Transmedia

Transmedia Rolodex 2015

Friends, colleagues, artists all: I'm in a great position right now. I have more work than I can shake a stick at, and it looks like things are going to stay that way well into the foreseeable future. But it's not that way for everyone, and I'd like to do a little something about that.

I present to you the Transmedia Rolodex 2015.

If you're someone who's worked in the transmedia space -- an experience designer, a web developer or coder, a writer, an artist, video producer, anything -- leave your name in the comments here, along with a portfolio link and a suggestion on the best way to contact you for work.

I'll use this rolodex myself when trying to think of someone to refer work to, and indeed should I find myself needing someone to fill a particular skill gap in my team. And it's my hope that other people will also use this as a reference for finding people familiar with the particular needs and peculiarities of working in our liminal art. 

So please, leave your info here -- and if you get hired as a result, hey, drop me a line? I'd love to hear about it!

 


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Star Wars and Continuity

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, we've been seeing epochal shifts in how the Star Wars property is handled. JJ Abrams is directing a new film. Two Star Wars games in development were canceled and Lucasarts was shut down entirely. And now, Marvel (another Disney property) will be reclaiming the license for Star Wars comic books from Dark Horse in 2015.

Now, Star Wars canon and continuity has long existed in a curious state, where the films and TV series were the Bible and all other works were apocrypha of dubious "truth." Given the many changes underway, fans are speculating on how continuity will be handled by Disney going forward.

There's a fair amount of enthusiasm for the idea of bringing the entire Extended Universe into legit-canon status, working through and retconning whatever conflicts there are, and in general shaping the sprawling, messy story world that is Star Wars into a strict and rigorous history, where we know what's factual and what is not.

I'd like to argue against this.

In transmedia narrative, we often talk about showing what happens elsewhere once a character walks off the screen (or the page.) In that traditional model, we might see the burning of the Skywalker farm in Episode IV, for example, or Palpatine's behind-the-scenes political machinations.

But this is not the only way to do storyworld or continuity. History itself does not have the rigor we demand from our fiction. In reality, sometimes all we have are biased accounts, sometimes conflicting witness reports, records that may be inaccurate, misleading, second-hand. And mixed in with our history we have myth. Was there a King Arthur in England, or a Robin Hood? Maybe, maybe not. We don't really know.

Star Wars should be like this. We should accept that such an intricate world with so many creators involved will have inconsistencies, and write up such conflicts as the result of bias and the messy process of time. It all happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, after all. Who are we to know the ultimate truth?

Now, I recognize I'm voicing a minority opinion, here. Fandoms do tend to love clarity, knowing exactly what happened, so they can draw connections and make conclusions all on their own. Ambiguity is aesthetically displeasing to many of us.

But I think there's a certain beauty in having a messy storyworld, one where myth and fact blur together. And in demanding a concrete truth from a universe like Star Wars, we are robbing ourselves of potentially amazing stories. 

Imagine, if you will, the manifold ways that the relationship between Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo could play out. In one they marry and have twin babies, as in the books. In another, she lays down her life to save him and he spends the rest of his days hunting for vengeance. In still another, a woman from Han's past comes between them, and decades pass before that wound can heal. 

We don't need to know which one is "true." Marvel should know that -- how many reboots and alt-worlds have we seen in comics, after all? Perfect consistency doesn't really matter, shouldn't matter at all, provided what we get out of the bargain are rich, deep stories. Why close the door on them before they've even been told?


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TEDx Transmedia

In September of last year, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at TEDx Transmedia in Rome. The talk, "The Ethics and Responsibilities of Fiction," was a new one for me. I covered some of my usual ethics-of-transmedia concerns, of course. But I also took it in the same direction as my GOOD piece, pointing out how the stories we tell fundamentally change society.

I think it was a good talk. I hope you like it.


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So How Was 2013?

It's the time of year when the idle mind drifts toward the past year's accomplishments and failures. This has been a strange year for me; I feel like I've taken enormous leaps forward in some respects, and lost ground in others. I guess that's fair, since 2011 and 2012 were both pretty big for me. They can't all be big.

So call this a fallow year, perhaps, getting the spirit ready for new growth in the new year. One can hope.

I Did Some Projects

It's no secret that the curious intersection of games, story, community management, and marketing in which I do most of my client work has had a shaky year or so. That's been visible in my pipeline of paying client work; the flow of work dried up unexpectedly at about this time a year ago and never fully recovered. It's been a pleasant break from always doing four projects at once, to be sure, but a little rush of when-it-rains-it-pours would be welcome for my bank account right... about... now.

