A way to ensure that your new script or story is transmedia friendly, is a strong transmedia storyworld and will support integrative narratives across multiple platforms, is to check the richness and attractiveness of the world where your story is set. It’s essential that you develop a storyworld that describes your fictive universe as it appears before, during, and after the resolution of your core narrative.
Showcase “Collider”: How to create an entertainment franchise using a crossmedial approach to Storytelling, a live-action film, a graphic novel, an animated series and a videogame
A fully fleshed storyworld ‘bible’ should include detailed character profilesand backstories and extended story arcs. Also, the bible needs to list historical and real world events that help define and authenticate your setting. Lastly, it’s important to define the rules of your transmedia storyworld (if they differ from the rules of the real world) and the visual elements that distinguish or define your world.
A transmedia storyworld
When developing a premise, logo or central character for your brand, keep in mind the generic realm of the piece. Who are the core followers? What other audiences might connect with the concept? At beActive, we examine the marketability of a project from day one by determining whether or not there is a community already built around our story’s subject. We try to tap into that community by asking ourselves what sort of entertainment experiences this particular audience is looking for. Our new Emmy-nominated Sci-fi transmedia series Collider’s niche audience, for example, is familiar with the precepts of science fiction. They’re willing to suspend their disbelief in order to engage in the post-apocalyptic storyworld. We decided to develop a graphic novel, comic book series, and a gaming element to draw out the interests of the fandom. Watch the official teaser:
No matter which genre you’re writing into, establishing firm rules for your storyworld and sticking to them is vital to creating and maintaining the credibility of your story. Where and when is your story set? Does it follow the rules of today’s laws of nature and society or is there an alternate set of parameters that define your real? For instance, the Collider feature is set in the year 2018—the apex of a worldwide catastrophe. The planet is beset with natural disasters, and humankind is on the brink of extermination at the hands of monstrous creatures called ‘the Unknown.’ The ‘rules’ of these monsters are evocative of vampire and zombie mythology: they can only attack in darkness. By applying an existing archetype to the Collider storyworld, we were able to create a more complex sci-fi narrative that involves theoretical physics and time travel. In instances such as this, you can draw from your audience’s store of generic characters or scenarios to do some of the work of defining the rules of your storyworld. When you are presenting a novel concept, you cannot make any assumptions about what will be transparent to your audience. Be clear and definitive when setting up the rules of your storyworld, and stick to them when you transition from platform to platform.
We developed detailed back stories for each of the six characters in theCollider project, which allowed us to create a series of comic books and a graphic novel to illustrate the independent plot lines of each character’s life and the subplots created by their collision in a Geneva hotel room in the year 2018. The Collider feature film reiterates the story’s overarching drama—Dr. Peter Ansay’s sabotage of the CERN Collider and his subsequent catapult through the resulting wormhole—and further develops the implications of his time travel by positioning him and five strangers as the potential saviors of the known world.
At present, we’re developing a spin-off television series which carries the storyline beyond Ansay’s and his begrudging cohorts’ success in restoring the collider (and the planet) to order. Now they have control over a time travel device, and they decide to form a Mission Impossible type squad to avoid future catastrophe. Governmental agencies and private citizens hire Ansay and his team to travel into the future, witness a probable crime, and bring back the information necessary to prevent a pandemic from breaking out or a president from being assassinated.
The series compliments the overall property and also functions as a stand-alone piece; we were able to bring off this fifth reimagining of the brand because we took the time, in the earliest stages of the project’s development, to create well-defined characters with in-depth backstories and a compelling storyworld to trot out their real time stories. Backstory is particularly important to the Collider project because each of the main characters has the ability to go back in time and relive his personal history from 2012 to 2018. For each of these characters, backstory has a more immediate impact because they have a standing opportunity to not only anticipate and thwart crime but the transgressions made in their own lives. By allowing for extensive pre-planning which provides a logical and aesthetical framework, we will be able to create several seasons of spin-off material.
Article originally posted on MipBlog on June 13, 2014.
