Apr 5 13
This week, my february column on Transmedia in Norwegian film magazine Rushprint was published online. Under the headline "Fail early", I explain why filmmakers should learn from web and game developers and do concept tests and why these tests don't have to be story-based. What you want to explore is what in your storyworld that has the potential of creating conversation and multiplatform content. Sadly, the text is only in Norwegian, but I've covered the same topics in my blogpost Testing, testing and more generally in the Transmedia category.
Apr 4 13
Last week, I met up with an excellent filmmaker in the throes of making her next film and transmedia project. - I’ve stopped all this nonsense about business models, she told me, I got so tired of the commercial aspects and all the talk about scalability, I just want to connect to people and give them meaningful experiences! Well. What is a Business Model? I think we all agree that there can be drawbacks when working with commercial models like sponsorship and it can be hard to fit creative projects into models of scalability that venture capital demands. I understand the frustration of the filmmaker. But. I’m not sure it’s all that useful to use the term ‘business model’ as being equal to commercial models. Working mainly with filmmakers in Scandinavia, the main model for financing creative work is public funds and co-production (to access more public funds). Our small language areas depend on such support schemes, and we’re lucky to have them. Though the support systems have become more commercially oriented the last couple of years: rewarding commercial successes and using the potential commercial success as support criteria, the financing model remains the same: Public funding based on an idea delivered in the format of a film, distributed mainly via cinema and TV. Now, my point is simply that this is also a business model. And we’re so used to it that we forget the downside to this model as well. A traditional definition of a business model is how one “creates, delivers and captures value”. It’s easy to see how this works in commercial models, as they are based on delivering products or services to paying customers, generating revenue. This is of course also the bottom line of the public funding model, and even though the main purpose of these ventures is not to generate revenue, income is an important part of the puzzle, even within the modern public funding schemes. So, let’s decide to talk about public funding as a business model as well, shall we? What may the drawback of this model be? Innovation hinders Well, first of all, I think the fact that public funding already contains and protects an old and somewhat outdated business model based on old formats and distribution models is quite harmful to the innovation of the industry itself. With digital distribution comes the erosion of the most valuable asset of products of mass communication, their exclusivity. The quality of a ripped dvd is just as good as the dvd itself, the copy of a file a perfect double. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be sold cinema tickets or tv subscriptions in the future (yes, public service license fees is a subscription service, it’s just not voluntary). It just means that to make money we’ll have to think of new ways both to tell and to distribute our stories. The extent to which we accept old formats as truths astonishes me. The formats of audiovisual storytelling were created by technical limitations, TV slots, advertising cycles and the bladder capacity of cinema audiences, not by the demands of the stories. Creatives should welcome the liberation from these formats, since the erosion of the business models built around them is inevitable. Imagine if authors were given the restrictions that writing should only be published in hardcover, to contain any number of pages between 58 and 76. Literature comes from writing, not from books – books are just a handy vessel for some stories. This is the realization that filmmakers must make too. Cultural value Even financing work are many times formatted after financier’s needs – neat forum pitches with panels of financiers that play a little theatre of taste, to build credibility for the project in public, before the private talks of funding takes place. Because this is another aspect of the public funding model we don’t talk enough about is its value judgements and its particular harshness, a fact we take for granted as inevitable, just as the old formats: the need to create cultural credibility, this fuzzy animal that no one has seen but everyone can smell. Though revenue isn’t the main focus of publically funded film and tv, value is absolutely being created – a cultural value, a currency of cool for lack of better words.
- - It’s the buzz created around filmmakers and projects that makes the press write about them
- - It’s the prizes or critical acclaim that makes commissioners and distributors look good
- - It’s peer acknowledgement according to internal hierarchical rules. Who’s the bad boy? Who’s the generous old timer? Who’s the ruthless bitch?
