Announcing Transmedia, Hollywood:S/Telling the Story

Conference Overview:

Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today’s entertainment industries. The event brings together top creators, producers, and executives from the entertainment industry and places their critical perspectives in dialogue with scholars pursuing the most current academic research on transmedia studies.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and research centers in Los Angeles, Transmedia, Hollywood will take place on the eve of the annual Society of Cinema & Media Studies conference, the field’s most distinguished gathering of film and media scholars and academics, which will be held this year in Los Angeles from March 17 to 21, 2010.

By coinciding with SCMS, Transmedia, Hollywood hopes to reach the widest possible scholarly audience and thus create a lasting impact in the field. It will give cinema and media scholars from around the world unprecedented access to top industry professionals and insight into their thinking and practices.


USC Cinematic Arts Complex, Los Angeles

Conference Summary:

Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story

As audiences followed stories as diverse as Heroes, Lost, Harry Potter, and Matrix, from one format to another–from traditional television series or films into comics, the Web, alternate reality or video games, toys and other merchandise–Hollywood quickly adopted the academic term “transmedia” and began plastering it above office doors to describe this latest cultural phenomenon. This is not to say that convergent culture and transmedia storytelling are new concepts; instead, the emergence of convergence can be traced to the 19th century when a Barnum and Bailey-style mode of entertainment first took hold, maturing in the mid-1950s with Walt Disney’s visionary multi-platform, cross-promotional, merchandising extravaganza known as Disneyland.

Since then, Hollywood has created countless new transmedia titles, everything from Batman to Star Wars – an evolution only accelerated by the advent of digital convergence. While transmedia, in one way, vindicates the logic of the integrated media conglomerate and activates the synergies long hoped for by the captains of industry in charge of Hollywood’s six big media groups, it may also prove to be more than they bargained for. Engaged, “lean-forward” consumers–coveted by advertisers and entertainers alike–are not content simply to watch traditional media but rather, they produce their own videos, remix other people’s work, seek out those who share their interests, forging concordances and wiki’s, fan fiction, and various forms of interactivity that are still in their infancy and that corporate Hollywood is just beginning to explore. Copyright law, guild rules, and the conventions of audience quantification are frequently operating at cross-purposes with these new, expansive sets of cultural-industrial practices. As the demise of the music industry shows, active audiences and technological advances can create an explosive combination, powerful enough to bring down an entire industry. The entertainment industry wants to embrace this new, active consumer while ensuring its own survival by seeking to recreate familiar rules of what is considered “valuable” and “entertainment” within traditional business models.

Transmedia, Hollywood turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Conference Panels

Topic: Reconfiguring Entertainment

Henry Jenkins, USC, Moderator

The recent news that Disney is buying Marvel Comics has sent shock waves through the entertainment industries as two companies, which have built their fortunes on transmedia experiences but for very different groups of consumers, are being brought together under single ownership. What implications does this merger have for the kinds of entertainment experiences we will be consuming in the next decade? This panel brings together visionaries, people who think deeply about our experiences of play, fun, and entertainment, people whose expertise is rooted in a range of media (games, comics, film, television) to think about the future of entertainment as a concept. Transmedia designers often use the term, “mythologies,” to describe the kinds of information rich environment they seek to build up around media franchise and deploy the term, “Bibles,” to describe the accumulated plans for the unfolding of that serial narrative. Both of these terms link contemporary entertainment back to a much older tradition. So, are we simply talking about a largely timeless practice of storytelling as it gets relayed through new channels and platforms? Or are we seeing the emergence of new modes of expression, new kinds of experiences, which are only possible within a converged media landscape? What does it mean to have “fun” in the early 21st century and will this concept mean something different a decade from now? In what ways will the desire to produce and consume such experiences reconfigure the entertainment industry or conversely, how will the consolidation of media ownership generate or constrain new forms of popular culture? What models of media production, distribution, and consumption are implied by these future visions of entertainment?

Topic: ARG: This is Not a Game…. But is it Always a Promotion?

Denise Mann (UCLA) moderator

Using a collective intelligence model disguised as play, Alternate reality games, or ARGs, give any individual with a computer a means of problem-solving anything from global warming to the true meaning of the Dharma Institute conspiracy. ARGs also give instant “geek cred” to marketers from stuffy firms like Microsoft and McDonalds tasked with selling consumer goods to the Millennials. Are these elaborate scavenger hunts, which send players down an endless series of rabbit-holes in search of clues, teaching them how to think collectively or are they simply the latest in a long series of promotional tools designed to sell products to tech-savvy consumers? Unlike regular computer games, ARGS engage a multitude of players using a multitude of new technologies and social media formats–sending clues via Web sites, email, or just as likely, by means of an old-fashioned phone booth in some dusty, small town in Texas. For ARG creators, the new entertainment format represents rich, new storytelling opportunities, according to Joe DiNunzio, CEO of 42 Entertainment (AI, Halo 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest). However, for the big six media groups, the primary purpose of ARGs is promotional–a new-fangled way of selling Spielberg’s AI (The Beast), WB’s Dark Knight, Microsoft’s Halo 2 (ilovebee’s), or ABC’s Lost (The Lost Experience). In other words, are ARGs simply a novel new way for the big six media groups to prompt several million avid fans to start beating the promotional drum on behalf of their favorite movie, TV series, or computer game or do they represent a new way of harnessing revolutionary thinking? In this panel, ARG creators, entertainment think-tank consultants, and media scholars will debate the social vs. commercial utilities associated with this latest form of social engagement.

