Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Some thoughts on transmedia storytelling.

It's been a while since I've made any reflective posts about media and my thoughts on such things. This is largely due to my spending most of my days up to my neck in the subject – when you spend all your time swimming in this stuff, it becomes difficult to pull back and really reflect on it. It's kind of like asking a fish to describe water.

That said, I wanted to ruminate for a few minutes about a bunch of stuff that's been on my mind lately. The biggest thing is transmedia storytelling, since it looks like that's where I'm going to be writing my thesis.

The first question I'll have to deal with (which is handy for those of you who are just coming to the show) is: What exactly is transmedia storytelling? In short, transmedia storytelling is telling a unified tale across different media. One excellent example is how The Wachowski Brothers positioned their Enter the Matrix video game squarely between Reloaded and Revolutions. If you invested the time to play the game, a sizeable amount of stuff in the third movie made more sense. This isn't a perfect example of transmedia storytelling in my book because the game isn't necessary to enjoy the third movie. To my mind, transmedia storytelling should be a direct chapter jump from one media to the next: chapter one is a book, chapter two is a movie, chapter three is a game, etc.

One counterargument is that each media element in a transmedia property should stand on its own. The X-Files movie, Fight the Future, could technically be viewed without having seen the TV show; the same can be said about Joss Whedon's Firefly and its filmic spinoff, Serenity. The logic here is that each component of the property acts as a potential point of entry into the franchise. This makes a certain amount of sense, but I want to push the envelope further and really tighten up the narrative connections between chapters. I want to tell a story like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica, where each episode really is the next chapter in the story, and not deal with any monster-of-the-week episodes. I want to see what would happen if you scrapped the whole "individual point of entry" bit and really made the whole experience cohesive. So this will be the second question in my research, namely: How tightly do the components of a transmedia property need to adhere to each other?

There are so many questions to answer here, such as:

  • When is it economically feasible, or desirable, for an author to create a transmedia property?

  • What types of stories lend themselves the most to transmediation?

  • What particular types of media are best suited to handle particular parts of stories?

  • What is the ideal order for transmediation to occur?

  • How much would it cost for an independent creator to author a transmedia property?

  • Is it even possible for an independent creator to affordably create a transmedia property?

  • How does a transmedia property overcome the 'primary media' problem (example: the 'primary media' component of Star Wars is film; everything else is perceived as a secondary media element)?

  • How does a creator pitch and sell a transmedia project?

  • What is the ideal delivery method for transmedia properties?

  • What are some possible business models for the creation of transmedia properties?

The list goes on and on. It's an astonishingly fertile field, which I hope to plow with some fruitful results. (Wow, was that a horribly overextended metaphor.) To that end, I've registered and set up, which will soon serve as a weblog and online resource for this sort of thing, most likely under the auspices of the CMS program (and perhaps the C3 sub-banner as well). What I'd like to do is use these questions to write a long, in-depth paper on the subject (which might be turned into a book?) and then actually try to make one. It's crazy, I know, given the sheer amount of work that would be involved, but it also seems like the best way to get my foot in the door of as many places as possible – and, hell, if I can create each component of a transmedia property, then I can hit all kinds of cool conventions... SPX, here I come!

So, anyway, that's where my mind is these days. I'll post something here when the new blog properly launches. I still need to go in and speak with my advisors on this subject, so wish me luck – for all I know, they'll make me research the sociopolitical impact of the Russian tree newt on Muscovite radio dramas. Or something. Never underestimate the power of academia to assign crippingly boring projects...


Let me know if you need any help with the filmmaking. I'm a writer/director, but I do a pretty sweet job of editing and cinematography. Wanna start a production company after we all graduate? I'm totally serious.

Planning to spend 10 years writing your dissertation, eh? It sounds like a very cool topic, Geoff.

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