The Transmedia Producer's Guide to the Galaxy

6 lessons on how to produce a transmedia experience

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Transmedia is fundamentally about leveraging multiple platforms and mediums to tell a story or build an interactive experience. In most cases, projects require the collaboration of people with very different skill sets and specific expertise. Sometimes, those people also don’t come from the same background and are not necessarily used to collaborate with each other. As a result, the producer of such projects is left with the task of having to orchestrate very complex projects and hybrid teams – more than any other kind of media project. This is why in 2010, the Producer’s Guild of America decided to coin a new job title: the “Transmedia Producer.” This decision had a major impact in that it heavily contributed to the establishement of the term as an industry standard. More and more companies are now laying claim to expertise in producing transmedia content. Last Tuesday, Transmedia SF held a meetup dedicated to the role of the transmedia producer.

Four producers where invited to share best practices and build a “Transmedia Producer’s Guide”. But it is not an easy thing to describe a role that is constantly remodeled and challenged by new technologies, practices and tools – even more so that the regular role of the “Producer”.

How do producers plan, develop, orchestrate, fund and guarantee results for such mutant types of production?

Lessons learned from :

Susan Bell, Creative Technologist for Transmedia Storyteller Ltd., designer of interactive stories told across social media and mobile platforms

Esther Lim, Executive Director of Digital Experience at George P. Johnson, a global experience marketing agency, and producers of the alternate reality games, The Threshold and The Hunt.

Lin Tam, co-founder of Spazzmania, a mobile iPad app helping gamers find IOS games in the crowded app market via additional media content

Elise Baugh  - Co-Founder & CMO of Innovent Transmedia. Her approach to every project blends art and social change, with the goal to inspire and activate audiences.

 1. “Educate” clients

Over the past few years, transmedia storytelling has become a hot buzzword – “the next big thing” or “the last big thing” depending on whom you ask. A lot of brands get excited by the opportunity to deliver the brand image in a newer fashion, providing entertainment on multiple platforms and reaching their audience in an authentic, yet sticky way. But they also easily get lost in the intricacy of transmedia and its lack of tangibility. One of the main missions of a transmedia producer is therefore to educate its clients: helping them identify the business objectives, to know their audience, to measure the risk, to prepare for uncertainty and to understand new interactions with the brand. “Don’t underestimate the time you spend convincing, explaining and re-assuring your client. It’s huge.” Esther Lim explains.

2. Build multi-disciplinary teams

Multiple platforms need multiple experts in the making. “You’re not building a story. You’re building a universe” says Susan Bell to describe the numerous branches and interactions that need to be put together when producing a transmedia experience. Transmedia producers are responsible for building the team that will create the magic, mixing complementary skills and finding the right balance between extraordinary creativity (storytellers, game designers, story architects) and top notch execution (developers, community managers, planners, filmmakers, copywriters, etc.). How do you get them to work together and understand each other? How do you transfer the vision when the project goes from hands to hands? Good luck with that.

3. Set measurable goals

As intangible and unpredictable as transmedia productions can be – and should remain – especially when there are some live interactions involved, the success of a production still lies in its ability to meet the goals that have been set up from the start. The business modeling of a transmedia production also requires innovation. How to quantify a project’s potential for success? Can the producer predict the success of each interaction and the effectiveness of the buzz? The main lesson learned during this meetup was that transmedia producers have to come up with really smart measurements, through an understanding of convergence culture: platform switches, effectiveness of each call-to-action, size and evolution of the fan community (users and their friends), estimation of awareness, etc.

4. Manage flexible and open production schedules

“No, you cannot plan everything. And the planning of production will change, even if you set it up in detail” says Esther Lim after having experienced some hectic content planning during the production of the PIE THEORY, an alternate reality game produced for Sun Microsystems that let people find clues by coding. “Users consume 3 times more content than you planned. You have to produce more along the way”.

The success of a transmedia experience also relies on its flexibility and ability to follow the cadence the users necessitate. The role of the transmedia producer is therefore not to fill all the gaps in the content production plan, but keep it open and make sure that resources are available at all time to release some new content and keep the audience thirsty.

5. Follow the fans

All transmedia producers can testify on how surprised and amazed they got from the community engagement and how it can re-shape the whole project once it’s gone live. You hope but you cannot actually predict that users, especially ARG players, will take ownership of the experience and actually help you to design it. Fans are self-organizing. They team up, crowd source information and content, help to translate, share research and clues. They can even produce their own additional content – pushing the boundaries of the original production. Transmedia producers need to embrace this opportunity, and be prepared to lose some control during the experience. As Elise Baugh put it: “Celebrate and encourage audience participation. Recognize and reward contribution.”

6. Keep it authentic – at all times!

Here comes the main challenge. The producer is in charge of managing the production from A-to-Z, and has to report budget and results to numerous stakeholders. But he has to be careful that this role does not jeopardize the quality of the experience in itself. Despite having to carry stressful business and financial objectives and tight schedules, transmedia producers have to keep their mind focused on the user experience as a priority. Success lies in the user engagement – which requires authenticity. Interactions with the brand needs to be designed seamlessly and with parsimony to keep the experience organic and authentic. You will lose the audience if they felt they are being sold to.