That said, I'm pleased with the client projects I did in 2013. For one, I made forays into the fashion industry this year -- I helped out the Diesel Reboot project which was nominated for a Mashable Award. And I got to do a little workshopping at Glamour, which was lovely.

My biggest project for the year, though, was probably The Walk -- a co-creation of Six to Start and Naomi Alderman, for which I had the joy of doing storylining, character creation, early drafts and additional writing. The game will launch in just a few days, and I'll have a little more to say about it once that's happened.

A project from 2012 finally launched, too: the GE Wonderground project went up in the spring. (...But seems to be gone already. Ephemerality, eh.)

Which moves on to my next point: this was another big year for evaporating projects and unsuccessful pitches. Early on, a simply marvelous project in the beauty industry that had seemed like a sure thing -- even to the point of sending across a deal memo for me to sign -- fell through at the eleventh hour. And a pitch for an extension of a TV show I desperately wanted to work on wasn't greenlit, either. I have regrets; both of these projects would have been stellar if they'd been built out. Alas.

Well, there's always something else, right?

Indie Work Ahoy!

I've been saying for years I want to focus harder on making and shipping my own work. That's the silver lining in that slow pipeline -- this year I finally started to follow through. To that end, Lucy Smokeheart is my flagship accomplishment for 2013. Not in terms of money, really (though $7700 in Kickstarted funds is nothing to sneeze at, as far as publishing goes!) But I feel those creaky wheels start to turn. You cannot build an audience without shipping work.

Lucy has been tremendous fun to write. It's also been a difficult project for me, as far as setting my own expectations at a reasonable bar. I'm used to working on a scale of audience a couple of magnitudes bigger, so while Lucy's been a success by the benchmarks I set myself up front (earning about as much as a genre novel advance in Kickstarted funds) I haven't really seen the steadily growing flow of additional sales I'd hoped for.

The readership also hasn't formed much in the way of a cohesive community, and by and large hasn't been especially excited and talkative about the project (at least not anywhere I've seen). This leads me to the conclusion that it is simply not as awesome as it needs to be. I am of course committed to finishing the Lucy project no matter what, but I'm newly riddled with insecurity regarding whether I got what it takes, etc., etc. 

In other independent work: you may or may not remember my talking about Felicity throughout last year. At the beginning of the year, my agent was shopping around Felicity, and apparently got some interest -- but editors wanted to see a complete manuscript before biting. To that end, I've started writing from the outline. This is going much more slowly than I'd prefer, but publishing is a slow game and requires nerves of steel.

Appearances and Speaking

I made a conscious choice to do much less punditing this year. In total I only appeared at five or six events, and only attended a couple more on top of that. I feel like speaking about transmedia and marketing has been actively taking away time and energy from doing the work I want to be doing, and from spending time with my family. I don't want to become the person who talks about stuff but never does it anymore.

Some of the engagements I was getting were increasingly making me uncomfortable, too. The applications of transmedia in a B2B situation? Not what I'm here for, not what I'm good at, and trying to squeeze into something like that was starting to make me feel dishonest.

...That said, it's plausible that my pipeline was thinner this year because I did less speaking, so I may have to reconsider that for 2014. 

Miscellany

I started a podcast called The Cultures this year with dear friends and colleagues Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon, so that was nice! It's been a lot of fun to carve out a space each week for thoughtful conversation about religion, science, art, how to live a good life, and so on. I'm delighted to do it, delighted we have some listeners, and in general it's been a lovely experience all around.

I'm doing a little goofy eBay art project called Letting Myself Go, just... because.

I redesigned my website. Isn't it pretty?

Oh yeah, and I had cancer this year? So that happened. I have some thoughts regarding that, but... I think I'm going to put that into another post.

For 2014

So what do I want out of 2014? What are my plans, what are my wishes?

On the practical front, I have a client project in the works right now, but the time commitment and time frame are still a little up in the air. So I might need to hustle. Now my kids are both in grade school, I'm contemplating whether the timing is right for me to finally get a real actual job; a little predictability would be pleasant, and I'm absolutely dying for a project where my involvement is measured in months, not weeks. I'm not convinced, but at the very least I'm much more open to that conversation than I have been in years. Either way -- if you'd like to work with me, as always, drop me a line

For Lucy: I keep on keeping on; I'm even working on a secret proposal for a thing related to Lucy which will hopefully come to fruition at about the same time Lucy concludes, in May or June. (Though we'll see; writing time and scheduling being what they are, it may hit end-of-year instead.) I'll let you know more once I'm a little more confident it's going to pan out.

