In January I gave a lecture on Particpatory Fiction to the students of Lillian Allen’s Experimental Fiction class. You may download the powerpoint presentation which contains the talking points. Further notes and resources are available below:
A case study I presented on emergent forms of Writing on Wattpad at Transmedia 101 in 2013. Download the slideshare for the presentation notes. Talking Points below (I will be editing it into a proper essay somedayish):
Last week I received an unusual email from IARPA, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a research agency under the supervision of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (United States) in regards to this open RFI dubbed UAREHERE: Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts.
It’s not every day I am contacted by a foreign governmental agency (I am Canadian), particularly ones devoted to intelligence gathering. The email itself was amusing in both its sweeping overreaching and vague request married with dry attention to detail.
I had two concurrent thoughts: 1) it was written by a bot; and 2) it was the rabbit hole to an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). I immediately forwarded it to Tom Liljeholm, one of my producing partners on The Karada. Tom and I met in 2010 when I became the hardcore ambassador player of the ARG he produced as a component of the juggernaut Conspiracy for Good (CFG) transmedia experience. I soon became surprised to find out CFG was referenced in the RFI as the only ARG specifically mentioned by name.
Since IARPA had not reached out to Tom, or anyone else I could find in the ARG community, I decided the grass roots Alternate Reality Game I produced last year, titled Work with No Pants, must be how I got on the radar of this intelligence gathering agency that runs, according to its website, “high-risk, high-payoff research programs that have the potential to provide the United States with an overwhelming intelligence advantage over future adversaries.”1
At a recent conference in LA,* a producer on a panel to an audience of convergent content creators boldly declared that web series should just be called series, dropping the heavy-laden word “web” from the phrase. He is not alone in this viewpoint. We’ve seen increasing efforts from various people to change the language around web series the more TV converges with digital. Recently, a plethora of confusing terms have been bandied about in order to escape the hangover of “amateurity” that web series and vlogs are often accused of. Netflix, for instance, refers to its original programming as “Original Series,” neither employing the words “TV” or “web” (see Glossary below).
It might seem like a no-brainer, more and more TV series are being legally distributed and watched online through broadcast website portals and apps. And with digital subscription portals like Netflix now producing shows, there is almost no distinction between comedy and narrative series produced for a broadcaster and an online/digital portal (although Arrested Development’s “binge” release strategy informed the non-linear “arc” of its second season on Netflix.)
Further to conflate the issue, online distribution platforms are beginning to behave more and more like broadcasters: see Youtube’s investment into MCNs for the production of original content, and Maker’s takeover of Blip and all that entails for example.
At the end of the day, does the audience care if it is called a web series or TV series, as long as they enjoy the content when they want, how they want? Aren’t web series just like TV Series that are distributed and watched online? Shouldn’t we just start calling them all series?
Understanding “Audiences” in Transmedia & Web Series
A friend of mine, Robert Mills (Big Comfy Couch, Ruffus the Dog) recently called attention to this gem of a video with Orson Welles explaining the function of audiences and how to tame them/win them over. It is a short clip, less than seven minutes long, but packed with a lot of meat, and I was astounded at its relevance in understanding audiences today: or rather the people formerly known as the audience, as some bemusedly refer to them now for lack of a better term.
The Studio Audience
Orson Welles begins by making a bold declaration:
“Audiences in the real sense of the word are disappearing; there are almost none left. It’s an endangered species.”
Naturally this statement comes as a shock to the studio audience present during this live taping of the Dinah Shore show, but Orson sanguinely explains that the studio audience is not an audience. Because, he states with a bit of cheek, they “got in free.” Welles thus proceeds to address the studio audience directly by stating:
“Not only did you get in free, but you know, as does every studio audience, that you are not here to do anything but to be a member of the cast and help us look good.”
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD) web series astounded many people, not only with its breakout mainstream success, but its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign to become at one point the fourth top successful campaign in the Film & Video category (to later be pushed into 6th place only by Zach Braff’s WISH I WERE HERE and Zane Lamprey’s CHUG campaigns).
The campaign had fulfilled its $60,000 goal well under three hours the first day and went on to earn close to 800% overall of what the team had originally asked. Whereas the campaign did bank on the huge success of the series, there were several genius strategies and tactics that are worth taking a special look at. Each suggests something greater: a paradigm shift in the relationship with content creators and fans, and it is prudent for content creators to understand these new dynamics.
[TO VIEW/USE THE SLIDE PRESENTATION FOR THIS CASE STUDY IN CLASSROOMS/ETC. VISIT THE TMC RESOURCE KIT]
Here are ten that stood out to me personally:
Wow…2012 was pretty epic. Particularly the last half. Here is my highlight reel:
First I started off the year with helping to bring ARGFest-O-Con to Toronto along with Geoff May and the help of a few others, and then acted as Ground Support leader while Geoff was busy pulling of the most epic ARGFest Museum yet! Thanks to the Directing Committee of ARGFest!
The Storyworld framework  serves many useful purposes when thinking about transmedia and strategizing for many transmedia properties. For one, it provides a useful catchall that marries story + technology + franchise + metrics in an anamorphous theoretical bubble. As a metaphorical framework, the Storyworld Hollywood franchise model  presents a bird’s eye view of the entire scope of a project in order to see how the multifarious parts fit together, looking at the forest from the sky…sometimes even before the first seedlings are planted.
A transmedia strategist who is a proponent of the Storyworld franchise model must maintain the big-picture thinking and be the visionary who provides the narrative framework that demarcates within it all the disparate specific parts of the franchise moving together strategically: much as a tactical army general strategically playing with tin soldiers would. Transmedia strategists employ framing devices such as storyworld bibles, transmedia diagrams, spreadsheets galore, etc. to this end.
This is a story about finding lost.
Allow me to begin with a disruption, an interruption of form, to throw you off your horse, throw you down, and hopefully, by the end, overthrow.
“If you haven’t noticed I have a horrible tendency of beating a subject to death with a horse,” I had just said to Rhys in a brilliant moment of Red Bull + Vodka + two-hours-sleep-a-night post Storyworld exhaustion.
This story is meandering and sometimes goes off track. And doesn’t lead to a finite end point and I’m content with that. And maybe I will lose you along the way and that’s okay. But I do hope you soon find lost too.
The challenge for those utilizing the Storyworld Hollywood franchise model (particularly those who are independent creatives) is then to aspire to an insurmountable and unattainable pinnacle of immersion and pervasion that is near impossible to pull off with success unless it comes with a blockbuster franchise budget (or shoe elves). The model also assumes that pervasive immersion is what any given target-audience actually desires.
And it is the dominance of the Hollywood Storyworld franchise model fostered (more and more so) within the global transmedia storytelling entertainment communit(ies) that is leading to a plethora of muddled and mired properties that are all attempting to replicate “a kitchen and the sink” approach as the dominant transmedia strategy de jour. We see this again and again with many independent creative driven properties that all have strong narrative ideas sadly weakened by overblown expectations in terms of both platform integration, scope and reach of user engagement. Particularly with Canadians trying to fit Hollywood square pegs into Canadian film/TV landscape round holes when devising their transmedia strategies in applying for funding.