Due to technical difficulties, we’ve been delayed in sharing with you the videos from our April Transmedia Hollywood 2 conference, jointly sponsored by the cinema schools at USC and UCLA, and hosted this year at UCLA. We hope to be back next April at USC with a whole new line up of speakers and topics, which we are just now starting to plan. In the meantime, check out some of these sessions, which should give the ever expanding Transmedia community plenty to chew on this summer. As for myself, I’m flying down to Rio, even as we speak.
Welcome and Opening Remarks
Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC. (Some of my comments here got me into trouble at the time and I hope to post something here soon which explores the issue I raise here about the role of radical intertextuality within the same medium.)
Panel 1: “Come Out 2 Play”: Designing Virtual Worlds–From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond
Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox — Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless “virtual spaces” of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.
Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers — aka “transmedia producers” — charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.
The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a “you are there” effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience’s tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida. Today’s panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios’ virtual sandboxes.
Moderator: Denise Mann
- Scott Bukatman, Associate Professor, Stanford University (Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century)
- Rick Carter, Production Designer (Avatar, Sucker Punch, War of the Worlds)
- Dylan Cole, Art Designer (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland)
- Thierry Coup, SVP, Universal Creative, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, King Kong 3D
- Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer, Thinkwell Design (Wizarding World of Harry Potter-opening; Ski Dubai)
- Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor /Head, Cinema Studies, University of Melbourne (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)
- Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering (elecTronica, Toy Story Mania)
Panel 2: “We’re Looking For Characters”: Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms
How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms? Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the “mothership” often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures? How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination? Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
- Francesca Coppa, Director, Film Studies/Associate Professor, Muhlenberg College; Member of the Board of Directors, Organization for Transformative Works
- Geoffrey Long, Program Manager, Entertainment Platforms, Microsoft
- Alisa Perren, Associate Professor, Georgia State University (co-ed., Media Industries)
- Kelly Souders, Writer/Executive Producer (Smallville)
Game On!: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?
Once relegated to the margins of society, today’s media fans are often considered the “advance guard” that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Two corporate leaders–Warner Bros. and Disney — have entered the fray, pursuing disparate routes to monetize the game industry, each targeting a different type of consumer. While WB is investing in grittier, visually-arresting, adult-oriented, console games like Batman Arkham Asylum, Disney is banking on interactive entertainment like Club Penguin’s online playground built for kids and family members. Hard-core gamers worry that the kid-and family-friendly Disney approach will neuter the video game industry; however, the unasked question is whether these interactive playgrounds linked to corporate IP are training next-generation consumers to bridge the gap between entertainment and promotions.
A similar revolution is taking place in the post-network television industry as creators form alliances with network marketers in an effort to reach out to engaged fans. Many of the cutting-edge creative team at Smallville forged this path in the wilderness, creating innovative on-line campaigns that they later took to Heroes. Fans avidly pursue TV creators who incorporate an arsenal of visual design elements derived from films, comic books, games, web-series, and theme park rides in the series proper and in the online worlds. Experimenting with ways to reinvent an aging medium and buoyed by a WGA strike that assigned derivative content to showrunners, the question remains whether these creators won the battle but lost the war as more and more network dot.coms have asserted control over the online interactive entertainment space. Do web-series like Dr. Horrible and The Guild represent the next frontier for enterprising creators or can creative personnel learn to play within the confines of the corporate playground?
We will ask creators from both industries — gaming and television–to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their interactive properties and immersive entertainment experiences. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand by wearing logo T-shirts, deciphering glyphs, or joining mysterious organizations such as Humans for the Ethical Treatment of Fairies, Elves, and Trolls, and then sharing clues, codes, and supporting content across a virtual community. These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging transmedia worlds.
Moderator: Denise Mann
- Steven DeKnight (Spartacus, Smallville, Buffy, Angel)
- Jeph Loeb, EVP/Head of TV, Marvel Entertainment (Heroes, Smallville)
- Craig Relyea, SVP, Global Marketing, Disney Interactive (Epic Mickey, Toy Story3-The Game)
- Avi Santo, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University (co-creator of Flow: A Critical Forum on Television)
- Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer (Bourne Conspiracy, Hellboy II ARG, The Fallen ARG)
“It’s About Time!” Structuring Transmedia Narratives
The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media — the four-act structure of theater, the hero’s quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.
We might think of such stories as hyper-serials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms. So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience’s attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres — science fiction and fantasy — embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristotelian unities of time and space?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
- Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment
- Abigail De Kosnik, Assistant Professor, UC, Berkeley (Co-Ed., The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Minority Discourse and the Censorship of Digital Remix)
- Jane Espenson, Writer/Executive Producer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica)
- John Platt, Co-Executive (Big Brother, The Surreal Life)
- Tracey Robertson, CEO and Co-founder, Hoodlum
- Lance Weiler, Founder, Wordbook Project