As someone who has hung in there and advocated the use of transmedia techniques to tell compelling stories in the age of pervasive media, I’m thrilled that it seems we’ve gone beyond arguing about the meaning of the word and started celebrating works of transmedia storytelling.
At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, for example, we have seen the creation of the Bombay Sapphire Award for Transmedia, to be given to an artist or team of creators who have developed and produced a story that actually requires audience members to access their narratives in different ways across different media platforms.
As a judge for the award, here are five elements that I’ll be looking for in these works, each of which in their own way are turning out to be beautiful, immersive and compelling applications of the form.
- Does it have something to say?
It’s not enough that you’ve got an idea that can be bounced around between Facebook, an app, and a short film. Like any artistic endeavor, the work has to communicate something potent and human, and it needs to do so with a degree of originality that thrives upon the use of different media rather than sublimating itself to them.
- Comedy is fine, but a joke is not worth chasing.
If you’re creating a transmedia narrative that is simply an elaborate maze to get to a punch line, forget it. Projects of this nature require work on the part of the audience. The process of traversing one media platform to the next is an interactive one, so you’d better make this worthwhile for me.
- Characters need to be compelling.
Digital bells and whistles can be amusing, but good stories are marked by characters that yearn, struggle, triumph or face defeat. Transmedia stories are stories first. For some strange reason an inordinate amount of native transmedia narratives that have hit the public eye in the past year have been about douchebags: murders, amoral slackers, and (weirdly) anti-technologists! Hook me with a good character that I actually like or at least identify with, and I’ll follow her anywhere.
- Story elements that are self-contained but additive.
One of the reasons transmedia is so remarkable is because it facilitates a type of cubism, allowing for different perspectives on a narrative even while the narrative is unfolding. The protagonist of the story does not have to be the star of each piece of it on each medium. So you can examine the story world through the eyes of different characters, or get the omniscient perspective, and as a result everything can change about how you perceive what is happening.
The most brilliantly executed transmedia stories are also ones in which you can enter the narrative from any of the media the piece was designed to include. So if I’m introduced to your story through a comic book, I’ll get a fairly complete experience, but then I’m led to an app that shows me a different aspect of the story that is in itself complete, but also significantly increases my appreciation for the narrative and the overall story world. Then, maybe, I’m led to a short film that actually shifts my perspective or interpretation of some of the characters or the entire work.
- The work leverages the strengths of each medium it uses.
If you’re just putting video on the web, that’s not very exciting. The web is there to foster dialog, participation, it’s not television or a movie theater. If you’re going to use a mobile phone as one of your storytelling platforms, why not emphasize the user’s intimacy with the device. Smart phones have become intensely personal items.
In short, transmedia creators and producers would do well not to simply scatter their stories across different media. They have to carefully consider the features and strengths of the platform, and design the expression of that aspect of the narrative to take best advantage of them.
It’s also important for creators to place within each expression of the story a marker of some sort that will lead the audience to the next medium. This can be done subtly, within the context of the story, but some aspect of the interface will also need to more overtly tell us how to get to the rest of the presentation. Fail to do that well, and you’re audience (or as I prefer to call them, participants) won’t be able to enjoy the complete work.
Well, I never said this would be easy! But what is so brilliant is that there are creators and producers (and creators who are also producers!) who are already accomplishing all this and more. To me this means that a new art form is now on its way to coming into maturity.
Jeff Gomez <@Jeff_Gomez> is the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment. He is one of the world’s leading experts at transmedia storytelling, and is also a member of the Producers Guild of America.