May 14, 2010

Fan Edits: Improving the Original (Without Changing the Original?)

A fan edit is a production in which (what would have been considered) an ordinary viewer makes changes to an original film (or films) to create "a new interpretation of the source material" (Wikipedia; link above).

Edits of films ("cuts") have been around for decades, and director's cuts have long been an additional supplement to many film releases (or releases unto themselves). But as digital production technology became more widespread, cheaper, and easier to use, ordinary consumers began to take commercially-distributed films (which also became cheaper and of higher quality for consumer purchase) and edit them in their own homes: essentially creating "director's critic's edits."

One of the most popular early fan edits (and still to this day one of the most popular) is The Phantom Edit, which took George Lucas's fourth Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, and reorganized the footage to create a different, "better" film (the story of which is chronicled in this article).

There are vibrant politics around fan edits, from issues of fair use to questions of aesthetics and vision. More on these issues follow after the jump.

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May 12, 2010

Post-Story, Post-Promotion, Post-Education: Archiving ARGs

Way back in mid-March, I posted a collection of tweets from the Transmedia, Hollywood event out at the University of Southern California entitled Transmedia, Hollywood: The Spreadsheet. If you didn't check that out, it current houses 1489 messages posted to Twitter by participants and off-site audiences following the conference through whatever means they could manage. As one of those folk, I voiced a few thoughts myself, one of which I will return to today:

[637] Something I'd love to hear more about: Must ARGs be ephemeral? If so how do you archive an ARG? #TransH [@alexleavitt - 10584590976]

Today, I will explore a bit about the implications on storytelling that alternate reality games present as a form of narrative (or advertising; or teaching tool) and how conceptualizing the documentation of ARGs lends insight into understanding that form better.

More after the jump.

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May 10, 2010

When Fans Become Advertisers: Smallville Becomes Legendary

When we hear that fans are rallying support behind a favorite television series, we might imagine the letter writing campaign in the late 1960s which kept Star Trek on the air; we might imagine fans of Jericho sending crates of peanuts to network executives; we might even picture fans of Chuck organizing a large scale "buycot," getting people to purchase foot long sandwiches at Subways to show their enthusiasm for the series. What we probably do not picture is fans raising the money to support and air their own commercial paying tribute to the star of their favorite series. So, I was impressed when I received this press release the other week:

Smallville fans have funded a professionally-filmed tribute commercial for the CW leading lady Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, to air this Spring in Los Angeles before this season concludes. Starring on Smallville since 2001, Ms. Mack has gained a large and devoted fan base as one of the CW's most beloved stars. For the completion of her 9th year on the series, Smallville fans decided to celebrate Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, with a commercial project entitled Legendary. Scripted and funded entirely by fans, this first of its kind tribute ad was filmed in Los Angeles in late February. In the capable hands of the director, Jon Michael Kondrath, cast and crew created a tribute ad focusing on who Chloe Sullivan is and what she means to Smallville fans. The ad highlights milestones in Chloe Sullivan's journey from her introduction as a high school student in Smallville to being hired at the Daily Planet as well as becoming Clark Kent's confidante

I wanted to know more of the story behind this project and reached out to Maggie Bridger, who is one of the organizers, to learn more about how fans have been able to mount such an ambitious undertaking and to explore with her what it's implications might be for future forms of fan activism.

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May 6, 2010

Retreat Weekend

We'll be gone for a few days, as today commences the Consortium's annual retreat. See you all next week!

May 4, 2010

Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?

Back in April, I attended the MIT Business in Gaming conference, where I sat in on a panel called Hollywood, Music, & Games, from which I posted my notes here: The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood.

Chris Weaver, one of the panelists and a consulting researcher with the Consortium, made an interesting and critical comment that I've been thinking about for the past few weeks: We have not yet seen our transmedia Mozart. What he figuratively stated was that in the (American) entertainment industry, especially in the professional studios of Hollywood (here, a word that both evokes the geographical filmscape and also represents a metonymical substitution for the major players in each industry of film, gaming, etc.), there have been no creators of transmedia works that have been able to successfully construct a unified project that harnesses the power of each medium (whether through the producer's skills or collaboration with other creatives) to its largest potential.

