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Transmedia As Pretext

Transmedia storytelling, as defined by Henry Jenkins in his 2006 book Convergence Culture, is storytelling across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a viewer/user/player’s understanding of the story world. By using different media formats, it attempts to create “entrypoints” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world. The aim of this immersion is decentralized authorship, or transmedial play as defined by Stephen Dinehart in his 2006 transmedia thesis project “Journey of Jin” at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

There are two prominent factors driving the growth of transmedia storytelling. The first is the proliferation of new media forms like video games, the internet, and mobile platforms and the demand for content in each. The second is an economic incentive for media creators to lower production costs by sharing assets. Transmedia storytelling often uses the principle of hypersociability. Transmedia storytelling is also sometimes referred to as multi modality, referring to using multi-modal representations to convey a complex story through numerous media sources.

Transmedia Storyteller, Jeff Gomez, defines it as “the art of conveying messages themes or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well planned use of multiple media platforms.” Jeff furthers this explanation stating the following: “Most of us flow naturally from one medium to the next. Unfortunately most of our content doesn’t. Instead the stories are repurposed and repeated. They do not extend the franchise nor do they build brand equity. With transmedia, each part of story is unique and plays to the strengths of the medium. The result is a new kind of narrative where story flows across each platform forming a rich narrative tapestry that manifests in an array of products and multiple revenue streams. The audience is both validated and celebrated for participating in the story world through the medium of their choice.”

I lifted those three paragraphs directly from Wikipedia in order to riff on “bible” as the name for the masterplanning document that ties together all of the various media that constitute the continguous, immersive storyworld of a gargantuan transmedia narrative.  I think “score” is a significantly better word for at least the following reasons:
1.  A bible is a holy book that is not meant to be modified by anybody but God.  Ask anybody at FOX News, the Jerusalem of divisiveness.

2.  The unifying basis for hypersocial behavior is significantly less important than the act of unification.

3.  The conductor of a symphony orchestra leads dozens of musicians (with the aid of a score which documents the intended sequence of performance for players who are engaged with a wide variety of instrumentalities across variations in key, meter, mode and ambiance) to invoke the wholehearted and selfless participation of an otherwise passive audience; from auteur to superconductor.

If the evolution of transmedia entertainment relies on a biblical metaphor it will probably neglect or underserve the contribution of the audience to change a narrative course that’s set in stone.  I think it’s significantly more visionary to regard the narrative as plastic, even dispensible, when the masterplan is introduced to the vagaries of audience participation; the urtext is only a pretext for hypersocial interaction.  Symphonic orchestras rarely encourage members of the audience to rise in the aisles for inspired choruses of air-guitar virtuosity, but that’s exactly the kind of participation transmedia entertainments are designed to facilitate and nurture…unless the bible metaphor persists, which makes this new media model especially vulnerable to mercenary exploitation, literalist misinterpretation and irrational stumbling blocks of Biblical proportions.

The two-hour video at the other end of this link:

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/538

is introduced by Dr. David Thorburn who reappears 106minutes into the lively discussion with skeptical observations and invaluable advice about reinventing media.

The Milch/Thorburn conversation is here now:

http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/16086-television-s-great-writer-david-milch-mit-communications-forum

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01 Nov 09 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

6 Comments »

  1. Scott,

    Fascinating post. I think the terms “Bible” and “Score” evoke different aspects of a transmedia narrative. The role of the transmedia bible is to comprehensively document the storyworld in order to ensure all future storylines will be consistent and canonized. Not set in stone necessarily, but rather serving as an authoritative reference. I see the “score” referring to the organization and presentation of that storyworld in order to form a coherent, compelling narrative. While the bible gives you a concrete foundation for all events (the culture, biology, geography etc), the score coordinates the chronology, timing, and pacing of events to conduct an aesthetically pleasing experience. I therefore see the Bible and Score as interacting, not opposing metaphors.

    But where does that leave audience participation? It of course depends on the type of transmedia story (which is why we need a more definitive taxonomy). Certainly grassroots transmedia campaigns and ARGs can afford to have flexible narrative structures, granting participants more involved roles within the storyworld, but mainstream transmedia franchises tend to rely heavily on interpretation and speculation as vehicles for hypersociability. As with video gaming, some consumers engage in transmedia because they enjoy the interactivity, others because they can’t get enough of the story (and everyone in between). So inevitably, there will be those who wish they could affect the Bible directly and others who prefer to marvel at how a masterful visionary constructs a complex cross-media tale. Can there be a satisfying balance? I’m looking forward to discovering more answers next week!

