Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prolong the life cycle of a story

Sharon Wildwind

A couple of days ago I got really, really lost on the Internet, the electronic equivalent of starting out to take the #3 bus, and an hour later, realizing you are on the #27, with no clue where you are, other than it looks interesting.

I ended up watching a guy named Jeff Gomez give a 25-minute speech to the 2010 O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. I knew nothing about the conference or the speaker, so I did a little surfing. When I got to Mr. Gomez’s company, Starlight Runner Entertainment, I had a total brain freeze.

His clients?

Coca-Cola, Mattel Hot Wheels, Avatar, Transformers, Magic-The Gathering, Microsoft Halo, Walt Disney (Tron, Prince of Persia, Pirates of the Caribbean, Fairies) and Dexter. I’d wandered into one hot dude here.

His first message: forget the gismos and gadgets. They will come and go.

Second message: the most important thing that creative people can do is to prolong the life cycle of a story.

In a time where many series are dying after the third or fourth book and where even long-term series are suddenly no longer of interest to publishers, a lot of the conversation we writers have among ourselves has to do with how to prolong the life cycle of the stories we love.

I had to get my head around a fifty-cents term—transmedia storytelling—and two head-filling definitions.

“Transmedia storytelling is the vanguard process of conveying messages, themes or story lines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multiple-media platforms. It is a philosophy of communication and brand extension that broadens the life-cycle of creative content. . . .The purpose of transmedia storytelling is to prolong the life cycle of the story itself.”
~Jeff Gomez, TOC 2010 Conference, 2010 February, New York City

According to the Producers Guild of America, who recently added the term Transmedia Producer to it’s approved list of skills which a producer can list on her/his resume, “A Transmedia Producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.”
~Producers Guild of America press release, 2010 April 6.

It’s okay if you go lie down for a while. I know that I had to.

What I think is being discussed here is that the work needed to keep alive a really big, really complex story has grown beyond one writer’s ability.

What makes transmedia storytelling different from typical media franchise, like Star Trek and Harry Potter is the in a typical franchise the elements are designed independently without regard for how, or even if, they fit together. The author writes the books; the movie makers make the movies, the gamers devise the games, etc. without even talking to one another.

In a transmedia project, the pieces are, from the beginning, designed to create a cohesive whole. Creative people, from many different disciplines, work with one another to develop trust and look forward to working as a team. Customers look forward to experiencing the fictional world by connecting the pieces.

In many ways, this new idea of team storytelling scares a lot of people. Authors are scared that other people will steal their ideas. Agents are scared that they don’t know how to manage their clients’ rights in this new world. Media People are scared of losing control over the vision of the project.


I am excited about transmedia. There’s a great movie called Rare Birds, in which a chef succeeds, against all odds, with a gourmet restaurant in rural Newfoundland. While Dave (played by John Hurt) is busy running around in the movie’s foreground, in the background Bette (played by Leah Lewis), a quiet local woman, hired to help out in the kitchen, is doing everything from hauling cases of ingredients out of the freezer to worrying about plating. At the end of the movie, when Dave has a chance at love, if only he can find someone to take over the restaurant, Bette steps forward and says two words.

“I’m ready.”

Dave realizes that she is, turns the restaurant over to her, and takes off after the woman he loves.

I’m ready, too.

If Jeff Gomez’s car happens to break down in front of my house, and he happens to have to use my phone to call AMA, and we happen start talking about the importance of keeping stories alive, and he happens have an opening on one of his transmedia teams . . . well a woman can dream, can’t she?
One more quote for the week:
If all this makes your head hurt, go for a nice walk. Because exercise is still good for you. ~Karen Hopkin, Scientific American on-line


Sandra Parshall said...

Somehow everything seems to come back to this: more self-promotion by the author. (sigh)

Leslie Budewitz said...

I think if the transmedia approach Sharon describes is really going to work, it CAN'T be left up to the author. It's got to be designed by a team of professionals all working toward the same goal, but with different tools. That team is the author, agent, book publisher, audio book publisher, game writer, product designer, or who ever else might be appropriate, along with their marketing depts and publicists. It's only going to happen, though, for projects where it will really pay off. A recent parallel, although more limited, might be the team focused on developing and marketing James Patterson's books, described in the NYT article many of us saw.

Sandra Parshall said...

All that effort will (already does) go into BIG books, but we'll see less fortunate authors trying to do it all themselves. Look at what writers are already doing: making their own book trailers (usually very amateurish efforts) and putting them on YouTube, designing and paying for their own ads. Writers keep expanding their marketing efforts, which cuts into the time they need for writing.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, you've hit the nail on the head.

Yes, it would be nice if Avatar and I could go head-to-head in the marketplace, but it isn't going to happen. As writers we have to develop a sense not only of the possible, but of the impossible as well. In the words of Kenny Rogers, "know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run.