There are fans, then there are real fans

This triangle has popped up a few times over the last few sessions as people talk about what kind of audiences you are likely to attract to Multi-platform and Transmedia ventures.

fandom breakdown

Here in Australia there’s not so much intense behaviour surrounding TV or Film shows (think Star trek or Battlestar Galactica conventions where people attend in their thousands completely dressed up) but there is still evidence of interactions of a fairly intense level. Fans of TV shows will watch webisodes, make funny memes and make parodies and generally share their adoration via social media. So Transmedia would encourage fandom in some ways in my age group who would otherwise be reluctant to share their experiences.

It helps that we don’t have to search very hard if we can press the “like” button as the extra material is likely to end up in our inbox automatically. So interested and active fans are probably more widespread than you might think but they may not go so far as dressing up in character.

An overview of the image above, generally speaking the bottom tier represents the passive portion of the audience who are content to watch the “home base material” which might be TV/ Cinema/ or webisodes. They might dip in and out of ancillary media surrounding the main story. Then you have the middle portion who may donate funds if there is a funding drive to extend the project – so they have a sense of ownership in the project and wish to see it expand or continue. They might also go deep into any gaming elements that might exist within the Transmedia project.

The top of the apex represents people who are active advocates of the project, they are the people who go out and really sell it – “this is a must see!” “You’re really missing out if you don’t watch this”. Not only have they bought into being a member of the community either by supporting it financially or participating in project events, they are fierce advocates for people to join the ’cause.’ They are also the people you really don’t want to get offside either by making promises of material you can’t follow through or provide experiences that don’t live up to the hype.

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Is it Multi-Platform, is it Transmedia or is it both?

They’re not quite the same thing although there are people out there insisting they’re just names for the same thing that have arisen out of geography like “I say Tomato, you say Tomahto”….

It’s a widespread confusion, and I still get confused myself. It lies in the fact that they have just about all the same elements but there’s still a thing that sets Transmedia apart from Multi-Platform. It’s not just about new technology, or of having more than three platforms to tell your story on, or having a 360 degree storyworld.

Transmedia tends to be a more all encompassing form of storytelling where people are compelled to move from one platform to another in order to follow the story trail. Of course, the big disadvantage is that audiences can feel like they’re missing out if they don’t move over to another platform, but again, that is the compelling essence of Transmedia.

It has a dynamism that multi-platform tends to not have, to quote Marcus Gillezeau (Producer of 3D Stormsurfers and Scorched) “Transmedia isn’t a noun; it’s almost a verb. It’s the notion of transferring a story across platforms.”

Before I started this course I read A Creators Guide to Transmedia Storytelling by Andrea Phillips which was illuminating – and hooked my interest a little more firmly into wanting to become part of this new wave. She also gives a great interview here. I’ll leave you with a nifty diagram that shows the experience of Transmedia as opposed to how it’s done normally.transmedia

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Storyworlds

At first I took to the concept of storyworld in the first few class sessions easily enough but I’m finding its not so easy sidestepping traditional ways of working up a script. A standard pathway of creating a script for a screen is more or less as follows: an idea is formed for a basic premise and a lead character is decided on. Then your hero or heroine will take the audience on a journey that involves a number of setbacks or obstacles before they achieve or fail their goal. Write up all that in a few drafts, and then the world of the film is pulled together arising out of elements of the script.

But because of the nature of multi-platform, while story remains as important as ever, the creation of it seems to need a different approach if it is to fulfil its promise on different platforms. The storyworld is the thing that needs to be created before the events of the story. While you could argue it’s the character that provides us with the storyworld as needed, to propel the plot forward, I’m getting it that multi-platform also moves sideways as it were, and as such, needs a bigger canvas to play on.

We’ve seen with the Lizzie Bennett Diares the depth to which they’ve created the story on a number of platforms providing the satisfying interactive experience for its fans. At first appearance it might appear the storyworld doesn’t have much visual depth, but the canny use of modern social media by the characters and how it furthers the story is where the riches are to be found.

Wastelander Panda is an Australian project that has became popular right out of the gate on releasing the prologue because of it’s brilliantly thought out storyworld. It is a complete and satisfying dystopian imagining of the future, populated with ferals and mutant animal/humans that appear to have more human decency than the humans themselves. They are still in their early stages of development but the storyworld they’ve presented feels complete.

 

They’re now  a little further along the journey having created three more episodes of what will be longer format TV series. The episodes they’ve given us are spread out along the story arc rather than giving us, say the first half hour of the series. So it’s clear they are still finessing the plot itself, but because of the complete story world it still works as a emerging transmedia project.

It’s harder than it looks to sidestep the drive to create the plot from character and then onto the storyline.  Currently we’re working in groups on a  Prototype for a Multiplatform Drama – and there’s a collective desire to jump ahead to the “what happens next” in the story when the task is to create the storyworld before we move on.

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (aka Pride and Prejudice)

As a case study in a successful multi-platform narrative that started from a low base (ie no real money and lots of experimentation) this is a really good one. Even the official AustenBlog gives it the nod, tweeting: “We were very much amused”. I’m now getting into it in my own time and I’m enjoying the parallels with the book and numerous cinematic adaptations so there’s lots to enjoy. It’s also fascinating to study the depth to which the creators  Hank Green and  Bernie Su , have put their platforms to use and their expert treatment of each.

