Social Storytelling: Not all Fans are born equal!

Social Storytelling: Not all Fans are born equal!


Even though there are broad stroke components that you can point to that describe successful transmedia properties, there is no definitive formula of, say, three parts narrative divided by three digital platforms and multiplied by two parts social media, which will yield a guaranteed success. What works for a particular project or audience may not work for another.

A few years after the initial success of Sofia’s Diary, we were able to adapt it to 10 different territories and we thought we’d cracked the code to producing multi-platform entertainment. So we went ahead and applied the formula we’d used to develop and market Sofia, to different concepts intended for different target groups. We created a project similar in format to Sofia’s Diary called Looking for Miguel, which featured an older male character. We also developed a concept for an interactive fantasy adventure called Dark Siege. Both projects failed to attract an audience. Their floundering made it clear to us that different target groups respond in different ways to characters, plot points, and interactivity; a one-formula-fits-all was never going to work.


Even though Looking for Miguel and Dark Siege both failed to reach their targets, we more than recovered our financial loss by learning invaluable lessons about our trade. Interactive entertainment and the ways in which audiences react to it will change from project to project and from target group to target group. Moreover, the Internet changes daily; new digital platforms emerge and established platforms fade out. Remember Bebo and MySpace?

The failure of Looking for Miguel and Dark Siege led us to a new formula:there is no formula. There is no winning format producers can simply plug content into when developing multi-platform and interactive media. We need to study each of our target audiences and find out what makes them engage with certain kinds of content; what makes them “click” on a particular site, follow a particular comment thread? It’s crucial that we tailor each property to the preferences and expectations of its target audience. By shifting our focus from a general to a project-based transmedial formula, we’ve been able to build and sustain audiences for a range of properties including our teen soaps,Beat Girl and Flatmates, and our award-winning thriller Final Punishment.

So, when we started developing the Emmy-nominated Collider franchise, our goal was one which we apply to all of our transmedia productions: to achievethe right balance of interactivity – from simple voting forums which allow the audience to dictate the direction the story takes, to complex alternate reality games which prompt the audience to jump from back and forth from multiple platforms and media.

Say we produce five hundred pieces of content for a single property; we always make the majority of that content — typically three quarters — available for free. We began telling the story of Collider by posting character blogs; ebooks and comics, webisodes and social media fan pages. Of course, the more complex the interactive elements of your story and the more time they demand from your audience, the fewer individuals who will participate in the full range of interactive experiences.

We always design three different types of experiences which reward the specific desires of each kind of audience:

1. The Watcher: tunes in for the entertainment value of the story

2. The Engager: tunes in to be a part of something relevant

3. The Participant: tunes in to become involved, have their voice heard, and/or be recognised by their peers

There is no formula for creating a transmedia product that strikes the perfect balance between passive and active viewing. Rather than trying to create a standard for the kind of cross-media brands beActive produces, we create several layers of media and adapt the complexity of the experience to the type of the audience we’re trying to reach.

For a sci-fi series like Collider, aimed at a primarily male audience between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, we needed to create a game-like interactive experience for a percentage of the audience that wants a deeper experience. On the other hand, if we are creating content for a comedy or romance along the lines of Beat Girl, based upon story and sharing and emotion, the level of interactivity and participation we solicit from the audience is limited to more direct approaches such as push notifications and comment threads.

Article originally posted on MipBlog on April 7, 2015.


How to build an exciting and convincing transmedia storyworld

How to build an exciting and convincing transmedia storyworld

A way to ensure that your new script or story is transmedia friendly, is a strong transmedia storyworld and will support integrative narratives across multiple platforms, is to check the richness and attractiveness of the world where your story is set. It’s essential that you develop a storyworld that describes your fictive universe as it appears before, during, and after the resolution of your core narrative.

Showcase “Collider”: How to create an entertainment franchise using a crossmedial approach to Storytelling, a live-action film, a graphic novel, an animated series and a videogame

A fully fleshed storyworld ‘bible’ should include detailed character profilesand backstories and extended story arcs. Also, the bible needs to list historical and real world events that help define and authenticate your setting. Lastly, it’s important to define the rules of your transmedia storyworld (if they differ from the rules of the real world) and the visual elements that distinguish or define your world.

