ACG Unabridged: Brian Clark

Brian Clark is a mad genius. A creator, a marketer, a thinker of deep and provocative thoughts; he's a founder at GMD Studios, and if you know me, you certainly know him. Brian has famously evolving opinions on the term "transmedia," but here, at least, is a snapshot from his brain some months back.

Q: How did you get into transmedia?

A: I got so lucky. I'm about as old as you can be and have grown up with "the network" — I was running BBS systems in the 1980s and volunteering to design MUD platforms in the early 1990s, but never really thought of computers as anything interesting professionally beyond being a tool to do something else that was interesting. I was working as independent music producer and recording engineer up until we started the collaboration that became GMD Studios in 1994, so the indie D.I.Y. necessities of that music scene were always multi-modal. To make a living, you needed to know how to do small presses of CD, how to build up a touring network, how to promote your work from city to city. 

What the Web suggested that the network might become seemed like an extension of that D.I.Y aesthetic, so most of our work has always utilized the opportunities of integration in a similar fashion. For me, that all hangs together under the concept of experience design — how do I create more meaningful experiences with and for participants?

Q: Where do you see the art and business of storytelling headed over the next few years?

A: The next big wave of innovation isn't going to be in the art, it is going to be in the business. Enough of us have done enough work over the last decade to prove that there are very few limits and what we can do from the artistic side or how many models of storytelling can work to create meaningful experiences for audiences. Now, those experiences are really limited by the business models, because every major piece of work audiences sees, whether from an entertainment property extension or a brand marketing experience or a "serious" issues piece, works from the same business model where the funding is connected to a tactical outcome. That movie studio is really paying for butts in seats on opening weekend, that brand marketer is really paying for awareness and consideration, and even the issue funders are measuring an outcome in attitude and a size of reach. That reduces the role of the storyteller to tactician, and means most of the work created is disposable from the funder's perspective once the goal is reached (or if it fails to reach it.)

So as storytellers, we have to turn all this cleverness towards solving the business model problems the way touring brands and self-published authors and independent filmmakers and other non-commercial artists have created. Which means these can't just be our private little secret business plans — they have to be something that can be taught to the next generation of storytellers the way we got to learn from half-a-century of artists that preceded us.

Q: What would you recommend a transmedia creator learn about to improve their craft?

A: First off, a lot less talking and a lot more doing. Nothing improves your skills like practice. Which means you shouldn't try to start with that big transmedia opus that has been burning in your brain for a decade, you should start with smaller works that let you practice that craft. Second, realize that you want to have no limit on the kinds of things you can produce, which means you should learn as much as you can about the theory and craft of good storytelling in each of those mono-modal forms — learn to be a filmmaker, learn to be an audio engineer, learn to be a theatrical director, learn to be a code monkey. That knowledge will improve the way you design overall experiences and make you a better producer for interacting with the specialists you'll fill your team with.

This is bonus material from A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, out on June 22 -- just three weeks away! Preorder your copy today. And once you do... why don't you get it signed in advance?

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