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 transmedia (23)


Mystery and Emotion: "The Cosmonaut" hits the big screen

“The Cosmonaut,” directed by Nicolas Alcala and produced by Carola Rodriguez and Bruno Teixidor, all part of Spain’s Riot Cinema Collective, had long since become a legend, at least in transmedia circles, well before its checkerboard theatrical release in venues around the world this week.

The project, which began as a short film in 2008, exemplefies many of the innovations in our digitally powered and audience-centric media world, including ongoing crowd-funding, online webisodes, consumer-edited mashups, on-demand theatrical distribution, hackathons, simultaneous day-and-date release, and probably a lot of other stuff I have missed in reviewing this creative and business brief you can download from Riot’s main website. (And of course, all of the characters have Twitter accounts. Let's not get into continuity issues right now.)

If there’s no in-person screening, not to worry – you can watch it for free online starting May 19th. The website is also where you can join the “K-program” for a onetime fee of 5€ that gives you 32 webisodes, a mockumentary, behind-the-scenes videos, a newsletter, a book, and 56 “Eastern eggs” (Lost, perhaps, in translation?) This stuff is intended, as one of the webisode links says, to “fill the empty spaces left out of the film.” Some clips are also available on the site for free.

None of this I really knew when the lights dimmed in the theatre and I entered the world of the story. “The Cosmonaut" focuses upon two young men who join the Soviet Union’s space training program in 1967. While preparing for missions in the heated space race with the United States, Stas and Andrei both fall for a fetching female technician named Yulia. Andrei gets promoted to the mission team and sends Stas to the moon – maybe so he can win Yulia, maybe for some other mysterious reason.

Stas, Yulia & Andrei The film is jammed with loose threads and snippets of mystery: Did Stas make it to the moon? Did he come back? Was there a disaster on Earth? The film is steeped in evocative nostalgia and melancholic yearning as it makes its way through a jagged, non-linear telling of a series of events, both personal and world-historical.  I particularly liked the set-up scene in which an Italian space enthusiast tells of his discovery of a “lost” manned space mission that the Soviets never publicly admitted had happened. 

Stylistically, many of the scenes felt like Terence Malick, offering a kind of diaphanous, non-linear sensuality and very tactile verisimilitude. These guys put all of their crowd-sourced bucks on the screen (except for a few unfortunate space-modeling sequences that looked more like Jules Verne than George Lucas). The pacing and subject matter recalls Kubrick's "2001."The filmmakers list such iconic filmmakers as Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson, among others. 

That would be a bit of a stretch, as is the film itself, which runs about 80 minutes (not counting a truly interminable credit roll that features all 8000 funders, I kid you not). This would have been a dynamite short film, had the filmmakers had the discipline to delete a lot of the repetitive sentimentalized shots of the three lovers wandering through lakeside grasses and other outtakes of Summer’s Eve commercials.

Subscribers get more stuffNonetheless, this film comes closer than most ‘transmedia projects’ at arousing genuine emotion. While I didn’t believe for a minute that this attractive threesome with tut-tut British accents were in fact Soviet space monkeys, I did want to know what happened, I wanted to know more about them, the story, and their world. Beyond this intentionally opaque film, I’ll be able to explore some of those questions, not only in the various webisodes, but other forms included different edited versions from the filmmakers themselves, and new versions of the film that the Riot Collective will enable fans to create themselves by releasing assets for all to use under Creative Commons license.  

The film also reflects something of a Cold War nostalgia wave, as well as a renewal of interest in space as a subject in movies and elsewhere in the culture. To wit: Check out the forthcoming Alfonso Cuoron feature "Gravity"; or this clip from 2011's Another Earth in which Britt Marling's character tells a Cosmonaut story; or the recently concluded period spy drama The Americans; or even this engaging video cover of Bowie's 'Space Oddity' by Astronaut Chris Hadfield shot in the International Space Station. (Plus Star Trek, and much more. We love our space operas, it seems).

I’ve often said, I’m waiting for transmedia to make me cry – my way of saying, I want the story and the characters to move into my heart. “The Cosmonaut” in its linear form came close. Let’s see if the other story elements push me over the edge. 

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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: 



‘Twas a first for me, talking to an audience in costume: glance up from the computer screen to see a gal in a Victorian bustier or a couple life-sized Star Trek action figures.

Welcome to Wyrd Com, a convention for live action role-playing gamers – LARPer, as they are commonly known. Throughout the halls of the Orange County (CA) Hilton one encountered humans impersonating every type of hero and villain, from pop culture icons to steam punk figures, with pit stops along the way for furries, pirates, and Middle Earth peasants. Kind of a bus-and-truck version of ComicCon.