    Comment by Aaron Smith | 11 Nov 09 | Reply

  2. Aaron! Your ear is exquisitely calibrated to appreciate the difference between the two words, and I agree completely that they needn’t compete to be The noun that’s applied to a real or virtual document. I to think that “score” works a little better as a verb, and that it’s likely to alienate fewer segments of the still-forming transmedia-creating audience than calling it the transmedia torah or koran.
    Ken Burns’ Jazz repeatedly emphasizes the importance invitation and welcome intrinsic in that evolving form/platform/genre/medium/style of music. It’s a quality of magnetic, contagious optimism and enthusiasm for barrier-free engagement I’d love to see built into the transmedia constitution. And reference to the cornerstone of all storyworlds as the “bible” strikes me as a glaring example of subliminal messaging to agnostics, heretics and infidels that they, in particular, aren’t welcome.

    There may be an intrinsic contradiction in terms relevant to “mainstream transmedia”. The rabidly proprietary interests represented by mainstream media have an unbroken history of resistance to the public option. I looked to the striking WGA writers for an alternative approach to engagement with their audience. Evidence suggests they still prefer to do business-as-usual. So I’ve turned to the story-architects who are emerging in independent cinema for signs of a better way to nourish culture. And like you, I’m extremely anxious to learn what FoE4 can teach us.

    Please accept my gratitude for your very welcome visit!

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 11 Nov 09 | Reply

  3. Well put, Aaron!

    I can see where you’re coming from, Scott, but it’s entirely possible that the ‘bible’ ship has sailed. TV showrunners have been using the term ‘story bible’ for years, so much so that attempting to change the terminology there might be as futile as attempting to change the term ‘score’ for composers.

    That said, it’s possible that we could swipe a term from some other industry, although the one I immediately think of (since I’ve been working in a game lab for the last two years) is ‘GDD’, or Game Design Document. Referring to the beastie as a design document might work, although even that smacks of ‘game-ness’, where ‘bible’ is inherently, uh, ‘storyesque’.

    It would be an interesting question to pose to Jewish people in Hollywood, though – are they offended by story bibles, or would they prefer to use story torah? (Which has a kind of wonderful internal rhyme scheme, now that I say it aloud…)

    I’ve been chatting with the PUREFOLD guys, prepping for the panel I’m moderating at FoE, and I’m amazed at how easily they swim in the Barthesian ‘dead author’ mindset, which is why PUREFOLD seems like it will work so well dealing with Creative Commons licenses and audience participation. Still, I think that this new model will not destroy the old model, and that there will be audiences who appreciate ‘mainstream’, ‘authored’ storyworlds (that need such strict canonical story architecture) and looser, more folk culture-inspired community-driven storyworlds (which fiercely reject such constraints).

    We’ll see what happens, but I’m enough of an optimist when it comes to the future of transmedia storytelling that I genuinely believe there’s more than enough room for multiple *types* of transmedia storytelling, in the same way that we have multiple types of monomedia storytelling. But – again – we’ll see what happens!

    Comment by Geoffrey Long | 12 Nov 09 | Reply

  4. Geoffrey,
    Sam balks at “consumer” in the same way that I’m kicking dirt on the promiscuous use of “bible”.

    Clearly, that arc has already sailed, landed and repopulated the planet, but when the outraged villagers show up with pitchforks…I’m just sayin’ that the innovative re-socializing process that incorporates and empowers contributors is probably more vitally important to the doing of the work than polarizing and alienating a universe of potential collaborators by dressing up as heretics. I’d really like to explore a story torah (if only to extend the assonance).

    The PUREFOLD panel has an explosively interesting scent! With regard to the traditional model, sharks evolved before dinosaurs, and survive nearly unchanged.

    Apart from the mass of backstudy work to do in the interim, I can hardly wait — and wait — and wait for the podcasts.

    You guys, by the way, could not be more welcome here!

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 12 Nov 09 | Reply

  5. Codependent media/entertainment is a slight interpretive inversion of the premise of transmedia. So long as big art depends upon big money, the intent of artists will always be skewed by entrepreneurs in search of big returns on their investments. When stories of substance and value become wildly popular, they’ve customarily led to substance abuse in the form of merchandising, sequelization, franchising and intense overexposure time-lagged by corporate risk-managers guided by reports of quarterly profits; facilitating burn-out of poplar interest in the substance and value of the story.
    Nobody knows what makes a hit, so nobody prudent will invest capital in the interdisciplinary army of creative people capable of generating a vast, transmedia entertainment “enterprise” unless an enormous ROI is guaranteed from multiple codependent revenue streams.
    I think penurious independent/alternative media is the most likely means to the unqualified success of transmedia storytelling. We’ll see.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 17 May 13 | Reply

  6. […] Transmedia As Pretext […]

    Pingback by My Oldest Posts « Scott Ellington's Blog | 10 Aug 14 | Reply


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