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.