Transmedia Now [July 26-30, 2010]

Avi Santo's picture

Monday July 26, 2010 – Christy Dena (Universe Creation 101) presents: TEST TEST TEST Transmedia

Tuesday July 27, 2010 – Marc Ruppel (University of Maryland College Park) presents: (Still) Waiting For the Transmedia Godot

Wednesday July 28, 2010 – Robert Pratten (Zen Films) presents: Indie Superheroes

Thursday July 29, 2010 – Brian Newman (SpringBoard Media) presents: “Awra Amba” - Documentary and Transmedia Activism

Friday July 30, 2010 – Ted Hope (This is That) presents: Allowing A Transmedia Approach To Process


Theme week organized by Elizabeth Strickler (Georgia State University)

Graphic by Robert Pratten.

  • TEST TEST TEST Transmedia by Christy Dena

  • In this 1972 documentary, The Computer Generation, by John Musilli, artist Stan Vanderbeek talks about the possibility of computers as an artist tool. My aim with drawing on this documentary is to compare the current state of transmedia with previous significant changes in media history, to illustrate how the current state of transmedia is quite diverse.

    Vanderbeek begins by explaining he is “an artist who started as a painter, got interested in filmmaking, and realised that the computer, like a new tool, is there for the artist to use”. Likewise, creators from filmmaking, broadcast, gaming, theatre, art and new media have been “transitioning” to transmedia. But unlike instances where a creator simply adds another artform to their repertoire, transmedia creation involves using more than one artform to create a new artform cluster if you like. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen many mono-medium creators move into transmedia. This is a common occurrence, where their presence somehow legitimises the new artform. Beyond what may be called these “recently converted creators” though, are those that have been either working in transmedia for a while, or even began their creative career with transmedia. All of these practitioners have varying degrees of experience and expertise in the area, and all of them are progressing the state of transmedia. Why? Experienced practitioners can push the envelope of what is possible by exploring new problems and coming up with solutions to problems they’ve already discovered; while newcomers often have an ahistorical innocence that lends itself to unshackled experimentation.

    Like Vanderbeek’s observation about computers, transmedia involves “new languages, new structures of thought, and a new approach”. Departments are shifting, roles are being created, and numerous commentators are stoking the engines with paradigmatic thought. But the shifts happening now are complicated by two peculiar phenomena. One, transmedia by definition involves multiple media, which involves multiple industries and cultures. There are therefore multiple transmedia cultures emerging (a transmedia broadcast culture is different to a transmedia gaming culture), and transmedia is not replacing the existing mono-medium cultures. Two, transmedia is now a popular buzz word. This means it becomes the term newcomers use to explain whatever activity they do which is new to them. In other words, it is beginning to lose meaning.

    Vanderbeek also speaks of the importance of collaboration, how he needs to work with a programmer. So too, transmedia practitioners rarely work alone. Some do. But many at this stage have to work with others who have the skills and “other media” knowledge they do not. While large-scale projects will always involve collaboration, I also see practitioners who have multiple artform skills themselves, rather than a team providing that complexity.

    There are, in other words, many states of transmedia. There is no single now. Some people see transmedia like Vanderbeek saw in computers in 1972, as a potential new artist tool, while others don’t see it as art, and others are already using transmedia as art in advanced ways. At the time of the documentary, Vanderbeek is unsure where computers as art will go. We know he was right that it is “an extremely important idea”. Let’s meet in twenty years in the same time and place to see what happens with transmedia. Indeed, to be more accurate, lets meet in many times and places to see what our “nows” looks like…including the contributions from the co-curators this week…

  • (Still) Waiting For the Transmedia Godot by Marc Ruppel

  • On April 6, 2010, the Producer’s Guild of America announced the addition of Transmedia Producer to the Guild’s Producer Code of Credits. In order to qualify as a transmedia producer, one must be ‘responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms.’ These ‘narrative extensions’, importantly, are ‘NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.’ But might such a clause do more harm than good to contemporary transmedia practice? To address that question, let’s jump back some seven years:

    In the spring of 2003, Neil Young began a short acoustic tour that started piecing together the world of Greendale. A strange, unruly project that walks a fine line between adaptation (or ‘repurposing’), remediation and transmedia(tion), Greendale follows the lives of the Green family in California, and charts the various ways that the outside world—and in particular its media—manages to snake its way into their lives.

