PARK CITY, Utah – There are few ways cooler to get around a film festival than being driven by The Dude. Just last night I copped a ride at the Sundance Film Festival with the man made famous by The Big Lebowski, and for the next couple days, anyone else can too.
It wasn’t Jeff Bridges, of course, the actor who played the Big Lebowski in the eponymous Coen Brothers film. Instead, it was Steve Peters, a 52-year-old dude from Culver City who is chief creative officer of a “connected experiences” startup called No Mimes Media and bears a strong resemblance to the character. A driver for the Lyft ride-sharing service, Peters is one of 10 “Lyft Creatives” chosen to give free rides at Sundance as part of a promotion.
“It was kind of a Halloween costume that stuck,” Peters said when asked how he started running the Lebowski Lyft. “I thought I could pull off the Dude pretty well for Halloween, so that’s what I did for my Halloween Lyfts, and then it just became the theme.”
The ersatz Lebowski got out of his vehicle to greet me after he arrived, his Jesus-like hair catching a mountain breeze. He was driving an SUV, not a 1973 Ford Torino, but it was full of callbacks to the film: a severed toe (probably Bunny’s) in the cup holder; a Ralph’s card; and rug on the dash. What about White Russians, the signature drink of the Dude? “I do have some half-and-half over there,” said Peters.
The Lyft drivers at Sundance – a group that includes a Karaoke Lyft, a Hip Hop Lyft, and a Harry Potter Lyft – also fill a unique void. Park City isn’t that big – 18 square miles at most – but the theaters it offers up for film festival screenings are on all ends of town and parking isn’t plentiful. Sundance provides a great shuttle service, but for film buffs trying to get in as many screenings as they can in a day, it can take hustle to get from one to the next — especially in the snow. In previous years, screenings would end in a mad dash to locate a taxi or call a car service and sometimes in sharing rides with strangers anyway, so the arrival of actual ridesharing services makes sense.
“Since theaters and events are spread out throughout the Park City area at Sundance, we thought that Lyft would be a good fit to help passengers get to and from the festival events safely, on time and with a memorable experience,” said Paige Thelen, a Lyft spokesperson.
And Lyft, which will be offering rides from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. tonight and tomorrow night, isn’t alone. Uber – the Hollywood exec to Lyft’s indie outfit – is also in Park City for the second year in a row and staying for the duration of the festival until Jan. 27. The car service is bringing a slew of new Acura MDX’s to town and stocking them with handwarmers, lip balm, and People Water “to give our riders the celebrity treatment.” Uber is also donating $1 from each ride to the Sundance Institute.
“Last year was our red carpet debut, and we helped thousands of film aficionados get around town,” Uber wrote in a blog post announcing their Sundance service. “This time around, we’re hoping for another five-star review.”
I took Uber back to my hotel after the Thursday night screening the Dude took me to. It was nice, comfy, and the driver and I made pleasant conversation. Five stars were given.
But it cost 44 bucks, and there was no rug to really pull the ride together. Somehow I knew, the Dude wouldn’t abide.
Angela is a reporter for the Underwire, Wired’s pop culture blog. She is also a senior editor of Longshot magazine and a contributor to Pop-Up Magazine.
Read more by Angela Watercutter
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via A Big Lebowski Lyft Is Giving People Free Rides at Sundance | Underwire | Wired.com.]]>
In our last episode, I talked about how transmedia storytelling projects and technologies (such as second screen apps) seem to be getting traction in Hollywood, and the need for Experience Designers to effectively build the stuff that actually goes into the Transmedia (unless we’re going to be satisfied with just polls, quizzes and ads). Here, I’ll talk about what an Experience Designer actually does.
So, we’ve determined (or at least I’ve asserted) that we’ve got all this great digital transmedia techo-goodness at our fingertips, yet everyone’s struggling with what the content using this technology will actually be. The path of least resistance seems to be “extras” or “bonus content” right now, which often takes the form of microsites, games, polls, trivia, advertisements, behind-the-scenes stuff, links to actors’ IMDB pages, etc. If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’ve probably recently seen me link out to press releases about new apps and projects, and lamenting that they seem to be delivering everything but one crucial and obvious thing:
The thing you’re actually consuming, the entertainment, the movie, the TV show, the STORY. Why isn’t there more story on these second screens (and by second screens I mean not only apps, but all transmedia channels)?
