Creative Voice: Paul Burke

This week on Creative Voice we have Paul Burke, a great chap from the UK that's been in the transmedia space at least as long as I have, working on several projects including personal ones, and interested in figuring this all out as much as the rest of us! I finally had the chance to meet him in person at StoryWorld and he proved a really nice guy to boot. Check out his current project at

First of all, what excites you most about transmedia storytelling?

My ongoing hunch is that it offers alternative ways to entertain, to experience stories and to relate to the world. I love the theory stuff and I love the practical stuff but for me, designing how everything hooks up and flows together is the most satisfying part. I think what’s most exciting actually is that it can be really personal but also really social. That means we can all learn to see each other a bit better.

What’s your background? How did you get interested in transmedia storytelling?

Straight out of school I went into product (industrial) design, then furniture design. When I got bored with that I went to film school and mostly worked on props, art direction and set design until the final year when I got hold of a 16mm camera. I filmed a lot of shorts and got a cinematography award from kodak but after a couple of years I got restless again. A small web design business I’d set up started to do well so I ran with that for a while which led to becoming creative director of a puzzle company. This did extremely well but then I got the film bug again... I could go on, but basically I keep switching between all the different things I have done, one at a time. Transmedia lets me think about them all at once!

In 2006 I’d just finished a road safety project (a participatory film, a website, some road signs, lesson pack for schools, fact cards and ID cards for young drivers) when I went to a screenwriters festival. I’d spent £15k of my own money on Forgotten Corner and was feeling pretty smug about how I’d managed to pull it all off and how. But then Hazel Grian did a session about Kate Modern - which she had just finished and Linda Paalanne shared her (award winning) experiences on the first Spooks Interactive experiences and I realised I’d done okay, but I was coming at it all wrong.

It was quite an afternoon for me -- I was almost thinking this way -- connecting stories across mediums -- and those two presentations just made everything click together. It was like someone out of the blue explaining exactly how my head actually worked and that I’d been using it wrong for years.

I was flat broke though so had to return to the web development (which I still do to pay the bills) but the story that became We Dream of Nothing, originally just conceived as Part One a comic, Part Two a TV Series and Part 3 a movie is now soooo much more now because of the door those two sessions opened.

I stumbled across the #transmedia hashtag too when it was full of gold every other tweet; it’s a bit noisy in there now though

You’re working on a personal project right now, called We Dream of Nothing. Is this your own brainchild? Tell me a bit about the project.

We Dream of Nothing is a science fiction mystery following two characters at opposite ends of the universe, both pursued by a monster called the Absence.  Your own dreams protect the characters and bring them closer together in a story experience hidden in the character’s website. Once you discover the password, the story unfolds with comics, videos, phone calls, emails and interactive episodes.

I’m playing a lot with ideas related to digital empathy and how that’s different to the way we feel with ‘traditional’ single mediums.

After some great meetings at Storyworld I can now announce the lofty legends on board to sail the ship through the next phase: Alison Norrington, Scott Walker, and Simon Staffans. There’s lots of other people lined up to be involved too and I’ve got some fun ways to credit all collaborators and contributors directly alongside each ‘episode’.

Check it out!

What other projects have you worked on? Rather than ask what your favourite project was, what do you look for that makes a project great to work on?

What makes a project great for me is working with smart people who have an idea which has something both familiar and unexplored about it.

I did a bit of front end web development for Rob Pratten’s Lowlifes and designed a couple of families for Karine Halpern’s 7 Transmedia Families card game. I’m building up The Interactives with Pete Rogers and working on a couple of other things I can’t talk about yet :)

What do you look for that makes a project great to experience, as an audience member?

I’ve got a wife, kids and about 30 seconds spare each day, so I look for things that can convince me to get past that.

Christy Dena said a real key thing in her TEDx talk about the things that belong to the creators and the things that belong to the audience. Access, choice of platform, where and when to ‘consume’ -- they belong to the audience, not to us as creators.

What I really want at the end of the day is to be entertained. There’s a lot of interesting and worthy stuff out there, but if it’s not entertaining...

If I have to wait for stuff too long, if I’m overloaded on arrival, if I have to work at the experience like a video game that’s made difficult by the controls and not the gameplay, that’s when I switch off.

Another bug bear is that too many projects I see require learning how to ‘use’. It’s got to be intuitive and flow. You have to know what to do without being told all the time, or be told in an intuitive way.

What drives you as a storyteller? What are you interested in, and what do you hope to accomplish?

I want to entertain people and show off.

I’m interested in creating spaces that are revealing and exciting to be in.

I hope to accomplish more -- I’m just getting started really :)

What would be your advice for an indie transmedia writer/creator?

All the work is in the writing, designing and in the planning. Get some smart people involved who share your values but disagree with you in other ways. With them re-write, re-plan then execute the plan. Don’t get precious, take time and don’t rush to the start because you want to have what you need to finish too. Umm okay. That was just a pep talk to myself there...

The best piece of advice I ever heard (US radio talk show host... source anyone?) was, to paraphrase, “You have great taste. Take your time, practice your skills, your taste will get you there.” -- in other words, don’t worry if it turns out rubbish despite your best efforts. Keep doing the work you love until it ends up as good as your excellent taste imagined it could be.

Where do you want the transmedia industry to go? What would you like to see happen in this community?

I learnt from my time at the puzzle company that you need to create demand from the public. We spent a year pushing hard to trade buyers who all loved the products but wouldn’t part with their money. It was real tough going. My business partner managed to get a spot on a BBC2 show and as soon as real people knew what we had -- they wanted it, then the distributors did too.

I want to see someone step up and have the balls to put real money into developing, promoting and distributing original IP on a regular basis. The audience IS there for us all -- its just that the big reach is still in the hands of the big guns (yes, you can survive on a niche, but you can rarely thrive on one). If I had the money I’d set up something akin to a record label, developing and promoting artists, putting teams together around writers and digital professionals, ideas and gaps in the market. Then I’d forge routes into current media channels (they are transmedia’s friends after all), and get the people there to talk about digital and transmedia stories the same way they talk about film, books and TV.

Finally: who's your favorite other person doing cool stuff in the field?

No names, but the people who have managed to stay human online, give advice, share knowledge, and dodge bullshit. You are one of them dude!