Helen Baxter covers the recent Jeff Gomez masterclass on transmedia storytelling, hosted by XMediaLab at Unitec in Auckland.
"Gomez believes that transmedia producers are the rockstars of the future, people who understand how to create worlds worthy of devotion, and to curate fandom, especially among a young audience."
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Jeff Gomez is CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment which has produced transmedia for Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean and Dexter, as well as for corporates and governments.
As is only to be expected from a transmedia master, Gomez is an engaging storyteller, regaling us with tales of discovering the world of Lucha Libre
wrestling as a child, a world of “masked musclebound dudes smashing each other like superheroes.”
He described cutting out thumbnail pictures of Godzilla from the TV guide, and how the TV show Kikaider he watched while in Hawaii sparked an early desire to become a Mangaka or comic book writer.
At college Gomez became a Dungeon Master for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) games, weaving the weaving hopes and aspirations of the players into the gameplay. His first experience with computers was an early Apple II computer that “looked like a typewriter taped to a television”. Through online bulletin boards he could reach a wider audience for his imagination and “be the Dungeon Master for a million people!”
Architecture for Dialogue
Gomez sums up the ultimate challenge of transmedia production as creating integrated content where attention flows from device to device. The difference between multiplatform and transmedia storytelling is that transmedia includes an 'architecture for dialogue'.
With an effective architecture for dialogue in place the audience gets the sense that “this thing is listening to you”
which creates an ardent fanbase. He gives the example of the super-fans at theonering.net
who became Peter Jackson’s apostles and “taught the world what a Hobbit was.”
Native transmedia development starts at the beginning of a project, and is platform neutral. Digital breadcrumb trails are laid between channels and devices, allowing the audience to experience the “euphoria in collecting and connecting the pieces.”
Gomez describes each media or platform “as a musical instrument that together play a narrative symphony”, and talks of planting seeds that grow into plotlines. Preparing content to extend across multiple platforms makes commercial sense and some great advice is to “Take equity!”
A Q&A session before lunch led to some useful tips on how to find work in the transmedia space:
“There are two ways. First make transmedia. It can be modest, but make it beautiful, make the elements sing together as a portfolio piece, show it off and have evidence of audience participation and feedback. If you do it enough, people will talk, so finish it!
Secondly, write about transmedia, as people who can talk about and crystalise Transmedia narrative are rare. Communicate it clearly, as every time someone does it they get hired and are taken off the market.”
The focus after lunch was on the practice of producing transmedia, to extend across multiple platforms with ‘interproduct elegance’. Gomez suggests using timeless themes that are simple yet artfully presented, to think like franchise and develop storyworlds that exist beyond the edges, with a past and a present. Simplicity is key, as great fictional universes usually contain a single, vital message.
Beyond the Edges
Storyworlds needs to function as a real system around the drama, with stories somehow continuing afterwards. Transmedia narratives have to last, with subchapters that feel relatively complete. The audience must fall in love with the characters to follow them across channels which Gomez describes as ‘The Chase’.
Write the Bible
Storyworld building starts with a logline describing the attributes of the world, profiles of the hero and supporting characters. Creatures types are sketched out as are locations, maps, special items and artefacts, and any metaphysics, magic or super-science is detailed. Finally archetypes messages and themes are outlined to create a story or brand essence, for what Gomez calls ‘The Narrative Engine’.
When pitching a transmedia project the advice Gomez gives is to lead with the story and keep it short. You need to clarify that the storyworld is accessible through multiple touchpoints and be specific about how the IP works on at least three platforms but don’t just list platforms. Above all, "be deep but don’t drown them in the details."
For any multi-platform implementations of narrative canon must be observed, and genre is the flesh on the skeleton of the narrative. “Story has to come first.”
Gomez believes that transmedia producers are the rockstars of the future, people who understand how to create worlds worthy of devotion, and to curate fandom, especially among a young audience.
"We need to give young people our assets and let them play, as they are a generation used to feedback and validation. If you don’t do this they will go somewhere else.”
Gomez finished the day by showing how transmedia can transform education and enact social change, highlighting a programme in Colombia
that is using transmedia to inspire a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.
Ten Transmedia Takeaways:
- Start with the story
- Do your homework
- Distil the story DNA
- Write the Bible
- Open up dialogue
- Find the aspirational drivers
- Engage the visionary/storyteller
- Simple themes. Rich variation.
- Create emotional connections
- Fans curate storyworlds