Transmedia: Not just for Star Wars

No sci-fi or action film? That’s OK, transmedia is for you too

When I went to the inaugural IFP/Power to the Pixel Cross Media Forum I had one burning question on my mind. Suppose you don’t have a big sci fi/action film and a big budget with big sponsors, can you still create a transmedia experience? Do non sci-fi or action films lend themselves to effective transmedia experiences? I was specifically thinking about I Will Follow, the film directed by Ava Duvernay that has got rave reviews from Roger Ebert and has garnered a lot of press based on its unconventional method of distribution. It’s a film that follows Maye as she packs up and clears out the house she has been living in with her aunt, Amanda, who was a successful and free-spirited musician whose life was cut short by breast cancer. No aliens or pirates or otherworldliness. What about a story like this? What might a transmedia experience for this story look like?

IFP/Power to the Pixel Cross-Media Forum Logo

First a definition of transmedia. Henry Jenkins, University of South California professor describes transmedia storytelling as

storytelling across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a fan’s understanding of the story world.

I spoke to Caitlin Burns of Starlight Runner entertainment and posed my burning question to her. Caitlyn said that while sci-fi and action films certainly lend themselves very well to transmedia storytelling because it’s easy to make a universe around them, there’s nothing to stop one from creating a compelling transmedia experience around film that doesn’t fall into those genres. However, funding or sponsorship may prove challenging.

Later Andrea Phillips of Deus Ex Machinatio gave a talk that pretty much gave a total breakdown of how it could be done. She used the example of Romeo and Juliet. Below are 3 takeaways.

How to create a transmedia experience

1. If you are using social media for your transmedia extension, consider using it to hold your characters in an iconic state forever. For example, when Romeo & Juliet were pining away for one another. If I were to apply this principle to I Will Follow I would use it to explore Amanda when she was a drummer for her rock band, maybe through an online tour diary or a fictional Facebook Fan Page which would be more interactive.

2. Additionally,

A very good reason for transmedia extensions is to tell more stories than can fit within the confines of a film. – Andrea Phillips at IFP/PttP Cross-Media Forum 2011

Transmedia extensions in this way can explore the motivation of characters who perhaps get very little airplay in a film. I Will Follow has a number of stories that were introduced in the film that could be explored. I won’t list them out of respect for people who haven’t seen it yet. But feel free to in the comments.

3. Have your audience be a character. You have to be careful with this one, she said, because you don’t want the audience to be a character that could too greatly affect the story. So in the case of Romeo & Juliet, given audiences’ propensity for happy endings, you don’t want them to be a character that would make it so that neither of them died. She suggested perhaps the nurse. She said this is the concept that creatives have the most trouble wrapping their heads around. Cue head explosion.

By the way, here’s the trailer for I Will Follow.