Very excited for part 2 of Simon Pullman’s excellent post on transmedia for low budget filmmakers. Last week was the why. This week is a quick intro to the how.
Transmedia for Low Budget Filmmakers
Part II: Executing a Transmedia Project
by Simon Pulman
Having decided to consider a Transmedia project as an alternative to a conventional feature film, you now need to think about how to execute the project. It is important to note that – just like a feature film – there are good and bad ways to spend your budget. I highly recommend looking to “trade favors” – working on your peers’ projects with the understanding that they will help you out in return. Furthermore, you should certainly consider granting equity in your project to trusted collaborators; very few people have the skill set to pull off a multi-platform story single-handedly.
Here are a few suggestions:
You need to have a really strong idea of how your various narrative strands are going to interweave. True Transmedia requires integration of complementary story elements and themes in a cohesive and compelling way – it is not merely the addition of new media gimmicks or social networking aspects to an existing story. This greatly increases the upfront work required of you, which is why Lance Weiler’s company Seize the Media refer to themselves as “story architects.”
2. Hire a Lawyer
I suggest that you seek to cut a deal with a knowledgeable entertainment attorney. You are developing something that could grow into an ongoing, lucrative property. A Transmedia project is extremely complex, so you must ensure that relationships are articulated and rights maintained appropriately. If traditional attorney’s fees are out of your budget, get in touch with an organization such as Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and see if a lawyer will take on your project pro bono.
3. Concentrate On Your Production Values
Since you are a filmmaker, I’m going to assume that your core (“driving”) story platform will be a web video. It’s extremely easy nowadays to pick up an HD camcorder, or a DSLR video camera, and simply begin shooting. However, unless your story specifically demands a handheld aesthetic, I suggest that you take some time to study basic cinematography principles. As I said in Part I of this piece, if you can create great looking web video, you can immediately stand out. If you have the money to hire a professional D.P. and Production Designer (or can entice them by other methods), absolutely do so.
4. Find The Right Talent
On a similar note, think long and hard about how you cast and rehearse your actors. You could write an incredibly compelling cross-platform narrative, but will still lose viewers immediately if your performances are not believable. You may not have a lot of money, but you do have time, so spend it finding the right actors and working with them on their characters before you shoot a frame.
5. Create An Immersive Web Experience
It’s well worth putting aside a substantial portion of your budget to create a deep, content-rich website set in the world of the story to sets up potential narrative threads for other platforms. It should be sleek and easily navigable. www.valemontu.com, created to support MTV’s Transmedia series Valemont, is an excellent example of this.
6. Find a Score to Tie Your Stories Together
Transmedia commentators rarely discuss music, but I believe it to be an utterly critical piece of the puzzle – it can tie together narratives and invoke emotions like nothing else (think about the Star Wars score). Approach local musicians and discuss the project with them. With luck, you will find somebody who understands the sensibility of the project and will be happy to receive the exposure it will bring.
7. Use Panels and Ink
There are a lot of very talented artists on the internet. Consider crowdsourcing to find somebody to collaborate with on a graphic novel (which could be distributed through traditional print, digital platforms, or even as a “motion comic”). Graphic novels allow you to tell stories in an action packed, visceral way that you might not be able to accomplish on video with your budget and capabilities.
8. Interact with your Audience
Here is where you can get really interesting – by encouraging the audience to interact with the world of the story. Consider paying a writer (with whom you will thoroughly discuss the story world) to run several character twitter feeds concurrent with the release of your other content. These twitter feeds will chat with the audience, while dripping more story information at agreed intervals. MTV’s Savage County is doing this right now.
9. Think Live Events
Likewise, you can try to engage potential viewers directly through live events and targeted promotion. Perhaps some element of your story could acted out live on the streets, and shot covertly through flipcam for later release. You may think of this as “viral marketing,” and it is, but it’s also an important, in-canon part of the story. If you have a genre piece especially, you will be able to locate sympathetic, potential future superfans to help with promoting your story. Check out Campfire’s website to see how they targeted future superfans with their campaign for HBO’s True Blood.
10. Keep Something Back
Remember to keep back part of your budget to give the project a little push along the road if necessary. You never know; once you build up an audience, it might inspire you to try something creative that you had not considered at the project’s inception. The only limit to a Transmedia narrative is your imagination.
The Goal, And Economics
Your goal in the short term is to build a fanbase – a following that will consume your subsequent work and ultimately allow you to make a very good living as a storyteller. However, the aim is to at least break even on this first project.
Accordingly, you need to think about monetizing your project before you shoot a frame or write a word. I won’t sugar coat it; there is not yet a paradigm revenue model for grassroots Transmedia. One possibility is to give away the Driving Platform stories for free (in this case, the webisodes), while charging for side stories. At the product’s conclusion, a “special edition” compilation containing all story threads, the soundtrack, a behind-the-scenes DVD and so on is put for sale. Merchandise such as T-shirts should certainly be in your thinking as well.
Furthermore, you could think about brand integration right from your project’s inception. Think about who you are targeting with the film, and consider making partnerships with relevant brands to mitigate cost. This could mean asking a local clothing designer to provide the wardrobe for free, or even partnering with a platform such as Youtube or Vimeo to sponsor the entire project in return for exclusive video hosting rights.
A Word of Caution
I hope that I have given filmmakers something to think about with this article. Before I end, however, I should offer a caveat: don’t even consider attempting a Transmedia project unless you have put a great deal of thought into your story and the universe that surrounds it. Fortunately, you can learn a lot about this process simply by following the #transmedia hashtag on Twitter, and searching for “Transmedia” on YouTube. I also recommend the book “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri – a book intended for playwrights, but containing timeless principles that extend to Transmedia.
Transmedia demands that you know your characters intimately, and have defined the rules of your story world extremely precisely. Unless you know your story completely, its expansion into branching plotlines and platforms will be clunky, confusing and ultimately alienating for the audience. That said, if you can put the work in, and have the storytelling chops to pull off a multiplatform story, the benefits will be tremendous – both for you, and your story.