Merging+Media Lab Overview, Part 1

Last Thursday and Friday I had the opportunity and pleasure of attending Merging+Media's transmedia seminar and lab with Anita Ondine (who teaches transmedia around the world and among other things produced Lance Weiler's Pandemic). Thursday morning was the seminar, which anyone could attend. It covered a lot of the basics of transmedia, mostly things I'd already been dealing with for the last year, but it would have been eye-opening for an audience not initiated in the ways of the industry -- and I think a lot of the attendees were single-platform natives, especially in the TV & film and digital communities in Vancouver. Plus, I always find it useful to go back to an examination of basics, to cement the pillars of transmedia and get my mind going again.

I live-tweeted the seminar; here are some of the highlights, as well as my expanded thoughts on them.

Unification Anita said that the driving idea behind transmedia is that it represents a unified storyworld. Whatever medium you go to in your experience of the project, it has to be a natural extension of the same experience. This requries consistency of story and character, but also of motifs, symbols, theme and tone.

Furthermore, when you're writing in one medium, you must keep in mind the needs of the other media. Build in hooks that lead from one to the next. Perhaps you reference something that took place narratively elsewhere, leading the audience to discover a new storyline or rewarding the attention of those who have already experienced it. Make sure the various threads weave together to form a greater whole.

If you're creating those storylines and doing the writing yourself, you can build in these bridges. If different people are writing for different media, though, they must be directed by the lead creative or transmedia producer as to where these hooks can go. The greater your understanding of the bigger picture, though, the more you may be able to plan and suggest other ways of threading media together.

Social She also spoke about the social aspects of transmedia, invoking the campfire image of telling stories in the past when it was social -- then it became a much more private experience -- but transmedia makes it social again. With audience interaction and engagement, social media interaction, and user-generated content, transmedia brings people together for storytelling once again. As my friend Rob Teszka noted -- stories need people.

Anita also invoked the audience triangle, and noted that a 5-10% participation rate isn't a low or inherently bad number -- it just represents different kinds of audience members. Furthermore, she noted that the experience of the passive majority is actually also enriched by the activity of the more engaged participants. This, I think, is an important point. The audience engagement strategy isn't just for those who are engaged by it; their engagement improves the entire experience, for everyone.

Communication Her final major point that I'm going to touch on from the seminar portion was the relationship between the business and creative sides of a transmedia project. She noted quite rightly that these two departments, which traditionally don't have a lot of interaction, need to work hand in hand during the entire process of production. Engagement strategy and marketing, for instance, should be closely tied to the actual narrative. The story influences the choice of platforms, which in turn influences the business end.

But this means that the business people involved need to understand that they need to work with the creatives. In a project I was involved with, we were discussing the possibility of using billboard ads to help engage the audience and tell the story--but to do so, we would have needed access to the advertising money controlled by the business end, and we weren't sure we'd have been able to get it. Those on the business end will have to trust that the creatives know what they're doing when it comes to a transmedia strategy.

By the same token, creatives also need to understand the realities of the business side. Creatives are known for their hugely imaginative but simply unfeasible ideas (myself included!), and often don't understand the nuts and bolts of business, finance, marketing, etc. Furthermore, we tend to rebel against being told that what we're asking is impossible.

Communication is key, here. Creatives need to prove that their ideas will provide results; business people need to be able to explain exactly why something may not be possible--or even offer more feasible alternatives. Anita spoke of several ways the creative and business ends can be kept connected--by providing each with a detailed project plan, by having them share calendars and reporting lines, and by holding joint meetings. Again, communication is key.

Next time, I'll delve into the lab experience!