LARPers at WYRD CON. Photo courtesy WyrdCon

“From Live to the Web and Back Again” was the topic of the panel, moderated by Brian Seth Hurst, who asked four speakers to bring examples of transmedia work that inspired us (even though he doesn’t like the term).

I went overboard, providing a slide deck packed with history, examples, and a little analysis, which I share with you in this post. (After which, if you scroll down, I present a selection of the projects shared by my co-presenters, Jay Bushman, Esther Kim, and Lori Schwartz.)

The entire presentation is now live on SlideShare.

Here are some key points:

The transmedia landscape is broad, encompassing entertainment franchses, multi-platform and cross-platform stories, alternate-relatity games, interactive media, and new forms of connected entertainment.

Over a period spanning more than 30 years, key creative examples illustrate aspects of the story form, including:

  • Performance
  • Interactivity
  • Immersion
  • Multiple platforms
  • Mysteries and puzzles
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Parallel casts
  • Merged interface design

The new millennium has given rise to a canon of interactive and multi-platform “greatest hits” list that includes HeroesLostThe Truth About Marika, I Love Bees, Why So Serious?Year Zero, Conspiracy for Good, Head Trauma, and Collapsus.

Many transmedia successes have featured stories that movie from live-action to the web and back again. So it’s useful to look at some of the aspects of web-based story formats that are happening these days. In other words, learn how to Play on the Web.

Today’s creators can weave components of an audience member’s own life into the story by leveraging the power of web-based tools like Facebook Connect (and other API integration tools) as well as HTML 5 and WebGL. Examples include TAKE THIS LOLLIPOP, THE WILDERNESS DOWNTOWN, COBALT:MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, 3 DREAMS OF BLACK,  and AIM HIGH.

A unique and powerful storytelling tool from the web is video created via direct address into the webcam, as exemplified by Lonely Girl 15, in which the story centered on the lives of webcam-using young people. For months most users thought that the “story” being unfurled in this fiction was actually real, because this format for storytelling was available to Everyman. Indeed, the audience posted videos of their own, deepening and enriching the story.

An site called BECKINFIELD,  which I wrote about earlier this year, uses the same user-video paradigm, but with a more defined story framework. Users assume the personae of characters in a fictional town, and through their contribution the story unfolds.

Impact on Live Theatre

Live theatre itself has been impacted by the audience demand for interactivity, with the success of SLEEP NO MORE a perfect example. NO GOOD DEED adopts the multi-platform model, with versions of the story presented as both live theatre and a graphic novel, as well as a web-based hub. ACCOMPLICE  is a urban exporation game/theatre piece that takes place in the real world (New York and Hollywood). THE SEED brings “theatre” to Facebook, with an account in the name of a fictional character. HAUNTED is an interactive haunted house story from “Carnivale” creator Daniel Knauf. 

Book authors are impacted by the availability of powerful new interactive storytelling tools. Photographer Ethan Russell’s ebook memoir AN AMERICAN STORY includes photos and videos and a user-contribution area of the companion website. Children’s book author Michael Grant has turned to the web to unfurl new stories

Corporate brands have turned to transmedia storytelling in a big way with a prime example being Wrigley’s collaboration with 42 Entertainment on the widely diverse multimedia ARG called PROJECT ICEFLY.

Independent filmmakers with relatively scarce funds for their primary work have become inventive with business models, identified brilliantly by key practitioner Brian Clark, whose “Remembering 9/11” project with the Smithsonian shows how audience engagement with a delicate subject can work effectively. Other indie examples from Christy Dena, Lance Weiler, and Jan Libby round out the presentation, which finishes with an inspirational quote from author Neil Gaiman:

When you start out a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. It’s impossible to do anything wrong. Because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up the rules to stop anyone from doing that particular thing.

If that doesn’t stay your hunger for great examples, here are a few more:

Friendly panelists. Photo courtesy of Angelique Toschi and WyrdCon

Jay Bushman presented DIRTY WORK, the first interactive online series from Fourth Wall Studio, where Jay is a key creative. The series, and several to follow, utilize the company’s interactive platform. 

Jay also discussed his work presenting unique Twitter stories twice a year, most recently the “Game of Thrones”-themed #SXSWesteros and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a social media retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

Among the projects discussed by Esther Lim were Clue Tracker, a game inspired by ABC Family’s Kyle XY;  Superstruct, and several corporate games she authored. 

Lori Schwartz presented CORAL: REKINDLING VENUS, as well as a powerful example of social media and social movement: the “Million Hoodies March” in support of the memory of Trayvon Martin which was started by a young African-American who also happened to be employed as a social media employee at McCann, her former ad agency, which released a very interesting study of youth and media, PDF here.

Brian Seth Hurst showed a great satirical clip featuring characters from SUPERNATURAL, discussed DAYBREAK, and Conspiracy for Good.



