Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Transmedia Making Splashes

Imagination has enabled humans to communicate abstract concepts and ideas through stories. Storytelling has evolved from etching drawings on walls, libraries lined with literature, and several beloved television series. Now, there’s a new form of storytelling—transmedia.

Transmedia is a technique of telling stories through multi-platforms. Still a new concept, some writers and producers have adopted this form of storytelling and developed new series taking advantage of social media. By using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs, writers and producers are able to engage their audience with each kind of medium.

I chatted with Scott Albert, the co-creator of the web series Tights and Fights who developed a year-long transmedia storytelling strategy by using social networks, 180 webisodes, live performances on Twitter, blogs, and (Facebook for DIY Super Heroes). Launched in October 2010, Tights and Fights is already generating quite a dedicated following through multi-media platforms.

“Transmedia adds context to a story,” Scott says. “In the past, the time, effort and money required to produce a movie and a book meant it was a massive undertaking that didn't make sense except as a way of repurposing content. But the web makes it easy— upload to YouTube and write a blog post - boom you're doing it. And social networking platforms add whole new ways of telling stories.”

I also caught up with Jill Golick, a writer/producer and new media creator who launched Ruby Skye P.I., a comedy web series for tweens in late 2010. She reminds us that transmedia is still a new concept.

“There are a lot of battles waging about what transmedia even means,” she says. “To me, transmedia means telling your story across media. It is a different way of thinking about your story from the beginning. I spent most of my writing career dreaming up stories that would make great TV series. Today, I look at a concept or story idea and ask, what part of this story can I tell on TV, what would work well on the web? Is there a novel in this? A comic book? Live events? A ballet?

“That really opens up the creative process. Instead of focusing on and shaping for a single medium, I build a universe filled with characters, places, events across a long time line. Then I apply the focus of a single medium to it, asking what part of this story would best be told with the attributes of a specific platform.”

What does all this mean for writers? Will it affect any kind of writer? (i.e. screenwriter, journalist, blogger, novelist, etc.)

“I don’t think so,” Scott says. “Transmedia isn’t a way of replacing any type of writing. Transmedia simply means you try to make sure the experiences of each platform compliment each other.

“I think of the transmedia writer’s job as similar to that of a TV show runner, except instead of overseeing the collective creative voice of only TV writers, the transmedia writer either executes or supervises the collective creative voice over many media or platforms.”

Jill believes we can still be the masters of our chosen storytelling medium.

“You can apply the transmedia model to any kind of writing or you can continue to be a specialist in say, journalism, blogging or screenwriting,” she says. “Because any story universe that is expressed across media will also necessarily have to be expressed on specific platforms. So there will always be a need for writers who are prose stylists or screenwriting mavens.”

As storytelling evolves, I wondered what kind of role transmedia would play in the future of television.

“I think television and transmedia storytelling are natural fits, as both work best as ongoing stories,” Scott says. “As television series continue to move online, transmedia storytelling will serve both as a means of promotion, secondary “added context” stories, and as additional revenue streams. For example, for the TV show Castle, you can buy novels “written” by the main character.”

Jill predicts that there will be more interactive storytelling emerging as more interactive capabilities are added to your television screen.

“People will have options,” she says. “There will be stories you can “play” and interact with and stories that will tell themselves to you without you having to do anything.

“TV story worlds will extend onto the web. You’ll be able to watch your favourite show in the same way you always have, but then go on the web and explore, play in and experiment with the world. There will be characters you can talk to and influence. There’s a lot of this already, but more and more, it will be baked in from the concept stage. There will be richer, deeper, more engaging experiences for avid fans.”

Creating and launching a series using transmedia may also have business benefits. In Jill’s Ruby Skye P.I. video, she discusses the concept of building a franchise. Is this something all writers should be doing when pitching a new series or shopping a manuscript around for publication? In today’s tech-rich world, for example, should young adult novelists have an interactive web component that complements the novel?

“The only thing I recommend to other writers is to try out the new tools and see if they inspire you,” Jill says. “If a tool or platform gets your creative juices flowing, if it gives you a way to reach a new audience or get closer to your traditional one, then use it. If not, stick with what you love.

“We’re reaching the end of the one-size-fits-all era. There is no set of rules that everyone should follow. This is a time when there are a lot of choices. No one knows yet what the ending will be. So I’m spending my time experimenting and playing. And I’m having a ton of fun doing it.”

To learn more about transmedia, become Facebook fans of Tights and Fights and Ruby Skye, P.I. and start watching their series on:


Scott said...


Very nice article. Thanks so much for letting me be a part of it. Would you mind if I repost it on my own sites?

Also, there's a panel talk this Sunday at Ryerson that I'll be at. you should come by! Let me know if you would like to and I'll send you more details.

Lorna London said...

Hey Scott!
So sorry for the tardy reply. Yes, please repost.
Thanks for the panel invite...obv didn't make it, but I am planning on attending the Digital Screenwriters Meet Up on the 24th...