Mar 25 13
Preparing a workshop on Transmedia production for stage actors next month, I’m forced to think through some of the reasoning behind the topics at hand. On the one hand, the core of Transmedia production – combining available and appropriate platforms and media to tell complex stories – is as old as art itself. It was the technical demands of modern media, starting with the printing press and accelerating with electronic media, that locked stories and business models into technical platforms and their natural limitations. On the other hand: my go-to explanation of why we do Transmedia is that now, digital production and distribution free storytelling from the shackles of old formats, platforms, gatekeepers and business models. But is this relevant to creatives who aren’t necessarily producing digital stories (like stage actors)? Much energy is being spent explaining and defining Transmedia, so it might be useful to step back and look at the basics. What is this all about? Well: Digital production and distribution changes the way we tell stories, the ways we reach audiences and the ways we earn money on storytelling. 1. The ways we tell stories are changing, mainly because the reducing cost of digital production and distribution and the quality that makes leaps on a logarithmic scale. The images I capture on my iPhone today is of better quality than the compact camera I bought five years ago. That camera was the same price as my phone, but my phone also holds my entire music library and plenty of games. Oh, and it let’s me call people. You all know this story. So why does it matter to storytelling? First of all, it makes us all storytellers. Add to that, the myriad of social media services that allows us to share and applaud fan fiction or original stories by users, be it internet memes or heartfelt tweets. Too much attention have been focusing on all the crap content that comes out of this (tending to forget all the crap that emerges through mainstream media. Like Chris Anderson says, so eloquently says in Free:
Take Everybody loves Raymond. Nobody loves Raymond. Everybody likes Raymond. But somebody loves Lonelygirl15.The democratization of storytelling poses a serious challenge to professional storytellers, when anyone can produce engaging stories. High production value is no match for authentic, meaningful experiences made with more love than money. How do we ensure that our stories are eaqually potent? 2. The ways we reach audiences is of course also based on the way social media has made ‘likers’ and ‘sharers’ of near all of us, making it easy to reach new audiences and to use the connection to create meaningful conversations and engaging experiences. If you work in marketing or communication, you’re used to thinking about owned media (like corporate websites, where you tell the story on your own platform), bought media (advertising,where you pay to get you point across) or earned media (press coverage). The opportunity of social media is making your owned media the basis of your earned media – your reputation, through interaction with audiences rather than large, expensive campaigns and the fickle attention of journalists. Likewise for creatives, who might never have had the marketing budget and whose profile and fame might not fit with the taste of the media. What would you say if you could speak directly to a member of your audience? How about thousands? 3. The ways we make money are changing also. As the basis of the business models of electronic media were based on the crumbling distribution models and the exclusivity of the product (Simply put: The ability to charge for an album or a film is challenged by so-called digital piracy), producers are forced to find new ways of generating and capturing value. Much attention is spent on crowdfunding as a model for the future, and surely, musicians like Amanda Palmer or game developers like Tim Schafer are proof that fans recognize and back artists’ journeys as well as their products, and proof of the point above: audiences can be reached and engaged directly. The main potential lies in realizing the multitude of new products that are available and needed to earn money from the new platforms. Your product is no longer (only) your film, album or performance, it’s (also) the social capital and engagement you create around it. Your business model can capitalize on that engagement directly, through tickets sold, it can utilize it to build brand awareness for multiple releases for new products, or can capitalize on the user engagement itself, like with crowdfunding or other campaigns that let user be part of something bigger. So. I’d say this matters to everyone who creates stories or experiences, even though they might not be digital in their nature. What implications does this have for how we need to work? - We need to shift our attention from the stories we want to tell to the experiences we want to create. And preferably do this before we choose which platforms or media to limit ourselves to. What do I want users to do with this? - We need to to see the audience and the users front and center because they’re no longer the passive recipients and grateful ticket-buyers at the end of the food-chain. They’re ambassadors, co-creators and applauding fans along the whole creative journey. If we do it right. How can I invite users along? - We need to understand the role of the audience and users when building our business model and be willing to iterate to fit users needs. This won’t threaten your creative freedom or integrity if you’re clear about what you want to do and what you invite people to participate in. Think of it as building a house: there are rooms where it’s all your creation, there are rooms where it’s all users, and there will be rooms for you interacting with audiences. The business model is about creating a door to your house: creating a promise of the tour or experience that will make people want to pay.
