What Makes a Successful Transmedia Story?
I just returned from the Berlin Film Festival this past week, where I attended the Berlinale Talent Campus/Power to the Pixel cross-media forums. The speakers at the forum were creators, producers and distributors investing in transmedia platforms such as Iron Sky, 18 Days in Egypt, Bear 71, Gaza-Sderot, and the Truth About Marika, among many others. What came clearly into focus from the juxtaposition of this range and variety of projects was that there is no one formula for creating a successful transmedia story in terms of style, architecture, or experience, but that (as obvious as this sounds) a strong and engaging story is crucial. This means that in order for you to achieve success with any transmedia platform, large or small, it is important to concentrate on a tight, engaging core story and from there, the architecture through which the elements of that story are extended.
In the case of transmedia activism and transmedia for social good-- the realms in which I primarily work-- the core of the story and the point should be about the change, the goal, or the solution. But there are different ways to conceive of "story.” One is the “traditional” notion of narrative, in which there is a plot with some sort of conflict and resolution; characters, including protagonists and antagonists; and a narrative point of view. Think of Another is to tell the story of the issue and affected communities through a “campaign” structure, where the elements extended through multiple channels are actions and solutions, as opposed to or in addition to story extensions. Think of Medecins Sans Frontiere’s “Starved for Attention” project, for example.
Participation and collaboration are also critical success factors. In fact, these are two of the factors that make transmedia such an interesting, potentially effective and disruptive innovation to social change efforts, in creating entry points into co-creation and dialogue. Social change and mobilization efforts require public and political participation. But in terms of actual social change, participation is an input, not an endpoint, and therefore community management and stewardship of the platform are important to flip participants and collaborators into sustainable action. Though not a “transmedia for good” project, take a look at the way Iron Sky was created through crowd participation in the director’s video “Producing with the Audience” for inspiration here.
A simple platform is usually best, albeit not required to manage a successful transmedia-for-change platform. Large-scale projects aren't always necessary and can be distracting. They are also harder to finance, manage, and actualize. The point of an effective story isn't the bells and whistles, and technology for technology’s sake. A concentration on technology is important where use of the technology is the best way to ensure participation and enhanced interaction, but the point is still the story and its continuum of narrative from core to extension to action. Also, keep it simple and contained, but connect your story to the larger movement: This is key for telling the story of a system, and investing in systemic change instead of a single story/point solution. This the principle on which the forthcoming platform Lakou Mizik* is being produced (in development).
Finally, relevance, resonance, and respect are indispensable in a transmedia-for-change story, where focus should lie on the community of interest or the affected community before elements are tailored to participants, “players,” or audiences. There are of course instances where there isn't one community in particular, but the particular utility of transmedia in social change is that it allows multiple avenues for dialogue and the use of multiple stories to create empathy, humanization of the issues, and an attention to diverse perspectives. In create a community-centered story architecture, think about everyone who is in the community and ask yourself, what does each segment bring to the table, subsequently tailoring your story extensions to reach those segments. For an example of how this can be done, see 18 Days in Egypt. *
Disclosure: I am currently working on this project.