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More Live from Transmedia Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design

More Live from Transmedia Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design

Another entry by guest blogger, Meredith Levine. Meredith Levine is a second year MA student of Cinema and Media Studies in UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television. She has been working on the Transmedia Hollywood conference since its inaugural year in 2010.

Welcome back from lunch!

3:00PM Panel 3 is about to begin. Denise Mann, Head of Production at UCLA, is talking to Jeph Loeb about his work on Buffy Animated and his interactions with Steven DeKnight throughout their professional careers. It seems like this is a conference where everyone comes and sees their friends and mentors. Prof. Henry Jenkins has former students here as does Prof. Denise Mann. Ivan Askwith, a panelist last year, seems to be having a bit of a reunion with his MIT classmates.

Panel 3: Game On!: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators? with
Steven DeKnight, Jeph Loeb, Craig Relyea, Avi Santo, Matt Wolf

After introductions we have a clip of a Spartacus Gods of the Arena trailer from Starz

Q. How have other projects influenced this project and how do you do this for television?
A from Steven DeKnight: Zach Snyder has been a huge influence and likes the show. Although the show is shot in New Zealand it is mostly in a studio with CGI used largely for backgrounds. They took a more graphic novel approach to stretch the budget.

Q. Speak on aligning television and comic book industries. How did that start?
A. from Jeph Loeb “Badly.” The smartest thing i did was hire Mark Warshaw. 25 years ago his agent didn’t want to mention comic books, and now Loeb finds that people say “oh, you work in comics. Let’s have a meeting.” He was brought on for the Buffy animated series for Fox Kids. The series never made it off the ground because Disney bought Fox Kids. Jeph Loeb now works for Disney because of their purchasing of Marvel. One of his comics was inspiration for Smallville and then Loeb went to work on Smallville.

Q. Speak to the fan community that does get involved in fan interfaces and what it means in terms on fan labor?
A from Avi Santo. In order for corporations to extend their brands they must rely on fans. Where corporations previously suggest that their value came from assets of talent and stories. Corporations are now suggesting their value is from the environment they create for their users. as to if fans are wilful double agents, there is a deference to rules. Corporations are providing resources and think they are the true “authors” where as now there are changing notions of more communal authorship.

Q. Matt, could you speak first to your experience on your Emmy award winning ARG for The Fallen and how game design background informed the ARG?
A from Matt Wolf. “We wanted to create something that wouldn’t step on the toes of the mini-series, but they wanted to use the ARG to prime the audience to see it and then shoulder the audience between episodes 2 and 3, so the story couldn’t spoil the TV show. I had to fall back on two areas. I had to explore the core nature of what Fallen was based on which was sort of biblical in nature.” I had to invent a sister to our main character.

Q. It appears as though Disney Interactive is moving to a more casual space and away from console gaming. More of a virtual, online, social space. How does Toy Story 3 shift to something more global in nature.

A. From Craig Reylea The notion behind the game was partially financially, partially creatively, mostly consumer driven. Games based on movies that are linear and based on movies don’t do so well. They want the story to be organic to the platform it is on. It was made by Avalanche Studios, part of the Disney Interactive team and they worked with Pixar. They went to the core of Toy Story which was the power of imaginative play with toys. The “Toy Box” mode allows users to create their own worlds, missions, characters, and took it into a kid and family space that embraces that mode of play. That one mode became critically successful is fertile ground, which matches what consumers are craving, an experience that matches the platforms they are being done.

Follow up question by Avi Santo about IP negotiations to get representations of actual toys. Was there stipulations between what characters can get mashed up?
Answer: it was the same thing with Epic Mickey. It brings up a lot of potential nightmares and who owns what in what formats. It isn’t just IP rights issues, but creative too. It is one thing for kids to do that with toys in their room, so why not be able to do that virtually? There were a lot of meetings. There weren’t all of the combinations we wanted, but what happened was great. It is not just user generated content, but audience empowerment.

Segway back to Steven DeKnight and Jeph Loeb. They worked in the whedonverse and are notorious in being engaged in fan conversations. Do you feel that interaction with fans is now part of the job description of show-runner?
A from Steven DeKnight. Yes, but with the caveat… the fans aren’t always right. Fans ask some very pointed and often very accurate questions. All of the writers and Joss interacted with fans on Buffy. There were a few crazies, but most were very appreciative of our conversations. Some people really enjoyed stirring up conversation. It is a bit of a quagmire because once you open it up, fans take ownership. Sarcasm and irony do not come across over the internet. anything in the genre world has fans as bread and butter.