Topic: Designing Transmedia Worlds

Henry Jenkins (USC) moderator

Transmedia entertainment relies as much on world-building as it does on traditional storytelling. Transmedia practices use the audience’s fascination with exploring its richly detailed world (and its attendant mythology) to motivate their activities as they seek out and engage with content which has been dispersed across the media landscape. Recent projects, such as Cloverfield, True Blood, and District 9, have relied on transmedia strategies to generate audience interest in previously unknown fictional universes, often combining promotional and expositional functions. Derek Johnson has argued that these fictional worlds are “over-designed,” involving much greater details in their conceptual phase than can be exploited through a single film or television series. This “overdesign” emergences through new kinds of collaborations between artists working both for the “mother ship,” the primary franchise, and those working on media extensions, whether games, websites, “viral” videos, even park benches. In this new system, art directors and script writers end up working together in new ways as they build up credible worlds and manage complex continuities of information. What does it mean to talk about fictional worlds? How has this altered the processes behind conceptualizing, producing, and promoting media texts? What new skills are emerging as production people learn to introduce, refine, and expand these worlds through each installment of serial media texts? And how do they manage audience expectations that they will continue to learn something more about the world in each new text they consume? What does each media platform contribute to the exploration and elaboration of such worlds?

Topic: Who Let the Fans In?: “Next-Gen Digi-Marketing”

Moderator: Denise Mann (UCLA)

Most Hollywood marketing campaigns remain overly reliant on expensive broadcast television commercials to reach a large cross-section of the audience despite growing evidence that avid fans are capable of generating powerful word of mouth. In the decade since The Blair Witch Project‘s website became a model for engaging a core audience by creating awareness online, a new generation of marketing executives has emerged, challenging the effectiveness of top-down strategies and advocating “bottom-up,” social media marketing. By fusing storytelling and marketing–ranging from ABC’s low-tech, user-generated aesthetic in “Lost Untangled” to Crispin, Porter + Bogusky’s polished, eye-candy approach to selling Sprite in its “sublymonal advertising” campaign–this next generation of web marketers has upended previous notions about where content ends and the ad begins. Having grown up reading Watchman comics, playing Sims, and surfing the Web for like-minded members of their consumer tribe, these new media professionals come armed with the knowledge of what it means to be a fan; as a result, they are refashioning the processes and structures that inform the relationship between audience members and the culture industry–forcing today’s media conglomerates to adapt to the new realities of the cultural-industrial complex while also ensuring their own survival. Gen-Y consumers’ sophisticated understanding of, but less contentious relationship with brand marketing, invites today’s media marketers to embrace a revolutionary mode of selling that may impact copyright law, guild agreements, professional standards, and the global labor market. What is the future of entertainment? Will the Internet be run by top-down mid-media corporate owners or bottom-up Web-bloggers or some yet to be realized combination of both?

Speakers include:

Ivan Askwith, Director of Strategy, Big Spaceship (recent projects include work for NBC, A&E, HBO, EPIX, Second Life and Wrigley).

Danny Bilson, THQ (The Rocketeer, Medal of Honor, The Flash, The Sentinel)

Emmanuelle Borde, Senior Vice-President, Digital Marketing, Sony Imageworks Interactive (her award-winning team of marketers, designers, producers and technologists have developed thousands of websites and digital campaigns for Sony Worldwide products, including Spider-man, 2012, Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon, etc.)

David Bisbin, Art Director/Production Designer (Twilight, New Moon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Drug Store Cowboy)

Will Brooker, Associate Professor, Kingston University, UK. (selected publications: Star Wars [2009]; Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture [2005]; The Bladerunner Experience [2006];Using the Force [2003]; Batman Unmasked [2001]

John Caldwell, Professor, UCLA Department of Film, TV, Digital Media (selected publications: Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Film/Television Work Worlds [ 2009]; Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film/Television [2008]; New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality, [ 2003]; Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television, (1995)

Alan Friel, Partner, Wildman Harrold & Associates

John Hegeman, Chief Marketing Office, New Regency Productions (spearheaded marketing campaigns for: Saw 1 & 2, Crash at Lionsgate; The Blair Witch Project at Artisan, etc.)

Mimi Ito, Associate Researcher, University of California Humanities Research Institute (Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software; Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning With New Media; Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life)

Derek Johnson, Assistant Professor, University of North Texas

Laeta Kalogridis, Screenwriter (Shutter Island, Night Watch, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Battle Angel; Executive Producer, Birds of Prey and Bionic Woman)

Richard Lemarchand, Lead Designer, Naughty Dog Software (Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune; Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)

R. Eric Lieb, Partner in BlackLight Media; Former Editor-in-Chief, Atomic Comics; Former Director of Development, Fox Atomic (Jennifer’s Body; I Love You Beth Cooper; 28 Weeks Later)

Marti Noxon, Producer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Prison Break; Gray’s Anatomy; Mad Men)

Roberta Pearson, Professor, University of Nottingham (selected publications: Reading Lost [2009]; Cult Television [2004]; The Many Lives of Batman: Critical Approaches [1991], etc.)

Steve Peters and Maureen McHugh, Founding Partners, No Mimes Media (recent credits include: Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Nine Inch Nails, Pirates of the Caribbean II)

Nils Peyron, Executive Vice President and Managing Partner, Blind Winks Productions

Louisa Stein, Head of TV/Film Critical Studies Program, San Diego State University (Limits: New Media, Genre and Fan Texts; Watching Teen TV: Text and Culture)

Jonathan Taplin, Professor, Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California; CEO, Intertainer.

John Underkoffler , Oblong, G-Speak (technical advisor for Iron Man, Aeon Flux, Hulk, “Taken”, and Minority Report).

Steve Wax, Managing Partner, Campfire (Northern Lights, The Little Sister, Unmade Beds)

Jordan Weisman, Founder, Smith & Tinker (Credits include: The Beast, I Love Bees, Year Zero)

Admission is free to Students and Academics, $25 for general public.

Register now at:

Watch this space for more information.



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