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Before Jumping on the Transmedia Bandwagon: The Four Ways to Approach Transmedia Storytelling

By Andrea Phillips | Indiewire June 25, 2012 at 3:26PM

The digital revolution has spurred a revolution in storytelling, and filmmakers have been exploring ways to host, extend, amplify and augment their audio-visual narratives online since the Internet became a popular communication device. Transmedia is now the buzz word; the Tribeca Film Institute has a Transmedia Fund; Mozilla is heading up a coalition of film organizations to make sure creatively told documentaries find their home online; and a whole slew of branding experts are excited about the cheap possibilities of hosting their own advertising without having to pay for TV and print ads. In the new book, "A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling," by Andrea Phillips ("The Maester's Path" for HBO's "Game of Thrones" and the Facebook game "America 2049" for human rights nonprofit Breakthrough) and published by McGraw-Hill, Phillips guides creators through the process of telling their stories on multiple media.
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Characterization (Example:  The Old Spice Guy)

Be forewarned: there are some serious logistical problems to grapple with when you’re doing characterization work in an interactive medium as an extension of a static story. It comes down to time and linearity.

A common rookie mistake, especially for projects creating a companion character blog for a film, is to place a character’s online presence in an unchanging state. The character is frozen at some point before the story begins, and the blog gives absolutely no information that is relevant to the big-picture narrative. In theory, this might seem to be a good idea—after all, you aren’t weakening the impact of your story any by giving the plot away—but the result is generally really boring. Much of the interest a character generates comes from how he dynamically changes over time in response to conflict.

Backstory and Exposition (Example: "The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour" web content)

Stepping up your game just a little bit more, you can also use a transmedia extension for telling pieces of the story that don’t fit into your main narrative, or that shed more and deeper light on the events that happen in your story.

This is where the big fun gets started, and where the line into “definitely transmedia” gets a lot less blurry.

Andrea Phillips
Andrea Phillips

If you stop to think about it, we ask an awful lot from our single-medium stories. They have to carry the entire payload all alone—introduce you to the characters, explain any necessary context and history, and, of course, convey the plot itself. But breaking up your story to put in that context can feel intrusive, especially if it’s handled badly.

Good news: there is no longer any reason for compelling material to vanish forever onto the cutting-room floor, or to disappear in edits, just because it made the work too long or you couldn’t find a place to fit it into the flow of the story. Explain, expand, and extend by using that bonus material.

Even if you don’t have extra material already lying around, there is often still a role for transmedia in smoothing transitions between films, shows, and books (or any combination thereof). There’s still a role for using transmedia tools to explain how and why your world works the way it does.

Native Transmedia (Example:  Lance Weiler's "Pandemic")

If one is searching for an artistic and narrative function for using transmedia storytelling, there is the ultimate purpose: creating a work that is meant to be entirely and natively transmedia from start to finish, and not a single-medium work at all—an experience that you give to your audience, not just a story you are telling them.

In this scenario, you aren’t creating supplemental pieces for a performance, film, or written work. Instead, you’re creating a story that is fractured into pieces and conveyed through multiple media, often as though the events were really occurring. The project may sometimes have major single-media components, but they won’t give you the whole story on their own.

This is master-class, advanced-level transmedia storytelling. It is complex, chaotic, and performative—and if you do a good job, deeply satisfying for both the audience and the creator.

Andrea Phillips, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, ©2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

This article is related to: transmedia, First Person







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