Feb 9 13
Ok, I'm going to need to get personal. I seldom write with passion on this blog, as I'm uncomfortable bringing lots of feelings into my work space, especially negative feelings like anger. And today I'm angry, because I woke up to the news that the Norwegian production company Fabelaktiv won Norway's first Emmy last night for "Energikampen" (NRK), only to be ignored by media other than the local newspapers. The production was one of three Norwegian NRK-related nominations for the prestigous Emmy, the only three nominations from the Nordic countries. So a big, heartfelt congratulation to Fabelaktiv and NRK. This lack of attention is not surprising. Content for kids is at the bottom of the film industry's food chain and within children's productions you find the same ridiculous hierarchy as within the film industry in general, where feature film is on top and factual tv is quite low. "Energikampen" is, in some sense then, among the lowest of low, prestigue-wise, regardless of international acclaim for high quality and the same large audience that children's productions in general have. No, I'm not angry in the sense that I'll go out and slash car tires or hit someone. I'm angry in the sense I've grown to know well. That hard lump in my stomach that tells me that something is not right. That playing to established cultural hierarchies and knowing the right people is far more important than doing great stuff and telling fantastic stories. This lump fuels my fight for on a daily basis, but there are no bloody banners to walk under, so here I write my own. I've always been a STRANGER in the sense that I've moved around a lot, between countries and between industries. Today, my work is driven by my great love of stories and imagination, since I understood for the first time that language gives us the opportunity to create with our minds. Books, theatre, film, tv, games - I'm completely uninterested in genre definitions and cultural value systems. I'm just interested in what you can create with each toolbox and to be immersed in great experiences. Add to that my work as community producer from 2000-2006 (though it took me several years to understand that that was what I did), and the emerging understanding that experiences online are not created for people but *with* people, and the implications this has for who we are as individuals and societies. I can't see how anyone can escape the insight that storytelling just got amped up considerably. To work in this field, between storytelling and experience design, while believing in the power of the crowd, you have to get rid of one thing, and that is your vanity. We all want to be liked and admired as human beings, but you can't innovate and be popular at the same time. Instead, you need to find new friends that think like yourself, people who value good ideas and who wants systems to change if they're not producing value. This is why I get my main inspiration from the start-up scene and IT ventures, from people who boldly mix genres or test out new ideas. This was the pioneer spirit of the film industry a hundred years ago, when men and a few women experienced like crazy and gave us a new medium to tell stories in. The reason I want to see radical innovation within the film industry is because I love stories. Many of us do. We want stories to prevail. Not old structures and revenue models. Stories. Let's find the new revenue models that actually work. And let's stop caring who's hot or not. We have work to do. And the coolest stuff right now actually happens within content for kids.
Nov 15 12
The organisation Spelkultur Skåne (Games Culture in Southern Sweden) hosted our office breakfast today, which led to an interesting talk on games, culture and participation. Personally, I love board games and I even prefer playing console games together with others, not competing but alternating and teaming up (This fall, I've started a great concept of 'gaming and knitting' with @daugtaofdasnow, yesterday we had a go at "The Unfinished Swan", so beautiful). So I think the mission of Spelkultur Skåne, to promote social games and games as a tool for democratization, is great. But something still annoys me about the implications of modern screenbased culture always having to fit into the narrow concepts of seventies definitions of culture (built on community culture, folk culture etc, as opposed to pop culture). Why is it so important to us to 'prove' that gaming is not a solitary activity (leading to school shootings or other anti-social activity)? When did you see someone criticizing literature because it's most common to read alone? And even though it's interesting to consider the reception and activity of culture - not just the isolated products, doesn't it strike you as ridiculous to see a single viewer watching "Breaking Bad" as something of less value than ten people watching "Let's Dance" together? Cultural content and activities enriches people's lives, when experienced alone or in groups, when consumed or produced or a mix of those. That's all she wrote.
