Transmedia – the future of storytelling?

In an age where we have many channels through which we can digest entertainment it is perhaps inevitable that storytelling keeps getting more engaging. The edges between platform, media and gameplay are blurring. Fiction and reality are combining to form a new hybrid. A form of storytelling that impacts directly on your life.

Actors of your favourite action show performing a scene right in front of your eyes on the streets of London like a flashmob, to supplement a plot point in the show. Playing a video game of your favourite sci-fi show so that you can feel what it is like to be the main character. Interacting with your favourite soap opera drama to help determine what the plot outcome will be. These are all possible examples of transmedia.

It’s nothing new. The phrase was first coined in 1991 but variations of the technique were being used earlier. The 8-bit computer game Elite in 1984 came bundled with a novella called The Dark Wheel which immersed you in the world of the game before you played it (very clever as the game was only depicted using wireframe graphics). Small examples like this are quite prevalent, but it has become more and more intricate over the years.

The Blair Witch Project in 1999 is a famous example which could be classed as transmedia where they placed spoof ‘missing’ posters on billboards to raise awareness of the characters which they pretended were real. They also published a dossier of one of the main characters that people could read to learn more. This helped paint a richer world and made what was a low budget film seem to be something bigger than what it actually was.

Transmedia seems to be a hot topic right now, perhaps as the public has a much greater appetite for multi channel consumption helped in no small part by the second screen phenomenon. The biggest hyped transmedia project right now is the brand new TV show/game Defiance which aired last week. This is being made concurrently as a TV show and a video game which allows you to explore the world depicted in the TV show.

The reboot of Hawaii 5-0 also recently did a Choose Your Own Adventure style venture where they allowed the audience to determine the final ending by voting on Twitter.

But it doesn’t all have to be the latest social media techniques. Doctor Who recently aired an episode where one of the characters was reading a book and this book held clues to part of the storyline. The BBC has now published this book as an eBook for viewers to read and help understand some of the backstory to that episode.

Transmedia is spreading. The balance, however, has to be struck. The more channels you use or the more tactile or interactive you make these channels then the more real and immersive your world becomes. Too many channels and you risk spreading the story too thin, and at the end of the day you still have to have a great story otherwise no-one will keep tuning in. But if done well it can bring the story to life and immerse your audience ever more into your fictional world.

I’m excited to see what other storytelling methods will be used and what new technologies will help to enhance these even more.

(This blog was also posted on LEWIS 360 –

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Storytelling in Movies and Video Games

I’ve always found it a bit strange when video games are made into movies. The whole essence of games is that you get to control the character. You have a certain amount of freedom to explore the environment and do what you want. Films are in many ways the antithesis of that. You have no control. You are a passive observer. Perhaps the games industry sees it in a way that a movie can be one big advertisement for their game and help them sell more units, in the same way that the He-Man cartoon was an advertisement to sell more Masters of the Universe toys. The fact remains that the games industry is bigger than the movie industry. That’s been known for a while. But which medium is better at telling stories?

Movies are very well controlled. They are linear and the director can carefully construct all the various elements at their disposal (lighting, music, pacing etc) to take you down a path and feel certain emotions. But there is no freedom. You are a passive observer who has to watch the characters in the movie and empathise with them. You are strapped in for the ride.

Games let the viewer have control. You are free to move around and interact with people and objects. You have immediate cause and effect in relation to your actions. You experience the story with yourself as the main character. But this freedom can also let the player stray off the path and get in the way of the experience of the story.

J.J. Abrams and Gabe Newell from Valve recently discussed this at the DICE Summit keynote in Las Vegas. They explained how there are many obvious differences between the two forms of media, but that there are also many similarities. The illusion of freedom in games can often have a complicated hierarchical structure, similar to story arcs in movie screenplays, which will always bring you back to the same ordered key points of drama in order to move the story forward. They both use misdirection to focus your attention on particular elements. They use setup and payoff to make you feel more involved in the storyline and to connect more with the characters. In both there has to be a balance between immersion and storytelling, and they play to their own strengths. But in both there is always a storyline spine throughout. Without a story there is no connection with the audience.