Transmedia is a buzzword that the film industry has used quite a lot in the last couple of years, from independent movies that have a companion web site and a Facebook Fan page, to the multi-million dollar interactive experience that involve games, web sites and live events. But what all these different, so-called, ‘transmedia’ projects have in common is the desire of their producers to engage an audience using digital and social media tools.
The distribution and monetisation of content in multiple platforms or mediums is not new. Major studios and networks have been doing it for decades.They were the gatekeepers that controlled the access to audience; they were the ones that had the sufficient marketing power to promote their content to an audience on every single platform that became popular. What the transmedia approach and the digital platforms are bringing to the table that is new, is the fact that independent filmmakers are now able, for the first time, to directly connect with their audience using social media and on-line communities without multi-million dollar campaigns. Indies are now able to create their own franchises.
For the first time, filmmakers can “own the audience”. They can talk to the audience and find out what they like (or dislike). The success of their movies is not 100% dependable on a film distributor or sales agent. Using a transmedia approach, directors and producers can validate their work directly with a real audience and can build a fan base and increase awareness of their project from early development stage to the premiere of the movie. During this period, that in the indie world can mean a few years, audiences can be part of the production of the movie and feel that this is their movie too. This will mean a pre-built audience willing not only to pay for a ticket to see the movie but they also become advocates that can spread the good word about the movie on their own social media profiles or directly to their (real) friends.
Without multi-million dollar campaigns, the success of an independent film is always achieved with strong word of mouth and good reviews in the press (and a few awards at the most important festivals). What the transmedia approach allows, is for the producers and the creative team to start building that word of mouth process as early as possible so it can grow, as a snowball, during all the production process, so when the movie premieres it already has an audience. The success of movies like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or more recent Kevin Smith’s Red State was the result of the buzz created by the filmmakers using the internet and social media.
Most of the so-called transmedia projects that were produced in the last couple of years are just that – transmedia brand extensions. Most studio and network executives see it only as on-line marketing tool to promote to the young crowds of movie goers the upcoming summer blockbusters or the new sci-fi based network TV series. But the concept of transmedia goes beyond that.
At my company, beActive Entertainment, we’ve been developing a script for asci-fi based feature film inspired by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider experiments. The movie is temporarily called Collider and is set to start principal photography later in September, with a release date set to the second quarter of 2013. But the story world around the movie will start to seed to its audience in June 2012.
As the main story focus on six characters mysteriously transported to a post-apocalyptic future, where they find themselves involved in a race against time to find a way to get back to the present and save mankind – and their own lives, we developed the backstory of these characters at present time in the form of six comic books (one per character). By doing this we are able to introduce the characters of movie earlier, listen to audience’s comments and reactions and probably have enough time to fine-tune the characters of the movie based on audience’s reaction to them.
The world will then be extended with an iPad and iPhone game that introduces the story of the movie and is set in the future. Here, the audience will have to follow the same path as the characters do in the movie. The idea is not to tell the same story in advance, but make audiences familiar with characters, themes and the rules of this universe that we are creating. And in the process, start building a fan base, a community that will, in the next year and half create an audience for the movie when it will be released in 2013. The full experience evolves into a web series which will be distributed for free on the internet, allowing the audience to learn what caused the apocalypse described in the movie (and allow us to test casting choices directly with an audience before we start shooting the movie).
The big Hollywood studios have been using this approach for years. Most of the movies released every summer are based on existing comic books (or other properties, like games or toys) and they already have an existing audience spread through several web sites and social media profiles, which connects with the content all year around. And then every few years a new movie comes out to satisfy the demand from this loyal fan base. But now, thanks to development of new digital media platforms, small independent producers can use the same approach and increase brand awareness of their movies and establish their own franchises.
Does this transmedia approach fit all film projects? It depends on the filmmaker’s plans for his work. I usually say that the transmedia franchise approach, because of the commitment in time and resources, only makes sense if you see yourself producing sequels. If you are only interested in producing a one-off movie, a little small character-driven drama, probably the franchise approach doesn’t suit you. But even so, you can use some of concepts of transmedia to build your audience, your fan base, and to feed the content development stage.