A transmedia storyworld

When developing a premise, logo or central character for your brand, keep in mind the generic realm of the piece. Who are the core followers? What other audiences might connect with the concept? At beActive, we examine the marketability of a project from day one by determining whether or not there is a community already built around our story’s subject. We try to tap into that community by asking ourselves what sort of entertainment experiences this particular audience is looking for. Our new Emmy-nominated Sci-fi transmedia series Collider’s niche audience, for example, is familiar with the precepts of science fiction. They’re willing to suspend their disbelief in order to engage in the post-apocalyptic storyworld. We decided to develop a graphic novel, comic book series, and a gaming element to draw out the interests of the fandom. Watch the official teaser:

No matter which genre you’re writing into, establishing firm rules for your storyworld and sticking to them is vital to creating and maintaining the credibility of your story. Where and when is your story set? Does it follow the rules of today’s laws of nature and society or is there an alternate set of parameters that define your real? For instance, the Collider feature is set in the year 2018—the apex of a worldwide catastrophe. The planet is beset with natural disasters, and humankind is on the brink of extermination at the hands of monstrous creatures called ‘the Unknown.’ The ‘rules’ of these monsters are evocative of vampire and zombie mythology: they can only attack in darkness. By applying an existing archetype to the Collider storyworld, we were able to create a more complex sci-fi narrative that involves theoretical physics and time travel. In instances such as this, you can draw from your audience’s store of generic characters or scenarios to do some of the work of defining the rules of your storyworld. When you are presenting a novel concept, you cannot make any assumptions about what will be transparent to your audience. Be clear and definitive when setting up the rules of your storyworld, and stick to them when you transition from platform to platform.

We developed detailed back stories for each of the six characters in theCollider project, which allowed us to create a series of comic books and a graphic novel to illustrate the independent plot lines of each character’s life and the subplots created by their collision in a Geneva hotel room in the year 2018. The Collider feature film reiterates the story’s overarching drama—Dr. Peter Ansay’s sabotage of the CERN Collider and his subsequent catapult through the resulting wormhole—and further develops the implications of his time travel by positioning him and five strangers as the potential saviors of the known world.

At present, we’re developing a spin-off television series which carries the storyline beyond Ansay’s and his begrudging cohorts’ success in restoring the collider (and the planet) to order. Now they have control over a time travel device, and they decide to form a Mission Impossible type squad to avoid future catastrophe. Governmental agencies and private citizens hire Ansay and his team to travel into the future, witness a probable crime, and bring back the information necessary to prevent a pandemic from breaking out or a president from being assassinated.

The series compliments the overall property and also functions as a stand-alone piece; we were able to bring off this fifth reimagining of the brand because we took the time, in the earliest stages of the project’s development, to create well-defined characters with in-depth backstories and a compelling storyworld to trot out their real time stories. Backstory is particularly important to the Collider project because each of the main characters has the ability to go back in time and relive his personal history from 2012 to 2018. For each of these characters, backstory has a more immediate impact because they have a standing opportunity to not only anticipate and thwart crime but the transgressions made in their own lives. By allowing for extensive pre-planning which provides a logical and aesthetical framework, we will be able to create several seasons of spin-off material.

Article originally posted on MipBlog on June 13, 2014.



How to use Transmedia to launch a Movie Franchise

How to use Transmedia to launch a Movie Franchise

Transmedia is a buzzword that the film industry has used quite a lot in the last couple of years, from independent movies that have a companion web site and a Facebook Fan page, to the multi-million dollar interactive experience that involve games, web sites and live events. But what all these different, so-called, ‘transmedia’ projects have in common is the desire of their producers to engage an audience using digital and social media tools.

The distribution and monetisation of content in multiple platforms or mediums is not new. Major studios and networks have been doing it for decades.They were the gatekeepers that controlled the access to audience; they were the ones that had the sufficient marketing power to promote their content to an audience on every single platform that became popular. What the transmedia approach and the digital platforms are bringing to the table that is new, is the fact that independent filmmakers are now able, for the first time, to directly connect with their audience using social media and on-line communities without multi-million dollar campaigns. Indies are now able to create their own franchises.

Transmedia Franchise

For the first time, filmmakers can “own the audience”. They can talk to the audience and find out what they like (or dislike). The success of their movies is not 100% dependable on a film distributor or sales agent. Using a transmedia approach, directors and producers can validate their work directly with a real audience and can build a fan base and increase awareness of their project from early development stage to the premiere of the movie. During this period, that in the indie world can mean a few years, audiences can be part of the production of the movie and feel that this is their movie too. This will mean a pre-built audience willing not only to pay for a ticket to see the movie but they also become advocates that can spread the good word about the movie on their own social media profiles or directly to their (real) friends.

