Storyworld Conference 2012 in Los Angeles – Day 3

Here’s the last part of my coverage of this year’s Storyworld Conference. Be sure to check out parts 1 and 2 as well and to check back for my reflections on the current trends and approaches in the transmedia community.

 

Friday, October 19th 2012

The last day was defined by two presentations and a final panel. In the first keynote presentation, Kathy Franklin, Director of Franchising at Lightstorm Entertainment (the production company behind James Cameron’s Avatar) shared a few of the franchise’s plans to go transmedia in the near future. It must be noted that the original release of Avatar was already accompanied by transmedia elements such as a computer game in which the player took on the role of a new character and books with details on the world of Pandora; unfortunately, these weren’t advertised very well so many audience members do not know that these tie-ins even exist.

  • Kathy made it clear that James Cameron and his team aimed to build an eco-system around Avatar from the very beginning
  • Very shortly after the film was released in theatres for the first time, there was a very strong fan involvement, which ranged from fan art, fan fiction, fan sites, and fan meets to crowdsourced tools to expand the Na’vi language from the movies; as a matter of fact, the latter even saw fan submitted words added to the Na’vi language when they fit
  • For the future, James, Kathy, and their team are planning to integrate fan activity even more: “If you don’t drive your franchise yourself, your fans will drive it for you and you don’t know where that bus will go.” Therefore, it is important to work with the fans, not against or without them.
  • The central message in Avatar, i.e. that we are all connected to each other and that we need to “wake up” really strung a chord with the fans, and this message will actively be imbued into any piece of Avatar content there is.
  • Right now, the franchise needs to combine the business aspect and the storytelling ethos, which of course isn’t always easy, but one also won’t happen without the other
  • Part of the current transmedia expansion plans are: local events,  integrating fans, expanding the Na’vi language, education and learning projects, games, greater depth, content, and access on the website, Avatarland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom… on top of the next movies, of course.
  • Even think about ways to share fan videos on YouTube (and circumventing any legal issues) – “always leverage all your assets”
  • Currently, Kathy is working to get all the stakeholders on board, break down all the boundaries between the individual divisions (and have them communicate with each other), and figuring out the exact business models they want to employ.
  • “If you have a storyworld that you think can change the world you owe it to yourself to try.”

 

The second defining presentation of the day was by Brian Clark, Founder & CEO at GMD Studios who spoke about “Phenomenal Experiences.”

  • The audience is key; art and entertainment only achieve an effect through the impression they leave on the viewer
    • Sometimes, one can even feel more than there is/what one sees, e.g. feeling that we only get a small glimpse of Pandora in Avatar
    • As a result, the audience provides the meaning, the artist only provides the framework
      • “Our ideas are the product of our experiences.”
    • We are wired to exchange stories as if they are real-life experiences; brain tests show that the same brain parts are used for following a story and for living through an actual event.
    • “Characters are so crucial in storytelling because they allow us to bond with the meaningfulness of the experience.”
    • “Phenomenal” is additive and takes into account the experience for the audience
    • “If we love a woman it is because she is lovable.” (Unfortunately, I did not write down the author of this quote, so please let me know if you know him)
      • All of our experience and meaning is shaped by our own experiences
      • Meaning is created by our experiences
      • “You can re-awaken people’s sense of wonder.”
      • More details: phenomenalwork.com/manifesto

 

I am still wrapping my head around the different meanings, possibilities and consequences that derive from Brian’s ‘phenomenal’ approach. His presentation definitely offered the only new approach to transmedia while not being actually new after all; the concept of phenomenology has quite a history already. Nevertheless, Brian’s approach to phenomenology in transmedia left tremendous room for thought and will hopefully be seen in action soon. If you want to check out his presentation yourself, you can do it here.

 

 

And finally, a panel moderated by Nick DeMartino, Transmedia Consultant, came together in order to point out what we will encounter in The Way Forward. The panelists consisted of Jeff Gomez; Flint Dille, Screenwriter & Game Designer; Elan Lee, Chief Creative Officer at Fourth Wall Studios; , Kathy Franklin; and Ivan Askwith, Senior Director Digital Media at Lucasfilm.

"The Way Forward Panel"
From left: Nick DeMartino, Jeff Gomez, Elan Lee, Flint Dille, Kathy Franklin, Ivan Askwith

 

Kathy Franklin:

  • Fans are important, increasingly create content and we will have to figure out a legal solution to encouraging fan engagement.
  • It is OK to think about your storyworld as commercial – it is not selling out!

 

Flint Dille:

  • We have to give meaning to our real world so that we are more aware of our environment again.

 

Elan Lee:

  • Second screens are becoming very important, so we must design stories that actively reach out to second screen devices.
  • We should stop building ARGs.

 

Jeff Gomez:

  • The transmedia people need to be called in far earlier in the production process. We need to move towards transmedia as an investment in the long-term rather than in the marketing budget.

 

Ivan Askwith:

  • People get burnt out from engaging with something that isn’t of value to them. All media must offer value to their audiences.

