DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in storytelling (6)


Theatrics = Collaborative Video Storytelling


I'm thrilled to be involved with the launch of the beta version of a new collaborative video storytelling platform from

The product features tools that allow a storyteller or a brand to involve the audience in the creative process while providing a host of communications and management features unavailable on other platforms. 

Theatrics is throwing open the doors to storytellers and brands who'd like to experiment with this truly unique collaborative storytelling cloud-based software available.

The goal of the beta is to develop ground-breaking online interactive video productions that will engage their users -- customers, employees, fans, and audience members – in content creation. Use of the platform will be free during the beta trial. 

I'm working with Theatrics and prospective users of the platform to help build exciting new experiences. If you've got an idea, please email me or signup on the site to get a feel for the tools. Just as Wordpress is a tool set for bloggers, Theatrics is a toolset for video-based storytellers. Here are some of the ideas from companies we're working with:

  • A successful web video series wants to invite fans to create their own characters that perform and live in a new fictionalized storyworld 
  • A documentary filmmaker wants to conduct a contest for audience members to tell their own stories in video and still images
  • A franchise chain wants to create a new application that its affiliates can sell to customers featuring video tributes
  • A national brand with a salesforce in the tens of thousands wants to build a hub where they can share stories and inspiration
  • A sci-fi series wants to provide CG backgrounds for fans to use in creating their own in-story characters
  • A meetup group wants to challenge its members to co-create a new story and a new storyworld.

As Theatrics CEO Biff Van Cleve puts it: "Generation C is as comfortable with creating content as consuming it, so the Theatrics video storytelling platform taps into millions of people who are shooting and sharing video on a daily basis, enabling creators to engage their audiences to tell stories in exciting new ways." provides creators the opportunity to establish a story world, characters, and plot and the audience to participate by uploading video and blog posts as personas they create themselves. The process is seamless and easy to use. Additionally, the platform offers a second screen experience for studios and networks to give fans the opportunity to engage directly with their favorite shows and films – to actually create and play a character in an on-going, online story world. 

About Theatrics 

With offices in Houston and Los Angeles, is an interactive entertainment company offering a collaborative video storytelling platform that easily enables creators to incorporate and manage user generated content. The toolset provides creators the ability to push the boundaries of storytelling by controlling the story, characters, and vision, while the audience adds their own creativity by performing in the show and interacting with the story and other users. Theatrics partnered with USA Network for the launch of PSYCH The S#cial Sector and produced its first series, Beckinfield, as proof of concept. For more information, please visit: 


At Least Five Things I Learned From Story World 2012

I choose to think of the Story World Conference as a bellwether for the health of the transmedia community.

What did #SWC12 tell us? Here are my thoughts a couple of weeks after the conference, held over three days in mid-October in Los Angeles.

  1. Big media brands are aligning themselves with the transmedia community.
  2. The transmedia tribe, still not quite a movement, seems to have subdued its fractious factional spats, even if there remain quite opposite ways of approaching the work.
  3. Independent producers are struggling to find business models, but are succeeding at building networks and new models for collaboration and experimentation.
  4. Non-commercial funders are providing vision, as well as money, to stimulate new work.
  5. The market for multiplatform story management is attracting new tools.

Here Come the Big Boys

When we talk about transmedia, we talk about Star Wars, the most influential model for the building and construction of story worlds. And we talk about Disney, the studio most responsible for building content brands across multiple platforms and venues.

Both were present at Story World, though their pending merger was still secret at the time. Suffice it to say, those who knew weren’t talking. (When I asked Ivan Askwith of LucasFilm to name a trend during the conference’s final panel, he mentioned the company’s venture with Angry Birds creator Rovio, but slyly added that in a few weeks “my answer will be quite different.” Indeed!)

Disney kicked off the whole conference with a talk by Scott Trowbridge, Vice President of Creative/R&D at Walt Disney Imagineering, who shared the group’s testing of a new breed of social media-enabled live action adventures, as well as a new real time “Story Engine” platform that’s in development. (Ball State’s Brad King covers the talk in detail here.) 

Click to read more ...


