Guest post by Elaine K. Phillips
With the transmedia landscape dominated by blockbusters like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Star Wars, it’s easy shake your head at the glossy Age of Ultron poster and think: there’s no way I could create a storyworld as intricate as the MCU.
Back in 1999, the now-legendary Blair Witch Project directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez were film school students, saddled with projects to finish, rent to pay, and a story they just had to tell. With a lot of grit, those ordinary guys turned a detailed story into the world’s most successful independent-turned-mainstream film ever, pioneering contemporary transmedia storytelling and viral marketing techniques.
Though media has changed since 1999, the twenty-first century offers independent creators like us a nearly optimal political, economic, social, technological, and political environment in which to make immersive, innovative transmedia compositions. We don’t need to be Marvel to make marvelous tales: we just need to understand today’s media landscape and allow it to guide how we tell stories.
There’s one huge advantage to mono-medium storytelling: snagging that traditional media deal—and earning some cash—is far more straightforward. But while it can be a challenge to launch and maintain a financially viable transmedia composition, it’s certainly not impossible.
In fact, transmedia storyworlds thrive in today’s networked economic ecosystem. As Nicholas Lovell explains in The Curve, smart digital businesses give away content to build a loyal audience, and then offer fans quick ways to spend money on the brand. Transmedia storytelling fits this model perfectly, as “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” shows: free content (Twitter feeds or YouTube videos) grabs an audience; fabulous characters convert a fraction of that audience into superfans; and superfans buy DVDs, paperbacks, and other swag. Pemberley Digital, Andrea Phillips, Nuno Bernardo, and other independent producers and micro-studios have proven that transmedia storytelling can support a viable business model by transforming casual fans into emotionally and economically invested superfans.
Moreover, a transmedia storyworld is infinitely scalable. Once you’ve developed a robust storyworld, you can choose which pieces of the storyworld are practical for you to implement now. If you’re totally broke, perhaps tell one character’s story in a series of blog posts and see where that goes; as your character builds a fanbase, you can use Kickstarter, Patreon, or another crowdfunding platform to give your fans a way to help implement additional parts of the storyworld on other media. implement additional elements on other media. Your narrative can grow organically with your audience, giving your audience a sense of ownership by involving them directly in your funding, and reacting directly with your audience without compromising the storyworld’s soul.
Once upon a time, the mass media audience went to movie theatres, watched cable television, and shopped in bookstores. A media conglomerate would throw a fortune into producing and marketing a single film or book, fairly confident that a significant chunk of the population would buy tickets at the local cinema or the hardback at Barnes & Noble.
Those days are gone. Now, we individually stream our favorite shows on Netflix and YouTube; buy everything from books to music to the kitchen sink on Amazon; download free games from the Google Play or Apple app stores; and vent our feels on Facebook, prompting friends and family to investigate our latest obsession. As a result, the conventional media production and sales model doesn’t work. What does work is Netflix commissioning original series, Rovio Entertainment building a casual mobile game into the massive “Angry Birds” franchise—and indie creators like you sharing work on YouTube, slowly revealing your transmedia storyworlds and implementing a digital-native business model.
Sharing work on the interwebs has become child’s play. When the Blair Witch website went live in 1998, the Internet was a much different place—more closed and esoteric. But thanks to YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, WordPress, and other websites, independent transmedia storytellers today have a wealth of low-investment means to distribute work. “The Lizzie Bennett Diaries,” for example, was initially distributed using free-to-use online platforms that require limited-to-nonexistent coding. The technological and economic barriers to planning, creating, implementing, and distributing a multi-platform project have been breached. It’s time to charge.
Ready to get started?
Before you rush to the breach, consider how licensing practices can help clarify your path. Get an insider’s look at copyright law with our next post and read up on “Transmedia Storytelling: The Heart Behind the Hype.”
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.