Jeff Gomez, president and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a transmedia
storytelling firm, has impressive transmedia storytelling credits, having worked on projects such as
“Avatar,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles.” Gomez, who served on the jury for the Bombay Sapphire Award for Transmedia at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, will be conducting a one-day master class on “Creating Blockbuster Transmedia Story Worlds & Brands” at the new Made in NY Media Center by IFP on December 11. Indiewire recently talked to him about the rules of transmedia storytelling and why even low-budget independent filmmakers need to incorporate transmedia into their story worlds.
Transmedia is such a buzz word these days, but very few people seem to really understand what it means. What is your cocktail party definition of transmedia?
Jeff Gomez: Transmedia really in and of itself doesn’t mean all that much. It’s about being able to communicate across various platforms in some kind of meaningful way. But when you hook it up to an action like storytelling, transmedia storytelling means you’re telling stories but you’re using different media in order to get the entire story. You’re using the media in a concerted fashion. In an ideal world, that transmedia element is something that is going to enhance your experience of the narrative. it’s going to give you new insight and play to the strength of the medium.
Cynics might ask, “why can’t we just focus on one medium at a time?”
Gomez: But look at what the kids are doing. Look at how young people are receiving stories. When they love something they want more of it and they don’t want to repeat it. The days of watching something over and over again because you love it is going away because there’s so much choice. If you look at the most popular franchises and the most popular brands, they’re telling pieces of the story across various media platforms — Kathleen Kennedy recently announced out of Lucasfilm that the Star Wars video games are not going to emulate the new movies. When asked why, she said that the movies are the movies. We have such a rich story world that the video games can actually help us develop that universe and provide interactive experiences for Star Wars fans. It’s a brilliant move on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm to generate games that explore different aspects of the Star Wars universe.
How does transmedia storytelling benefit documentary filmmakers specifically?
Gomez: Who is being exposed to the average documentary? Who will find out about it and go out of their way to watch a documentary? It’s a very limited audience, whereas if you’re generating content that is designed to be interactive and is designed to reach an audience that wouldn’t ordinarily be interested or encounter this kind of content, you’re doing yourself a favor. Transmedia storytelling affords even modest productions the ability to be extended to touch points that would not ordinarily be available to the filmmakers. If you have integrity as a storytelling, you’re going to want to reach as many people as possible. Transmedia content, when done well, maintains the essence of that message.
Can you give us 3 basic rules to transmedia storytelling?
Gomez: There are rules.
1) Your story needs to have some kind of aspirational quality. It needs to be meaningful. If your story is violent and really a downer, it’s not going to be enough of a draw for people to follow it across multiple platforms. There’s an upbeat quality to most successful transmedia stories. It’s got to be a story world you want to spend time in.
2) You have to understand the media platforms that you will have at hand. If you’re an independent creator with a little budget, you still have access to social media, the web, independent digital publishing. You need to understand the language of each of those platforms. If you don’t want to, find someone who can help you understand the strengths and weakness of each of those platforms. You need to be able to design your story to play to those strengths and avoid those weaknesses. You’re already developing a design sensibility for the media platforms you have at hand which will help you develop the story and ultimately, produce it.
3) You need to think about and ultimate build an architecture for dialogue around your transmedia implementation. This, in essence, gives your audience the ability to provide you with feedback. You can make it fancy and have that become a part of the narrative if you want where your characters can literally communicate with the audience, but that’s not a requirement and it’s tricky to do that. We now have the ability as storytellers to look into the eyes of our audience and to validate their participation — by which I mean the audience has a need to express themselves – from their opinions about what it is they’re experiencing with your story to creative content and story-driven user-generated content. They’re doing more and more of this in social media. It is my belief that if you ignore them, they’ll go away.
Find out more about the Master Class that Gomez is giving at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP here.