Creative Voice: Carrie Cutforth-Young (Part 1)

Carrie appeared on my radar sometime earlier this year (on Twitter, of course). Then a few weeks after I started Transmedia Vancouver, she started Transmedia Toronto. Then we finally met in person at StoryWorld, and I think there was a little bit of magic. Carrie is outspoken, even more crazy energetic than I am when it comes to this stuff, and also hilarious. I think it would be wicked fun to work with her on something, but I'll have to be content for now with an interview. Her responses were lengthy! However, I feel that there is no containing Carrie; rather than try to cut it, I'm just going to post it over two weeks! Here, then, is part 1, which I think is a really cool look at becoming completely immersed in the transmedia world.

2010-07-25_14-58-59.015
2010-07-25_14-58-59.015

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

Without a doubt: the total immersion of living and breathing a story is what excites me the most. Telling stories and consuming stories has always been my personal drug of choice; being able to be surrounded by an all-encompassing narrative, it is magic.

As a kid I loved playing pretend and it broke my heart as all my friends, one by one, became “too mature for that.” It used to baffle me that such a powerful tool would fall to the sidelines in a fool’s quest for a tentative hold on a certain sense of grownupness. I really think transmedia storytelling is one of the few practices actively employing a consensual participatory fiction in its repertoire of tools and I can’t wait to see how far and in what ways this can be pushed forward. That being said, I think there is a lot of truth to what Jeff Gomez said at Storyworld on issues of addiction to total immersion and how we need to facilitate healthy disengagement as well.

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

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader and always knew that someday I would be a writer. But I always wanted to tell stories in a different way: narrative unbound by the constraints of a single medium -- a book, a film, etc. Even at the age of eight, I toyed with the idea of a story contained within a room where you could enter it, read the character’s calendar and daybook, and handle their objects to get a sense of the narrative.

The dream of becoming a writer was quashed by a pervasive small town Canadian attitude that really negates aspirations for working in the creative industries (I mean, my dad even still refers to my BFA as a degree in basket weaving). I really bought the culture’s negative line on becoming a writer/artist hook-line-and-sinker, and, although I went to BealArt (a respected advanced art program in a public secondary school in London, Ontario), most of my twenties were spent on dead end minimum wage jobs while I wrote stories and scripts in between changing my kids’ diapers. It’s not that I ever stopped working at my craft, it’s just I didn’t believe it was possible to make a viable career out “what I was actually good at.”

Finally, in my early thirties, I decided to go to OCAD University to become a curator, which I erroneously believed would lead me to the holy grail of paid work in the arts. The program was very heavy on theory and very light on practice and I realized I had to hustle my ass to make a name for myself during my full time studies in order to land on my feet running by the time I graduated. I started a curatorial practice with my then creative partner Patrick Phillips to form Kultur Vultur, and we had several successful shows: particularly The Dood Show, which inspired public participation in the creation of a crowdsourced work of art (back in 2006 when this concept was fresh). Yet despite these successes, I felt like I was spinning my wheels, as no matter how good I was at hustling my ass curating, it wasn’t my calling.

In the meantime, I had become an arts columnist for BlogTO. When another writer became sick, the CFC’s Hybrid Media Lab opening gala landed at my feet. There I met Ryan Fitzgerald who had just finished working on a delightful project called Perfidia Gardens. When he sat me down, I had little idea that this conversation was about to change my life. He asked: “Do you know what an Alternate Reality Game is?” I said, “Nooooo.” Then he asked, “Do you know what Transmedia is?” Again I replied I did not. It took him twenty minutes of patiently explaining these foreign concepts to me before the paradigm shift took place in my head. The moment I “got it” was also the moment I said: “This is what I’ve been wanting to do my whole life; this is what I must do.”

I finished off my degree but decided to get a double minor in both Digital Media Studies (where I got a strong foundation in the theoretical underpinnings of transmedia) and English (with a focus on creative writing). And since graduation, I’ve been simply eating and drinking transmedia every day; and of course cranking out content and hustling my ass.

Speaking of content, you’re involved as a writer in an upcoming project called the Karada, which promises to be a transmedia experience. Can you tell me a bit about the project? What can we look forward to?

