Transmedia Storytelling – Building Story Worlds [english]

Last friday I held a lecture about TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING at the MFRU – 17th International Festival of Computer Arts in Maribor. Here’s a summary I wrote for the official festival booklet, below you find the slides from friday’s presentation.

„Transmedia is a real buzzword at the moment. What is it, and why should we be excited?“ – thus began an interview of british movieScope magazine with transmedia story architect Lance Weiler. Indeed transmedia storytelling seems to become trendy and numerous conferences worldwide are dealing with the topic this year, including TEDx Transmedia, Frankfurt StoryDrive, StoryWorld Conference, Dok Leipzig, Power to the Pixel, stARTconference, last but not least the International festival of computer arts in Maribor – just to name a few.

In America it has become a current method of introducing audiences to so called entertainment experiences, mostly hosted by big tv-stations like NBC, ABC or HBO. In Europe it is still a fresh concept and only a few big players (like Germany’s ZDF) show the courage to exploit these new opportunities. This fact proves Weiler’s educated guess that „the industry has only scratched the surface of its potential.“
(Lance Weiler, Transmedia – Bullet in the glass, movieScope magazine, Issue 22 (May/June 2011))

When talking about transmedia storytelling many people think that the same story is told through different media. Others „think transmedia is just about seeing what a character is doing when they are not on screen.“, adds Weiler. But it’s much more than that.

In this article I will explain the concept of transmedia storytelling, providing some examples of recent projects and trying to answer the question: why transmedia?

What is transmedia storytelling?
In a blogpost from 2007 Henry Jenkins described transmedia storytelling as „a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.“ (Henry Jenkins, Transmedia Storytelling 101, Confessions of an Aca-Fan – The official Weblog of Henry Jenkins)

Robert Pratten’s description is simpler: „Telling stories across multiple media.“ (Robert Pratten, Getting started in Transmedia Storytelling, Transmedia Storyteller). To explain the difference between traditional storytelling and the transmedia storytelling approach he adds the following graphic:

Source: Robert Pratten, Getting started in Transmedia Storytelling, Transmedia Storyteller

So the concept of transmedia storytelling is not about telling the same story through different channels, but rather to complement various parts of fictional content to a bigger story universe.

Or as Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment puts it in a session at this years Power to the Pixel:

Film can be part of this process, just like comics, games or music.

For Jenkins, The Matrix franchise is one the most famous examples in terms of transmedia storytelling, which can be explored with three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games. Together they form The Matrix universe.

NBC’s Heroes is another great example: the TV series forms the center of the Heroes universe. But there’s also a wiki, fans can contribute to, you’ll find webcomics, various websites, mobile content, webisodes and much more – and they all form a narrative unit. Some characters even have their own webspace or social networking account, in which they communicate with their audience.

As a content-producer you need to embrace this new model of storytelling. An article on Techdirt about Heroes also support this approach: „Content creators are realizing that they no longer need to pigeonhole themselves as „just musicians,“ or „just filmmakers“ but can reach out and tell stories in very different ways. And, in the end, that’s what every content producer is really doing: they’re telling stories.“ (Mike Mesnick, Heroes Producer: Honored To Be The Most Unauthorized Downloaded Show,

Why transmedia storytelling?
The questions is: why should we embrace this new type of telling stories? Isn’t that way more complex then running a tradional campaign or telling a story in only one communication channel?

On the one hand, transmedia can be used for promotional purposes or
for audience building. One the other hand „telling stories across multiple media – transmedia storytelling – allows content that’s right-sized, right-timed and right-placed to form a larger, more profitable, cohesive and rewarding experience.“ (Robert Pratten, Getting started in Transmedia Storytelling, Transmedia Storyteller)

For example, Iceland’s top-artist BJÖRK recently experimented in terms of transmedia storytelling by releasing her new album „biophilia“ in various formats, including iPhone and iPad-applications to each song, with which the user can dive deeper into biophilia universe.

„In today’s interconnected world, young adults, teens and even kids have become so comfortable with media technology that they flow from one platform to the next. The problem is that their content is not flowing with them.“ (Jeff Gomez, On the road with Jeff Gomez,

So filmmakers, musicians and other artists, but also brands need to learn that there’s a paradigm shift in the way people communicate and interact with each other. And they need to react.

At the moment, „Transmedia is at a crossroads, where it needs storytellers to step up and experiment with how to tell those stories.“ (Lance Weiler, Transmedia – Bullet in the glass, movieScope magazine, Issue 22 (May/June 2011))

Sounds easy? In fact transmedia storytellers (and their teams) need to be skilled not only in using social web tools, but also in storytelling. „Without the ability to tell stories, companies and artists are reducing the social web to a classic PR-channel. They are using social networks but fail to reach out to users because of the missing added value.“ (Frank Tentler, Transmedia Storyteller)

In 2011, German broadcasting station ZDF stepped up and launched a transmedia experience called „Wer rettet Dina Foxx?“. An interactive crime show that provided clues to solve a case starting with a TV-show and continued via web. Even though the experiment was presented more successfully in the media than it actually was, it was at least one step into the right direction. Let’s hope it was not the last one.

Here’s my presentation from the

6 Antworten zu “Transmedia Storytelling – Building Story Worlds [english]”

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