    Unlike most transmedia productions, however, Greendale contains only a deceptively simple ‘core’ story told through the point of view each platform (a series of staggered releases ranging from live performance, recorded music, print, film and the internet), one that utilizes a medium’s unique properties as a tool for subtly inserting new storylines and pathways. The clip to the left, for example,  taken from a live performance of Greendale, is in fact a vital component of the project: as the live tour developed, Young dropped slightly different information in each show, assured that ‘everything [he] said would be recorded, transcribed, and circulated’, a stilling of kineticism and improvisation by other media that grows the story in the process (such as in this clip). Similarly, the other sites in Greendale also work by revealing content that is obscured by a given platform’s makeup: we might hear about a painting in a song, but see on film each fresh stroke put to canvas while that same song plays; view the painting up-close while wandering through an interactive online gallery, but glean the motivations behind its creation in the recently released graphic novel.  Narrative extension exists here, but in a way that is not only medium-specific, but also potentially transmedia-specific.

    In Greendale, Young is playing a role similar, if not identical, to transmedia producer, ensuring that even the embellishments of its off-Broadway stage production were consistent with what came before it. He could also be shut out from receiving such credit under the current PGA transmedia guidelines given the project’s passing semblance to ‘repurposing’. So while Greendale is far from typical, border cases such as this one raise some compelling questions for current transmedia practice. We might do well to wonder, then, what other casualties such a marked distinction could bring. Could definitions such as the PGA’s discourage further transmedia experimentation and close off avenues for new models to emerge, achieve recognition and flourish? In the course of only really beginning to learn how to mutter, have we already narrowed the range of potential transmedia tongues, even as, paradoxically, we seek to grow larger and more complex fictional worlds? While transmedia currently means many things to many people, could the openness of transmedia ‘then’  (where, much like live performance, many were making things up as they went along), in some ways be more conducive to progression than the increasingly standardized practices of transmedia ‘now’?

  • Indie Superheroes by Robert Pratten

  • Heroes of the North is transmedia entertainment about Canadian superheros. Created by independent filmmaker Christian Viel, the project illustrates a move away from feature films towards the creation of a broader storyworld told across episodic, interactive, multiple media.

    In classic superhero genre, Heroes of the North tells the story of superheroes coming to the rescue of the country in its hour of need against two terrorist organizations, one local and one international respectively called New Felquists and Medusa.

    The entertainment is delivered across a 15 video webisodes, 4 comic books, a serialized novel - in the form of a diary from a superhero called Nordik (shown in the clip) to be delivered at 3 pages a week - and an online game that crosses adventure gaming with a first-person shooter. There’s even collectable superhero figures and story-themed pen in the style of a syringe! (pictured)


    Figuressyringe pen


    The idea that an indie filmmaker could create his own Hollywood-style franchise would have seemed unbelievable just 18 months ago but today not only is it possible but it’s fast becoming a necessity. As the Internet continues to reduce the cost of digital distribution and copying – destroying old revenues and business models – so it is enabling new forms of content and demanding new business models to support them.

    For the most part, Heroes of the North is free to view online and open for sharing and copying. For those who subscribe to the mailing list there are bonus episodes revealing new characters and expanding the story lines of characters in the regular webseries. The free video distribution builds viewership and a collection of faux websites and Facebook pages for the heroes and the terrorists provide opportunities for audience participation in creating new storylines, talking to characters and solving puzzles.  Indeed the sites seek active recruitment of support in fighting or encouraging crime allowing the audience to role-play in this fictional world.

    A four-week alternate reality game (ARG) is currently being designed to increase audience engagement with the storyworld and kickstart the web series. A second series is already being discussed. 


  • "Awra Amba" - Documentary and … by Brian Newman

  • The documentary faces a special set of challenges when trying to incorporate transmedia practice - can one extend the story across multiple story entry points in a manner that respects the “story” of its subjects? Can these characters contribute to their own story? Will the audience gain a better understanding of the subjects, or engage in actual dialogue with them? Can this lead to some greater impact?

    In Awra Amba: Virtual Village, director Paulina Tervo experiments with transmedia practices to accomplish each of these goals. Tervo has created a relatively traditional broadcast documentary about a rural village in Ethiopia where the 400 inhabitants have come together with the belief that they can escape poverty by applying gender equality, dividing labor equally and by leaving behind traditional and religious practices. Tervo expands her story, however, by creating a participatory ‘virtual’ village online.

    While the virtual village is largely experienced as a website, the components of this one platform are made up of multiple story-telling entry points for both her audience and her documentary subjects. The website will feature short documentaries expanding the story by focusing on other aspects of the community, chosen by the villagers themselves. By using WireWax technology (you must turn tags to on, not auto, on the left toolbar), these videos will be made interactive for online audiences. In the example shown, the user can click on character’s faces for more background media, or perhaps click on a person weaving and be linked to purchase that person’s fabrics. This last act being not just a consumer purchase, but also an action that can help make the village’s production sustainable.