Without multi-million dollar campaigns, the success of an independent film is always achieved with strong word of mouth and good reviews in the press (and a few awards at the most important festivals). What the transmedia approach allows, is for the producers and the creative team to start building that word of mouth process as early as possible so it can grow, as a snowball, during all the production process, so when the movie premieres it already has an audience. The success of movies like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or more recent Kevin Smith’s Red State was the result of the buzz created by the filmmakers using the internet and social media.

Most of the so-called transmedia projects that were produced in the last couple of years are just that – transmedia brand extensions. Most studio and network executives see it only as on-line marketing tool to promote to the young crowds of movie goers the upcoming summer blockbusters or the new sci-fi based network TV series. But the concept of transmedia goes beyond that.

At my company, beActive Entertainment, we’ve been developing a script for asci-fi based feature film inspired by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider experiments. The movie is temporarily called Collider and is set to start principal photography later in September, with a release date set to the second quarter of 2013. But the story world around the movie will start to seed to its audience in June 2012.

As the main story focus on six characters mysteriously transported to a post-apocalyptic future, where they find themselves involved in a race against time to find a way to get back to the present and save mankind – and their own lives, we developed the backstory of these characters at present time in the form of six comic books (one per character). By doing this we are able to introduce the characters of movie earlier, listen to audience’s comments and reactions and probably have enough time to fine-tune the characters of the movie based on audience’s reaction to them.

The world will then be extended with an iPad and iPhone game that introduces the story of the movie and is set in the future. Here, the audience will have to follow the same path as the characters do in the movie. The idea is not to tell the same story in advance, but make audiences familiar with characters, themes and the rules of this universe that we are creating. And in the process, start building a fan base, a community that will, in the next year and half create an audience for the movie when it will be released in 2013. The full experience evolves into a web series which will be distributed for free on the internet, allowing the audience to learn what caused the apocalypse described in the movie (and allow us to test casting choices directly with an audience before we start shooting the movie).

The big Hollywood studios have been using this approach for years. Most of the movies released every summer are based on existing comic books (or other properties, like games or toys) and they already have an existing audience spread through several web sites and social media profiles, which connects with the content all year around. And then every few years a new movie comes out to satisfy the demand from this loyal fan base. But now, thanks to development of new digital media platforms, small independent producers can use the same approach and increase brand awareness of their movies and establish their own franchises.

Does this transmedia approach fit all film projects? It depends on the filmmaker’s plans for his work. I usually say that the transmedia franchise approach, because of the commitment in time and resources, only makes sense if you see yourself producing sequels. If you are only interested in producing a one-off movie, a little small character-driven drama, probably the franchise approach doesn’t suit you. But even so, you can use some of concepts of transmedia to build your audience, your fan base, and to feed the content development stage.

The secret is to involve your audience as early as possible. Ask for their participation, let them help, whatever suggesting plot points or casting, to more sophisticated approach’s can be letting the audience create some elements for your movie, from posters, web sites or communities. If the audience is involved in the making of your movie, they will be the first ones to want to see your (and theirs) work. They will be the ones promoting your movie and getting their friends and family to join them on this experience.

The big complaint I keep hearing from film producers is that transmedia is more work for less money. It’s true that the majority of distributors and traditional funders will not give you any additional money for the production of the transmedia elements, but the truth is that power of having a pre-existing audience, a loyal fan base, is probably more important for your movie. Unfortunately we live in a world overcrowded with movies but audiences are becoming smaller. If you have your own built in audience of fans, you have more chances to succeed. Film distributors, sales agents and exhibitors are not just looking for good movies. They are also looking for movies with pre-built audiences.

Article originally posted on MipBlog on May 1, 2012.


Transmedia Storytelling is a social experience

Transmedia Storytelling is a social experience

One of the defining moments of my early career as a writer-producer occurred in 2001 when I was working on a collaborative primetime series with Portugal’s TV Cabo and Microsoft. At the time, Microsoft was exploring the technical feasibility of interactive television and they were road-testing their products in Portugal before launching a product to a global audience. As the project progressed, I became more and more interested in how different types of content attract different types of audiences and provoke particular responses. When you present your audience with a format that is slightly more engaging than the typical television series, more often than not they’ll form an emotional connection with the narrative and respond to it in a way that is both more profound and enduring.


The interactive card game we developed to promote an existing TV show is a case in point. The multi-player game employed a simplistic design and allowed each player to interact with the game itself, as well as other audience members. Players could challenge other individuals in the viewing community, partner up with other players, and chat. Over time, the game became more successful than its primetime counterpart because its players could interact with one another and actively participate with the content. This social element created a sense of conversation amongst the players, which enriched their experience and spurred further interaction. The game’s success convinced me that, in a world saturated with media, you can still capture an audience by telling your story in a way that brings people together.

