Scott Walker interview about Transmedia Storytelling
The following questions was made as an academical resource for the development of the master's thesis Transmedia Design - Reference guide to creative industries of developing countries in a ciberculture context:
How do you identify a transmedia product? What are their most visible elements?
We are far from even a general consensus on what is or is not transmedia (and we definitely don't have universal agreement that 'transmedia' is the right word for this kind of storytelling). The Producers Guild of America has provided their definition of what qualifies as a transmedia project, but many people do not agree with it, for example.
But, since you asked for my definition...
I tend to view a transmedia project as having a shared world in which one or more stories are expressed. You may have multiple stories existing in a shared world (with each being delivered/accessed across a different medium), or you may have a single story split across multiple mediums and platforms. But there is a shared environment, a shared world that ties the various pieces together. There is also a combination of more than one medium being used, and normally audiences must use more than one platform or device to access or experience the pieces.
Transmedia differs from cross-media, which is the repurposing of a story from one medium to another without artistically changing the inherent narrative (the most common example is a film version of a novel). Transmedia is about having multiple stories (or parts of a shared story) distributed across multiple mediums through multiple platforms. Stories are retold in different mediums; new stories are told in different mediums.
Ultimately, transmedia projects require the consumption of multiple pieces of content in order to fully grasp what I call the 'world narrative' - the total sum narrative experience as expressed in discrete, individual stories (or parts of a single story).
Is there any barrier to implement a transmedia project? Which are their characteristics?
There are several challenges unique to transmedia projects, but they all derive from the fact that transmedia projects involve multiple mediums, technologies, industries, skillsets, and possibly even audiences.
From the creative standpoint, you are doing more than writing a novel or developing a video game. You are writing a novel AND developing a video game AND creating a TV show. You also need to ensure that each individual piece stands alone as a quality work, self-contained and satisfying from an entertainment point of view. And while the individual pieces do exist separately, they must all come together in an integrated way from a narrative perspective (i.e., no unintended continuity or coherence issues).
From a marketing perspective, you have to find the right way to introduce audiences to the world and also guide them from one content to another. In what order should the content pieces be released? Should the marketing reference other pieces in the shared world? If so, should they do so explicitly or implicitly? Also, you may have different target demographics for the individual pieces of content (e.g., you may market your game to a different audience than you market your comic or novel to).
From a technical standpoint, you are facing the challenges of creating works in multiple mediums using different techniques, and you do so against a never-changing backdrop of technological advances (who would have predicted the iPad 5 years ago? who could have seen the impact that twitter has had? what new platform or device will audiences have two years from now that doesn't exist now?). The ability to reach audiences in new ways changes on an almost monthly basis. Will you use an alternate reality game component? If so, how will players interact with it (an app, email, text, websites, physical objects, social media platforms, augmented reality, etc.)?
Regardless of the these considerations, the one factor that successful transmedia projects share is a rich, robust world in which the story or stories are told. Transmedia storytelling is really world building - creating an environment strong enough to support multiple characters and stories across a wide range of mediums. Without a strong world foundation, it will be difficult to introduce new, compelling stories and characters.
Can you describe a step by step procedure for developing a transmedia product?
If I had the time to do that, I would be selling it as a book! : )
The short answer is that a transmedia project's start can take so many different forms, it's impossible to have a one-size-fits-all process. A better way to approach it would be to simply say no matter what form your project takes, make sure that you always give story top priority and ensure you have developed a robust world to support the additional narrative extensions.
How do we measure the success of a transmedia project?
That depends entirely on the motives, goals, and needs of the creative. Hollywood obviously cares about dollars, but many independents are not driven by monetary motivations. Non-monetary measurements can include audience responses (social media activity, fan-based derivative works, etc.), the number of views of a website/webpage, or ratings/rankings by the public at large. Other motivations can be political, educational, or non-profit in nature (e.g., securing an election, communicating skillsets, or encouraging behavior that supports a social cause).
What promotional strategies should you apply to make a transmedia project visible?
This depends on the nature of the property and the goals/limits of the creative.
Many transmedia projects have used alternate reality game experiences as marketing lead-ins to introduce audiences to the larger story (e.g., the Sherlock Holmes ARG from November 2009 that walked audiences right up to the opening scene of the film when it was released on Christmas day). Some ARGs are explicit in the sense that the audience knows exactly what product the ARG is tied to. Some are not, as in the case of 'The Beast,' the ARG that led players on a convoluted journey of puzzles and mysteries without revealing to them until the end that it was all a marketing experience for the release of the film, 'AI.'
