Read an Excerpt
A CREATOR'S GUIDE TO TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING
How to Captivate and Engage Audiences across Multiple Platforms
By ANDREA PHILLIPS
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Andrea Phillips
All rights reserved.
Once Upon a Time ...
Anna Heath was the mother of three young children and a brilliant languages professor. She was also a fictional character—part of the game Perplex City, which was a two-year-long treasure hunt developed by UK games company Mind Candy that attracted tens of thousands of players and sold more than a million puzzle cards.
One night in late July 2006, Anna disappeared. Her colleagues desperately tried to put together the pieces of where she had last been seen and by whom. Her husband appealed to the public for something, anything, that would ensure her safe return home.
But it was all for nothing. The search for Anna eventually turned up her body in the catacombs beneath the city. She had been brutally tortured and murdered while investigating a series of thefts from the academy where she was employed.
The audience was devastated by her loss. They reported feeling as if they'd been punched in the gut, that they hadn't seen it coming, that they were surprised at the depth of grief they felt for an imaginary person.
Heartfelt condolence emails to all the other characters in the game flooded in. Players even cast about for a real-world way to honor Anna's memory. Together, some audience members folded 333 origami cranes (a number that had special significance in the world of Perplex City), and a group of them personally delivered the cranes to Mind Candy's London office.
Characters die in fiction all the time, of course, and audiences are often devastated by it. But in this case, their grief was made deeper by the feeling that Anna was a friend, not just a character. After all, they'd read her website and seen puzzles she had designed for her children to solve. They'd emailed her, and she had responded to them.
Even worse, in the days leading up to her death, they had helped her to investigate a deadly secret society called the Third Power, and had even urged her to keep up her efforts. And, worst of all, they were the ones who had unwittingly sent her to her death that night.
They weren't merely sad—they felt personally responsible, because they had been complicit in her death. As Juxta on the online community Unfiction said, "That aching and seemingly bottomless little hole which has appeared, unbidden in the depths of your stomach as you heard this news? That would be guilt."
Any single-medium work can in theory make an audience laugh or cry. But make an audience feel directly involved in the events in a story? Whether we're talking about responsibility for sending a woman to her murder, or perhaps instead saving her life or introducing her to her future partner, you just can't evoke that feeling with a book or a movie.
This is the power of transmedia.
THE AUDIENCE EXPECTS MORE
If you're reading this book at all, you probably already know that transmedia is the hot new thing. Hollywood is buzzing about it. Madison Avenue is selling it. Film festivals are celebrating it. Audiences are consuming it, by the tens of millions. It is the realm of deep experiences and completely immersive stories, and it can evoke emotions that simply can't be replicated in a single novel or film.
Imagine Googling a fictional company from your favorite TV show and finding that it has a website. It turns out the company is hiring right now, so you apply for a job. A few days later, you get an email saying you've been hired.
Imagine calling up a security guard at the Statue of Liberty on the phone. You plead with him to rescue a friend of yours, a young boy who has been kidnapped and is being held close by. To your relief, the guard agrees to risk his job and help the boy; a life is saved.
Imagine taking to Twitter on Halloween to spin a story about H. P. Lovecraft's sanity-eroding Elder Gods returning to devour us all. And it's not just you—it's a joyful collaboration, with hundreds or even thousands of individuals fabricating a common fiction together.
All these things have happened in real transmedia projects, and that's just skimming the surface of what's possible. Transmedia is more than mere marketing or franchise entertainment. It's the realm of stories at the edge of where reality ends and fiction begins.
Once upon a time, nonfunctional phone numbers (555-0038) and fictional addresses (123 Main Street, Anytown, USA) were the de facto choice every creator made. Over time, audiences were trained out of their natural inclination to investigate further. They simply expected that any contact information in a story would be a dead end.
Today, though, that expectation has been overturned. If a character in a TV show hands out a business card, it's likely that you'll be treated to a close-up shot, including a working phone number, email address, or URL. Searching the web for fictional companies, places, and even characters is just as likely to turn up a website or social media profile as not. Email addresses mentioned in a show's dialogue will accept mail from you ... and sometimes even write back. And when you add up all of these pieces, the whole is very much greater than the sum of its parts.
Creators have discovered that expanding their story universes to include these other components is feeding a core hunger of their truest fans: to have more, richer, deeper stories. Fans who love your creation are going to want to see more of it. They want to be a part of it. Transmedia—telling a story through multiple communication channels at once, particularly channels such as the web and social media—is the way to give them what they want.
BUSINESSES WANT MORE, TOO
Corporate heavy hitters like HBO, Disney, Sony Pictures, BBC, Warner Brothers, Ford, Scholastic, Penguin, and others have taken notice, and are spending more and more time and money on creating transmedia experiences. It's a topic of growing interest for independent artists, filmmakers, marketing execs, and TV and movie studios—and their jobs are increasingly depending on it.
The marketplace is already shifting fast to prepare for the new entertainment ecosystem to come in which transmedia is destined to play a crucial role.
In March 2011, transmedia received an enormous vote of confidence from the business establishment. Fourth Wall Studios, a small Los Angeles start-up specializing in transmedia entertainment, scored an investment round of $15 million, with access to a fund of $200 million more—a sum that would do any dot-com start-up proud. And that's just one news item following a long string of good news for transmedia creators.
That same month, no less than a dozen panels at the influential SXSW Interactive conference extolled the virtues of transmedia experiences. Looking back earlier in 2011, the ambitious transmedia film Pandemic took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, and tens of millions of people participated in the transmedia marketing campaign for Tron: Legacy, helping the film to rake in nearly $400 million worldwide.
Still further back, the film-focused Producers Guild of America introduced a transmedia producer credit in April 2010, legitimizing the title as its own credential. In 2009, the prestigious Grand Prix award at the Cannes Cyber Lions ad festival went to a transmedia narrative, Why So Serious?, a marketing campaign for The Dark Knight. And the International Emmys have given awards to interactive programs going back as far as 2006.
That's not even talking about the dozens of innovative and critically acclaimed independent projects.
But these events were a long time in coming. There is nothing sudden or
Excerpted from A CREATOR'S GUIDE TO TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING by ANDREA PHILLIPS. Copyright © 2012 by Andrea Phillips. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.