Last week, I attended the world premiere screening of Tom Hanks’ upcoming webisode series Electric City at South By Southwest. The first 10 episodes were presented of this series which follows a group of resistance fighters in a dystopian society where resources and communication are controlled. Tom Hanks chose to tell this story in the webisode format because he felt the commercial constraints of movies and television wouldn’t allow him to tell this type of story. In an age of pre-branded content, sequels, and remakes, it has been increasingly difficult for original feature film content to be produced (apparently even for Mr. Hanks). More filmmakers are now focusing their attention to more cost-effective outlets to present their original material especially with media becoming increasingly more sophisticated and accessible. So what does this mean for the future of storytelling? Transmedia isn’t anything new but it is definitely something screenwriters should pay attention to.
What is transmedia? In 2010, the Producers Guild of America officially sanctioned the title “Transmedia Producer”.and defined transmedia as “a narrative that consists of three (or more) storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-Ray/CD-Rom, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist.” The landscape for storytelling has changed and now screenwriters may feel increased pressured to write stories that present greater marketing potential across different media platforms. The debate over “artistic integrity” vs. “marketing potential” between writers and producers has always existed. It may seem that transmedia further complicates this situation but for the savvy screenwriter, it doesn’t have to.
Writers don’t have to sacrifice the artistic integrity of their work but they should still think about the bigger picture and ask themselves: “Are the characters and world of my story developed enough to present further possibilities?” Screenwriting is just one form of creative expression that can be extended to other forms (i.e. a novel, graphic novel, webisode series, stage play, etc). Every character has a back story. Every storyline has a prologue and epilogue. These are already inherent to a well-developed story and can be used as a basis for developing further promotional material. This is why all writers should save all treatments, character analyses, outlines, and early versions of their script to comb through for additional material to use. Writers should not think about how their story can be profitable (i.e. sequels, product placements, toy lines, etc.) but they should think about how various forms of media can further enhance the experience of the story. If writers can focus on telling a quality story while being mindful of its possibilities, the outcome could present great rewards. Obviously, not every writer/filmmaker needs to follow the transmedia model but it is definitely something to consider as the landscape of the industry continues to change.
--Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director