The experience on The Karada has been mad crazy. Back in late July, Tom Liljeholm approached me about working on an idea and asked if I would like to be a part of the team. I jumped in and then mentioned there was the deadline for The Pixel Pitch coming up and suggested we give it a go. This was I believe thirteen days before the deadline. Imagine five people in three different countries working round the clock to produce the fundamentals of the application including a trailer, website, and most important – a fully fleshed story from scratch – in less than two weeks. It was nuts!

Even though The Karada didn’t get selected (go figure), the Power to the Pixel’s vigorous application process provided the perfect template for honing our vision. The Karada was originally intended to be a transmedia property with a web series as its spine but then TV got interested in it. And when I say TV: I mean we even had the VP of a major US cable channel contact us out of the blue. How did he hear about us? The Karada popped up in his Google feed and he fell in love with it.

So things on The Karada have been in high gear since late July. However, our team only recently came to the realization that we are a transmedia production team not a television production company. We could very well be a television production company but not within the next two months and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot. We are now in the process of partnering up with an established television production team for a symbiotic relationship. The idea for The Karada has always been a complete transmedia integrated drama series so both teams will need to act as one entity.

If things move forward as hoped, we should be in production in the new year. But prior to this, there will be an overhaul of content on the website to reflect the recently crystalized vision of the project. And we will start releasing fresh teaser content soon.

How did you get involved in it, and what exactly is your role?

Ahaha. You have just asked me my second favourite story to tell of all time (the first being how I got with my husband of eighteen years).

After graduation from 5 years of full time university (including summers) and curating besides (and other stuff besides, besides, besides), I spent a few well-deserved months decompressing in pajamas while watching Judge Judy. I’m not kidding. Then I caught wind of news that Tim Kring (the creator of Heroes) and the Company P (the production behind the Truth about Marika) were launching a transmedia project called the Conspiracy for Good, the Alternate Reality Game of which was being produced by Tea4Two Entertainment. First, I decided there could be no better case study for me to immerse myself in transmedia. Second, it became my sole ambition to become the most hardcore player that ever cored it hard in order to get Tim Kring and other members of the production to sit up and take notice. I have to admit, even to myself, this was probably one of my more insaner ideas.

And I was a total nut bar in that game. I mean some of the things I did to get attention I’m a little embarrassed to mention (well, not really: I’m pretty shameless). And someone did notice me from the production team, but it wasn’t Tim. It was Tom.

The CFG ARG had an amazing chemistry between all the hardcore players and the PM team. There is a special strange bond that can occur between players and puppet masters, and the bond Tom and I formed was exceptional. We both learned how much fun we liked to play off against each other on opposite sides of the curtain and began to respect each other’s intense level of production and work ethic. And I was keen to suck the transmedia marrow from his bones dry; leach everything I could about the biz from him. Jim Martin (who worked on Heroes) also happened to be a PM for CFG, and some of our interactions with his character…well, are some of my favourite conversations of all time. When I was invited by a fairy godmother on the production team to fly to London for the Live Events, the chemistry between Jim/Tom/Me (and a whole lot of other people) was palpable. You could see the sparks flying between us.

After CFG ended, realizing I had blown my chances with getting a gig writing for Tim Kring, I had no choice but to pull myself up by the bootstraps and start to create a body of work. I soon worked with the internationally renowed artist Lillian Allen on two locative media projects, Textapublication and Ripple, with another former CFG hardcore player, Jon Kissinger. I developed a transmedia project of my own and sought funding by submitting unsuccessful grant applications to Arts Councils. I wrote a 25,000 novella for the Veil Science ARG. I just pounded the pavement day in and day out.

In the meantime, I’m fairly certain Tom forgot all about me. So I started messaging him industry links and tweets of interest…you know: just to keep me in his radar.

I was in the middle of developing my own portfolio project, a grass-roots ARG, with my husband and partner of our company Queen Spade Creative, when Tom, out of the blue, invited me to work on an idea Ki Henriksson (his partner for Tea4two and one of the most talented writers I have ever met) had developed. Soon Jim was on board along with Jakob Berglund of Furnace Fighter Media, artist Hugo Arias (a brilliant artist who I had curated before under Kultur Vultur) and our mad skillz accounts man: Adam Boderus. And it has been magic ever since.

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Part 2 will be next week! And be sure to check out our experimental fiction project Azrael’s Stop, about a boy who must learn to live when everyone he loves has died. Updated daily at azraelsstop.com