They finished their talk with the news that these behemoths of entertainment would be collaborating on movie and game ventures. Personally I hope they don’t just make a movie of Portal or Half-Life or a game of one of Abrams’ movies. I’m hoping they somehow try to bridge the two mediums in a way that hasn’t been done before. Perhaps some kind of interactive YouTube movie or get Abrams directing elements of a game to a level not seen before.

But for me it’s just great to see the video games industry all grown up and teaching Hollywood a thing or two about how to entertain people. That’s a good story in itself.

View the keynote

Image source - Variety YouTube video

Documentaries to watch


The new documentary about The Pirate Bay is now available to watch online (or torrent of course) totally free and legitimately. I guess they kind of had to make it free. It would be have been majorly ironic if they had tried to make money out of it and then people torrented it illegally.

Documentaries are big business right now. Perhaps due to the public’s fascination with reality on TV now shifting to the big screen. Or perhaps it is because it is a lot easier to fund your own film via Kickstarter. Either way there seem to be more and more interesting documentaries being made with bigger and bigger budgets these days. Here are a few ones that might interest you if you’re into pop culture, film, sports or anything geeky. Some have been around for a few years and some are due to be released within the next year. About a quarter of these have been funded via Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

TPB – AFK – The story of The Pirate Bay
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Fascinating documentary following the rivalry between the Donkey Kong high score contenders
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade – Similar documentary but this time for Pac Man
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – Morgan Spurlock’s review of Comic Con
The Dream Team – NBA TV’s film all about the Dream Team
Doin’ It In The Park – All about street basketball
Calling Automan – Documentary about classic 80’s tv show Automan
I Am Bruce Lee – A Bruce Lee documentary
The Art of Rap – Ice-T’s take on the Rap industry
Raiding the Lost Ark – Jamie Benning’s outstanding filmumentary of the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
Star Wars Begins – Jamie Benning’s take on Star Wars
Building Empire – Jamie Benning again on The Empire Strikes Back
Returning to Jedi – Jamie Benning. Jedi
Mansome – Morgan Spurlock all about facial hair
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story – Documentary about Stan the Man
The People vs. George Lucas – All about the Star Wars phenomenon
BBS: The Documentary –  Jason Scott, telling the story of the Bulletin Board System
Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary – Jason Scott’s history of the gaming text adventure genre
Indie Game: The Movie – All about the independent video game industry
Beyond the Mat – 1999 film about professional wrestlers outside the ring
Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows – 1998 lowdown on professional wrestler Bret the Hitman Hart
Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – The story of Tetris
Forks over Knives – Advocating vegetarianism
Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 – The history of James Bond
Collectable Spectable – Documentary series about Mark Bellomo, toy collector extraordinaire
Frazetta: Painting with Fire – All about legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster – All about legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan
Get A Life – William Shatner’s take on Star Trek fandom
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan – Charting the life and work of the legendary stop motion animator
Downloaded – A film about Napster. Due out in 2013
From Bedrooms to Billions – The story of the UK computer games industry. Due out in 2013
Beyond Neon – A documentary about the revitalisation and resurgence of downtown Las Vegas. Due out in 2013
Toy Masters – The story of the Masters of the Universe toy range. Due out in 2013
Dear Mr. Watterson – A Calvin & Hobbes Documentary. Due out in 2013
Cassette – A documentary about the humble cassette tape. Due out in 2013
Arcade: The Last Night at Chinatown Fair – Documentary about the famous Chinatown Fair arcade in New York. Due out in 2013
Room 237 – The story of The Shining. Due out in 2013
DEFCON: The Documentary – Jason Scott’s film about the DEFCON conference for hackers. Due out in 2013
The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time – All about the classic video game. Due out in 2013
The Video Craze: “Where Were You In ’82?” – Documentary examining the impact of the video arcade. Due out in 2013
Inside Jaws – Another filmumentary from Jamie Benning. This time on Jaws. Due out in 2013
Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary – The history of the classic board game. Due out in 2014
Turn to 400: The Story of Fighting Fantasy – A proposed documentary about the Fighting Fantasy game book series which failed its first attempt on Kickstarter but which may resurface

My Thoughts on The Hobbit in High Frame Rate 48fps

I’m writing this having just finished watching The Hobbit HFR 3D and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. 48fps instead of the usual 24fps. I’d heard lots of negative comments about the high frame rate and so I was eager to see it for myself.