 

 

Again, not many new thoughts here but mostly reiterations of points from last year. To be fair however – and this accounts for the entire conference – there are only so many new ideas the community can come up with. For now, we need to try our ideas out, we need succeed and to fail in order to determine what works and what doesn’t, so that we can come up with new, informed ideas again. And while have panels have shown that there is a change in the approach to transmedia and new forms of entertainment among studios and TV networks, the risk-aversion we’ve seen in the last few years remains.

Storyworld Conference 2012 in Los Angeles – Day 2

You can find the SWC12 re-cap of Day 1 here. As stated in my first re-cap, I will only be highlighting a few of the points that were made, namely those that offered new ideas and/or new approaches compared to SWC11.

 

Thursday, October 18th 2012

Storyworld’s second day started out with a presentation of “Take this Lollipop” by its producer Jason Zada. Jason has specialized in combining video and social media content in a way that inserts the user into the story. If you haven’t seen this project yet, I highly recommend you look it up (and experience it) – particularly now that the dark winter months begin. 😀

 

The second day was also marked by Jeff Gomez’ (CEO of Starlightrunner Entertainment, the leading transmedia agency) keynote talk “Achieving Blockbuster and Evergreen in the Age of Pervasive Media”. Having seen Jeff’s previous standard presentation introducing the concept of transmedia storytelling far too many times, I was quite excited about his new presentation. “Achieving Blockbuster and Evergreen” offers a great framework for evaluating both for-profit and non-profit transmedia projects:

  • Jeff started out with the reminder that it is the story and the storyworld that is at the center of transmedia storytelling, NOT the platforms.
  • It is therefore important to determine the DNA of one’s storyworld (read below for details) and to stick to it, no matter what medium the content is on.
  • Also, for franchising in particularly, the transmedia experience should NOT turn into a scavenger hunt, but should be a complete, orchestrated experience where every piece of content counts and emotionally satisfying.
  • The characters of your story are of crucial importance to rope your audience in. Only if your audience relates to and loves (i.e. deeply cares) about your characters they will follow you on to other platforms.
  • The brand essence of your story consists of “the attributes that distinguish your brand or storyworld from competitors or anything like it.” Next to the characters, the brand essence is also fundamental in having your audience relate to your story.  Some parts of the brand essence are:
    • The vision: “What does my brand or storyworld give to my audience? What questions does it answer in a positive way?” There should be an aspirational quality to your story universe, and it must be very clear.
    • The theme: “Aspirational messages that, if adhered to, would improve the quality of life of the human race.” As Jeff puts it, “to aspire is the best result of being inspired.” (Aspiration being the internal drive resulting from external motivation/inspiration)
    • The archetypes: They are as old as storytelling itself – The Lover, The Sage, The Innocent, The Trickster, The Outlaw, The Hero, etc. How does your brand or your story “ring a primal chord in the hearts of the audience?”
    • Infusion/the heart of your story: The narrative must be built around the core elements mentioned above. “The brand essence is the skeleton of your transmedia content” which is why you should never let anyone push you around regarding the characters and the brand essence.
    • Examples where the brand essence was congruent and where it wasn’t:
      • In Prometheus, the marketing and transmedia efforts (particularly the TEDx talk) were a far cry from the actual plot and the storyworld. While the TEDx talk was inspirational and philosophical, the actual storyline was rather dark and darkly philosophical. As a result, it did not receive a positive audience reaction.
      • In The Hunger Games on the other hand, producers stuck closely to Katniss’ internal struggle instead of focusing on the love triangle, for example – just like it is the case in the books. They understood that the storyworld is about any human’s fundamental conflicts and aspirations, regardless of gender, in a situation where one is forced to kill in order to survive oneself. Being marketed and presented in this way allowed both boys and girls to connect to the story and to Katniss as the main character, granting The Hunger Games a wide audience appeal.
  • Following this, Jeff went on to explain the 10 Commandments of 21st Century Franchise Production:
  1. “Know your brand essence and never stray from it.”
  2. “The storyworld is unstoppable and rules over everything. Seriously.”
    1. This includes the individual story installments.
    2. “Franchise visionaries must put up tent-poles now, even if they have to move them later.”
  3. You must know what your long-term plan is; you cannot rely on a single human being (actor, director, producer, etc.). Everyone involved in the project must know what the long-term strategy is, which elements are crucial, and how the story is going to play out.
  4. “Studios and producers must secure the best possible talent for the job, but that talent must never roadblock the ongoing storyworld.”
    1. E.g. the director’s vision MUST NOT conflict with the brand essence.
  5. “Create highly organized resources for canon and assets.”
    1. E.g. where files and pictures and other materials are stored so that anyone can take over at any time
  6. “Studios and producers must establish a franchise clearing-house and regular cross-divisional meetings in support of the storyworld.”
  7. “Stakeholders must be incenticized to to support the strategy behind the rollout of the storyworld.”
    1. Successfulness of the storyworld must be an incentive, e.g. making a licensee tie in to the creative vision of the storyworld or even producing transmedia content themself
  8. “Franchise visionaries and storyworld implementation must validate and celebrate audience participation.”
  9. “Licensing, merchandising and marketing must nurture and expand the storyworld.”
  10. “The storyworld must be accessible across an array of digital and traditional media portals, each piece adding to the narrative whole.”
  • Examples of franchises that meet the 10 commandments completely or in part:
    • Star Wars and Apple – meet all 10 commandments
    • Harry Potter and The Hunger Games – do not have a long-term plan, merchandising and licensing does not nurture the storyworld, no cross-platform access; both do not show a move towards an “evergreen” franchise, and both authors of the storyworld (Rowling and Collins) consider their work done – no room for new content
    • DC Universe – 0 points; absolutely no brand essence and no consistency
    • Avengers – 10 points

