“Why Transmedia Is Destiny…”
I bet Nietzsche would enjoy that title..?
i.e. The great philosopher behind Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Beyond Good and Evil*… and who brought us the #1 best-selling book on humility, Why I Am So Wise (1888), which includes the chapter headings:
1) Why I Am So Wise
2) Why I Am So Clever
3) Why I Write Such Excellent Books – and:
4) Why I Am Destiny.
At any rate, here is why I think: Transmedia Is Destiny.
But first – a very-brief history of the word `transmedia’…
I believe the word `transmedia’ first emerged in Professor Marsha Kinder’s use of the term `transmedia intertextuality’ in her 1990 conference paper about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in culture: “Animal Masquerade and Transmedia Intertextuality: or, Why I Love Being a Turtle” (Kinder 1991: 217). (For more, see the excellent Playing With Power, Kinder 1991).
Since then – other key theorists have also included Professor Henry Jenkins, and transmedia theorist/[practitioners, Jeff Gomez and Dr Christy Dena (the first PhD on Transmedia, in 2009), among many others. (For more `Transmedia backgrounding’, see: this post, on the 2013 ID-Net Transmedia Conference.)
At any rate:
Why Transmedia Storytelling Is Destiny:
Namely, telling a narrative across multiple media platforms (e.g., feature film, game, novel, TV series, comic/graphic novel, etc)
The reason for this inevitability is because: evolution functions according to the 3 Laws of Holarchies.
The 3 Laws of Holarchies:
Mainly because: the evolution of culture works the same way as the evolution of biology.
Creativity + Genes = Biology
Creativity + Memes = Culture
(The above model is an addition / variation to Simonton (2012) – Velikovsky 2013)
For more on memes and creativity, see this post:
To unpack all this further, I need to refer to part of an essay in the book This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (2010).
`Evolution Changes Everything – Scott Sampson
Scott Sampson is adjunct professor of geology and geophysics at the university of Utah.
Evolution is the scientific idea that will change everything within the next several decades…
Today the commonly accepted concept of evolution is extremely narrow, confined largely to the realm of biology and a longstanding emphasis on mutation and natural selection.
In recent decades, this limited perspective has become further entrenched by the dominance of molecular biology and its “promise” of human-engineered cells and lifeforms. Emphasis has been placed almost entirely on generating diversity, a process referred to as `complexification’, reflecting the reductionist worldview that has driven science for four centuries.
Yet science has also begun to explore another key element of evolution: unification, which transcends the biological to encompass the evolution of physical matter.
The numerous and dramatic increases in complexity, it turns out, have been achieved largely through a process of integration, with smaller wholes becoming parts of larger wholes.
Note – What Sampson is referring to here, has a name: holarchies.
Still quoting Sampson (from, This Will Change Everything):
`Again and again, we see the progressive development of multipart individuals from simpler forms. Thus, for example, atoms become integrated into molecules, molecules into cells, and cells into organisms.’
Still quoting Sampson (in, This Will Change Everything)::
At each higher, emergent stage, older forms are enveloped and incorporated into newer forms, with the end result being a nested, multilevel hierarchy.
At first glance, the process of unification appears to contravene the second law of thermodynamics, by increasing order over entropy.
Again and again during the past fourteen billion years, concentrations of energy have emerged and self-organized as islands of order amid a sea of chaos, taking the guise of stars, galaxies, bacteria, gray whales and (on at least one planet) a biosphere.
Although the process of emergence remains somewhat of a mystery, we can now state with confidence that the epic of evolution has been guided by counterbalancing trends of complexification and unification.
This journey has not been an inevitable, deterministic march, but a quixotic, creative unfolding in which the future could not be predicted.’
(Sampson in Brockman 2010: 1-2)
Before I return to how this applies to Transmedia, I first beg to differ on the above point, namely that “the process of emergence remains a mystery”. I would instead suggest: The laws of holarchies, when combined the evolutionary algorithm – and with complexity thresholds (for example, 10 billion cells in the human cerebral cortex, 10 billion is a `magic number’ in terms of complexity thresholds) – unification emerges…
So, Transmedia is simply the unification of all media into: holistic (whole, single) story.
I like to distinguish between transmedia (a narrative extension in a different media) and adaptation. (Narrative replication / copying in another media.) So Cultural Evolution often works like Biological Evolution does.