Oct 17 12
My whole childhood, Norway only had one television channel. This week, Netflix premiered in Sweden - and Scandinavia - and HBO Nordic is only weeks away. Wow. Since tv was digitalized during the 00s, niche channels have blossomed, and even though broadcasters have been taking comfort in the fact that the total consumption of tv is increasing, these new services are surely going to change the position of national broadcasters and local cable tv providers. And meanwhile on Facebook... Last night, during the presidental debate, Romney's attempt at being a feminist turned sour and the internet got cranky. 17 hours later, over 305.000 people likes the Facebook-page "Binders Full Of Women". Another form of real-life storytelling that competes with traditional content and makes it easy to take part. I think this is truly exciting. Anyone who loves stories should. And at the same time, this poses real challenges for Nordic storytellers and content providers. Old development and financing models are not going to cut it. Perfectly formed pitches at financing forums and red carpets at festivals don't means anything outside the industry. It's about what you want to say now. You should be excited. The old gatekeepers are loosing their power to decide what we spend our time on. The new gatekeepers, users and audiences, are easy to engage but fickle in their devotion. We need a whole new set of methods to reach users and we need to start by putting them front and centre.
This weekend I'm watching the complete Star Wars films back to back (well, IV through III), listening to George Lucas' commentary along the way. Star Wars is often hailed as the first transmedia storyworld, and in the exerpts of the commentary posted below, Lucas explains the mechanisms that creates the alluring feeling that this is not only a film, it's a whole universe that can be explored indefinately, by allowing the audience to use their imagination to fill in the gaps regarding what's really going on. In literature this is also known as starting 'in medias res', like Henrik Ibsens plays started with a conflict and spend the play exploring and revealing the underlying reasons for this situation and the larger societal problem it represented. But unlike Ibsen, Lucas has utilized the large and flexible storyworld to tell multiple new stories, keeping the universe alive between the major film releases (going on it's 35th year). Still, the dilemma that Lucas points to himself, a delicate balance between mystery and exploitation of the storyworld has led to the coining of the label 'the midichlorian problem', with reference to Lucas' explaination of 'The Force' in the later movies. David Varela explains this beautifully in his critique of Prometheus' relationship to Alien lore. And fans have utilized the internet's ability to join in the storytelling in this well-known Gotye parody: Perhaps it's much harder to avoid and ignore fans rage today than 35 years ago. Or not respecting the investment audiences in making your storyworld vibrant and immersive. Fans have always recreated and played along but today this is happening to a degree that it must be seen as part of the storyworld, and respected as such. George Lucas on the commentary track to Star Wars episode IV (The Complete Saga, 01:14:10)
The story is ultimately about princess Leia and her attempts to destroy the Death Star as a rebel leader. And the boys kinda just tag along on her adventure. In this particular film, you don’t really understand all the relationships between everybody and where everybody came from, but I was very keen on making a movie that was like watching a foreign film, where you just didn’t know what world you were in, you didn’t know what was going on, you didn’t know the politics, you didn’t know anything. And nothing was explained to you. You simply were thrown into this world, and there’s an adventure going on and you simply have to get with it. As opposed to a traditional fantasy film where they spend a lot of time sort of explaining everything. Unfortunately, I’m now in the position of having to explain everything. One of the fun things for me about this movie was that I was making it Episode IV. Which is why I was so adamand about having that on the film. It’s ironic that I was wanting it on the film to explain why I hadn’t explained anything. The studio was afraid to advertise it that way for fear that they would say “Well where are the other movies”. They didn’t know how to sell it. But the concept here is that all this stuff has happened and you’re never gonna know about it. That was like two weeks ago on Saturday. If you didn’t come to that one and your friends didn’t see it, then you just wouldn’t have any clue about what they’re talking about. You know, “We meet again”. Well that was in Episode III. You know it never was intended that you’d ever know what that was. And it’s fun now for me in a way to be able to do the three first stories, so that you know some of the things that was going on here. But this was always intended to be a kind of “What in the world is going on in this movie? I don’t understand.”