So what is it? The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modernized adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. It adapts the original from the point of view of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet as growing up in a world of cell phones, video cameras and social media rather than the turn of the 19th century.  Lizzie Bennet‘s Video Diaries serves as the “home base” for the entire enterprise, supported by her and other characters social media streams. The story can also be followed on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter which all serve to keep the the fictional world alive in between episodes.

They have all been carefully thought out according to each character, main character Lizzie Bennet maintains social media destinations on TwitterFacebook,Tumblr, as well as YouTube. Younger sister Lydia Bennet has her prime destinations on Tumblr andTwitter, while fashionista elder sister Jane Bennet incorporates Pinterest and Lookbook in addition to other social media sites. Fans and viewers are encouraged to interact with all the characters on any media platform where they can find them.

For example, one week, “Lizzie” revealed on her Tumblr that Jane and Bing Lee (In the novel, Bingley, whom Jane is destined to marry), began following each other on Twitter. This sent hundreds of fans down a rabbit hole where they discovered that other characters also have fleshed out social media presences, including the iconic Mr. Darcy.

While the life cycle for this one is completed it’s all available for the latecomers (such as myself) to enjoy. But there’s more. The same team are now underway giving Emma the same treatment.

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Class fail – separating narrative from celebrity

I’m covering a few lectures we’ve had to date in this post, since I’ve decided  this will also be a journal of sorts on what I’m learning over the next few months, until it starts making sense in my professional life. It’s also one way to keep class material accessible given I have a metal cabinet full of paper that I’ve not looked at again over the years and I don’t want that to happen here.

We’ve covered branding and blogging and some basic differences between the two. Blogging at its most basic is a diary, and a way of broadcasting beliefs, vital information and/or opinions. Think back to the days when a man (or woman) on a soapbox would hold forth at Hyde Park to the crowd, only now we call it blogging. Or Vlogging. Or Vine, Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube and more. They all represent a continuum of information (about yourself or your passion project) that ranges from content heavy (a standard blog) to the micro (Twitter, FaceBook or Vine).  Blogging in itself isn’t multi-platform, but a blog can be part of a multi-platform narrative. Confusing, much?

Random incidental fact: teenagers go directly to Youtube to get information and then Google, second. I’m still digesting what that means for the future of serious information.

The precept that a story has a beginning, middle and end holds true for Multi-platform drama or documentary as it does for TV and Cinema. But there are a few key differences that I’m still working through, one being there’s a life cycle that needs to be decided on, whether its going last as little as a week or as long as three years. The story is released over a few platforms and they’re all tailored to the platform itself. Meaning you’ll get a different experience on your phone app than you would when it’s broadcast on TV or Youtube (or released in cinema). But they’re all part of the same story, not just hacked up pieces of a chocolate bar given out. A nice analogy that came up in class is that the same piece of music can be played on different instruments, but your experience of the music  will be altered depending on whether its a cello or a flute.

So, back to this class fail that has been occupying me, we paired off to find and present to class a narrative multi-platform drama, and somehow we got steered off course getting caught up with Anna Akana. She is a comedienne who publishes a Vlog each Monday morning and so happens to have a huge following. She’s savvy and connected on a number of platforms, FB, Tumblr, Twitter and has her own Youtube channel. She’s mildly funny. Maybe even, rather average, with clear aspirations to great celebrityness. (not a real word but it sums it up) But she sure works hard on all her fronts. In spite of her prolific output there is hardly anything personal on her, and so she remains curiously bland. She is her product and the product is her. What’s behind it? No idea.

But I’m intrigued that she’s built that big following when there are quite a few narrative multi-platform comedies that fail to do the same. After all they are on the same platforms, gunning for the same slice of the audience.

Stating the obvious I know they occupy different niches but… Anna’s not doing a Vlog. (Like a blog but to the video)  She’s doing skits. Comedy routines.  So why isn’t something like, say The Strange Calls recently done by ABC not having any of the same kind of impact? (perhaps being not funny is part of it, but still).  The Strange Calls feels like an unweildy bag of stories carrying a hangover from classic TV serial production. I would argue that’s one reason why this particular comedy drama lost its way with the multiplatform audience. There’s also no easy way to share the videos – at first glance it seems you have to go to the designated site to view it every time rather than being able to share it on other platforms. That’s another way to alienate potential fans.

Even if I totally got why our tutor’s eyes glazed over when we presented Anna Akana to the class I was still intrigued by what it was that intrigued me about her.  Now I think I’ve got a handle on it. Despite the lack of personal depth, you get the feeling you’re a privileged audience member. She’s making the most of an approach that’s engaging todays audiences and it’s that particular style that’s going to be honed and developed with greater success for small budget narratives.

And these successful multi-platform narratives are already happening – as I’ll show in the next post on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I can’t wait to get my little sister hooked on this one. Like me she’s a rabid Austen fan but I doubt she’s heard of this one.

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