Since I last read Convergence Culture a few years ago, especially Henry's chapter on transmedia storytelling, I have always explained the concept of transmedia with the example of the Wachowski Brother's The Matrix (1999 - 2005).

Henry writes, "No film franchise has ever made such demands on its consumers" (94). The remainder of this statement's paragraph elucidates the complex plot of the film trilogy, which bleeds out into a video game, animated shorts, and comics. What Henry pinpoints yet concurrently avoids discussing is the involved chain of media with which consumers are required to interact. Yes, they must understand all of these story arcs, but they must also be able to consume them. While Henry explains, "The Matrix is entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium," he might also have highlighted that The Matrix is entertainment in an age of media literacy: audience members must possess the capabilities of dealing with texts across mediums.

And, the most important goal of the transmedia producer: the audience member must enjoy the product.

However, the trend in the industry that we are seeing right now is thus: transmedia franchises are profiting, not from the praise of fans for the creativity of the franchise, but from the money of fans purchasing uninspiring cross-platform tie-ins. Similarly, we are seeing more and more peripheral media of an initial text not act as related-but-separate story arcs, but capitalize on the extended experience of the audience.

Engaged your interest? Read more after the jump.

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May 3, 2010

Ludic Narrans: Drew Davidson Talks Crossmedia Communication

One of my first classes at USC was in transmedia entertainment and storytelling and I plan to be teaching a large lecture hall class on transmedia in the Cinema School starting in the 2011-2012 academic year. My growing interest in transmedia is one of many reasons I have ended up here. I want to be closer to the entertainment industry to be able to watch some of the changes that are unfolding as this emerging conception of popular entertainment really takes root and I want to be in a position to influence the entertainment workers in training.

Think about how the generation of "movie brats," such as Spielberg and Lucas, influenced the American media. For generations, directors emerged from one or another of the guilds, bringing with them specialized skill sets. Robert Wise was an editor; William Cameron Menzies was an art director; most of them knew how to work with actors, but few of them had an integrated perspective on all of the technical skills required to produce a movie. With the rise of film schools, we got directors who knew the full vocabulary of their medium, who knew how to speak to workers with more specialized skills (who often trained alongside them and spoke a shared language) and who knew the history and genres that constituted their tradition. As Hollywood begins to embrace transmedia, a common concern is that there are few people who fully understand how to tell stories or create entertainment experiences in more than one medium: comic book people don't know how to think about games, say, or television people have limited grasp of the web. My own hope is that the Film Schools will once again be the space where future media makers get exposed to a broader range of different kinds of media and also develop the social relations and vocabulary to meaningfully collaborate with others who have specialized in different modes of expression.

For this to happen, transmedia entertainment needs to emerge as a subject not simply at USC but at film schools all over the country. And, indeed, I am hearing more and more from other faculty who are starting to teach such classes at their own institutions. That's why it is such good news that Drew Davidson, Director of the Entertainment Technology Center Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University, has produced a new textbook designed to introduce undergraduate critical studies and production students alike to the world of what he calls "crossmedia entertainment." (Full disclosure: the book includes a short piece by me which offers my definition of transmedia.) I have long admired Drew Davidson's contributions to the space of games studies, especially through the Well Played books, which offer smart, engaging criticisms of specific games by some of the top games scholars in the world, and his earlier book, Stories in Between is a hidden gem which already poses important questions about new and emerging forms of storytelling.

This new book, Cross-Media Communications: an Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences will play a central role in shaping how concepts of "cross-media" or "transmedia" expression get taught, encouraging educators around the world to explore some of these intriguing concepts in their classrooms. Over the next two installments, I will be sharing this interview with Davidson about the book and about his thoughts on all things crossmedia.

Continue reading "Ludic Narrans: Drew Davidson Talks Crossmedia Communication" »

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