It’s because you need an Experience Designer to craft it, that’s why.
So, what does an Experience Designer do? Well, we’re the ones who take the raw ingredients and craft how they’re broken down, combined, produced and delivered in a way that surrounds the audience with the story in an organic and effective way. We’re sort of like a chef or an architect or a film director*. We take a story (usually in the form of a script or outline), break it down into ingredients/materials/scenes and then rebuild it using current digital technologies and channels at our disposal to create a unique and effective story experience.
This is not marketing. This is not brand management or story-world expansion or adaptation of the same material over different channels. It’s weaving all the elements of a story into a tapestry that transcends a single medium.
Sometimes the audience has to seek it out, following a trail like breadcrumbs through a forest, but sometimes it’s just given to them right where they are, using what they already have. No download required.
So, enough theory. What does this look like in practical terms? What does an Experience Designer do??
He or she begins by working closely with a writer or writers to develop a script or story outline that has transmedia elements or interaction design baked in from the very beginning. Stuff that makes sense to the overall project, and isn’t just a gimmick. Ideally, each piece of content should take advantage of the uniqueness of the medium it lives on, and only be put there if it more effectively serves the story than if it had been told in a more traditional way. How should each piece be delivered? Video? Text? Audio? Images? Email? How much is too much? How dense or sparse should it be? How does it all affect pacing? In essence, what will work best to serve the story?
Most importantly, the Experience Designer crafts the experience flow from one element to the next. Very similar to how an app or website designer is concerned about user flow, the Experience Designer strives to create something that mitigates friction points, confusion, or opportunities for the audience to abandon the experience. Too many transitions between platforms or channels, not being clear about what you want the user to do, or doing something just because you can are the kiss of death.
To put it simply, the Experience Designer takes something that usually looks like this…
…and turns it into something that looks more like this:
You’ll probably notice something right away: It’s pretty linear, which is almost counter-intuitive to everything we think about transmedia. It’s not all endless possibilities or choose-your-own-adventure; it actually has a beginning, middle and an end. A good Experience Designer doesn’t build an array of content, but instead assembles a flow of experiences that makes sense, feels organic, and doesn’t set up needless barriers to get through.
Almost as important as the actual story elements themselves, the Experience Designer also makes sure that the bridges of connective tissue between them (the arrows in the diagram) are well thought out. What these bridges are can vary greatly, depending on the type of project (see below), but they are critical in that every one of them represents a huge gaping chasm into which you can lose your audience. Think of them as hyperlinks, and they’re a mandatory, if not overlooked, element that makes transmedia storytelling different than the other types of transmedia applications.
Sometimes these links take the form of just that: a click/hyperlink from place to place. Sometimes they’re totally passive, whisking the audience from place to place without them having to lift a finger. Sometimes they’re a puzzle. Sometimes they’re triggered via a timeline. But they’re always there. Let’s dive into this a little deeper:
In a free-form project like an Alternate Reality Game (in which audience plays a pretty active role in moving things along), the unseen hand of the Experience Designer invisibly guides the audience from place to place via these overt or covert bridges. Remember, this isn’t an accident. It’s by design. If done right, it’s always apparent where the next destination is…or at least how to get there. It’s sort of like what the folks at Valve do in Half-Life 2, when they build an environmental path that you follow and then end up looking in exactly the direction they want you to in order to see the next bit of action or destination.
You can see an example of this freeform-yet-linear transmedia storytelling in a little single-player 10-minute experience we built to quickly and simply demonstrate just this very thing. It’s a little more puzzly than is typical, but you should still get the idea. Story content is revealed in a relatively linear way (although it still leaves room for a little exploration), from beginning to end, even though it may feel a little like a totally open sandbox. That’s the Experience Designer at work.
Conversely, the experience can be relatively passive and contained, but still paint on these additional transmedia canvases. Some interesting examples of Experience Design can be seen at Rides.tv, a transmedia platform I had the pleasure of helping develop and produce content for. There are a couple examples there that I think work very well, and they also show that you don’t necessarily need a huge amount of transmedia content to be effective.
In horror short 6:14, director Toby Wilkins worked with an Experience Designer from the inception of the script to craft an experience where the transmedia elements (phone calls in this case) told the story in a unique and creepy way.
