I’m going to answer two questions in one post. Warning - Long and boring historical content about some of the crap I’ve done:
quixoticpenguin asked you:
I want to do what you do (not even a little bit of a joke). How would you suggest getting started if I want to end up working with a Bernie Su, transmedia-like project?
ninjoy17 asked you:
Hello! I was just wondering how you got into doing the transmedia things you do?
We’re just at the beginning of transmedia as an industry. The term itself is controversial and problematic (that’s a whole other post.) So what there means is that there aren’t a whole of vacant jobs out there looking for somebody who does or is interested in transmedia. You sort of have to make them yourself, and then find other like-minded people and keep working together.
In my case, I’ve always been drawn to doing adaptations and reimaginings of classic stories. It may have been due to too much Orson Welles and Kenneth Branagh when I was growing up. I started in theater and indie film, writing stageplays and screenplays, self producing shows and trying to get my scripts read.
Protip: If you ever want to get laughed out of a pitch meeting, say the word “Coriolanus.”
Around 2006 or so, I was getting frustrated with the whole process. This was around the time that Jonathan Coulton was first gaining notoriety for putting his music directly online for his fans, and Cory Doctorow started posting short stories and novels online for free. And I was wondering if I could find a way to go directly to an audience with the stories I wanted to tell, without needing permission or money from a gatekeeper. But you can’t upload scripts online - that’s no fun. The script isn’t the actual experience, it’s the instructions on how to make the experience. How do you create the actual dramatic experience for the online audience?
I looked back at my experience playing and producing Alternate Reality Games, and thought that if you removed the puzzles from ARGs entirely, what you were left with was a net-native way of telling a dramatic story. I started writing out my thoughts about how this might work, and in about an hour I had a personal manifesto for a new direction to pursue, along with a list of five potential escalating projects to prove out the model.
Pride and Prejudice was #3 on that list.
So I just started doing it. The first one was small - I wrote a sci-fi adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno,” structured for Twitter. Published it one tweet at a time, 8-12 tweets per day, over the course of about 4 months, using the twitter account @goodcaptain. I didn’t need anybody’s permission, I didn’t need anybody’s money. All I needed was my time and effort, and free web platforms.
It was an interesting experiment, successful in some ways, unsuccessful in others. I moved straight on to #2 on the list: Spoon River Anthology. Modernized, told in the form of a group blog. Took me a long time, but again, I didn’t need anybody’s money.
Around that time, I heard about a project that was about to happen: a Halloween re-enactment of War of the Worlds on Twitter. I was immediately excited and also furious that I hadn’t thought of it first. I participated in that event, and had a tremendous amount of fun. It started me thinking about the possibilities of multi-voiced real-time social media storytelling.
A little bit later, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a Wil Wheaton tweet, saying: “This is Red 5, I’m going in.” Apparently, he was flooded by replies containing other Star Wars quotes, because a few minutes later he wrote something like, “If we ever need to mount an attack on the Death Star, I think Twitter is up to the challenge.”
And a light bulb went off in my head.
I was heading to the SXSW Interactive conference a couple of weeks later, and so I got this crazy idea to translate the attack on the Death Star into twitter language of @ messages and hashtags, and recruit a bunch of people to use their account to play the action out. Somehow, I managed to corral enough people to play all the parts, and we did it, using the the #SXStarWars. Our attack ran for about an hour and half. Immediately after we began, people on twitter started joining in. We finished, and they kept going. For another day and a half.
I had tumbled onto something.
Since then, I’ve organized twice-yearly social media storytelling events, usually timed to coincide with SXSW and with Halloween. I vary them each time, trying different scenarios and dynamics. It also highly depends on how much time I have to devote to the project. But these were the projects that started to get me noticed. That stuck in people’s minds. And led to speaking opportunities and some freelance work.
I would go to a lot of networking events (there are always networking events in Los Angeles) but what I was doing was always so different and strange, and I got a lot of blank looks. So I got together with a couple of other people to start Transmedia LA, a networking group to have these conversations without feeling like complete weirdos.
While all of this was going on, I was still developing projects #3 and #4 from that original list - P&P and Dracula. That work resulted in my contributions to LBD and in Airship Dracula.
So all of this is a long-winded way of saying that the way you get into transmedia is that you decide to get into transmedia. You come up with the idea for a project that you can make happen with the resources you have, you start that project, then - and this is the really hard part - you finish that project. The first one is the hardest, the one where you want to give up, to not show it to anybody, the one where you’re afraid it’s going to suck. But there’s nothing to fear — it WILL suck. But that’s irrelevant. It’s more important that you start a project, finish what you start, and then start another one.
The other crucial thing is to find the community. If you’re in a large city, there may be a meetup group - there are a lot of us now. If there isn’t, start one. Find projects that you find interesting and inspiring, learn who made them, and track what their doing next. Transmedia is always underfunded, understaffed and in need of help. Volunteer. It may pay nothing at first. It may pay peanuts But if you get the opportunity, be incredible and make yourself indispensable.
This is how Alex came to work on LBD. I needed help. I needed somebody who would get it. I knew Alex through our mutual friend Megan, and through her, Alex had participated in one of my Halloween story events. I liked her voice, so I had continued to follow her on twitter after that. So I was vaguely aware of who she was. But I asked Megan if she could think of anybody who would be good, she recommended Alex, we talked about it, she came onboard and then she Rocked Socks.
This has gone on way too long and has been way to much about me, me, me. So let me just add one more thing.
I’ve mentioned in some other places that I first got exposed to this kind of storytelling in 2001 while playing “The Beast,” the viral marketing campaign/proto-Alternate Reality Game for the movie “A.I.” In the middle of the game, there was a live event. Up until then, we’d been playing as individuals in front of our computer screens, talking to other players only through a message board (this was pre-social media). But now, we were going to meet each other face-to-face for the first time.
There are people I met that night who are still my friends and colleagues, who also work in transmedia, who have gone on to create amazing work that we never could have dreamed of back then.
What I mean to say is that now it’s up to you guys. Does this experience inspire you to create something, even if you can’t quite explain what it is? Then go forth and do it.
I can’t wait to see what you come up with.