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New York, Tribeca, Sundance, Austin, Sheffield and more… what do these film festivals have in common? They have all recently introduced a new festival category in which transmedia producers and their projects can compete within the realm of multi-platform storytelling. Transmedia productions are now working towards eliminating the concept of linear storytelling, arming filmmakers, artists, musicians and, most importantly, authors, with the tools to diversify the ways in which an audience can become immersed in a story, myth or ideology.
However, with misconceptions about these tools infiltrating the filmmaking circuit, the embrace of transmedia storytelling has in fact been a surprisingly slow and laborious process, especially in considering that the first recorded transmedia campaigns date back to the mid-80s with the introduction of Alternate Reality Games. Said misconceptions often originate from the uneducated view of transmedia as purely a marketing tool as opposed to the multifaceted component of storytelling that it actually provides, helping to further enrich user and audience experiences.
So… what is it?
Transmedia production/storytelling is the extension of a narrative - be it through film, music or gaming – where alternate storylines, character profiles and interactive capabilities are explored. These elements are then displayed through an interactive medium for fans and generic audiences alike to further engage in the world of, essentially, the writer and their original story. These mediums span both traditional (newspaper, radio, television) and modern (internet, mobile, AR) media formats, often translating into the physical, or, ‘real’ life. In effect, at its core, transmedia works to blur the lines between the author’s vision and the audience’s reality.
Transmedia can work to sustain interest where visual material (film/television series/games) are lifted from existing written content with a pre-developed fan base, e.g. ‘The Hunger Games.’ In contrast, the power of transmedia storytelling can also be utilized to help grow fan loyalty through interactive methods, where pre-existing concepts may not be available, e.g. building on the ideology of man versus robot for ‘A.I.: Artificial Intelligence’ (Brian Aldiss’s short story ‘Super-Toys Last all Summer Long’ on which the film was based did not warrant an enthusiastic response). These methods help create a connection between the audience and characters/storyline, enabling deeper emotional connection and the chance to ‘care’ about the on-screen characters, without having to divulge said information anywhere in the actual finished product.
One of the best examples of sustaining fan interest pre-project launch includes the standout campaigns for Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ and HBO’s medieval fantasy smash series ‘Game of Thrones.’ Where ‘The Dark Knight’ was concerned, fans of the first film and the original Batman series were lured into the Joker’s world and implored to ‘join the Joker’s army.’ The campaign encompassed both online and real-life elements, with dozens of websites, rallies and even cakes in cell phones planted to evoke the feeling of a corrupt Gotham, culminating with the tragic death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker in Nolan’s interpretation. The result: 10 million participants in over 75 countries.
Recruiting for the Joker's Army
With the ‘Game of Thrones’ (GoT) campaign, fans of the book series authored by George R. R. Martin, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ were given the opportunity to live vicariously through multiple websites, Facebook fan pages, online games and more. However, to set the Chinese whispers afloat, the GoT campaign kicked off with a subtle yet effective package of ‘smells of the realm’ sent to lovers of the book series who were also seen as online influencers. That particular tactic set hundreds of bloggers in motion, with millions of fans anticipating bigger things to come – the series in itself, which had not been announced at that stage. Storylines were introduced, with the chance to pledge allegiance to the ‘wintry North’ or the ‘sultry South’ and become a part of the now infamous battles of the realm.
However, what is touted to be the most successful campaign of all time, both in terms of its levels of virality and also due to the campaign’s originality, was the Godfather of all transmedia projects; the found footage campaign for ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ Although not the first of its kind, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ set a high benchmark for quality with found footage films in 1999, leading the way for future successes in the genre, such as Spanish horror ‘REC’, ‘Cloverfield’ and Oren Peli’s shocker, ‘Paranormal Activity.’ With the mystery of the unknown working for their campaign, an entire fictional history for the characters who were soon to be seen on the big screen via the film was created online. Roots were born through fake Halloween photos, high school pages and more, allowing for a morbid attachment to be created and, eventually, shaken to the core with the release of a film that once again, blurred the boundaries between fiction and reality.
Part of the campaign for Blair Witch
Is this a fad?
The future belongs to the burgeoning technology industry and the digital era. With the means to engross, capture and retain the excitement of audiences across the world, via numerous and continuously developing methodologies, through online and tangible, physical elements, transmedia production is slowly reaching its full potential as a legitimate and necessary arm of the film industry and that of any project with storytelling at its heart.