A Crazy, Messed Up Animal

introspection 5 comments


Thursday was a good day. One of the last key roles on the production team that is not yet set is the position of editor/visual effects artist. Thanks to our Director of Photography, I had an exchange with a very talented VFX artist that he recommended. We still have to have another conversation to see if he’ll definitely join up, but so far it looks promising.

I’m really looking forward to the follow up conversation for several reasons, not the least of which is to discuss a question that he asked me in an email. He said “I’m curious as to why so many people are going the webseries route, when there’s virtually no future in it financially, [it takes] the same amount of effort to make a full length movie… [and]the potential audience is so much more broad when you make a movie.”

He raises a pretty good point-most webseries’ end up being about the length of a feature film if you put all the episodes back to back, and it takes just as much effort to make a good webseries as it does to make a good independent feature. And then there’s the proverbial elephant in the room, the statement that “there’s virtually no future in it financially.” I’m not going to go into all of my responses to those questions here, (I’ll be talking to him about them on Monday), but I mentioned it to lead into the main point of this post: Why make a webseries?

For me, the most exciting thing about undertaking this project is that the actual episodes of Causality will be only part of the world that we are creating. Granted, they will be the largest part of that world, but since we will be telling parts of the story in different mediums, the audience will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in more ways than just by watching a series of 8-10 minute episodes.

In case you haven’t heard of it, this is Transmedia storyelling. It’s not really that new-for a while now, mainstream television shows and movies have been incorporating additional content and storylines into their websites as online media consumption has increased. I think “Heroes” did it most famously, with webisodes and comics that introduced characters that weren’t even on the tv show, and added backstory to the storylines on the show. Now almost all movies and tv shows engage in some form of transmedia storytelling to engage audiences.

The term “transmedia” can mean simply having a note “written” by one of the story’s characters on the website, or creating several different ways that audiences can learn more about the characters, situations, and world that the main content depicts. Anytime story elements are told in more than one medium, that is a form of transmedia. For a very concise and thorough definition, check out this description by a USC professor (my Alma Mater, yeah!)

So, we will be telling the story of Causality in several different ways. Yes, we still have a lot of work to do just to get the episodes shot, edited, and posted, but along the way we will be introducing our world via character blogs (written from the point of view of the main characters in the story), Vlogs (video blogs that I’ve been calling the “Captains Log” that the actors playing the roles will do in character, and largely improv), short stories that take place within the world of Causality (some perhaps written by fans of the show), and maybe, hopefully, a graphic novel. And this is all in addition to the real-world production blogs like this one, and the upcoming “Podcast to the Past” in which we’ll talk about making the show, and some of our favorite Sci Fi influences. (We’re recording our first podcast on Saturday, and I’m really excited to do it!) Those real world things aren’t really part of the transmedia storytelling, but they will add to the audience’s depth of knowledge about the universe of Causality.

Does every viewer HAVE to read all the blogs, and short stories, or view the “Captain’s logs” to get what’s going on in the episodes? Hell no! The story will stand alone, and when it’s all done, you’ll be able to watch all the episodes back to back. And as the potential editor said, it will be about the length of a normal feature film. Many will choose never to view any of the additional content, and hopefully will enjoy the show anyway. But for those who do take the time to read, view, and listen to some of the offerings, they will have a richer understanding of the characters and situations in the episodes.

Choosing to make a webseries, and telling the story with transmedia is an artist’s dream: we can add as much as we can create, and give more and more insight into our world. It’s also pretty good from a business standpoint, because the more content we post, the more people will come to our site. And even when we don’t have a full episode ready, we can generate interest by posting a character vlog that takes little time or money to produce. This makes the model more sustainable, giving fans reasons to come back to our site more often-and that’s something future sponsors might like to see.

Exciting, huh? I think so, and I can’t wait to do my part in creating it. It’s a crazy, messed up animal for sure, and I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like when it’s done, but I’m sure looking forward to finding out. Hope you are too!

