment with new forms of storytelling are for the most part the creators," says Rose, an editor of WIRED magazine and author of "The Art of Immersion," which makes engaging sense out of a sprawling story that stars, among others, James Cameron, Jordan Weisman, Elan Lee, Howard Roffman, Ted Nelson, David Lynch, Rand and Robyn Miller, Will Wright, Cliff Bleszinski, Hideo Kojima, Damon Lindelhof, Greg Daniels, Anthony Zuiker, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Molyneux, Sean Bailey and Charles Dickens (take that, Little Nell!). Follow them all on Twitter to get a good start.
"I'm extremely eager to see what comes out of Mirada Studios, the operation that Guillermo Del Toro recently founded, with the goal of crossing the line between video games and movies," said Rose. "I also think about somebody like Christopher Nolan, who has announced that he's planning to do a video game version of 'Inception,' which is, after all, a movie that plays almost like a giant cut scene from a video game.
"I'm also very intrigued by 'L.A. Noire' from Rockstar Games. It's probably one of the major breakthroughs as a combination of games and stories, the blurring of those boundaries. It's really difficult for people to figure out how to do."
New research commissioned by Intel Corporation may point the way to a broader understanding of the multiplatform storytelling world. Brian Seth Hurst, CEO of Opportunity Management Company and a contractor on the study, has interviewed dozens of practitioners from media, technology and marketing firms -- "the storytelling ecosystem." His focus is the relationship between the storyteller and the audience.
"The thing is," says Hurst, "the audience is going to participate, no matter what you do. And so, why not build the participation into the experience from the outset?"
Hurst was part of the team that launched a high-budget, multiplatform story called "Conspiracy for Good" in 2010. Headed by "Heroes" creator Tim Kring, the project counts Nokia as a sponsor and hundreds of collaborators, including Stockholm-based The Company P, which had set a standard for ARGs with "The Truth about Marika" in 2007. Expect to see more iterations of "CfG" in coming months, along with a new Kring multiplatform project for a major TV network, predictably top secret at this point.
Sometimes the cult-like nature of the transmedia elements eludes the mainstream, as in this recent coverage of the HBO mini-series "Year Zero," based upon the Nine Inch Nails concept album. The associated alternate reality game was not mentioned.
Even more difficult to track are original projects from teams that one might call "transmedia natives." Two examples are "Vlogger" and Dreamcatcher. Ricard Gras, whose U.K.-based firm Inter-activa designs virtual worlds, is in post-production on "Vlogger: The Movie," a story set online and in "Second Life." The project will roll out this fall as a movie, a social media experience and as an environment inside "Second Life," where users will have access to additional story-related material, somewhat akin to DVD extras, Gras says.
"Vlogger" employs cinematic language derived from Machinima movies that use "gravity-free cameras" and employs an inventive interface to simultaneously display the worlds of the "real" characters and the "virtual" characters. It will be interesting to see how this plays in a theatre.
"It wasn't like we were reading a textbook and figuring out that transmedia was this new thing that we wanted to be part of," says producer Josh Shore, who, with Anson Phong, has launched a multi-year, multiplatform project with an intentional social network called Dreamcatcher.
The site is designed to serve a "psychographic" community interested in the thematic universe of dreams and dream-sharing, which is at the heart of a linear narrative that will be told in a motion comic and animated film called "Illuminated," now in development. "We're looking at how we can build a community around a worldview."
Says Shore: "If you're open to a participatory community in the digital age, there are a million opportunities."
Aficionados also turn to specialty sites that cover the field, including the Alternative Reality Gaming Network, featuring current and archival coverage of the ARG community Power to the Pixel, a U.K.-based group providing resources and updates; the Transmedia Artists Guild, which hosts a forum for practitioners; You Suck at Transmedia, a thoughtful blog that transcends the irony of its title; and the now-defunct but historically useful Jawbone.tv site. My own Delicious account provides more than 100 transmedia-related links.
Other news to track, as transmedia becomes a reality:
- Investment: The showbiz trades and blogs do cover transmedia news, especially when involving mainstream players or big money. In addition to the del Toro and FourthWall announcements, recent news includes a multi-platform property "The Runner," involving Brian Glazer and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment, which has struck a first-look deal with game and comic-oriented Blacklight Entertainment.
- Accessing production budgets: Says Hurst: "I'm privy to a set of negotiations that is happening with a U.S. network right now, where ancillary stuff will be approximately 10 percent of the production budget. This is already happening in Australia."
- Ratings: Ad-supported models depend upon a set of metrics that all parties accept, warts and all. The sheer variety of distribution outlets in a transmedia deployment make the task of measuring participation and impact a daunting exercise. Measurement means monetization, so watch for announcements from the usual suspects, as well as the newer social media tracking firms.
- Tools: Transmedia storytelling requires new content management tools to enable a creative team to track consumers as they interact with content over time and on a dizzying array of platforms, each with its own set of technical requirements. Firms with the most transmedia experience have built proprietary tools. Look for announcements about their productization, which will empower new entrants into the field.
- Discovery: Watch for new transmedia portals, aggregators and discovery engines to emerge as the sheer volume and diversity of projects proliferates in the coming years.
Author Jonathan Franzen has written that "the novel was not simply a genre but an attitude toward that genre."
"Our state of mind when we pick up a novel today -- our knowledge that it's a work of the imagination; our willing suspension of disbelief in it -- is in fact one half of the novel's essence."
That's not bad advice when thinking about the evolution of transmedia as a lasting story format.
Missed out on the earlier installments of Nick DeMartino's transmedia series? Catch up with Part One: "Shouting 'Fire' in the Theatre" and Part Two: "Many Paths to Audience Participation for Transmedia Talent."
Nick DeMartino retired as Senior Vice President of Media & Technology at the American Film Institute in 2010 to consult with companies on their content and distribution strategies, deals and marketing initiatives. Find him on Twitter @nickdemartino and on the web.
The Tribeca Future of Film blog is a place where leading filmmakers and experts within the film industry share their thoughts on film, technology and the future of media.