Beckinfield – The Haunted Town Where the Audience Creates the Story 

Residents of the fictional town of Beckinfield have a lot going on, what with all the ghosts and other supernatural intercessions that keep popping up. 

But the townspeople are nowhere near as busy as some visitors to "Beckinfield," a website that presents an ongoing sci-fi series about the town in a format unlike any TV you've ever seen.

That's because the story is told entirely by means of first-person video diaries – in-character performances created by users and upload to the site.

The Beckinfield story unfolds continuously -- a kind of never-ending soap opera for the YouTube set. Every audience member's experience of the story is individualized, since one's view depends upon which characters one chooses to follow and watch. A weekly edit -- "previously on Beckinfield" -- provides a summary of story highlights. The site's tagging and trending tools also help guide the user experience. 

Suffice it to say: the Beckinfield user is an engaged user -- whether choosing to perform or just watch. 

The performers of course are all unpaid. Some are aspiring actors; others are amateurs from all around the world. More than 4,000 of them have registered since Beckinfield's "soft" launch at the SXSW conference in March, 201l. 10% are actively uploading content on a regular basis.

New members are presented with an online form, just like any social network sign-up process – but in doing so, they create their character. Once a user starts uploading video clips, they receive a weekly newsletter -- a sort of serialized story Bible. Actors are encouraged to reflect plot points in their performances and to collaborate with other actors to create interrelated story threads. 

"The show is written and plotted, but not scripted," says co-founder Bob Gebert, an actor, director and writer who evolved the idea while helping fellow actors promote themselves using YouTube.

"Just like reality television," he said, somewhat sheepishly.

Or a cross between Desperate Housewives and Dungeons and Dragons, as one Beckinfield actor put it.

A more relevant precursor is the 2006 YouTube hit "Lonely Girl 15," which initially seemed to be the webcam confessions of troubled teens, but turned out to be professional actors playing roles with improvisational brio. LG15 was groundbreaking, not only because of the mass trick that its creators played on viewers, but because the then-new YouTube platform enabled viewers to upload their own video reactions, creating a crazy-quilt structure for the experience of the story.

Lonely Girl 15 Reunion at Vidcon 2011

While YouTube itself was becoming the venue of choice for a new class of entrepreneurial performers, many L.A. actors saw online video as a means to get noticed within the industry -- a low-budget "American Idol" for actors. 

So Gebert began coaching actors to create improvisational monologues to showcase their talent, a process, which had evolved into a web site where 25 actors created characters -- all situated in a fictional town. 

"It ran for about five weeks," said Gebert, "but there was no plot, so the whole thing just fell apart…. I learned that you need an ongoing story." 

Gebert pitched the idea to Tracy Evans and Biff Van Cleve, interactive producers from Houston, where Gebert had run an improv-based dinner theatre. The three co-founded Theatrics in 2010 to develop the underlying platform and support the storytelling being showcased with the Beckinfield story, which Gebert writes. 

Theatrics has raised $1.4 million of seed funding to develop the site, most of it from investors in Houston whose previous experience has been in the oil business -- certainly a rarity in the go-go world of Internet start-ups. 

In January they stormed San Francisco’s MacWorld/iWorld, where they turned the stage into yet another scene set in the town of Beckinfield, the finale to an in-story competition to cast a local production of the "Legend of Beckinfield."  

An actor named Michael Town, playing a character named Farmer Roger Teddy was the winner of the "ultimate online audition", a prize worth $10,000 and the chance to star in a play being produced inside Beckinfield. Very Pirandello!

The MacWorld gig provided exposed the company to the Bay Area's tech community, and netted coverage by Mashable and some meetings with new investors, according to Gebert. 

It will be fascinating to see if there's an appetite among tech investors for a story-centered platform like Theatrics, which has dubbed its concept "mass participation television."

Theatrics' blend of user-generated content, Hollywood visibility, social networking, and guided story structure is quite unique, raising a lot of fascinating questions as story forms continue to evolve. For instance:

Could such a platform be used as a transmedia companion for conventional television series, creating a kind of video-based fan fiction? I can imagine this for the adventurous network or cable show-runner (and, I can also imagine the meeting with the network lawyers). 