That vanishing beauty industry project also left me with a story concept I love to pieces, and I may try to get an animated transmedia series produced. A huge undertaking, but I do really, really love the story, so... I just need to get the ball rolling, for right now.

Finally: I parted ways with my agent a few months back, so now I'm officially looking for representation for SF/F genre work. In particular, I have that novel about The Wiki Where Your Edits Come True I'd like to sell. If you are an agent or you're on good terms with an agent and you'd like to introduce me, by all means, reach out. On the other hand, if I've done an honest job of shopping and haven't found an agent by, say, June, then I'm going to find another way to get it out there.

Annnnd I guess that's about a wrap on 2013. A year marked by uncertainty. Here's to being sure of ourselves in 2014, eh?


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Asking the Wrong Question

Transmedia hasn't exactly had a blockbuster 2013. In some circles transmedia's been declared dead and/or an empty buzzword, which amounts to the same thing; we've even seen the autopsy

But more telling, in my eyes, has been the dearth of new projects released this year. Work has been slow; budgets have been tight. Some great work is still being done — work is always being done — but the last two years have seen a decidedly downward trend in the number and variety of transmedia projects being launched. The once-vibrant community active on Twitter and at conferences has fallen quiet. 

It's disheartening to me, both as a creator who wants to be a part of something, and as a person who would like to continue using these skills I've sharpened to keep myself in coffee and warm socks. And, you know, everything else that requires money, too. Which is most everything, it turns out.

It's easy to think this is a crossroads for us; do we carry on? Do we accept that all industries have up and down cycles, and wait for the pendulum to swing back again, as it surely will? Or do we put down our swords and shields in defeat, leave the battlefield, and start new lives in a new place doing something else?  It is in that spirit (or so I assume) that I've been invited to a think tank* to discuss...

...the definition of transmedia. Sigh. 

This invitation-only event** is intended to once and for all hammer out a unified and mutually acceptable definition for transmedia, with the intent of looking at what we have and seeing if it is worth creating some sort of "industry group." 

What is transmedia? This is the wrong question to ask; a definition is beside the point. It's fundamentally not even the problem this group of people are trying to address.  Here's the question we need to be asking:

Given that we are a like-minded group of creators and entrepreneurs; how can we band together for the benefit of each other and our craft?

We already know perfectly well we have a lot in common. You don't need to agree on what transmedia means first — and indeed, I think we've been poorly served by our historic checklist-driven approach to a definition anyway.

Adrian Hon recently introduced me to Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances to define what a game is. I think transmedia is the same thing. We'll never, never find one master checklist, because some members of the family don't have the same nose, others don't have the same curly hair. Some of us are interactive and others have tentpole films. 

But we already know we're all a part of the same family... it's the family of creators and projects and businesses who show up at the table to a discussion of transmedia in the first place.  So starting out the conversation by trying to nail down for once and for all what a member of the family is going to look like is an effort destined for failure. 

I've been down this road before, with the Transmedia Artists Guild. We, too, started with that wrong question. How do we decide who to let in and who not to? This is a question that matters very much if you're issuing a professional accreditation and have to decide who's earned the credit and who hasn't, or who qualifies for a grant and who doesn't. PGA, TriBeCa, Sundance, we're cool.

But if your goal is to make an industry group to support and promote the people and businesses who are making awesome stuff, to allow them to band together for mutual support and advancement, it is the wrong approach. Because the other way to frame that question is: what isn't transmedia? What do we choose to exclude? Who isn't invited to our club?

And that will always result in cutting out the edge cases, the fringe, the innovators. In short, exactly what any transmedia group should be rushing to embrace.  Which is why, in the end, the Transmedia Artists Guild was open to everybody. 

I'm ready to go all-in to an industry group, I really am. I wish the Transmedia Artists Guild had succeeded. I miss the feeling of being a part of something and sharing this journey with like minds. I'd love to share what I know and have with others to promote better work, and I'd love to have a network to support me in my crazy indie efforts, which are getting more ambitious every day. 

But to get there, you have to start by asking the right question. 


* Details and names intentionally omitted because reasons; I'm actually uneasy writing about this event at all, but I feel like the importance of this discussion to the community overrides my duty to respect the shroud of privacy around this event.

** I'm deeply uncomfortable with the framing of this event as an invitation-only think tank of thought leaders, because this means someone has already decided who deserves a voice in this discussion and who doesn't. That's very definitely not the indie-friendly, warm, open community I used to love to pieces.


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