 

Looking at these points, Jeff’s presentation was of course not revolutionary. As usual, however, he managed to pinpoint exactly what many in the transmedia community already knew and felt without being able or willing to put it into words or a structured approach. As a matter of fact, even many users might look at these commandments and go “Duh!”, but the truth is that there are still many, many media producers and media companies out there who remain confused about what transmedia production and the transmedia approach itself mean exactly. For them, Jeff’s 10 Commandments offer a basic “How-to” guide, while posing a great point of reference for existing transmedia producers.

 

Developing Digital Content – Network to Network

Panelists: Rhonda Lowry, VP Emerging Social Web Technologies, Turner Broadcasting Systems; Mike Monello, Co-Founder & Executive Creative Director, Campfire; Drew Pisarra, VP Digital Media, AMC; Andrew Adashek, TV Creative Partnerships, Twitter.

Rhonda Lowry:

  • Digital content for TV must be created purposely to fit within the TV story and NOT be added on top; it must be an integral part of the whole
  • Digital content for TV must always be tailored for social consumption
  • While we know what advertisers expect from TV and digital content (i.e. viewers) and what networks want (viewers and subscribers), we have not yet figured out how/in what way digital content and social TV can be truly valuable to the audience

Andrew Adashek:

  • Can’t pinpoint a causation between social media engagement and TV ratings

 

All in all, not much new information was shared on this panel. The most refreshing aspect was to hear that networks begin to understand that second screen content needs to be worthwhile to watch/read, and that social television must be considered an integrated part of the complete TV experience, but these concepts themselves had already been talked about in great detail last year as well.

 

How Brands Create Storyworlds

Panelists: Dan Hon, Global Interactive Creative Director, Wieden + Kennedy; Atley Loughridge, Reboot Stories; Mauricio Mota, Founder, The Alchemists; Houston Howard, CEO & Founder, One3Productions.

Houston Howard:

  • One3Productions creates storyworlds and transmedia campaigns with 3 steps:
    • “Creation:” Identify the theme & purpose and create the storyworld accordingly
    • “Immersion:” Create and engage your audience at meaningful (!) touchpoints (i.e. those that offer value to your audience)
    • “Commentary:” Create an “online lasso,” i.e. a social outreach using social media
  • A brand must know “why they do what they do” – this is crucial to develop a message (or ‘brand essence’ – hello, Jeff!) that’s at the heart of each piece of content and engages your audience again and again

 

Due to my current position as Communication Manager for essence this panel was one that interested me the most; however, I was a very disappointed . Despite its high-profile speakers, not much was actually said about “How brands build storyworlds”. Dan Hon demonstrated examples of his agency’s work, such as the campaign surrounding the Nike Air Max limited edition, but all panelists offered little information in terms of what to do when you are trying to build a storyworld around a brand, particularly one that does not have any roots in storytelling whatsoever. This is definitely something that could be improved for next year.

 

Immersive Story Experiences

Panelists: Brent Young, Principal and Creative Director, Super 78; Alison Norrington, Founder, storycentralDIGITAL; Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment.

Panel consensus:

  • The audience must know within a few moments who they are and where they are and what is expected of them
  • In immersive experiences, participants expect to be surprised which makes it difficult to surprise them, of course, but it is not impossible and the experience itself remains surprising

Caitlin Burns:

  • It is important to build in a “transition moment” – “the moment where you both [the storyteller and the user/participant] agree to enter that magical space” and play by its rules – e.g. when the lights dim at the movies, or the “Yo-ho” song at every piece of content relating to Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Techniques to do this include:
    • Consistency – through the brand essence and the structure of the experiences
    • Authenticity – adhering to the storyworld, characters and themes the audience has previously agreed to and following those through at all times
    • Indication of role-playing  – let the audience know what the roles are and who they are in this experience
    • Themes – again, following them through and being consistent with them in each experience
    • Consistent styling and consistent signifiers that tell the audience when and where the experience begins and ends, and any rules involved
    • Not everyone will have the same experience – it depends greatly on how deeply they are willing to immerse themselves, and what part of their identity, knowledge, and persona they add to the experience themselves
    • A good experience and a good story engage all our senses anyway, but as a creator you have to make sure you work with each sense in a meaningful way

Sara Thacher:

  • “You need to create clear structures, bounds, and rules for how to play”

 

I very much enjoyed this panel. It was exemplary of a general paradigm shift that I experienced at SWC12 and which I will be blogging about in greater detail in the next few weeks: the move from transmedia story design to the creation of immersive experiences for the audience. Both concepts go hand-in-hand, of course, but this shift is definitely worth additional reflection.