  • Is Theatrics a social network for actors or a consumer viewing platform? Ideally, both, of course, but clearly to date, the tilt has been to create "an intimate experience for actors, a dream stage for them," as Gebert puts it. Theatrics has invested in "backstage" tools to attract and support actors, who, after all, are creating the content. The next challenge is to attract a viewing audience to the story these actors (and the site team) are co-creating. It may well be that the audience appeal of role-playing games and virtual worlds will trump the conventional divide between audience and creators.
  • Will this story-driven viewing experience scale? Social websites like Facebook and YouTube are built on the 80:20 rule, e.g., they attract vastly more members to consume the content produced by a small minority of "super producers," as a recent Pew study noted
  • What about curation? I suspect that audience growth will be capped unless the site embraces some form of user-generated curation, enriching the story container for the view-only visitor and the more active participant alike. The web is aflame with different tools that allow users to edit, curate, and shape the presentation of content--- a natural consequence of the proliferation of content. Of course, curation can also lead to the "hot chicks" problem -- telling a story based entirely upon, shall we say, non-story elements.
  • Finally, is the co-creation movement trending up or flattening? What started as an academic analysis of the customer-created value in business, we are now seeing considerable heat applied to the co-creation paradigm in all sorts of business. The  question is how long it will take to attract and retain an audience to these new forms of collaborative, participatory storytelling. (As with this site by transmedia innovator Scott Walker.)

Go ahead: Test drive Beckinfield and see what you think. If you have the time and inclination, create your own character and see what happens. (I thought I would , but I chickened out). 


• The Gathering of the Tribes – Interactivists Meet Up

Virtual relationships are rarely enough to propel a movement upwards, even in this era of highly engaged social networking. Face time is better.

Which is why I’m kind of jazzed about the pace of live events that will bring together leading multi-platform storytellers, the so-called “transmedia” movement.

So, get ready for a deep dive into the transmedia storytelling communities as I participate and then think about two upcoming events, DIY Days and Story World.

DIY Days is the brainchild of Lance Weiler, and has been around for a few years. Twice a year he gathers like-minded folk from content and tech communities with a decidedly grassroots bent, this edition on the campus of UCLA. 

Several hackathons are underway right now that focus upon actually building projects that have been in planning for months, leading up to a series of presentations, case studies, and demos on Friday. Check out the schedule. Friday night will also include a party for the wonderful DIY indie film book, Selling Your Film without Selling Your Soul, which I wrote about in September. 

Story World is a new conference next week in San Fransisco from FW Media, a publishing enterprise that has run the Digital Book World event. The company tapped Alison Norrington as program chair, who’s done a bang-up job of assembling a line-up of presenters in virtually every category of cross-media production and strategy. This thing has the feel of a "summit" without the hubris of calling itself that.

I’ll be thrilled to hang with the many folks I already know at these two events, more more interested in diving into new work I haven’t yet experienced, and understanding the creative minds behind this revolution in storytelling. (Like these projects, added just yesterday to the Story World line-up of presentations.)

I've already interviewed Alison, and will learn much more on site at both events. So: watch this space (and a few other websites) for my analysis of what these events hold for the future of storytelling. 



• Part One: Shouting “Fire” in the Theatre 

“Isaac Newton didn't discover gravity, he just named it,” one TV writer-producer quipped during a recent conversation about “transmedia.”

And so it would seem, despite a testy flame war over the term transmedia –– or perhaps because of it –– the “transmedia” movement is catching on across the media business. 

“Transmedia” is shorthand for a grab bag of production and distribution practices and audience engagement techniques that have emerged over the past decade, and when taken together, promise a new kind of media experience.

Along the way, practitioners and pundits have applied many terms to describe this type of production –– interactive or participatory media, cross-platform or multi-platform storytelling, deep or immersive media, experience design, story franchises, sequels, packaging, integrated media, 360 production….the list goes on.