WyrdCom is a convention created three years ago to give Live-Action Role Players (LARPers) a deep dive into their passion: live game-playing, and play they did, with more than a dozen different games under way during the four-day event held at the Orange County (CA) Hilton.

On top of the main event was layered an extensive slate of panels and workshops, as the organizers tried to cross-pollinate the fanatically devoted LARPers with a bit of pixie dust from the broader landscape of storytelling – film, television, digital content, and transmedia. In the digital age, shouldn't we merge live-action, theater-based experiences with mediated content?

I spoke on two panels organized by transmedia producer Lauren Scime from Witchfactory Productions-- “Transmedia Storytelling 101” and “From Live to the Web and Back Again.” The latter is the subject of a second post exploring transmedia storytelling.

But first, a few thoughts about passion and story forms.

I’m not a LARPer, and truth be told, I’m not entirely sold on “transmedia,” and I don’t just mean the nomenclature. As I’ve written elsewhere, media ain’t no good if it don’t make me cry, and so far, games and websites, and Twitter and Facebook, well, they’re great but they don’t make me cry like the kind of stories I love.

These thoughts were bouncing in my head as I tried to prepare for the “Transmedia Storytelling 101” panel, to the point where I was getting a little crazy, not so much because I couldn’t handle the topic. More because of the caliber of the other panelists: moderator Scott Walker is a real expert on “co-creation” between producer and audience, a unique quality of transmedia; Starlight Runner’s Jeff Gomez has become something of a superstar in the field;  Jesse Albert, whom I just met has been there/done that as both an agent and producer in many different mainstream and emerging media; and Esther Lim has produced games and interactive projects for nearly 15 years.

What about me? Notwithstanding my history of incubating dozens of multi-platform projects at AFI, that all seemed way too heady. I kept thinking of Jeff Gomez’s talk at last year’s “Story World” conference in which he claimed that his passion for role-playing games saved him from adolescent oblivion -- the hero’s journey, not just as a construct for storytelling, but as a mantra for his own personal and professional development. Dungeons and Dragons saved his life, and gave him a career.

Not just with Jeff, but all of us I think: The media that rule one’s life today are the media that coincide with the onset of hormones.  Let’s call it the Hormonal Theory of Media Obsession.

The experts agree, to wit: Back in the 90’s, AFI launched a primetime TV show to count down the top movies of all time, as ranked by a blue-ribbon panel of Hollywood experts (including me). It was a lot of fun, and lasted for 11 years.

That first year, however, AFI was criticized because the list included too many pictures from the 70’s and 80’s (and not enough from the 20’s and 30’s). Of course this was true, since most of the so-called experts were baby boomers whose passion for movies coincided with their coming of age, and, not coincidentally, the first rush of hormones.

For me, storytelling means novels, movies, plays and TV. Those story forms transported a lonely little Army brat with very few friends into worlds of terror and delight. Characters from other countries and times. Worlds I wanted to visit, or sometimes had visited. Experiences I could not possibly imagine. Feelings I was afraid to have.

My adolescent media obsessions formed my own habits, still with me up until this day: For example, in 1962 I saw four movies a week for a year in Austin Texas, not counting WEST SIDE STORY, which I saw 11 times. About the same time I read the entire oevre of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Eugene O’Neill, J.D. Salinger, and many other novelists. By 1964 I was reading every book as it appeared on the NY Times fiction bestseller list, whether I liked them all or not. I still have 3x5 cards with my annotations. (Fortunately, it was a good year, including Ship of Fools, The Tin Drum, and, of course, Salinger.)

I discovered mysteries in third grade. I’m still a noir detective fan. If I find a hero and an author I love, I make sure I read the entire series and stay current as the books come out. I am, therefore, Amazon’s model customer. I am also addicted to audio books listening in the car. If you care, you can dive into my book obsessions at Goodread.

A little later, I took the PATH train into Manhattan every week from New Jersey, to  Saturday matinees on Broadway (less than $5 for a balcony seat). And movies.

Today I try to see every movie that might be nominated for the Oscar. I love the deep dive that DVDs and Netflix enable. Last year I watched THE KILLING on AMC at the same time as all ten of the original Danish episodes of “Forbrydelsen.” Season Two arrived from my secret source just last week. I’m in heaven.

As you can no doubt tell, I’m not a digital native. But I am an early adopter, just not a native. Hence, my touchstone is not the SMS or IM message, the Facebook or Tumbler post, and definitely not a game of any sort, console, casual, or otherwise. 

But for today’s kids, THESE are their media. Of course they want multi-platform stories. Their world is defined by simultaneous digital content consumption.  Even the “old” media which I adore are consumed within the context of the digital frame.These media permit not just sharing, interactivity, but production and control.

To reach these audiences, and to please these audiences, artists must get inside their heads, and their hormones, and let the audience co-create.