Storytelling is a social experience. We’ve been telling stories for millennia to establish connections between others and ourselves and to make sense of the world around us. As producers, we shouldn’t forget how important this need to interact and participate is to telling and experiencing a story. The most effective stories therefore are inclusive, not exclusive. They create a community of viewers engaged in ongoing dialogue. Unlike the ‘choose your own adventure’ style of storytelling, transmedia enriches stories by activating our human affinity for shared experiences. Whatever your take on a television show or film, that perception is enhanced in conversation when you can share and revisit the story with someone else. Certainly one of the pleasures of watching a big name show is the opportunity for discourse that it creates. Mad Men is all the more relevant to me if my friends or coworkers are always watching it and we can discuss the show collectively.

Before the age of digital media, when you watched a television show, you could only talk with the person beside you on the couch, over the telephone, or at work the following day. It was impossible to have the sort of global, real-time conversations we have routinely today. When I was in school, for instance, I would tune in to watch the latest hit animated show at six p.m., but I would have to wait until the following day to chat with my friends about it, and even then my voice was limited to a very localised audience – my classmates!

The interactive TV card game, mentioned above, was ground breaking in that allowed players to communicate remotely (and in real time) with people they more than likely didn’t know. The actuality of the story was made all the more palpable by its ability to create the occasion for conversation between strangers. Nowadays, new digital technologies and social media have created platforms through which communication between individuals and audiences occurs on a global scale and in real time.

Article originally posted on MipBlog on April 7, 2015.


The New TV Pilot Season: Bringing YouTube Stars to TV Screens

The New TV Pilot Season: Bringing YouTube Stars to TV Screens

Hollywood is in love with YouTube. Last year, DreamWorks Animation paid $33 million for YouTube channel AwesomenessTV, Warner Bros. invested $18 million in the YouTube channel Machinima and most recently, Disney purchased Maker Studios for $500 million. At this point, many other studios are probably negotiating acquisitions of these multi-channel networks. The explanation for so much love is simple: These channels reach an audience bigger than any TV network, especially to a target demographic that proves hard to connect with TV.


It’s a fact that new generations spend more time on the Internet than watching traditional linear television. This success has prompted some Internet-based web series or YouTube celebrities to cross to TV, but for many Hollywood executives, these new Internet sensations become an easy way to pilot new material that can be later transformed to a hit TV series, and some even say this is a cheaper way to pilot new shows. Just seed a few thousand dollars to new talent, let them shoot these shows with their friends, see the ones that can build an audience and then bring the YouTube hit shows to the TV screen.

The new tv pilot season

Since the NBC experiment with Quarterlife, transferring it from Myspace to the 10pm TV slot, hundreds of producers and creators are still trying to find the secret formula for how to create a successful TV show out of a popular YouTube star or web series. Many tried and most failed and the reason is simple: Not all successful entertainment brands can translate really well to other formats, because what makes it unique on one platform may not work in other media.


The problem of using YouTube to pilot new TV concepts, characters and hosts is that we are talking about two different media and two different audiences. Both media have totally different languages, rhythms and experiences. This is why YouTube audiences can’t be bothered with TV content repurposed on the Internet, and television audiences can’t understand the buzz about these new Internet stars. A 3 to 5 minute piece-to-camera with a teenage kid shouting into the microphone, showing something “cool,” with a lot of jump cuts and text on the screen is not what TV audiences expect.

That is not to say that YouTube can’t be a valid platform to pilot and test new TV concepts. As we live in a world where there’s more and more content available each minute and fewer and fewer loyal eyeballs to follow it, it’s natural that the adaptation of an established brand (with a huge following) presents itself as a clear path to success in the very competitive TV market. Nonetheless, executives and producers need to understand that to get a hit show out of a YouTube sensation, it’s still necessary to develop the TV concept, adapt it to the format of the medium and to the expectations of a more “broad” audience.

In the case of scripted content, more and more engaging characters need to be added and plot and backstory needs to be extended. All the hype and excitement that you can show on a 3 minute video will not hold up in a one-hour show, week after week. Then it’s necessary to think about the format: the length and the pace of TV, the ad breaks and the cliffhangers. TV is another beast completely and although successful on YouTube, TV shows based on these properties will still need to be piloted for TV Audiences.

Article originally posted on TechCrunch on August 9, 2014.


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