ACG Unabridged: Jay Bushman

Last week I announced a new blog series in which I'll run material that was sadly cut from the final version of A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. The first of these is the extra material from my interview with Jay Bushman. This is a fitting start because Jay has been particularly influential to me personally, on top of all of the great work he's done. Let's get this party started, shall we?

Q: How did you get into transmedia?

A: I’m still not sure I’m even in it. But seriously, I had played The Beast in 2001 and found it to be a revelatory experience. In the years after, I was living in Los Angeles and trying to make a living as a screenwriter. But the number of gatekeepers that seem only exist to keep you from making anything was maddening.

This was around the time that the musician Jonathan Coulton was becoming well known for his success with skipping record labels and releasing his music directly to the audience through the net, and when Cory Doctorow was making a big splash by releasing a novel online for free. And I wondered if you could do the same thing with a drama. So I started thinking about using the net and its various tools as the conduit to tell dramatic stories. 

Around this time, I saw a quote from the writer Warren Ellis that inspired me to take the leap. It was something like, “The hurdle to credible web publishing is now the nine dollars it costs to register a domain name mapped to a free Tumblr.” So I started writing things that were shaped to fit, not in a screenplay or stage play format, or in a short story format, but for blogs and Twitter and other free social networking systems. 

I spent a few years trying to come up with ways to describe what I was doing – “net- native fiction,” “ambient media,” “platform-agnostic storytelling” - but everything I came up with was clunky and confusing. Eventually, “transmedia” started making the rounds as a term that seemed to encompass “doing storytelling stuff on the Internet” and it seemed like this was the closest thing out there that fit what I was doing. 

Q: Can you tell me a little about your favorite projects? 

A: Obviously, The Beast. It’s the "Birth of a Nation" for transmedia, and it altered the course of my life.

 The Year Zero ARG – for me, this was the highest evolution of the “classical” ARG form, where the online world and the Nine Inch Nails CD it was supposedly marketing were virtually seamless. 

Shadow Unit - http://www.shadowunit.org - a television show that never existed, with episodes in the form of short stories, character blogs, and hidden DVD extras. Brilliant writing, and proves that there’s always a way to tell your story, even if it’s not readily apparent. 

War of the Worlds 2.0 – this was an eye-opening experience for me, and started me down the path of using Twitter as a collaborative storytelling medium 

Of my own projects, I always enjoy #SXStarWars – especially the first one, where I assembled a cast of around 20 to perform a real-time re-enactment of the attack on the Death Star. The 2011 edition was also very gratifying – participants got to describe their experiences at a tech conference set in the Star Wars universe, and the players came up with some really amazing, hysterically funny contributions. 

Q: How do you get people to participate in your Twitter projects? 

A: I tend to announce my projects somewhat informally. I post about it on my twitter account, write a couple of blog posts, and ask people to spread the word. It’s not the most effective method, and it’s determinedly laid-back. But I don’t really design these projects to have a major footprint. Or maybe I just need a publicist or something. 

Q: How do you keep track of it all while it's running?

A: With a lot of difficulty. There are few good tools for archiving large volumes of tweets, especially if you’re not a corporation paying for an expensive service. Lately, I’ve been using tools like Storify and Keepstream, even though they’re not really built to handle long narratives. But every time I try something different, and I haven’t found the right thing yet.