Stories, audiences and the in-between: Why transmedia is going to make (even more) sense.
Among professionals working on transmedia projects, it is common to refer to the contemporary mediascape
as a true moment of innovation: technologies eventually allow writers, filmmakers and producers to expand their story worlds through different media and platforms, getting in touch with communities scattered all around the world in a pervasive way.
It has been said that we’re living in an audience-centred digital era, so we asked some of the field’s key representatives to share the way they look at transmedia.
“Stories and audiences come at the same time: it’s just a matter of being organic in the way we connect them.” Says Liz Rosenthal, founder and CEO at Power to the Pixel, the London-based company that specializes in finding new ways to shape, finance and distribute stories across multiple platforms with a specific focus on audiences. “Sometimes the word transmedia itself is misused or abused. For us, it’s a way to look at stories, more than just an excuse to build a cool website or a nice app. Our approach is to search for the right story to be told to the right audience.” The aim is connecting film and media industries with innovators and potential funders: once a year Power to the Pixel organises the Cross-Media Forum (the 7th edition is taking place 15-18 October), a hybrid event combining a conference, a think tank, a cross-media marketplace and a competition (The Pixel Market and The Pixel Pitch).
“We design stories for people, not formats,” adds Rosenthal. “We look at what people are doing within the different media they are immersed in, and we monitor what’s happening in technology, because nowadays these two sides are deeply interconnected.”
Stories and audiences come at the same time
Liz Rosenthal, Power to the Pixel
At SWIM, the Scandinavian transmedia initiative launched by CPH:DOX, the program is tailor-made for each project and in the autumn two separate think tanks will improve working and development structures within the film industry and other creative industries, in addition to a new conference with CPH:DOX and a financing forum connected to CPH:FORUM.
“My view on transmedia is not that it is about platforms and technology. It’s a way of thinking.” says Anna J. Ljungmark, head of project at SWIM and previously involved in BoostHbg, the leading developer of projects and talents within cross/trans-media in Sweden. “For me transmedia is to take a step back from thinking about formats and the structures that follow them, and focus on what do I want to tell, what do I want to achieve and for whom? Answering these questions you can start building a project on real needs that increases the chances of having real impact. In its best form it represents freedom in how we tell, produce, finance and distribute our projects.”
In doing so, collaborations, partnerships and new synergies really matter. Valeria Richter, who, besides working on a Swedish transmedia project called Granny’s Dancing on the Table, is head of studies for a number of programmes at TorinoFilmLab, shares her insights: “I feel that transmedia is the strongest when it remains slightly diffuse and hard to box in and define: its strength lies in the diversity and the multiple ways of engagement that it offers. Of course we have to continue to discuss it, define the various uses/users and play with what it is, create and find examples across current and developing platforms, but at its core, it is a bit of a unicorn, a castle in the sky – a form of concrete phenomenon, which we can’t quite grasp. To me transmedia has never a given or a definitive form: it is always what we make it to be.”
In its best form transmedia represents freedom in how we tell, produce, finance and distribute our projects
Anna Ljungmark, SWIM
This is the reason why building a transmedia project requires a multi-faceted perspective, taking into consideration delicate aspects such as IP issues, platform development and expanded story worlds:
“We started a collaboration with Power to the Pixel and developed the concept of our transmedia workshop, Writer’s Room,” explains Richter. “We have also developed a programme on Audience Design, which combines our script development programme, Script&Pitch, with participants who focus on how independent films can begin to connect with audiences at this early stage of development, searching out a number of ways that can support the film’s later production and distribution, expanding the film’s, but also the filmmaker’s, reach.”
According to Richter, the idea of transmedia seems to naturally imply flexibility in the development process, tailoring strategies to each project’s unique needs and taking advantage of the chance to test them quickly and cost-effectively. But there is still an area that is very delicate: “The big challenge for transmedia projects seems to be the financing, including coproduction options, and how to support the development on several platforms simultaneously. If it takes years to get a feature film project off the ground, an independent transmedia project that includes some game-based elements, a film and an app may well need even longer to reach the production/completion stage.”
The distribution is a tough part of the job as well. Some projects are developed within digital environments made up of tens of creative films and documentaries: international production and distribution platforms such as the Submarine Channel, for example, have become natural destinations for the state of the art in interactive media. Here, a project like Unspeak, the interactive documentary investigating the manipulative power of language based on Steven Poole’s book of the same name, can spread throughout the datascape thanks to its six short films blended with a crowd-sourced participatory dictionary, data visualizations, the global tracking of tweets and definitions from Wikipedia and news articles.
The other option is to design the project as a stand-alone experience. This is the case of Netwars/Out of CTRL, an international cross media project which explores the impending threat of cyberwarfare, produced by the production company Filmtank GmbH. Netwars is a fact-based TV Documentary, interactive Web Documentary, TV Movie and Graphic Novel App. “The decision to invest in an independent platform was made in order to stay independent when licensing partnerships and building the IP as well as the creative decisions regarding the narrative.” points out Lena Thiele, author and creative director at the Berlin-based company Miiqo Studios, cooperating on the web documentary and web platform, and consultant for the audience engagement and project strategies. “The platform and the content will be kept flexible to be integrated and connect existing platforms, to share the content when appropriate while still keeping our individual appearance of the IP and the community around it. Every part has its own creative and narrative approach, based on the delivery platform and its user behaviour, but linked to the main IP. This concept allows distribution on different channels to reach slightly different audiences but building up one strong IP.”
Flexibility, the ability to adapt to the environment and reacting quickly to feedback, a very Zen-like approach to creative contents; that increasingly seems to be the mantra for the story-telling of today._
Links to the transmedia project mentioned