Guest Post by Elaine Phillips
If you long for a challenge, you’ve just found one.
Six years into production on “Lost in Sunshine,” independent transmedia duo Lorie Marsh and Jentri Chancey have confirmed the accumulative power of baby steps. What started as a story that Jentri simply had to tell has become a transmedia storyworld. Its multiple platforms range from a short film in pre-production to a novel manuscript to three years of in-character tweets.
But none of this happened without serious graft. We’ve got the inside scoop on Lorie and Jentri’s six-year production journey—the good, the bad, and the ugly of transmedia storytelling in today’s evolving media ecosystem.
Let’s start with the Ugly.
The Ugly: Funding
Perhaps transmedia storytelling’s biggest challenge is acquiring funds. New conferences have launched specifically to provide a space for indie creators to pitch to potential investors. But, as Lorie points out, there’s a problem: as with film conferences, you must pay between $1,500 and $3,000 to attend. So unless you already have money, it’s hard to petition for more.
As an independent storyteller, you must continually discern how to use your existing resources. “If I had $3,000, would I really choose to attend to that conference when I could make something or host my web domain for ten years?” Lorie laughs. “On the other hand, if my film gets into the Toronto International Film Festival, will I spend a few thousand to go talk it up at a few meetings? Yes! You have to find a balance.”
Unless you see a return on an investment, use your money to make something. For example, when a patron generously donated the funds to film a short, Lorie and Jentri jumped at the chance to make a “reel piece” to “showcase Jentri’s directing skills,” Lorie says. They shot the resulting nine-minute “Lost in Sunshine” spinoff film, “Visible Noise,” in December 2013. While submitting it to film festivals, Lorie and Jentri are collaborating with a digital media artist to plan an art installation; viewers will be able to contribute directly to the installation in multiple media. Pending funding, Lorie hopes to launch the installation in 2016. In the meantime, she and Jentri continue doing what they can with what they have.
The Bad: Marketing
The challenge doesn’t end when you’ve raised funds, nor when production wraps. You still need to put your work in front of panels and consumers—which means self-marketing.
Don’t get me wrong: marketing is fascinating and fun. But we’re in a noisy age of hashtags and genre stereotypes. Labeling a work by its genre (“fantasy,” “mystery,” “romantic comedy,” etc.) or medium (“film,” “comic,” “television show,” etc.) is useful shorthand for describing stories, but that’s all it is. Shorthand. Constructs that help marketers sell products.
However, many transmedia projects break these constructs. Some, like the award-winning Inanimate Alice, defy both genre and media categories. As a result, “finding the right person to talk to is really challenging,” Lorie says. Whether you’d like to partner with a traditional media company or with a marketing agency, you’ll encounter companies bound to taxonomies and precedent. “If you tell a studio that your story has zombies, the marketing team will say, ‘I know what to do with zombies!’” Lorie says. “But if your project is more ambitious, unless you’re Tom Hanks, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
Good thing Lorie and Jentri are up for the challenge. In addition to the fictional web elements of “Lost in Sunshine,” they’ve created nonfiction content to attract the wider self-help audience to their fictional storyworld. For example, Lorie wrote a regular newsletter and helmed a YouTube show, in which she would ask interviewees a terrifying question: “Is this where you thought you’d be?” By complementing “Lost in Sunshine” with thought-provoking marketing, Lorie and Jentri have avoided relying on its “‘multiplatformyness,” which “by itself isn’t a hook,” Lorie says.
The Good: Cross-Media Collaboration
Even the greatest “multiplatformy” concept is worthless without great execution. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, spreading a transmedia storyworld across multiple media requires you to cultivate the skills needed to implement your story ideas in multiple media. Unless you’re a time-turner-wielding Leonardo da Vinci, this means serious collaboration: building a cross-disciplinary team and finding, or becoming, a multi-platform producer. In other words, acquiring mad polymedia skills.
When asked to describe her role as a transmedia producer, Lorie laughs. “I’m a cat-wrangler, dramaturge, therapist, project-manager, and ship-builder,” she says. “To be a film director, you need to have a vision for and control of the ship. But the producer builds that ship. You’re not going anywhere without a boat.” A large part of Lorie’s role on any transmedia composition is sorting “mundane” matters like organization and communication—which seems straightforward, until you compare the standard production schedules for films, books, websites, and web serials. As the producer, Lorie negotiates across various media industries’ divergent practices, attitudes, and lingos to ensure that the entire team is on the same page.
Whether they’re working as a pair or with a larger multi-disciplinary team, Lorie and Jentri don’t consider giving up to be an option. “You just have put one foot in front of the other, keep being open, and have faith that its time will come,” Lorie says. Meanwhile, for Lorie and Jentri, artistic collaboration and innovation are their own reward.
Want to read more? Check out part 1 of “Real World Tales & Tips from Lorie Marsh” or read Elaine’s “Transmedia Storytelling: Why it Works for Indie Creators.”
Elaine K. Phillips recently completed her M.A. in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, having penned her dissertation on transmedia storytelling’s impact on fiction publishers. From digital intern to magazine editor, Elaine has held diverse positions across the British and American publishing industries, but her greater passion is crafting thought-provoking adventure tales. She finished her first (bad, bad, bad) science-fiction novel at eleven and is currently writing an alternate history sci-fi novel set in fifteenth-century Britain and China. She’s obsessed with digital media theory, children’s media, and coffee, and would love to discuss any of the above with you on Twitter. Learn more about Elaine through her website and LinkedIn and Contently profiles.