What the # is Transmedia?
In the first of a series of blog posts from Transmedia NZ exploring the wonderful world of transmedia, Anna Jackson attempts to answer the question, 'what the # is transmedia?', and reports on Doc Lab 2012.
* * *
Transmedia is a term that is increasingly gaining currency in conversations about media and creativity, but it’s often used in ambiguous and sometimes conflicting ways. To be frank, there’s no single definition that will satisfy everyone, but I'm going to use Screen Australia’s definition to kick things off (because our friends across the Tasman happen to be pretty savvy in this area):
“Transmedia: Storytelling across multiple forms of media, with each element making distinctive contributions to a user’s understanding of the story universe, including where user actions affect the experience of content across multiple platforms (eg reaching a score level in an online game unlocks the next mobile episode).”
I prefer to think of transmedia less in terms of what it is and more in terms of what it does, which is to offer media creators an approach to making content that allows us to connect with audiences in meaningful ways across different platforms, to provide richer media experiences that fit with the way that we as audiences engage with media in our daily lives.
This means creating stories that don’t just have a beginning, middle and an end, but also have multiple entry points, a ‘storyworld’ that can be explored across different platforms. Audiences may have opportunities to play in this storyworld, perhaps even to help build or extend the storyworld, and there may be times when the storyworld crosses over into the realm of everyday life.
Platforms, in transmedia practice, can be any means of delivering a story, be it online, mobile, via television, in a cinema or on the street. Transmedia is often at the cutting edge of media technology, using tools like augmented reality, but it ultimately relies on age-old storytelling principles and user/audience-centred design.
Transmedia is an increasingly important aspect of media production globally, and there’s a growing international community of transmedia producers who are working together to share ideas, make connections and expand their understanding of what transmedia is and what is could become. Transmedia NZ is one such group, formed a little over a year ago with the aim to support the development of a transmedia community here in New Zealand.
We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to join The Big Idea community, and we’ll be using this space to explore the world of transmedia, to share with you some examples of outstanding transmedia projects, to discuss issues relating to transmedia production and to examine what transmedia means in the New Zealand context.
A great example of a local initiative that is helping to expand established production practices and introducing transmedia concepts is Doc Lab, a three day incubator run by Documentary Edge that aims to “educate, inspire and develop filmmakers with a shared goal of developing and prototyping multi-platform documentary projects”. Local and international experts are brought in as mentors to help develop the selected projects and teams and to present on topics such as:
- New and different forms of platforms and storytelling devices
- How to collaborate across platforms and genres
- How to engage with the community and the role(s) of the audience
- Interactive and data-based stories
- The use of computer games for documentary purposes
- Funding and commissioning of cross-media/transmedia documentaries
- New forms of distribution and delivery.
Transmedia NZ co-director, Fiona Milburn, and I were very honoured to act as mentors this year alongside a very talented team.
In addition to having a great line-up of mentors, this year’s Doc Lab was particularly noteworthy for the quality and diversity of projects involved. (See the Storify round-up of Doc Lab on Transmedia NZ for a taste of what the lab was like).
The aim of Doc Lab is not ‘film goes in, transmedia comes out’, but rather to encourage participants to explore new ways of funding, producing and distributing their projects. In 2010, when Doc Lab began few teams were thinking about alternative distribution strategies or using social media to build an audience and cross-platform content creation was a challenging idea for many. Things have slowly and surely changed.
Many of the teams came equipped with an understanding and awareness of transmedia principles, even if that wasn’t the word they would use to describe their ideas. This year many participants were working across different platforms, even if on a small scale, with most teams developing some form of web content to support or enhance a TV or film project. Crowdfunding was also a hot topic for discussion and we were fortunate enough to have Anna and Camilo from PledgeMe drop in during the Lab
For me, an exciting aspect of Doc Lab was that there was some vigorous debate about what transmedia means for content creators here in New Zealand. Our media landscape is very different from the UK or the USA and funding for transmedia projects is a real challenge, so it’s important that we find our own way of doing things. That said, the very international team of mentors demonstrated the global significance of transmedia and exposed participants to a new and exciting world of opportunities.
Collaboration and co-creation are key aspects of transmedia production that Transmedia NZ strives to promote, and in this respect Doc Lab promises to be a great success. Many new connections were formed during the course of the Lab and conversations that were started over the long weekend have continued via Facebook and Twitter. I look forward to seeing what hatches from the Doc Lab creative incubator over time.