Posted by   @   February 18, 2011 5 comments
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Feb 18, 2011
8:05 am
#1 Ralph Fontaine :

I’d like to offer my apologies to @madgastronomer, who really wanted a fiction story first, before this discussion of transmedia in Causality. When I started writing the fiction story, I realized that I should let the show’s actual writers, Glynis and Montoure, take a look at it before I publish it to make sure that what I came up with fit with their idea of the backstory. So, there will be a story that doesn’t occur in the main plotline posted, but not quite yet.

Feb 18, 2011
10:56 am
#2 Glynis Mitchell :

I’ve had to do a lot of ‘splainin’ when I say that I’m working on transmedia storytelling/new media content, particularly around Cooper (the artist housing where I live), as many of my neighbors are more traditional and less interested in new media perspectives and forms than I am. That includes some of my neighbors who are filmmakers working in HD! In some ways it’s a young form, but if you go back you can find examples from long before computers existed. Really, it’s not that far from having decoder rings and secret messages in kids’ magazines. (Hey, can we have decoder rings?)

However, I have to say that the single largest — by that I mean longest-running, most profitable, and farthest-reaching societally — example of transmedia storytelling that I can think of is Pokemon: comics, card game, movies, TV, web content…for years and years, before it was really a thing in the US, and then before it was a thing *for adults* in the US.

Particularly since Heroes only had one season. Right?

RIGHT?! Anything else is an unpleasant group hallucination. Man, I wish that show hadn’t been cancelled after only one season! (Just go with me on this.)

In the past I’ve taken inspiration from Tale of Tales’ Realtime Art Manifesto, much of which can be applied to other media but I find particularly relevant to new media creations, especially “Develop a punk economy”:

Don’t shy away from competition with commercial developers.
Your work offers something that theirs does not:
originality of design,
depth of content,
alternative aesthetics….

Communicate with your audience directly:
cut out the middle man.
Let the audience support your work.

You can see the full text here.

Feb 18, 2011
11:14 am

Aww. That’s ok, actually. Transmedia is an exciting thing. I’m a huge fan a transfictional work called Shadow Unit, and indeed was just Tuckerized in one of their episodes. Come to think of it, Causality will be the third transmedia work NK will have appeared in. Back in the day, there was a fictional podcast that recorded in our lounge.

I am looking forward to the fiction, though.

Feb 18, 2011
1:49 pm
#4 Jeff Greenberg :


Well, “potential audience” is worthless if it stays just potential. How many indie movies over the years have only been seen by a few thousand people? A few hundred? A few dozen? Did they make any money? Did they break even?

A lot of “views” for long-form material online aren’t even full views (people tend to watch a few minutes, then move on) and you still have to work your ass off to get people interested, movie or series. I’m not really sure there’s a huge difference in potential audience in a *practical* sense– yes, you could get a distribution deal for your indie movie, foreign deals, VOD, direct to DVD, etc., and make some money.

More money than getting sponsorship by some of the bigger brands and companies involved in the web series space? More merchandising money? Perhaps. But the difference isn’t great for the largest swath of deals. And the key is that the likelihood of hitting it big, movie or series, is still low. But if you do, will it matter which way you decided to go? Again, the answer is, I think, “perhaps.” It’s clear (to me, anyway) that we should choose the form that best suits the work, our resources and time available, our expertise and our artistic/business desires.

The transmedia side of things interests a lot of people, and involving an audience that way is, in my opinion, much easier with series content. And there are a whole host of other interesting artistic and business approaches for content creation and distribution that deserve to be looked at. Listen, I love feature films, and my next project, after the series I’m working on, will likely be one, but it doesn’t make me want to suddenly convert my current project into a feature.

Feb 19, 2011
11:03 am
#5 Glynis Mitchell :

Good thoughts, Jeff, thanks.

I’m not currently interested in making a feature (and I think I’ve touched on this in the Causality blog before) because the story I want to tell is longer-form than two hours can hold, and has more broad potential than just a movie. I think there’s certainly something to be said for an understanding of one’s medium and knowing what will worth within it — and when to push the boundaries.

I 100% believe that the future of “television” will be content entirely if not exclusively accessible on the web as new media, and for me it’s more exciting to be pushing boundaries at a time like this than falling back on traditional, if lovely and relevant, forms.

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