In the diagram below, Transmedia is narrative extension (the vertical, green axis) for successive chapters (e.g. Chapter 1,2,3,4, etc of a story). By contrast, Adaptation is the replication of a unit of culture (or a meme, a unit of story) in another media (the horizontal, orange axis and please note that it’s still just the same chapter [Chapter 1] getting replicated in different media when it’s adaptation.
Maybe also consider the following: (to take just a `film & game’ transmedia story)
1) Genre (including hybrid genres) tend to command storyworlds. (An obvious example might be the #19 ROI film, Star Wars 1977. It’s a space opera. Some commentators consider it `soft’ science fiction. So the Transmedia that emerges from it also tends to be space opera, and often has other genres combined, e.g. a love story, a coming-of-age story, a revenge tale, etc. All the Transmedia of any storyworld tends to all stay within the same genre, though may well include genre-hybrids.)
2) Storyworld – is underneath `Genre’ in the holarchy. The Genre commands/dictates the tropes (memes) of the individual (and sometimes, overlapping) Transmedia stories. The story always must integrate with the Genre (or, if not: must `bend’ the Genre `rules’ in novel-and-appropriate ways.) (e.g., The Storyworld contains cultural values: the Empire is evil; the Rebellion is good; the Jedi mythology, `Order 66′, etc). It also has a physical, cultural, economic, ethical and philosophical framework.
3) Platform: e.g., Films – Games – Novels – TV series – Comics. These are all commanded/dictated by the Storyworld. Each platform does certain things well (novels: character, film: spectacle; games: immersive interactivity; TV: character arcs; blogs: character backstory and insight; etc) and therefore each platform tends to integrate with specific certain `aspects’ of the Storyworld.
4) Themes – are commanded by (and, integrate with) the Genre, Storyworld and Platform in each case. There is quite a lot of evidence (e.g. in the Top 20 ROI Films) to suggest the 3 most viral memes (as: Themes) are: Family, Life & Death, and Justice. (Good vs Evil is perhaps too obvious, as without them: there isn’t conflict, and `conflict is drama’.)
5) The Characters – are commanded by (and, integrate with) all the above levels in the hierarchy. As experienced Transmedia creators know – (as per: the 2nd Law of Holarchies) the various characters in Transmedia tend to `compete’ with each other, to be the `star’ of their own `show’ (story thread).
6) The Locations – are commanded by (and, integrate with) the Characters. (The locations are generally also commanded by the Genre, given Genre(s) is at the top level of the holarchy.)
i.e The cultural evolutionary algorithm (i.e. meme selection, variation, and transmission) produces diversity (story complexification), while at the same time the 3 laws of holarchies produce unity (i.e. story unification).
All of which, is why:
Also – if you need a great guide to Transmedia `Bible’ creation, see Gary Hayes’ excellent Guide to Transmedia Bible Creation, here.
And – for a great overview of the history of Transmedia practice, see Christy Dena’s amazing PhD on it, here.
And you may also find this post interesting:
StoryAlity #108 – Memetics – and `An Ecopoetics of Beauty and Meaning’ (Turner)
On Process – How Do Stories Emerge? (Whether Transmedia or not)
A study of the Top 20 ROI Films reveals no one clear pattern: The initial inspiration for each of those films varies wildly. In some cases it began with: a character in a situation – in others, a theme, or a line of dialog – and in others a mood/tone. Arguably, all 20 film stories ended up in the form:
1) A Character –
2) Has a Problem/Goal
3) And must make: a sacrifice
4) Which results in: the solution / the goal achievement
(or: does not result in goal achievement – given that all of the Top 20 ROI Films are `Villain Triumphant’ /Ancient Greek tragedy stories).
(For a similar “problem-structure” framing of narrative as the above, see Jon Gottschall’s excellent book, The Storytelling Animal, 2012, and perhaps also this post, on: The Hero’s Journey as Problem-Solving.)
The first initial “idea” (meme) of a film story itself can clearly emerge (i.e. can be consciously recognized, by a writer/film-maker) anywhere, within the Story holarchy below. (Every writer’s process is possibly different, just as: many people conceptualize / think very differently.)
