You define yourself as a transmedia author, producer and brand developer. How do you go about explaining what you do to someone who knows nothing about transmedia?
I tell people that I create experiences around a story. I’ll share that story with other artists and see if they would like to create an extension of it through their own medium.
I’ve also done the same thing with major brands. Whereas in the past a company might have had a major TV campaign, today they use transmedia: jumping from one media to the next to tell their story – in that case, the story of a brand.
You’ve just released a paperback book that includes music, video and artwork in addition to two short stories. Do you think readers can get a complete experience out of just reading the thing or do they need to engage with each medium to follow the story?
I don’t like experiences where you’re forced to do anything in a specific sequence. I want to be able to move around freely. When I created my type of transmedia storytelling, I wanted each of the elements to really exist on their own.
When I was in college, the movie Trainspotting came out and I heard the soundtrack being played at a club one night. I went out and bought the soundtrack to it, even before I had read the book or seen the movie, so in that way, the soundtrack was a way of letting me into that story world.
The actual book and movie came after for me, but even in that way, they lived separately from one another – they could be absorbed separately. I love books, but they just don’t have anything interesting going on! There’s nothing that takes a book further.
You had mentioned Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris as an example of a film that could be told through transmedia. What did you mean?
Midnight in Paris was a surprise hit; the story was great, and it was incredibly funny. But it also let us go back in time and hang out with these famous artists and writers. It lets you hang out in that universe.
There was an opportunity there, I think, for a transmedia experience. There was an opportunity with the music for a soundtrack that would let us revisit that story. There could have been episodic content online that offers more doors for you to walk through.
I think telling stories through transmedia is the type of thing that studios and advertisers are interested in, since you have stories that are continuing online, and that’s where you can get viewership. There’s a whole marketing system that can be built around that, and ways to generate revenue.
How have you brought transmedia storytelling into your work with brands like Bono’s (RED) campaign, CitiBank and Motorola?
The work that I did with those brands has informed the more creative work that I’m doing for myself. I think when we create our own art we say, “I want to try this out, this is an experiment.” But in advertising it doesn’t work that way, you don’t create something just to experiment. You create something to meet a goal.
You’re probably familiar with the (RED) campaign – Gap, American Express, Armani – all of these big brands had (RED) products. Motorola came on as the campaign’s technology partner and since Motorola deals with technology, we created an online calculator.
You could plug in the amount of money you had spent on a Motorola product and it would tell you how many people have been fed or clothed with the money you spent. It let you see how your donation translates.
We were also collaborating with different artists at that time. They were doing live events that were also awareness generators for the campaign. It was supporting those events, documenting the events with video, creating exclusive content for the Motorola site (download remixes, singles, etc.).
It was taking the (RED) story and telling it in many different ways so that people could connect with it. One of the reasons why the Red campaign was so successful was the transmedia element.
I’m curious about your own personal brand. You’ve been very open about things in your life that have affected your work, like your involvement with Alzheimer’s Awareness. Do you think this sort of transparency is part of what it means to be a “brand” in the digital age?
I think that there is value in transparency, whether you’re an artist brand or a larger corporate brand. Transparency is different for each, though.
For instance, there was a campaign that was created for Ford right after the bailouts that was all about how they were going to have to go back and fix what happened. Showing people what went wrong, talking about it, and being transparent about it, ended up being a year’s worth of content.
Over the course of the campaign, Ford came to be seen as this organic thing instead of a faceless, robotic, awful entity. That’s when a brand starts to transcend the marketplace. What we’re watching there is not a company. We’re watching something that represents ourselves, and that’s the most powerful level a brand can reach.
At StoryWorld you’ll be talking about “Managing Rights in a Participative Canon” with Sarah Hinchcliff Pearson from the Creative Commons and other experts. How does this topic relate to your work and how do you plan on approaching it in San Francisco next month?
Transmedia is often a collaboration, so you have to manage those relationships. You have to manage people’s trust in you. The amount of money I spent on legal fees on Two Blue Wolves, my first transmedia story, was more than I spent on any of the production!
That’s the reason why I wanted to speak about contracts at StoryWorld. To talk about my experience in getting those contracts where they needed to be, what that was like, and then helping by talking to the audience about what they should look out for and offering tips, resources, and things to think about as they’re creating their contracts.
What are you looking forward to most at StoryWorld?
I’m looking forward to seeing dialogues form between the brands and storytellers that are coming in from all sides of the industry.
This is the first time we’ve ever had a transmedia conference and it’s the first time for all these different forces to come together. I have a feeling people are going to be making amazing contacts.
It’s going to be eye opening for people that are working in toy companies, game companies, and entertainment companies to connect with people that are thinking on these multilevels of storytelling. I think people are really going to inspire one another.
Sparksheet is an official media partner for StoryWorld Conference + Expo, which took place October 31-November 2 in San Francisco.