Hence: transmedia.


Best links of the week NOT about the damned Facebook IPO

This was a week when we needed an app that would filter out all of the lame (and occasionally non-lame) patter about the pending Facebook IPO. (Example: The Guardian tells us six things we need to know about the IPO, as if somehow its readers were considering a purchase)

Underlying all the link-fodder, of course, is the extraordinary transformation that Facebook has wrought on the web, and everything that has come to mean in people's lives, as the latest Pew Internet survey reveals.


I spend a lot of time in my work trying to figure out how innovation comes about. So I was fascinated by two articles from the mainest of the mainstream media on the topic this week: Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work is a long read that appeared in The New Yorker, ironically, during the same week as the NY Times issued a similar jeremiad against "groupthink". 

Trend-wise, highly respected (and followed) tech guru Robert Scoble suggests that the intense tech disruption of the last 8 years may recede this year as a new class of enabling companies step up to help others scale their businesses by leveraging the transformational aspects (like the cloud, apps, social, etc,)

From the department of geek, part 2 of RWW's interview with Netflix's Daniel Jacobsen posits a future when the "app" experience we are seeing on mobile becomes a standard on laptops and certainly televisions.  

Super-hot social blogging platform Tumbr has begun to hire experienced editors and writers to help its users make sense of the mass of content produced on the site every minute. A trend?

Marc Andreesen opines about the VC and startup world in the wake of his new $1.5 billion fund. Worth the read.

Buzzworthy start-up CodeAcademy, which provides online training for software programmers, has now become a platform that supports outsiders who want to create their own courses. I mention this because I was one of 100,000 people who signed up for free training in a single two-day period in January. I'm also one whose head hurt after the first lesson. I'll never be a hacker, I fear, but it was fun trying.


Time Mag looks at YouTube as of 2012, but since the whole article is fire walled, check out Kevin Nalts' summary. BTW the headline is great: "The Beast with a Billion Eyes." 

Will Richmond of VideoNuze tells us why cable doesn't "get" YouTube, and he thinks they sound like broadcasters back when cable was the disrupter. 

In case you hadn't noticed, YouTube isn't the only online video provider that's investing in original content. Here's a quick update.

Are you a member of the "Content Creation Class"? Check out this post, which divides us into creators and consumers in a way that you may find useful, or perhaps irritating, or both. 

"Temporal Metadata" may be a term that gives you a headache, but as this very smart post explains, new forms of tagging the meaning and content within videos may hold the key to creating value for online video publishing. Efforts in Europe like the NoTube initiative are addressing it. 

Two startups, Frequency and Showyou, are among the new breed of startups trying to make sense of the tonnage of video now available via the web. Trust me, there will be more (both tonnage and startups trying to help curate, manage, prioritize, contextualize and discover online video). It's a big opportunity. 

AOL steps up its investment in online video with a plan to generate 12 hours of video per day from its HuffPo subsid.  

One of my frequently-used sites, Goodreads, bailed on Amazon as the provider of its descriptive book data, and this post explains why, indeed, explains the complexities of online businesses that rely upon outsourced metadata generally. 

A smart post from the Atlantic called "Why the Future of the Book is the Stream," which suggests that the Netflix on demand sub model will work with books.  

The NY Times ran a ginormous story on Barnes & Noble this week, "The Bookstore's Last Stand"


Life is not easy for the indie filmmaker, as this Sundance wrap-up post from IndieWire makes abundantly clear, along with some great tips. 

Lina Srivastava has done a lovely job of aggregating examples of "Narrative Design for Social Action" using the Pinterest platform, the first time I've seen it done so well. It looks a bit like my Delicious "Stack" on Transmedia, only Pinterest presents a denser, tile-based UI. 

Leave it to Frank Rose to provide great context, as with this analysis of the "Game of Thrones" transmedia components on his Deep Media blog (The banner: How the Internet is changing storytelling)

A couple of posts about content marketing & transmedia caught my eye this week, one by Marc Binkley that incorporates some of the ideas from Ernest Barbaric's post, "What is Content Marketing" 

As Sony replaces CEO Howard Stringer with Kazuo Hirai, it's hard not to feel a bit sad that the giant tech/media company has fallen so fast and so low. Stringer is class A human, who could not turn the battleship around,

Vimeo has launched a "Focus Forward" program to stimulate documentary shorts about tech innovation. Worth keeping an eye on. 


If the rise in digital storytelling continues, there will inevitably be a surge of new tools to help content creators who don't want to reinvent the wheel. To wit, the buzz all over the web around TumbleCloud, a cloud-based collaborative storytelling platform 

Three tools that were new to me -- HipGeo, StoryWheel, and CowBird -- are described in this post from a self-described uberGeek. 

This post offers a nice survey of "journalism 2.0" tools.