What’s new here is the idea that storytellers can create deeper experiences for their audiences when they unfold a story and its world via multiple venues, and when they invite consumers to participate meaningfully in that world –– especially when they do so from the outset of the project.

Whatever the nomenclature, the transmedia trend is gaining traction, fueled by some observable trends:

• Demand. Today’s audiences expect their media to be social, participatory and customized for every device they use, especially the much-coveted hard-core fans who are especially drawn to properties which let them go them deeper into a story or discover something first.

Creativity.  The formulaic is giving way to the innovative, as producers, including a new crop of digital natives, compete to engage fans in their stories over time and space with new approaches and on new devices.

Buzz. Transmedia is becoming the Next Big Thing in both Hollywood and on Madison Avenue with more press coverage, more blogs and websites, more panels at film festivals and commercial conferences and ultimately more pitch meetings.

• Money. Big names in film, television, and games are placing bets on talent with transmedia chops. New studios have been capitalized to produce made-for-multiplatform properties, and proven creative services firms in the space are prepping their own original projects. Marketing dollars now routinely extend anchor properties onto additional platforms.

From Interactivism to Transmedia

I’m excited about all of this activity because for more than 20 years, I have helped artists and companies develop new forms of storytelling across many platforms (movies, music, TV, PCs, CD-ROMs, game consoles, mobile phones, set-top boxes, the Web). The programs I created at the American Film Institute attracted true believers who were fervently trying to reinvent Hollywood in the wake of the digital revolution, a movement that I called “interactivism.”

Which is why I joined a transmedia panel at May’s Digital Hollywood. Whereupon, I immersed myself in the vigorous online fight over “transmedia” nomenclature, definition, and turf.

The hubbub dates to the April 2010 decision by the Producers Guild of America (PGA) to authorize a new credit – Transmedia Producer.”. This credit was drafted primarily by Jeff Gomez, CEO of New York-based transmedia consulting firm Starlight Runner.

Sides were quickly drawn between supporters and detractors of the PGA move. Advocates believed that the credit provided legitimization and would stimulate more multi-platform production. Opponents felt that PGA’s definition was too narrow, and left out many forms of cross-platform projects. Among the most vigorous opponents were producers of Alternate Reality Games or ARG’s.

“Why do we have to define it yet?” asks indie filmmaker Lance Weiler. “Why can’t we just continue to experiment?”  Because, says TV writer-producer Jesse Alexander (“Lost” and “Heroes”), “You have to give it a name so people can talk about it. Isaac Newton didn't discover gravity, he named it.”

Anger finally erupted at the 2011 SXSW interactive conference in March, and then spilled onto the public Internet where a flame war ensued. Take a stroll through some of the posts and comments to decide if the fight matters, or if it is/was a tempest in a teapot:

• A history of tweets on the topic by Londoner Rachel Clarke, using the new Storify tool.

• A play-by-play rundown of the fight from 4D fiction.

• A blog post by Steve Peters, veteran producer of alternate-reality games, in which he swears off the use of the word.

Another by Atlanta-based designer Brooke Thompson, railed against Hollywood “snake oil salesmen”.

• The #antitransmedia hashtag which Peters established on Twitter as a rallying point for critics.

• A Flickr image that features the word “anti” spray-painted over Wikipedia’s transmedia entry.

• An April Fast Company post entitled ‘Seven Myths About Transmedia Storytelling Debunked’  by USC Professor Henry Jenkins, who had pioneered the term back in the early ‘00s. Jenkins said, “Companies are laying claim to expertise in producing transmedia content. But many using the term don't really understand what they are saying.”

• A May Facebook post by GMD Studio’s Brian Clark, in which he parsed the competing tribes and contended that their real distinction was who had creative control. This conversation drew hundreds of comments and has been reposted by other bloggers in several countries.

Ironically, this online kerfuffle has only heightened Transmedia’s buzz, helped to spotlight the breadth of the movement and fed into a deepening appreciation within all segments of the entertainment community that transmedia is the Next Big Thing.

PART TWOMany Paths to Audience Participation for Transmedia Talent

To learn more about transmedia, check out my Delicious account and this slideshare presentation.