That is to say, for example – a filmmaker (and/or: Transmedia Writer / Creator) may begin with (say) a character (e.g. `Mad’ Max Rockatansky, or say, `Guy’ and `Girl’ [from the film `Once’], or Napoleon Dynamite, Rocky Balboa (`Rocky’), Laurie and Michael Myers [Halloween], or Luke Skywalker, etc), around which, the other memes in the holarchy can then appear/emerge. Or even a Setting, such as with the film SAW (which was originally set in: an elevator).
Notably all these stories/screenplays went through many drafts (notably, all except Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, neither of which had scripts when shot – but instead had Outlines/Treatments, from which the actors improvised).
But – How and Why do they (the story memes / ideas in each case) appear/emerge? – In which order do they typically appear/emerge?
(Devil’s Advocate: Do film stories ever appear/emerge, “fully formed”, ready to type up into a screenplay, in the writer’s mind? Like Coleridge claimed happened with his poem Kubla Khan?)
The empirical evidence of how the top 20 ROI films were created would strongly suggest not – and, this is also a Romantic view of Creativity, for which no verifiable evidence exists (rather than a Rational view, such as is offered by Csikszentmihalyi with the systems model).
Alternately, for example, a screen idea may begin from: a title (for example: the film Friday The 13th began this way, and was always influenced by the success of Halloween) – or, even a single line of dialog, around which the other memes/holons are then successively added, by the Writer.
In each case, the evidence on how these top 20 most-memetic / most-viral films emerged / were created reveals that: starting with one `key’ meme, the Writer (and or/ a Screen Idea Work Group) used their habitus to select, vary, and include (or discard) related memes, until the story was assembled in the above (film story/screenplay) form.
The process is clearly iterative and recursive; there is no distinct pattern to the order of how the individual memes (story ideas) in the top 20 ROI film stories were selected (by the screenwriter in each case) – and their stories thus constructed, therefore – the writer/filmmaker obviously has free will (agency) in terms of the order in which they select, vary and transmit these memes (screen ideas), into their `final’ screen idea.
However the above film story structure is obviously predetermined overall; it is of course the structure of conventional feature film screen ideas – and therefore, of theatrical narrative fiction feature films. The writer’s overall film story (as: a memeplex) must conform to this structure in the finished film, regardless of the order in which the individual holonic memes (ideas) appeared, when the story and screenplay were created.
In short, it doesn’t matter, when – or how – all these memes appear (or: where a Writer gets their ideas from, or even, what that initial idea is – as `bad/unfilmic’ story ideas will likely be `de-selected’ during the development process, which includes pitching the idea to experts in the film storytelling field), as long as when the final form of the story meme/holon emerges as a screenplay, it matches the above structure.
So – a writer can begin with: a character, or alternately – a setting, or even an image of a character/s in a setting, or a theme, a line of dialog, an action, or a potentially infinite number of memes… All that matters is that the final meme (the overall story) emerges, fully formed, possibly in the screenplay – but necessarily in the film… (and obviously, some story memes can spin out into: Transmedia / other platforms, as the story holarchy evolves / grows…)
And – just to step back to `the big picture’, for a moment –
Everything single thing that exists is a holon, and a holarchy.
It’s “turtles, all the way down” – (and also – “up”…)
So, given that: everything tends `downwards’ towards complexity, and also `upwards’ towards unification – Transmedia was therefore inevitable (and: will become ever more pervasive).
And, as new media forms are subsequently created (beyond: YouTube webseries, and beyond hybrid webseries games…
…and beyond Augmented Reality Games / Augmented Reality Dramas, and ever more pervasive narratives (etc)
And – beyond novel/game/film Transmedia hybrids… e.g.: http://am-so-as.webs.com/
– As they continue to evolve and diversify, all these forms (platforms) will at the same time tend to be unified, into: Transmedia Storytelling.
And – as a much bigger idea – what this (potentially) points to – is:
`The End of Analytic Science – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The idea that will change the game of knowledge is that it is more important to understand events, objects and processes in their relationship with one another than in their singular structure.
Western science has achieved wonders with its analytic focus, but it is now time to take synthesis seriously…
How shall this breakthrough occur? Current systems theories are necessary but not sufficient, as they tend not to take values into account.
Perhaps after this realization sets in, we shall have to rewrite science from the ground up.’
