Transmedia is killing Hollywood will kill Transmedia

And you, Mr. Transmedia Producer, are holding the gun.

This was not what I had planned on posting today. I’ve got a post in the making taking a look at various things transmedia is used to describe and what is great (and difficult & challenging & wonderful) about each. It’s a good post. It’s a useful post. It helps to clarify transmedia without defining it and it encourages folks to consider what transmedia can mean (and do) for their projects on a several different levels.

But then I read this. And I got angry.

With that in mind, let’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

Mark Harris, The Day The Movies Died

I can hear the arguments now… “Brooke, you just hate franchises!” “You know adaptations are not transmedia!” “Hollywood has to make money and, in this economy, they just can’t take the risks! Transmedia can help!”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Actually, no. You are correct that adaptations are not transmedia, but you are not correct if you think that’s the issue.

The issue is that the loudest proponants of transmedia will point to all of these properties as successful examples of transmedia. Why? Because that is what Hollywood wants to hear. For decades now, Hollywood has relied on franchises to make money. They are low risk and help to keep the brand alive. Not the story. Studios are a business and franchises are a brand. Brands that, hopefully, make money.

The one thing businessmen love as much as money is a buzzword. Especially a buzzword that they can use to describe exactly what they have always done but make it sound fresh and oh so hip. They don’t have to grow or adapt, all they have to do is change a word.

Enter Transmedia.

The big loud voices will tell you that this is storytelling for the 21st century. They may even be so bold to tell you that they are reinventing storytelling… as if they aren’t doing exactly what Hollywood has been doing for decades.

They aren’t creating change. They are providing justification for the status quo. They are encouraging Hollywood to continue with what it has been doing – whether it is working or not.

They’ll tell you that transmedia is all about the story (which it is) but then go on to provide examples of… franchises. Franchises are not stories. Franchises are brands.

They’ll give you advice about how to build a universe or spin off a character into a comic book. Great. Sounds cool. But how is that adding to the story? All you are doing is adding to the franchise. Building the brand.

So, Mr. Transmedia Producer, if transmedia is all about the story and you are creating a new story… how exactly is it transmedia?! How is it different from what has always been done?

But for now, let’s just admit it: Hollywood has become an institution that is more interested in launching the next rubberized action figure than in making the next interesting movie.

Mark Harris, The Day The Movies Died

Transmedia is so much more than the next rubberized action figure. The concept of telling a story across platforms is powerful. The freedom that it provides the storyteller is a difficult challenge but the rewards are plentiful. It enhances the story by removing platform constraints and lets the storyteller engage the audience in a variety of ways which can be used to provide meaning and context in a manner that a single platform just cannot replicate.

I don’t blame you, Mr. Transmedia Producer, for not taking advantage of that potential and, instead, just encouraging your clients to produce a new, albeit related, story to help extend the brand, err, universe.

It’s not an easy thing to do. Plus, you are probably not involved early enough in the creative process to make it happen. Nor are you likely to have the rights to make such changes to the original. So creating something all together new and different is, really, your only option.

I do, however, blame you for selling snake oil. Your bottled solution is made up of nothing more than the same tap water they’ve always been drinking. Oh, sure, there may be some placebo effect – the idea that they are being innovative may create a bit of excitement which could effect how the movie is marketed. But soon the villagers will catch on. They’ll realize they don’t need you and they don’t need this transmedia, their franchises are just fine.

And what happens then? What will Hollywood think of the actual transmedia out there…  will they take the risk or just decide it’s nothing more than another bottle of snake oil?


I’ve written a followup post: Rebooting Transmedia
and another: Defining Discussions