I have to say, my first reaction was the same as a lot of the comments I had heard. It looked cheap. It looked too real. It looked like a rehearsal or like watching a ‘making of’ documentary where it just looks normal and then you see the ‘afters’ where it looks like a film. This looked like the ‘befores’.

I remember Peter Jackson saying that it can be jarring when you first watch it but that you get used to it after about 8mins and after that you feel more immersed. All I know is that it totally pulled me out of the film initially. Possibly for the first hour. I was too aware. It looked in places like a low budget recreation about the Middle Ages. It looked like an old episode of Doctor Who.

The audio for some reason also didn’t sound great. I struggled to hear some actors. I was very aware of the score, or lack of score in some places. Perhaps this was due to the HFR pulling me out and just making me hyper aware of everything. And in film-making its about immersing the audiences and guiding their senses and emotions. But in HFR 3D it’s hard to hide anything. No more smoke and mirrors or distraction techniques. Everything is sharp and if it’s not spot on it looks fake.

But then a funny thing happened. I started to get more immersed in the second half of the film but I’m not quite sure why.

  • Perhaps I was more gripped by the story and that distracted me, as a good story should
  • Perhaps it was because there were a lot more visual effects in the second half of the film. They have more control over the lighting etc in the visual effects shots and therefore had a better chance of getting it right.
  • Maybe it was because there were more bits in slow motion. Ironic that but it makes sense that the slower motion bits looked more smooth, although its also a bit strange having slow motion without any motion blur. It’s like the actors were just acting slow, like on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway’ or something. But it looked good

One thing I certainly noticed was that the lighting was very important. The bits that were mostly CGI looked stunning in HFR. The bits that looked most jarring were when they filmed against what were obviously sets (particular in the night scenes, interestingly). The lighting somehow just made it look too real and fake, (funny how in the movie business ‘real and fake’ isn’t always a contradiction in terms). When done well it was akin to the difference between standard definition and well shot hi definition. Stunning. But by the same token, and in the same way the early HD often looked very fake, it means you have to be very careful in how you light, apply make up and move the camera. Obviously this will mean that many people will do it badly. Even Peter Jackson didn’t get it right in every scene. And if a badly lit or badly shot scene is so easy to pull you out of the movie then I’m not sure it is something that everyone should try. I certainly wouldn’t want to see a drama or rom-com in HFR. Keep it to the fantasy and sci-fi adventures please. Or even better, nature documentaries and IMAX specials.

Like 3D, HFR has its dos and its dont’s. 3D has become overused and when used with too many fast cuts, like in most action films, it needs to be really dialled back or else it is jarring on the brain as the stereoscopic parallax keeps changing. HFR when used badly can be jarring as things look too sharp and you are pulled out. But I don’t think you can dial back HFR like you can with 3D. A film is either HFR or it isn’t.

But the bottom line is that it is great technology and personally I take my hat off to Mr Jackson for giving it a go. I do think it has a future but it just has to be used carefully and film makers have to know they are doing. It won’t become standard. Perhaps it’s best used for things like fully CGI sequences or longer shots like in nature documentaries. It should not be automatically used for every film. Exactly the same guidelines that 3D should have.

Sometimes 24fps is better. It adds that right amount of motion blur to give it a dreamlike quality and yet still hold persistence of vision. I read that when frame rate drops below 40fps we subconsciously know its not real and this lets us suspend disbelief. This is why 48fps can pull us out more easily and make us more aware of it being actors on a set. I would love to see The Hobbit side by side in both frame rates to do a direct comparison.

Now the big question. Would I opt to watch the next Hobbit movie in HFR or 24fps? To be honest I’m not 100% sure but I think I’d probably give HFR another go. When it’s done right it’s breathtaking.

Oh and by the way, Martin Freeman is fantastic in it.

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