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.
(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.
Well the time has come for me to sorrowfully say goodbye to the DDB family. I will greatly miss the debates and creative stimulus that flowed through the walls and permeated through some amazing and often award winning work.
It all started, oddly enough, over three and half years ago when I was showing some weird media installation work at a small art gallery. As the show was wrapping up an acquaintance of mine, Blaine, approached me and said, “I like it but I don’t get.” After waxing poetic on every influence from McLuhan to Richard Serra to Banksy, Blaine who shared my interest in graffiti and public and private space, invited me to meet her boss. The boss, Yvonne, was also interested in this emerging, more social media landscape. After a few chats and debates, I was brought on by DDB to help form Radar DDB, with the sole goal of figuring out how advertising works in social media.
Since that time, thanks to some great clients and heaven sent hires we’ve been able to build a talented and endlessly dedicated team of experts. Now that we’ve franchised the model out to the other global DDB offices and operational merged with Tribal DDB I feel okay about leaving and tackling a new challenge. But just okay. I don’t feel great about it because of the amazing people and potential to keep doing even more great work in the future.
But alas, I have the unique opportunity to continue my number one life passion of storytelling with some amazing new collaborators. As anyone who reads this blog will know, I gave up a career as a narrative filmmaker once the media landscape began to change in 2004. Since then I’ve become obsessed with finding new ways to tell visual stories. I wrote my masters on oral storytelling and remix culture but that simply scratched the itch. My time at DDB has given me a wealth of experience and technical knowledge that now needs to be combined with my academic theories. This is why I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to work with the National Film Board of Canada to help tell stories in the most innovative way I can. This is my passion and their mandate.
I will continue to work with some of my other clients to help them push the boundaries of how we tell stories in this ever evolving media landscape. There’s so many talented content publishers in film, TV and gaming that just need a little love from a creative Internet kid like me to fully reach an audience that is hungry to interact with their media in less of a monolithic and linear way.
I’m just as stoked on where media and communications are going now as I was in 2004 when I first left film, as I was in 2007 when I first joined DDB, and as I was when I finished my masters in 2008. I have been remiss in not blogging more but I will endeavor to share some more thoughts with you, the occasional reader, because I feel it’s important to air out some ideas in order to innovate. If you’re at all interested in #storytelling, #transmedia, or #innovation, then don’t hesitate to drop me an email (jameschutter at gmail) so we can keep the dialogue going. I can’t wait to start sharing some new work that will hopefully keep storytelling evolving.
def. Combining media memes together to form a new memetic piece of media
This is an experimental work where I combine three versions of the song Heartbeats by Jose Gonzales with the advertising meme of the bouncing Sony balls intercut with characters from Halo 3 repeating the same movements.
Will we ever get to a point where we’ll be used to reading media this way?
Walter Ong separates these into two separate points, however as they relate to social media in the same way I’ll group them together. In an oral tradition the audience is known and the audience is human. It is humans in dialogue with other humans in a live physical space. This is very different from the unknown audience of a book or the abstract world that many films present. Social media abides by the same principles of human-to-human interaction, albeit through technological mediation. This is a main reason that Second Life will only be seen as a blip on the Web 2.0 radar in years to come. Humans are being asked to relate to each in an interface that is a mere simulation of a lifeworld, with the abstraction of avatars. Second Life will remain for an elite crowd of computer users who feel most comfortable interacting in an abstraction of reality. This does not hold true for the majority of broadband users.
That being said the gaming industry has been saved by the advent of Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). MMORPGs took the convention of gaming, which was not of a real lifeworld and was situationality abstract and infused a human element by allowing users to play and communicate with each other worldwide over a broadband connection. Users started to create new forms of storytelling in a social media language over these broadband connections. Machinima, one such emergent form of storytelling, was born out of a filmic electronic age but operates in the language of social media storytelling. Over the broadband connection users control video game characters to act out small short films. These films are recorded to a hard drive from which the footage is edited, scored and ultimately produced in a similar tradition to digital filmmaking. The most popular of these films is the series Red vs. Blue where the soldiers of Halo, controlled and voiced by a group of gamers, simply pontificate on life, a departure from the narrative of the original video game which included the abstract narrative of saving the world from alien invasion.
Another example of apply to new concreteness to un-situational and abstract form of storytelling is Alternate Reality Games or ARGs. One such example is the promotional ARG for the film The Bourne Supremacy where contestants are given clues online to the physical location in their home city to more clue in order to solve part of the mystery that takes place in the film. Another example of cross-platforming, but also a clear indication of infusing a situational element to an otherwise abstract story of a super agent trained to kill by an unknown government body.