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 WyrdCon (3)



‘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.


Transmedia & Education: Some Thoughts

In an recent interview with Peter Gutierrez (@Peter_Gutierrez) about transmedia and education I suggest: 

 “Long before the terminology was introduced, teachers found that students often responded more deeply to fictional works by means of the film adaptation. Today we can tell stories—albeit differently—in many different media, powering a new form of ‘comparative literature.’”

The quote ran in a post entitled "Every Platform Tells A Story: Transmedia Has the Power to Make Any Topic More Vivid and Personal," which ran in the School Library Journal's blog THE DIGITAL SHIFT

Now Gutierrez has run a longer version of his interview with me called "Talking Transmedia" over on "Connect the Pop," his own blog at SLJ, in time to promote my appearance on Saturday at the WyrdCon convention on transmedia and related storytelling forms. (Thanks Peter!) Even though I'm not on the "transmedia and education" panel, this may be relevant.

I was struck by one of my quotes, which frankly I don't remember uttering: 

We must assure that learning by digital natives doesn’t stop at the door of the school or the library—in a sense, students are immersed in the process of discovery and learning 24/7. How do we harness their innate curiosity and their pervasive technical skills in service to learning? Put another way, how can we leverage young people’s appetite for media consumption in service to fundamental learning objectives (what is a story? what are the building blocks of a story?). So how do modern storytelling models help students learn how to learn?  —that’s a skill that will transcend school and serve them throughout their lives.