Oct 1 12
Last night, the final tv-episode of the European transmedia project The Spiral aired, featuring images of fans playing The Spiral Game and the live closing ceremony on Friday 28th, where fans all over Europe witnessed the happenings in Brussels. The series has been declared a failure on tv due to continuously falling ratings, and no-one has any clue as to the success of the interactive parts - though, as I've discussed in a post below, I found it hard to make heads and tails of it. But let's assume the interactive part of The Spiral is a success, because I don't think the ratings or a headcount is the best indicator of this project's importance. Rather the opposite: The Spiral bugs me for reasons I've been trying to figure out for weeks. - and I suspect I'd be bugged regardless of it being a virtual blockbuster or not. Because: The Spiral doesn't take it's own message seriously. "Everyone is an artist", it postulates - prompting users to chase the virtual masterpieces and to contribute with creative exercises and productions of their own. Well, let's take a look at that. With a seventies feel to it, The Spiral wants to connect institutionalized art - the masterpieces - with the everyday art of the users. Art becomes activism in the tv-series as a way of protesting the commersialism of modern society - "where the real power is, the giant corporations and the advertising industry" (ep 101). Supposedly, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media services are considered part of this commercialised world, since The Spiral has stayed clear of these areneas for any of its organized activities (apart from Facebook-invitations to the real life events). Likewise, it's hard to find any spontanous activity in social media with appropriate hashtags. Going for the deep, addictive relationship with its audience [of the game] in stead of a casual, frivolous one [through social media], might not be a strategy I agree with, but it's one I would accept, was it not for the hypocricy of this strategy in connection with the main message. The Spiral misses (or willingly ignores) that people already are artists in social media. The sheer amount of sandwich art, cat videos and poetic recitations of life's banalities around makes it evident that the tools of creativity are democratised already. The assumption that this overflow of creativity needs to be heisted into primetime tv to have artistic value is mossy and quite frankly, insulting. That's like trying to launch Wikipedia by promising that the best articles are awarded by being featured in Encyclopedia Britannica. What Wikipedia has taught us is that users don't need anyone to tell them or show them how to produce and distribute high quality content - we're more than able to organize such knowledge production on our own. For free. And here's the real challenge for artists: the competition from our free access to the stream of cute, casual and authentic stuff from other users. Artists' challenges are the same as users' challenges in this landscape: how to recognize and promote quality and originality in the sea of shit that is the flip side of internet. Social media has given us opportunities to sort and promote and exclaim - not only are we all artists, more importantly, we're all curators. And guess who I trust more, a friend sharing an excellent commercial or a 'pure' messages from a public service broadcaster. As we like to say these days: It's complicated. The opportunities The Spiral wants to give us have existed for at least ten years, yet the drama doesn't touch upon the new challenges of the post-digital world. The Spiral is commissioned by the generation of '68, but it's supposed to reach the generation of '94 - young people who have grown up with digital media and the Internet. Users who produce and share content daily. Users who want to pay for relevance, entertainment and personal value, not for formats or business models like 'public service broadcasting', 'dvd' or 'newspaper subscriptions'. Users who find copyright infringement irrelevant - not because they don't care about artists getting paid, but because today's immaterial rights are built on business models who no longer work. Reaching these users is public service biggest challenge, and it can't be done without understanding the cultural challenges and possibilities of right now. Where's the revolution at? How about a drama about artists releasing Bergmans collected works for resampling. For real. That would make it personal. That would make us listen. That would be impossible on public service tv. But as long as that's not possible: A good start would be to realize that your audiences would like to be adressed as the artists they already are. And in respecting that a connection between artists and users comes from collaboration and conversation.