My prediction is that more feature screenplays will start to turn into interactive transmedia stories. The biggest challenge I see is visualizing the script knowing that the audience exercises more control on their viewing experience. I’ve been working more with game designers who I believe should be the script doctors of the future. These guys fully grok non-linear audience controlled narratives. A movie like Inception blew people’s mind because of it’s non-linear approach to narrative, but how would that look as a web experience instead of a film experience? I’d argue that the story would be less impressive because we are so used to non-linear on the web. It blew people’s mind because it messed with expectations of linear three act structure. What if that story was a console game that you could pick up and put down. Again probably less interesting because in games we’re used to jumping in and out of a linear narrative and piecing the puzzle together ourselves.
Making the two minute web experience is easy, making a 20 minute web experience relies on some serious thoughtfulness on all the possible audience reactions which makes for a less contained and often less linear story. But linearity is a plot construct that becomes less important in character driven pieces. This is where our game designer friends are at a disadvantage. Most game designers and game writers aren’t known for developing engaging characters but it’s my belief that the emotional connection you have with a character and their life will be what drives a user to stick around for anything more then a quick hit two minute experience. Does this hybrid role of a Hollywood screenwriter, console game designer, UX specialist exist? Or do we need more transmedia directors who are experienced in directing these types of talent? The tools are there, the stories are there but we don’t have our web auteurs, yet.
One of the most exciting parts of interactive storytelling is that it’s uncharted territory but this can also be its downfall because it’s uncharted for the viewer as well. To put them at ease we need to give as much context for the experience as possible. Most users have no idea how they got there, where they’re going or how to get where you want them to go.
When we read a book we immediately know how long it is and and how to move through the experience. Most movies are between 90mins and 120mins and all we really have to do is sit there and turn off our cellphones. But have you ever landed on a site or fired up an app and immediately forgotten why you’re there? If we add some global context into the experience that reminds the user how they got there then they’re more likely to keep moving through the experience without thinking that they should be doing something else.
We also need to hint at where the user is going. This is usually done with a master nav that is broken into chapters or a timeline of sorts. The user wants to know that they are a third of the way through the story or they have two more hours to go. How often do you look at the run time of a YouTube video before you click play? You want to know what you’re in for.
Users also want to know how they’re going to get through the story. Do I have to click a hundred times, do I have to scroll to the bottom to see the next chapter? The easier the user-experience, the more seamless the story can become. Just read the press when a popular website switches their user-interface. Everyone hates it, because it’s unfamiliar. If we’re telling an unfamiliar story that requires some mental effort then don’t make user-interface a barrier. The less templates and the more repeatable the experience is, the more likely the user will move through the to an end game. Sorry interface designers it’s not about the interface it’s about the story so the interface should disappear.
These three interactive storytelling tricks will add context and give the best chance to tell the most complete story.
(Watch the above video before reading on or at least the first few seconds.)
This topic of remix culture and storytelling has been dear to my heart since I wrote my masters on the subject but what concerns me now that I’ve been working in between film and interactive is that us internet kids don’t have the respect we should for the work that has come before us in our field. We’ll bite technology thanks to open-source software but technology is only half of the story, we still need the story, the narrative, the emotional connection.
In early days of cinema we had the same issue. When the moving picture camera was invented early filmmakers simply shot things that were moving. An oncoming train was super exciting because we hadn’t seen a moving image before projected on the screen. This was a crazy new technology but there was no story there. The auteurs that really moved filmmaking forward are the ones that understood the technology and the storytelling. Or should I say they borrowed both technology and story. Star Wars is such a simple classic story that was borrowed from hundreds of works before it but it applied new technology with a universal story and the rest is cinema history. Godard borrowed all his story from Hollywood but shot in a totally different style given the technology that he had access to. This made him the genius auteur that he is, among other things.
So as internet kids now making stories, for the web, for the mobile, for media projections, how can we stand on the shoulder of these giants? We can tell simple universal stories with our new technology. We can’t keep just experimenting with the technology. Technology is moving so quickly that we could spend our whole life experimenting, testing, optimizing. We have to jump in and use what we have or invent the technology to tell our story.
But again the story has to be simple and well told. My beef with “transmedia” storytelling is that the story and the technology are both so deep and complicated. There are multiple characters, over multiple universes, over multiple platforms, spanning four generations and 18 countries using five different types of media. I’m lost before I even begin. Remember Star Wars. Simple story, ground breaking technology.
When I watch Everything is a Remix I see how our modern filmmakers were students of cinema and were humble enough to know that they needed to borrow from the filmmakers before them. In our wild west interactive technology landscape I see too much arrogance that we are pioneers inventing everything from scratch. This arrogance will only slow down our gestation. Let’s learn from previous storytellers who use technology to tell our stories with our technology.
“There’s not such thing as old media and new media, just new tools for storytelling.”
When I first heard this, I loved it. Finally an expression that I could relay to clients when they got super nervous about new media and new tools. We can’t get all worked up about the changing media landscape or about all the new tools that pop-up everyday. We can’t throw out everything we know about media every time a new tool comes around because these tools are at our service to help us improve our storytelling not to intimidate us.
But the more I think about it the more I realize that the best case scenario is that you understand where media has come from, and where it’s going, along with the new tools. These triple threat people who are grounded in media history, with an eye on the future, who embrace new tools are much sought after in our media industry.
Having an understanding of media without knowledge of the tools to bring it to life makes for a pretty unoriginal form of media that lacks innovation. Understanding newer forms of media and new tools can sometimes make for an opportunistic and ungrounded form of media that will not stand the test of time. But a mind that can pay heed to old forms of media while always pushing for new ways to bring stories to life will come out on top. Ultimately, we all want to connect with a great story, but how we make that connection as media makers is really where the challenge lies for a contemporary storyteller.
One of the biggest reason for starting this blog is to have an archive of my thoughts, in hopes of being able to reflect back on where ideas, theories and creativity came from. I daily Twitter, update my Facebook status and contribute to my daily photoblog, which makes me very reflective on my immediate state of mind. This covers off the past and present, but I’ve yet to find an application that facilitates future-casting. There are so many that try to predict the future and obsess about their own personal future that a tool that facilitates that would surely be societally beneficial.
I worry that our obsession with the past and present and the amount of tools and applications dedicated to facilitating this archiving that there is no encouragement to look at our future or how our present and past acts make up our future.
I would posit this lack of reflectivity on the future was a big reason for the success of Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth. Mr. Gore was able to put a slide presentation that actually put some future casting into the mass media. Most mass media is not looking to the future in this blunt and simple way. When we think of the future we think of sci-fi, which approaches the future is a far more abstract way then a slide presentation, a blog or a Twitter update.
For myself I’ve used Journler for Mac as a personal diary, but I’ve now set the date to future dates in hopes of forcing myself to be critical of where I’ll be.