Go back in history. It feels like Smallville/Buffy/Angel/Lost/Heroes moment is changing in tides. In 2006 with the idea of 9th Wonders Space and an online comic book. (9th Wonders clip) Mark Warshaw. It was my impression that having the creative personnel from Heroes went away when took more control over it.
A. The tale of the show is one that shows what happens when people who are not creatively involved in the show start to run the show. The creation of 9th Wonders was a group effort. A lot of that came from our experiences from Lost and that world of extra content and other ways to tell stories that service the fan base. The ability to tell a lot of stories was there with Heroes, and the beginning of “motion comics” and just looking at that, it is incredibly primitive in that it took a comic book page, scanned in, with music in the background. It didn’t use voice acting or animation and doesn’t get into rights issues. What is happening now is a full experience with all of those components with Loki.

Q. Epic Mickey and distinctive take on transmedia with its take on old Disney properties and the evolution of the Epic Mickey project.
A from Craig Reylea. When Interactive grew out of licensing, one of the first thing that happened was an emulation of the Imagineering mind-set. They wanted something that Disney could own, and not derivative as a port to an ancillary medium. One of the ideas that came out of this was rebooting Mickey and Wasteland. In conversations with Warren Spector, he was a Disney enthusiast, and is wildly creative so this was a natural fit. He came in pitching an idea and Disney Interactive pitched an idea to Warren Spector, who liked the Epic Mickey concept and came on board.
(Epic Mickey clip).
Speak to issue of choice and consequences.
It has always been at the heart of the game, and Spector’s games. In past games he didn’t have to do that with a famous character, but in this case he had to make choices and consequences as Mickey Mouse and in the voice of each player. What matters to you, as a player, in the form of Mickey? What matters to the player will impact the game that is played and endings. Representative shift of more free-spirited play. There are still constraints, while empowering the players to create their own stories.

Q. Avi Santo commentary on Epic Mickey
A. Ultimately one of the goals is to reboot the character of Mickey Mouse because Disney was concerned that Mickey was loosing popularity and wanted to reboot Mickey for the video game generation. Rather than just say that this is a new Mickey for a new generation, a lot of the rhetorical maneuvering was pointing to Mickey’s past as a bit of a free spirit and a troublemaker. They rhetorically equated Mickey Mouse as the Bart Simpson of his day. Oswold the Lucky Rabbit was recently reacquired by Disney from Universal and that was given light. Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was showcased, in his having to fix problems that he had caused.

Q. Next iteration of ARG design with Hellboy 2, and future of the ARG as a format. Given the theme parks interest in in-park ARGs, and there are all looking for immersive fan interfaces are challenging. What was your experience with those challenges?
A from Matt Wolf. the way you get people to do things like protest for the ethical treatment of fairies, elves, and trolls, is to tell a good story and have good content. Once the content is good you have to give a reason to act. Conflict sparks this. If you create good content, there will be good community then the community grows with word of mouth. After you have that community, you have a responsibility to them because audiences are spending a lot of time with this content and doing work. Content creation is mirrored by consumption patterns. His ARGs were designed before he was a parent, when he had a lot of time to design, which mirrors the amount of time it takes to design. The ARGs are free to play and usually funded by marketing. These marketing ARGs are dying and being replaced by mobile, free to play games. Put Augmented Reality tech in a cell phone and there are some fantastic options for treasure hunt games. There is also an issue with time management. It is all about authenticity. Jeph Loeb has a ton of experience and and they are letting him go with these Marvel Properties.

Craig Reylea. Interactivity is the dominant form of entertainment of this century and augmented reality won’t make any sense in five years because it will just be enhance 3D or 4D. The music industry has shown what happens with fan empowerment. Club Penguin as an example. The creativity in Club Penguin comes out of the kids. That kind of stuff cannot be ignored. You have to have good talent and IP.

Q. Back to the question in TV division about who should be creating the fan interfaces?
Steven DeKnight. Starz asked for a comic book to precede the television series and Steven DeKnight agreed. Starz didn’t want DeKnight to be involved because it would take away from the show, but it is of his opinion that the creatives MUST be involved otherwise fans

Panel 4: It’s About Time!” Structuring Transmedia Narratives with:
Caitlin Burns, Abigail DeKosnik, Jane Espenson, John Platt, Tracey Robertson, Lance Weiler.

