Producers’ Forum: Principles of Transmedia Storytelling

By Mansha Daswani


NEW YORK: Jeff Gomez and Nathan Mayfield will be hosting a session at the MIPTV Producers’ Forum—a two-day initiative organized in association with World Screen—about developing stories and concepts across multiple platforms.

The first thing you need to know about transmedia storytelling is that it’s not the same thing as “cross-platform” or “cross media,” according to Jeff Gomez, the president and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment. “Transmedia is where you’re planning and coordinating the rollout of an artful project, a story, and you’re using different media platforms as if each is an instrument and you’re composing a symphonic score,” he tells World Screen Weekly. “Each platform plays a role in telling a story. That what makes it distinct.”

Gomez will be participating in the Principles of Transmedia Storytelling session on Tuesday, April 13, at 3:30 p.m. as part of the Producers’ Forum, together with Nathan Mayfield, the chief creative officer and co-founder of Hoodlum. The executives will be hosting a creative boot camp, drawing on their extensive experience with transmedia projects—Gomez’s credits include James Cameron’s mega-hit Avatar, while Mayfield’s work includes Lost and Flash Forward.

“I can’t wait to share the learnings that we have made over the many projects we have produced,” says Mayfield. “This is a halcyon opportunity for producers to take charge, explore new models and, most importantly, truly engage with their audience. Our key tip is very simple: never make your audience feel stupid! So many online extensions we see rely on audiences to be tech savvy, our experiences never let the technology get in the way of good storytelling.”

Both executives stress the importance of transmedia projects today, given the increasing fragmentation of the media landscape. “In this day and age, people are enjoying stories on whatever platform they can,” explains Gomez. “At the core of any good transmedia implementation is a highly compelling story and when you become a fan of the story world, the body of fiction, you will feel compelled to chase it, to actually move from one platform to the next to get more enjoyment out of that aspirational universe.”

He continues: “No matter what country you’re from, in this day and age if you’re in television you’re noticing at least the start of an exodus away from television, particularly on the part of young people. Young people are becoming preoccupied with interactive media, video games, the web, and that is impacting ratings and it’s impacting revenues. With transmedia, you’re quite often addressing young people exactly where they live. There’s no doubt that television is still an incredibly powerful driving platform, but with transmedia, you’re increasing the touchpoints between your audience and the narrative.”

This is a view shared by Mayfield, who co-founded Hoodlum in Australia more than a decade ago and quickly became a pioneer in the world of online content. “We see these online extensions as the key deciders in an environment where audiences are seeking new ways to get their entertainment fix,” he notes. “Our most successful projects have been those that have a single message and URL across all channels of communication. Our most successful projects are ones that have all marketing pointing to our site. It is our responsibility to give audiences a taste of the film or TV series, a way to set up questions that can only be answered by the film or TV series. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that the leap you are asking your mainstream audience [to make] between TV and online is as small as possible… sending an audience from your beautiful, expensive TV series to a gritty handheld webisode will never be as effective as emulating the production values of the TV series in the online extension.”

One of Hoodlum’s most high-profile projects has been its work on Lost, with the Find 815 and The Dharma Initiative online experiences. “Studios were and continue to be very responsive to online extensions,” Mayfield says. “After all, they are in the business of storytelling and once we had allayed their fears, it was not long before they were calling on us to create stories that would be told across multiple platforms. ABC Studios was the first champion in the U.S. to really embrace the online extensions.”

Mayfield says that in approaching Lost, as with any other project, the process begins with “allaying the fears of the creatives involved. We are not about to take your beloved brand and create a story that sits outside the mythology that you have created. The key element is to ensure you have champions in your marketing and creative teams. Honestly, the devil is in the detail with these projects and that means you need to make sure you are working with pioneers who are going on the ride with you. This is the Wild West and we worked closely with the producers of the show and ABC Entertainment marketing to mobilize the fans. As I said above, ABC has really led with the way they have embraced online extensions. It was up to us to then make sure we were creating an experience that would ensure audiences wanted to return again and again.”

For Gomez, whose transmedia projects include Avatar and Showtime’s Dexter, the process begins with “immersing ourselves in the world such as it is when we arrive on the project. Our job in general is to collect all the information about the world [of the film or TV show] and present it in the form of a mythology. So we’re compiling everything that’s known about the universe, the characters, the locations, the historic story points, and putting it into one single massive document. And then we help our clients to determine how best to implement that story across an array of media platforms. So, how will this best work as a video game? How will this best work as a mobile execution? And in doing so, we also become the guardians of quality control. We make sure that the content lives up to the quality of the main story, so that you don’t get too much of that knockoff licensed product that doesn’t add to franchise.”

Beyond working on existing television and film projects, both Gomez’s Starlight Runner and Mayfield’s Hoodlum are developing their own IP, and are assisting major consumer brands with their transmedia marketing campaigns.

Gomez explains that when approaching a brand like Coca-Cola—Starlight worked with the company on its Happiness Factory campaign—”we have to look at what could be about 60 seconds worth of content and turn that into a huge sprawling universe, so it takes a little more creative energy, which is fun for us.”

“Big advertising brands are seeking new ways to engage with audiences,” Mayfield says. “They are evolving from branded entertainers to branded storytellers. Branded storytelling is a hybrid of Hoodlum’s expertise to integrate the brands values, tones and sensibilities with quality stories that resonate with consumers.”

The Principles of Transmedia Storytelling session takes place on the Tuesday of MIPTV at 3:30 p.m.


2 Responses to “Producers’ Forum: Principles of Transmedia Storytelling”

  1. Producers’ Forum: Principles of Transmedia Storytelling Says:

    […] Producers’ Forum: Principles of Transmedia Storytelling […]

  2. Detsloff Says:

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