    Tervo is working with Ethiopian journalism students who will write articles about the village to be carried locally and (hopefully) throughout the world. Tervo plans to create a participatory photography workshop with the villagers, training them to use simple digital cameras to document generational changes. She will also encourage audience input and dialogue with villagers through social media sharing of impressions, stories and photographs.

    By utilizing elements of transmedia practice, Tervo hopes to create a dialogue between visitors (real and online) and the Awra Ambans, as well as challenge existing stereotypes of Africa and power structures in media. It is an exciting experiment in the use of transmedia practice by documentarians, and a new example of what Lina Srivastava and Vicki Callahan call transmedia activism. I hope to see more.

  • Allowing A Transmedia Approach To … by Ted Hope

  • I encountered Braden King through his 1998 film Dutch Habor. I loved how firmly it positioned itself in the world of “Art” and dug how he didn’t allow it to be pigeonholed, touring it with The Boxhead Ensemble, re-creating a live event in the process. I have been even more impressed by how his new excursions into transmedia have informed his process. Braden brings us into a more intimate relationship with the subject of his film – all before showing us the finished work. Industry-ites often remark that transmedia is the sole domain of genre work but Braden shows that is far from the case. Here, he tell us all a little more about it:

    My current feature film, HERE, a landscape-obsessed road movie romance starring Ben Foster and Lubna Azabal, evolved slowly and steadily out of the many years of work I’ve been doing with film, photography and music. I didn’t wake up one day with a fully formed idea for a road movie about a modern-day cartographer; I slowly and obsessively followed a series of breadcrumbs that led me to this story and the location in which it was shot (Armenia) over a very long period of time. So while the film was not consciously designed to be a “multi-platform motion picture,” various extensions of the project have grown up around it organically as I’ve worked through the processes of writing, developing, directing and (now) editing the film.

    These extensions have included books and gallery and museum exhibitions of my location scout photographs, on-going experiments with Google Earth “tours” of the main characters’ route and the development of an iPhone app that will allow the user to explore HERE’s story and themes through an immersive multimedia experience that will incorporate GPS and map-based features.

    Currently, the multi-platform elements of HERE with the most public profile include a live film and music performance / deconstruction called HERE [ THE STORY SLEEPS ], which seeks to examine what the dreams of this feature film might look and feel like, and [ POSTCARDS FROM HERE ], a series of short, impressionistic video pieces by project documentarian Ava Berkofsky designed to give the viewer a taste of the travel, landscapes, experiences and moods encountered while producing the first American feature film ever shot in Armenia.

    A sold-out, three-screen prototype of HERE [ THE STORY SLEEPS ] was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in April with live soundtrack accompaniment by composer Michael Krassner and the Boxhead Ensemble (the same collaborators are scoring the feature film; recordings from this event will very likely make their way into the movie). We continued work on this facet of the project during a week-long residency at Mass MoCA in June and plan to tour it internationally in 2011 under the management of our partners at Pomegranate Arts. Ideally, HERE [ THE STORY SLEEPS ] and HERE [ THE FEATURE FILM ] will wind around each other like a helix next year, engaging and unifying separate audiences in the worlds of independent film, performing arts and music.

    [ POSTCARDS FROM HERE ] lives on a dedicated YouTube channel, the film’s website, and will be integrated into the aforementioned iPhone app. [ POSTCARDS ] is a lyrical take on an intense creative journey through an extremely unique culture and landscape. The project is not expressly about the making of HERE [ THE FEATURE FILM ], but a more universal meditation on “following the breadcrumbs” and the moving and poetic culture clashes encountered when undertaking such an international independent film at this particular moment in time. As such, it speaks directly to the themes of HERE [ THE FEATURE FILM ], but from a different angle of approach.

    All of these offshoots have have deeply nourished and influenced each other. Because of that, they feel intrinsic (to me, at least) as opposed to tacked-on. I’ve recently realized that HERE is not really a film with various offshoots supporting it - it’s simply one big, multi-platform project that wouldn’t feel complete to me without these additional explorations.

    It’s been exhausting at times - but it’s been equally exhilarating. By being able to move so fluidly through so many facets of HERE, I’ve been able to explore narrative and the moving image in ways that will continue to resonate over years and projects to come. 




    New Yorker coverage of the MoMA show:

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 26 Jul 2010 04:01:13 +0000