We have to define a core canon for a franchise that must be narrowly defined within a larger transmedia universe.
Jane Espenson -“When a person leaves home and goes off to war someone’s life changes genre. We all go from high school dramas to college dramas to workplace comedies.”
Likes that the seriality of breaking up stories into chunks so that they can show different perspectives.

there are set-ups and pay-offs at the core of storytelling and sometimes it happens decades later, especially in soap operas, with a long payoff according to Abigail DeKosnik. The Good Wife is doing that now where the writers planted the seed on the first day that is paying off two years later.

It takes patience and discipline to hold on to a story for that long because you need stories and writers get temped to drop more hints and it gets hard to hold off. The opposite of the long payoff is retroactive continuity, and they start to include details of a character’s earlier life that would have never happened. It is better to have a long payoff then to start “ret-conning.”

“unless you own it” says Jane Espenson
“It works well with real people” says John Platt.

Henry asks people to speak to the gender dimensions of transmedia. Tracey Robertson showed that they had a project that wanted to get a young male audience but ended up attracting a largely older female audience. this was quite a shock to the network. Networks assume that women don’t want to go online when stats say that women do want to go online and talk about television.

Caitlin Burns Transmedia is almost always associated with “genre” when the most work is going on in transmedia with social projects, documentary, political campaigns and advertising. There are a lot of opportunities to pursue more stories that allow people to explore more demographics and give more face time to secondary characters. Would men have the conceptions about women of crazy or not understood if the secondary female characters were rounder. Women as not being part of the entertainment industry as producer or consumer is an old mindset that people should be moving towards.

There is also a misconception that “genre” audiences are male audiences, but Buffy wasn’t that way according to Jane Espenson. Reality TV, according to John Platt, watchers are largely female except for technological first adopters on hulu watching were largely male. If the thumbnail on hulu had a girl in a bikini on it, regardless of if the girl was featured in the show. this is hard to watch happen because John thought the shows were meaningful beyond sexuality.

Audience Questions
Q. Challenges faced by Caitlin Burns while working on big properties like Pirates or Avatar:
A. She is legally prohibited from talking about her work on those franchises. when working in a world that has hundreds of thousands of years of history it requires organizational skills of a huge nerd. Then you need to step back and look and the production cycles and parallels to speak to specific narrative points and aspects unique to different platforms. Communication has to use or translate terms and must know what the story is about at its core, with clear vision, so that everyone knows why the story is being told. It must be consistent in theme, and tone.

Q. Can you describe what happend in the writers room when deciding the final five cylons when there wasn’t a clear answer?
A. It was very collaborative vs. Buffy which was a one storyteller one-voice show. Ron approached story differently and was fluid and changing and collaborative. those discussions happen in the writers room. she wasn’t there during that decision, but the style of the room was in service of the best narritive answer. The writers on that show were former journalists.

Q. Can you talk about transmedia’s capacity for social change?
A. Lance Weiler worked on something like that with Pandemic. There are global based game elements in the works target to change and moving people to action. Can you look at behavior and every day action as vehicles for social change. There is a lot going on in the game space and transmedia space bout how you can actually do documentary and pro-social work. There is a lot of early examples of transmedia domestically because it is tied to documentary film-making. Tim Kring did a project called “Conspiracy for Good” as a four week project in London sponsored by Nokia and it was designed to motivate people to build libraries in Africa. There is now a Hurricane Katrina Universe with a body of texts including Treme, CNN’s live feed, A.D.: After Deluge graphic nove, and Spike Lee’s documentaries. There is a huge potential for many dimensions of a story building up emotional affect leading to social mobilization. Stories and entertainment have a long history of inspiring social change through identification with characters and events. A real story is still a story and a number of real stories are out there.

Q. Comment in media for social change. As a futurist the use of multiple platforms can help people adjust to possiblities. There was a situation in Tunisia in February where media outlets pretended it was 16 June 2014 in a post revolution Tunisia.

Thanks to UCLA, USC, Comparitive Media Studies at MIT, Mark Warshaw, The Alchemist, Los Angeles Transmedia Group, Brain Candy, 5D, Andrew J. Keene Jr. foundation, Core UCLA work group: Victoria Estevez, Ben Harris, Meredith Levine, Jim Fleury, Jenni Fong, Drew Morton, Ritesh, Alex McDowell.

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