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Cross-Platform Storytelling: The Buzz On Transmedia

Storytelling is facing a radical transformation. Disrupted by the popularity of new technologies that call for new, non-linear narrative models, combined with an audience that now expects more control over how they consume and interact with media, traditional storytelling techniques are getting an update and being ushered into a new “transmedia” era. The goal for transmedia storytelling is to create immersive, asynchronous worlds that extend over multiple platforms—each revealing a part of the story via qualities unique to the specific medium of communication. Within each medium, the story expands and optimizes immersion, offering new ways for the audience to participate and contribute to the story. Since the non-linearity of the storyline invites the audience to choose their own starting points, it creates a personal experience

In the past, transmedia was mainly used for the purposes of merchandising and franchise expansion—like the Harry Potter series—but today, transmedia storytelling creates interactive audience experiences by utilizing a mixture of mediums including film, gaming, graphic novels, and live events. We highlight some more notable transmedia practitioners and their endeavors below.

Transmedia pioneer, Lance Weiler started a viral marketing project, Hope Is Missing (HiM), a 2.0 ARG (Alternate Reality Game). The project included a series of four web episodes that were released to generate engagement and hype for the corresponding release of his second feature film Head Trauma. Players were able to find information on special screenings of Head Trauma by following clues in the various online videos and websites. Weiler’s Pandemic, which combined live events, a short film, and an ARG component, just premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But in addition to his own projects, he’s lent his writing hand to projects like Collapsus, and helped found the conference series DIY Days.

Swedish director Hanna Sköld presented the feature film and transmedia game Granny’s Dancing on the Table at London’s Power to the Pixel’s cross-media forum last October, winning her the Arte Pixel Pitch Prize. The project actively invites audiences to participate in the making of the film and help develop the storylines. Sköld and her team are organizing open workshops in Sweden where the audience is stimulated to co-create Granny’s story world. In an effort to engage global audiences, those living outside of Sweden are invited to participate via their Facebook page. Sköld is also currently in production for a short film, Yearning for the Old Lady that is also a teaser for the full-length Granny’s Dancing on the Table.

Todd Denis, The founder of Jawbone.tv, is in the very early stages of developing Rekill—a transmedia action/science‐fiction project, including games, graphic novels, animation and live action. To measure audience interest and justify investment for full development, they’ve set a goal to have 100,000 Facebook friends. The trailer can be seen above and the teaser graphic novel, The Particle Void, can also be viewed online here.

After only briefly looking over the burgeoning oeuvres of these pioneering artists, it’s clear that the future for transmedia projects looks bright. With funding bodies now also interested, we can only expect more creatively challenging projects to be realized. But as Liz Rozenthal, founder of Power to the Pixel suggests in her 2010 Think Tank report: 
“Maybe there will be a time in the not-so-distant future, when it becomes irrelevant to define a project as cross-media, as it will be universally expected that a story should be experienced across multiple platforms and we will simply focus once more on storytelling”.

The IFP in New York and Power to the Pixel (London) are launching the first joint annual IFP/Power to the Pixel Cross-Media Forum in New York City on April 19th, 2011.

Stills from Granny’s Dancing on the Table, courtesy of Emma Blomberg.

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