(Csikszentmihalyi in Brockman 2010: 348-9)
And – this is probably as good a time as any, to re-present:
Velikovsky’s Three Laws of Transmedia (2012)
(0) All film story franchises `jump the shark’ in their 3rd installment if the original creator (writer-hyphenate) is not directly involved. (See: Terminator 3, JAWS 3D, and the Predator, Alien, Freddy & Jason movies). Note: Sequels are not actually Transmedia anyway. (Which is why this is the Zeroth Law.)
(1) Any story that makes a > 1000% ROI on its launch platform (e.g. novel, film, game, TV) will spawn Transmedia stories in at least 2 other media/platforms. (This is not the same as an adaptation, or franchising. This also does not include user-generated content, such as Fan Fiction Forums and Fan/User-Generated Wikis.)
(2) The most successful (pervasive) Transmedia stories include `amateur detective stories’ and, also require the user to be one (i.e. an amateur detective), in a quest (this may or may not include an Alternate Reality Game.) (Examples: The Matrix [What is the matrix?], The Blair Witch Project [Is the Blair Witch real?], Star Wars [Who is Darth Vader / Luke’s father?], Harry Potter [What happened to Harry’s parents?], Twin Peaks [Who killed Laura Palmer?], etc)
(3) As with Moore’s Law (which is not actually 18 months) – every 2 years, a new `storytelling platform’ emerges as: popular (achieves mass-market penetration), and provides a new media platform that is annexed by Transmedia. (e.g., Blogging: 1999; iPods: 2001; iTunes 2003; YouTube 2005; Facebook & Twitter 2007; smartphones 2009; tablets 2011; geo-located augmented reality tagging 2013, Google AR glasses 2015, etc).
So – one of the tricks with Transmedia is to create a successful launch platform.
Say, a feature film (or, novel, etc), that goes viral. (i.e that people recommend – via word-of-mouth…)
For this reason (among others) I’ve been studying the Top 20 ROI (i.e. most viral) Feature Films of the past 70 years. Two of these films/stories were `Transmedia on launch’ (notably, Star Wars 1977 was not). I also wrote a paper on it. If it’s of interest, you can read a draft of it, here.
And, some more about that (truly excellent) IDNet 2013 Transmedia conference, here.
And – for additional info on Transmedia, I also recently published an article in Screen Education quarterly journal, called ‘Brave New Storyworlds: An Introduction to Creating Transmedia Narratives‘, (Screen Education, Vol. 68, Summer 2013 Edn.)
Also, I think my StoryAlity research is Transmedia…
i.e. 1) STORYALITY Screenwriting Manual, 2) a STORYALITY i-doc (interactive documentary/database documentary) – and 3) a `Creative Practice Theory’ game demo.
(Also, this STORYALITY blog.)
– Many Thanks for reading it.
There is also some book chapters on the above:
Thoughts and Comments always welcome.
PS – I also gave a paper on Transmedia at the National Young Writers’ Festival back in 2011 – if it’s of interest, it’s viewable online as a PPT, here. (It’s general & transhistorical enough, that, in my view, all of it still applies…)
PPS – And if you like the above idea – about distinct media – becoming transmedia by `converging upwards and diverging downwards’ (as an evolutionary holarchy) then, you’ll *love* Chapter 4 of Christy Dena’s amazing 2009 `Transmedia Practice’ PhD:
Dena, C 2009, Transmedia Practice: Theorising The Practice Of Expressing A Fictional World Across Distinct Media And Environments, Department of Media and Communications, PhD Thesis, Sydney: University of Sydney, University of Sydney, i.e.: Download it here! http://www.christydena.com/phd/.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
* (which, was also a pretty cool videogame, i.e. Beyond Good And Evil. Though – not so much related to Nietzsche’s book, of the same name.)
Csikszentmihalyi M – in Brockman, John (2010), This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (1st edn.; New York, NY: Harper Perennial) xxiii, 390 p.
Dena, C, (2009) Transmedia Practice: Theorising The Practice Of Expressing A Fictional World Across Distinct Media And Environments, Department of Media and Communications, PhD Thesis, Sydney: University of Sydney, <http://www.christydena.com/phd/>.
Funch, F (1995), Essay on: Holarchies, http://www.worldtrans.org/essay/holarchies.html
Kinder M. (1991) Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Nietzsche, F (1888) Ecce Homo (Or: Why I Am So Wise), reprinted (2005) NY, Penguin Classics.
Sampson S – in Brockman, John (2010), This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (1st edn.; New York, NY: Harper Perennial) xxiii, 390 p.