Friday, July 10, 2009

Why “transmedia storytelling” is future of biz -- studios creating mythologies, multimedia worlds

Now that the franchise has replaced the blockbuster as Hollywood's holy grail, a new tool has emerged to help those who want to extend film and TV properties across multiple platforms.

This according to an Peter Caranicas writing in the June 26 issue of VARIETY.

The tool -- transmedia storytelling -- is capable of performing such feats as the recent revival of the Batman franchise, which helped propel "The Dark Knight" to the second-highest box office numbers in history, after "Titanic."

"They resurrected a dusty old brand that ran into trouble in the early '90s," says Jeff Gomez, co-founder of Starlight Runner Entertainment, which specializes in applying the transmedia approach to studio tentpoles. "The filmmakers were able to go back to the essentials -- the true, deep conflict that the character faces -- and they managed to make it resonant with our current conflicts as a society."

Transmedia takes the concept of the bible (a document containing backstory information that film and TV writers rely on for building plots and characters) to an extensive new level.

The idea of developing a piece of intellectual property in a consistent manner across multiple media platforms was pioneered in its modern form by George Lucas, who turned his first "Star Wars" film into five more features, multiple TV shows, a panoply of books and an onslaught of toys and games. The feature films alone have generated a cumulative worldwide box office of more than $4 billion.

And today, as the industry struggles to maximize audiences and revenues, many producers consider transmedia a key to extending franchises across the additional platforms that have emerged in the three decades since the first "Star Wars" film.

"I grew up on 'Star Wars' and experimented with that stuff on my shows. It helped build a loyal fan base, connect with them beyond primetime and reach them in other parts of their lives," says Jesse Alexander, co-exec producer on "Lost" and "Heroes," and exec producer on NBC's 2010-debuting skein "Day One."

For "Day One," an hour long drama set in the aftermath of an unspecified event that destroys the global infrastructure, Alexander says he's working with NBC Universal to develop ancillaries like a comicbook, a prequel novel and online content to be available on or before the show's debut. "It helps to build out the franchise at launch," he says.

"People are realizing that this kind of concerted implementation is one of the most powerful ways to convey messages," says Gomez, who worked with Disney on "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Tron," and with Fox on James Cameron's "Avatar." "For them, as for most of our clients, we make sure the universe of the film maintains its integrity as it's expanded and implemented across multiple platforms."

Starlight Runner typically got involved with projects toward the end of their development, but more recently has been jumping aboard at an earlier stage, Gomez says. And producers are building the costs of creating a transmedia plan into the production budget rather than leaving it as an afterthought paid for by the marketing division.

Starlight Runner was founded in 2000 and has built a client list that includes Acclaim Entertainment, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Showtime and Hasbro.

Starlight Runner creates "megabibles and mythologies" contained in oversized binders full of images, chronologies, storylines, character profiles and descriptions of such details as geography, vehicles and weapons. "We teach the studio, other divisions of its parent company and its licensors how to bring these characters to life in a way that's true to the original platform."

"We always try to extend a property to other experiences," says the exec. To do that, he adds, it's important to "look at what the essence of the property is, what people are responding to, and re-create that in other ways."

Another believer in the transmedia concept, scribe Danny Bilson, who's steering production and marketing at vidgame publisher THQ, takes as his mantra the old Microsoft advertising slogan "Where do you want to go today?" "That's different from 'What do you want to watch?'" he notes.

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