The secret is to involve your audience as early as possible. Ask for their participation, let them help, whatever suggesting plot points or casting, to more sophisticated approach’s can be letting the audience create some elements for your movie, from posters, web sites or communities. If the audience is involved in the making of your movie, they will be the first ones to want to see your (and theirs) work. They will be the ones promoting your movie and getting their friends and family to join them on this experience.
The big complaint I keep hearing from film producers is that transmedia is more work for less money. It’s true that the majority of distributors and traditional funders will not give you any additional money for the production of the transmedia elements, but the truth is that power of having a pre-existing audience, a loyal fan base, is probably more important for your movie. Unfortunately we live in a world overcrowded with movies but audiences are becoming smaller. If you have your own built in audience of fans, you have more chances to succeed. Film distributors, sales agents and exhibitors are not just looking for good movies. They are also looking for movies with pre-built audiences.
Article originally posted on MipBlog on May 1, 2012.
Transmedia writer-producer and beActive’s founder and managing director Nuno Bernardo presents a few Transmedia Tricks and Tips at a Bafta (London) event. Special focus on “why you’ll need great characters to make a multi-platform approach work for your story”.
Filmed at the BAFTA TV Lab: Cross-platform Pitch Up! with Stellar Network, 5 Dec 2012.
Timing and efficiency are critical to transmedia, so you’ll want to develop a distribution plan that streamlines when you release each piece of your content. In 2009, we released Emmy-nominated transmedia storyworld, Final Punishment (Castigo Final) (top video), an interactive thriller comprised ofmore than one thousand pieces of content, in just sixty days. In order to release this volume of content efficiently across multiple platforms, we organised content writers and creators, marked out a delivery schedule, and managed the day to day launch of specific pieces of content from image streams and texts to blogs and web series.
At the time, we had to coordinate our distribution plan manually. We had team members up at four in the morning to ensure that a particular piece of content went online at that precise time. Of course, this sort of ‘by hand’ distribution is not manageable in the long term – especially when you’re creative team is juggling a high volume of content between timezones and continents!
Storyworlds and Characters
The difficulties we had in managing the Final Punishment project inspired us to design a remote tool that is story-centric. My team at beActive and I adapted our multi-platform distribution strategy into a digital scheduling and distribution platform called the Storycaster, a tool which eases the tasks of making content available on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks on the web, mobile, tablet and connected TV devices.
Increasingly, audiences are engaging with content on multiple platforms. They expect their favorite stories to be available on every one of their go-to devices, but the ever-changing technology that makes this sort of on demand storytelling possible, can be daunting. Storytellers want to focus on producing the best content possible, rather than learning how to use new technologies. The end-goal of the Storycaster is to help producers and creators expand their storyworlds and characters to new platforms without investing a great deal of time and money into adopting novel technologies.
What we needed, as content producers, was a better and well suited content aggregator and distribution platform that adapted to the types of stories we tell, one geared toward our multi-platform method and a publishing schedule that engages several social networks at the same time. The Storycaster allows producers to assemble large-scale projects to be distributed over a given period of time—one month, two months, a year—all of which includes hundreds of pieces of content.
Once we imported all content to the server, such as videos, text files, photos, blogs, social media posts, you can define a distribution timeline to determine where, how and at what pace you want your audience to consume the story. We can also specify the level of audience engagement you hope to achieve for each piece of content, by scheduling automatic push notifications and social media posts. The Storycaster then publishes content automatically, on designated platforms, according to the schedule set forth by the producer.
Our greatest asset as producers are our fans, and our number one priority is helping storytellers grow their audience by implementing a ‘fan base cycle’aimed at converting casual viewers into fans. The existing technology helps us to define engagement strategies around our content, designate engagement levels appropriate to specific platforms and schedule audience interactions. Simply put, we create the experience, and the technology implements it.
What about the bottom line? This multi-platform distribution strategy helps us monetise our content by executing a freemium model, i.e. you offer some content for free and charge fans for premium content. We can specify which pieces of content you’d like to run advertising across to generate revenue and can link existing products to your content to prompt sales via digital downloads or physical products. This way, thanks to technology, we can deploy timely, cost-effective, multiplatform projects with the ability to measure audience engagement, identify core fans and tweak content (in real-time) accordingly.
Article originally posted on MipBlog on December 1, 2014