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Transmedia Storytelling: Place & Pace, Rivers & Bridges

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Thoughts on the different types of stories told in New York City versus Los Angeles and the television as a story bridge.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 24 may 2011

A few weeks ago in Los Angeles at Soho House West Hollywood, we held a PSFK SALON on the subject of Transmedia Storytelling. It was an interesting subject to choose because, even though we had heard a lot about the theme, we didn’t know too much. We had four great speakers talk (J.C. Christofilis from DILEMMA, Kristen Olson of Cimarron Group, producer Ben Rock, Gunther Sonnenfeld of RAPP) and Scott Walker moderated a great Q&A session with the speakers and audience at the end. I learned a lot but I came away with an observation and a prediction that might help us understand how stories told across mediums will evolve. This thinking is done without a thorough read of existing transmedia theory – it’s based more on tech and content trends that we monitor everyday:

Observation: Los Angeles And New York Tell Different Types Of Stories Set At Different Paces

My takeaway from the event was the different approach to Transmedia Storytelling between the coasts.

In New York, I think we tend to see the storytelling over a limited time length. This could possibly be due to the fact that New York’s content production has been led by the publishing and advertising industries. Traditionally, stories in those mediums often have to be told in 30 seconds, or by the end of an article. Transmedia Storytelling that comes from New York seems to be about shorter stories and because of the nature of the skills base here – it is more copy and photography intensive and therefore it is more suited for print and static digital and mobile mediums.

In Los Angeles, the film industry has provided a traditional concentration on long form narrative. Stories run for more than 120 minutes and that naturally influences the way the producers are contemplating Transmedia Storytelling. What seems to be more common is intensive back-story, character development and because of the nature of skills in Los Angeles – the output tends to use moving image.

Prediction: Television Will Offer A Bridge For Stories By Providing A Flow Of “Dumb Content”

Of course the bi-coastal observation above ignores television production – which both cities do very well – but instead of working out how it influences the type of narrative created across mediums, it might be more productive to consider the role it may end up playing in Transmedia Storytelling.

If behavioral trends continue in entertainment consumption, people will be sitting in front of their TVs with another screen on such as a tablet, ebook, laptop or phone. Often, that other screen will be a source of focus for them and will definitely be the way the audience interacts with content.

One could argue that the television is still one of the most arresting formats around. My feeling is that TVs can leverage that to provide bridges for stories that run across media. TVs will be “on in the background” and rivers of “dumb content” will flow through them that would glue the various chapters of a story together. Because TVs will be ‘always on’ (or could be) these bridges allow storytellers and the audience to take a moment’s break from the multi-dimensional and involved content that digital media enables and the bridges allow everyone to relax with simple one-directional audio-visual content which compared to smart media will be seen as rather dumb. Video won’t be the only dumb content – audio will remain pretty one-dimensional for a while too.

You see this in the work of experiments in book publishing already. At the end of chapters in Anthony Zuicker’s books there’s a link to video content that takes the reader to the next chapter (Zuiker actually calls these cyber-bridges). Right now when viewers access the video, they have to go through to YouTube or a special website. In the future, when you click on that link on an ebook or phone, maybe your high definition (dumb) TV changes the channel and plays the well produced and costly (dumb) content instead?

TV ownership is declining but the ‘box’ could become important again because it will be the bridge that takes you from one place or another in a story – a kind of glue that holds the story together.

image by Gary Hayes

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