May 28, 2008
Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part I)

Jeff Gomez, the chief executive officer of Starlight Runner entertainment, spoke at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference last fall as part of a panel discussion on Cult Media, which also included transmedia creator Danny Bilson, Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, ; and Gordon Tichell from Walden Media, the company which produces the Narnia films. Not surprisingly, given I was moderator, the session quickly became a geek out festival mostly centered around issues of transmedia entertainment. You can enjoy the podcast of the event here.

As we were preparing for the session, we distributed a set of questions to the speakers, some of which were covered during the panel, some of which were not. Gomez recently wrote to send me his further reflections on many of those questions in the hopes to continue public conversation around recent developments in transmedia entertainment. I am running this on my blog and wanted to likewise cross-post it here on the C3 blog as well. Given that the C3 blog usually runs smaller pieces than mine, I thought I'd run a couple of sections of the interview today and more later this week.

First of all, though, here's a bio on Gomez:

As the Chief Executive Officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Jeff Gomez is a leading creator of highly successful fictional worlds. He is an expert at cross-platform intellectual property development and transmedia storytelling, as well as at extending niche properties such as toys, animation or video game titles into the global mass market.
After establishing himself in the tabletop adventure game industry, Jeff helped to develop the super hero universe of Valiant Comics, adapting its characters and storylines into videogames for Acclaim Entertainment. Jeff┬╣s first transmedia effort was for the Wizards of the Coast trading card game Magic: The Gathering, where he dramatized the mythology of the cards in an elaborate storyline across a series of comic book titles, web sites and videogames.

Jeff conceived and co-produced one of the most successful transmedia storylines of the decade with Mattel's Hot Wheels: World Race and Hot Wheels Acceleracers comic books, video games, web content and animated series for television. He has gone on to work with such blockbuster properties as Pirates of the Caribbean and Fairies for The Walt Disney Company, James Cameron's Avatar for 20th Century Fox, and Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company.

Jeff has also spoken at M.I.T.'s Futures of Entertainment conference and given his seminar, Creating Blockbuster Worlds: Developing Highly Successful Transmedia Franchises, to the Game Developers Conference, New York State Bar Association, International Game Developers Association and the Producers Guild of America, as well as to such corporations as Disney, Fox, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Scholastic, Wieden+Kennedy, and Hasbro.

Jeff Gomez can best be reached at jeff@starlightrunner.com.

Let's start by examining the concept of "cult media." What does this phrase mean to you, and do you think it accurately describes the kinds of projects you've worked on? Why or why not?

To me "cult media" is exemplified by the slow crumbling of traditional media content aimed at huge swathes of the population, down to the more contemporary approach of designing content to engage subsections of that population or even smaller "niches."

My company Starlight Runner works on "cult media" in that we work on projects that already have mass appeal or have the potential to reach mass appeal, but what those projects always have to begin with is a specific genre appeal that almost guarantees an extremely loyal core "niche" audience.

Starlight Runner also consults with movie studios, comic book and fiction publishers, and videogame developers to take their niche or "cult" content and prepare it for extension across multiple media platforms. In this case, we are acting as transmedia storytellers, developing and producing "cult" properties for exposure to a much larger audience.

The idea of cult media historically referred to films that appealed to a fairly small niche of consumers. But many genres, which once were regarded as cult -- fantasy, science fiction, superheroes -- have emerged as increasingly mainstream. What's changing? What accounts for the mainstreaming of niche media?

There are five factors that seem to be contributing to the "coming out" of cult media:
  1. Baby boomers and gen-X'ers weaned on the explosion of pop culture spurred by the proliferation of television and movies in the aftermath of World War II have come of age and taken control of the entertainment industry. Naturally, they have a strong desire to recreate what they loved and share it with others who've had similar cultural experiences.
  2. Genre product such as science fiction serials and horror films, which had been relegated to Saturday matinees and second or third billing in movie theaters, could now be given A-list treatment. The new moguls and visionaries could now apply top grade production value to this content, and hire marquee talent for it, secure in the knowledge that genre fare is more than likely to turn a profit. In the international market, a growing hunger for action and genre content could boost domestic failures into profitability.
  3. Attention to quality extended to storytelling. Filmmakers, comic book writers, genre novelists and their ilk were better educated and more interested in stories that conveyed better character development and stronger verisimilitude. Star Wars was fueled by the work of Joseph Campbell.
  4. Genre content became more reflective of the mood and politics of the time, and therefore resonated more powerfully with mass audiences. Note the nuclear spawned monsters of the 1950s, the "acid trip" sci-fi of the '60s, the terrifying "evil children" of the early '70s, the "gee whiz" hope of Star Wars and Close Encounters later that decade, the political morass and moral ambiguity of Battlestar Galactica currently.
  5. Like no other time in history, devotees of this type of content have complete access to one another via the Internet. Fans whose imaginations are fired by these stories make a deep and lasting connection with them. They become "specialists," intensely knowledgeable of the property, the way that sports fanatics memorize the accomplishments and statistics of their favorite teams. These fans become "apostles" for the property, devoting time, effort and creativity in celebrating the story and characters, collecting ephemera and licensed extensions of the brand, celebrating it with others of their ilk. They form the property's core fan base, which in turn fuels the continued success of the brand.

More to come from the interview later this morning...