Dr. Henry Jenkins likes to use the park bench ads for 'District 9' as an example of extending transmedial elements of an intellectual property into the real world. This blurring of real/fictional worlds is a common theme in ARGs and transmedia marketing.
No matter what promotional technique you choose to use, it should have a reward on par with the efforts required from participants. If audiences are expected to spend money buying a video game, a comic, and a novel in order to be rewarded with an enriched experience in the movie theater, that experience had better be really, really rewarding (both monetarily and creatively). If audiences devote hours (days, months) of their time to a transmedia experience, their reward they get out of it ought to be on par with their efforts they put into it.
What is the role of an audience in a transmedia environment? Should we regulate its participation?
No creative can regulate an audience or dictate its participation. It's wrong to think that you can.
The better approach is to proactively offer fans ways to productively interact with and contribute to the property. Channeling an audience's enthusiasm and acknowledging the value that fans co-create are much more effective means of building and maintaining a strong fan base than issuing cease-and-desist letters and lawsuits.
Put another way, without an audience (fans), no property will succeed. You simply have art for art's sake, and in that case, the audience is irrelevant to begin with.
Presuming you are not creating art for art's sake, but instead, you actively want people (an audience) to view your work, then you need to be prepared to do the work to manage a community.
I personally am very interested in what I call 'participatory entertainment,' where audiences co-create value with content creatives. I think of it as transmedia 2.0. In participatory entertainment, audiences are able to contribute official content. They retain certain rights over their work, get a share in revenue from their derivative works, or both. It is a way to bridge canon with fandom.
Is it better to apply a filter for audience participation or let the community do this?
Creatives do not, in fact, have any control over what fans will do with their work. They can sue fans for infringement, they can incorporate DRM technologies to mitigate piracy, they can publicly state their wishes...but fans are going to do what they want to do.
While fan participation is a fact of life and needs to be addressed by creatives, there are many ways in which fans can participate. Some ways are highly regulated (e.g., deciding what fan-produced content - if any - becomes official canon), while others may be fairly unregulated (e.g., fan art). Each property is unique. Some use Creative Commons and explicitly allow fans to remix/distribute derivative works. Others take a more traditional approach towards protecting their copyright and trademark rights. Some properties may let the community self-regulate, some don't.
The 'better' approach is to decide the best way to address audience participation across the entire property (where the liberties of audiences may vary) and communicate this clearly to fans.
What are the features a creative industry should have in order to incorporate a transmedia philosophy?
Any creative industry attempting to launch a transmedia property must be flexible enough to expand/contract with the various needs of the property. This means a tighter integration across verticals/departments, better working relationships between the creative and marketing departments, and the ability to manage the coherence and canonicity of a world that spans several mediums and platforms at once. It becomes a focus on managing a world of entertainment rather than just a single work.
It also probably means being able to work with outside vendors to outsource certain services (most companies don't have every single necessary skillset and resource in-house).
To date, most transmedia marketing is done after the creative department has locked the story and the world, which limits marketing's ability to offer fulfilling experiences that go beyond repurposing existing mythos and creative assets. If marketing can be involved from the beginning of a creative project, it can offer audiences more organic and meaningful experiences before the first creative product is released. Ideally, there is no marketing - there is only narrative extensions of the transmedia world.
Also, even with monolithic organizations like Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney, the communication across groups and departments can be limited at best. Transmedia projects - especially big budget ones - require rigorous project management to ensure that the final products integrate logically, creatively, and narratively, thereby giving audiences a high-quality holistic experience.
What examples do you consider as successful transmedia implementations?
Success is, again, a subjective term. Successful monetarily? Successful in the sense of building a rich world? Successful in reaching a wide demographic/audience? Successful in making an impact on those who experience it?
The ones mentioned most often are Star Wars and The Matrix, but technically, there have been transmedia examples going back decades. Dr. Jenkins like to refer to the World of Oz as an early example of world building that spanned fiction, theater, and, ultimately, the 'Wizard of Oz' film most of us are familiar with, with many different stories existing in the Oz universe.
There have been several projects recently that garnered praise outside of the fanbase demographic, such as 'Cathy's Book,' and Audi's 'The Heist.' I happen to like Ken Eklund's 'World Without Oil' project, as it had an audience collaboration element to it. MTV's 'Valemont' TV/Web series had additional narrative extensions and world building though its website, and it was regarded as well-constructed for its budget (I understand season one has gone global, and MTV is working on season two).