on media, technology & digital culture

Transmedia Is A Dirty Word


Transmedia is still in its inception, struggling to become a part of the real world, even though it can never exist solely in the real world. A lot of people ask me if it has anything to do with the transgender community. Others have never heard of it, while MIT has a Comparative Media Studies program with a strong focus on transmedia.

So, What The Hell Is It?

It’s storytelling across different mediums. According to the guidelines of the Producers Guild of America, you would have to use a minimum of three different mediums to tell your story in order to qualify it as a transmedia project. In advertising, one of the best examples would be Droga5’s Jay Z & Bing campaign, which is probably the first time I was introduced to this particular storytelling concept but certainly not the last. In filmmaking, a good example would be The Dark Knight campaign, which was executed as an Alternate Reality Game.

One of the most common rookie mistakes is to misunderstand transmedia as a storytelling instrument, which retells the same story over and over through different mediums. As you can tell from the Batman example, that is not the case, because the ARG was constructed as an extension of the movie, designed to peak interest in its core audience, hoping it would then spill over onto the general public. And it did. Because this is Batman we’re talking about here. In all honesty, you don’t need a lot of press to peak people’s interest in a character that has been one of the most prominent parts of pop culture in the last 75 years. Which isn’t to say that the campaign wasn’t brilliant but rather that transmedia projects usually require either large budgets or an already existing fanbase. There are exceptions to that rule since transmedia isn’t suitable for every project. In regular ad lingo, it can definitely scale.

Pioneers of Transmedia Production

You could say that the father of transmedia is Henry Jenkins, because he perfectly describes the concept in his book “Convergence Culture”, published in 2006. Jenkins is also the founder of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program.

Another prominent figure would be Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, with a remarkable portfolio of transmedia projects. Then you have Lance Weiler, a transmedia producer who recently wrote a book on Building Storyworlds. The New School is about to introduce a program solely dedicated to transmedia production, with Prof. Vladan Nikolic already teaching a class called Storytelling Across Media. The list goes on and on. It seems fairly obvious that transmedia is trending and soon it will probably reach its tipping point and spill over to every industry that could benefit from it. Even now, most advertising agencies still don’t practice it that much, relying on traditional or simply digital narratives to promote a product or a service.

A Day In The Life of a Transmedia Producer

Producing in itself is a very broad term. It can mean anything from writing a TV show to organising the Olympic games. Somebody should really work on semantics regarding pretty much all aspects of production. At a recent conference at the New School, Caitlin Burns was asked to describe a business day in the life of a transmedia producer. In a nutshell, her answer was – everything. Being versatile is an understatement. It involves concepting, writing, budgeting but rarely the execution of the entire project. Basically, if Steve Jobs wasn’t a really good project manager, he would have been a terrific Transmedia Producer.

Where To Go From Here?

It’s really not rocket science. It is helpful if you had some experience conceptualizing, writing or telling stories in general. Maybe you were a copywriter in your past life, or an art director in this one. All that matters is that you have a knack for telling good stories that involve seriously fleshed out characters. Do some reading. Anything by Henry Jenkins, Frank Rose or Lance Weiler will come in handy. Then make your own Transmedia Bible, which is basically a blueprint for how your transmedia project should be executed. When your bible is done, consult with a couple of producers just as a reference that you haven’t completely lost your mind due to the amount of work you just did. As a final step before you go into execution, do yourself a favour and apply for funding at Sundance, Tribeca or a similar organisation that supports new media projects. This was a very general overview. In future posts, I will dig a bit deeper into pretty much every aspect mentioned in this post.


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