Another interesting example can be found in murder-mystery Redrum. In this case, you get a text message that in effect puts you in the shoes of the very character you’re watching on screen. Without giving anything away here, you realize that if you don’t delete the message, you may have some ‘splainin’ to do.
For other recent examples, check out things like The Following, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Clockwork Watch,Defiance, Slide or Cathy’s Book.
Effective transmedia storytelling means that you craft a journey that will use the technology and multiple screens/channels to pull the audience deeper into the story, not distract them out of it. Too often, these pieces are not only inaccessible, unorganized or seemingly random, but they pull the user out of the very experience they’re a part of. Flow, momentum and focus are paramount. The Experience Designer’s job is to take the potentially cacophonous and introduce order and just enough focus to make it all work as one whole.
e pluribus, unum…narratio. It’s not just for pennies any more.
Steve Peters is Founder/CCO of No Mimes Media
*I base this on my own personal history, building transmedia projects with awesome folks like No Mimes Media and Fourth Wall Studios. Your mileage may vary.]]>
It’s 2013, and Second Screen is all around us, touted as the Next Big Thing. All of the major broadcast networks seem to have some sort of second screen sync app now, by which you can get “extra” content on your smartphone or tablet while you’re watching your favorite shows. CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC, SyFy, AMC… Sounds pretty cool, right?
But try out one of these apps, and it becomes apparent that they’re a solution in search of a problem. It seems like the main uses seem to be leveraging social media (JOIN THE CONVERSATION!), polls, trivia, links to actors’ IMDB pages, and, puzzlingly, behind-the-scenes videos (am I supposed to pause the main screen while I watch these?)
Who actually uses these apps once they’ve tried them out? Nobody is revealing actual numbers, although the metrics that do leak out aren’t all that great. A recent second screen initiative for The Next Iron Chef: Redemption was only used by a maximum of 3,000 people each week for eight weeks, according to Channing Dawson, a senior advisor of Scripps Networks Interactive.
Could this be because the content is…just not that fun? At present, there’s plenty of awesome syncing and transmedia technology out there, providing fresh, pristine canvases on which to paint, but everybody’s struggling with not only what to paint on them, but how to effectively go about developing the paint itself. According to Sherry Brennan, senior vice president of sales strategy and development for Fox Networks, “We’re all convinced that second screen is here to stay…The question is, what do you do on second screens? What do consumers want there? That’s what’s evolving.”
Whether it’s a sync’d second screen, character twitter accounts, or phone numbers that show up on screen, these transmedia channels and all their narrative opportunities often seem to be squandered on delivering extraneous (boring) content at best, and marketing hooks at worst. If a viewer has taken the extra steps to find this transmedia content, give them something great. They’re in the palm of your hand…don’t lose them.
This is where an Experience Designer can help.
What if, instead of trivia or polls or “crummy commercials,” the current digital landscape was used to actually deliver story content? A character on the “main” screen sends a text message…you get that message on your phone. A website or blog is mentioned…you enter the URL and it actually exists. A phone number appears on onscreen caller ID, and you call it…a character actually answers and talks to you. A character makes a phone call…you see and hear the other end of the conversation in sync on your second screen.
Cool? You bet. Gimmicky? Maybe…at first. But the vocabulary of effectively using these transmedia channels for storytelling is still nascent, and it’s up to an Experience Designer working with a writer and/or showrunner (as early in the development process as possible) to take a look at the story and current technology, and then bake in the transmedia elements in an accessible and organic way that builds a truly unique and effective connected experience…
…an experience that draws the audience deeper into the story, as opposed to distracting them out of it.
Granted, it’s a challenging transitional time, in that you can’t count on your audience having an app or finding this additional content. As a result, there’s a reasonable resistance to putting “mission critical” content anywhere but the main screen. But that shouldn’t stop us from using these new channels to provide a richer, deeper, better experience for those that use them.
Additionally, the Experience Designer and a Transmedia Producer can coordinate with all different stakeholder departments (who many times have never even met each other) to make sure it all gets built correctly and effectively.
But, it’s not just TV that can benefit. Films, events, and even live theater can create truly engaging ways to tell stories beyond just the “main” stage. Why can’t the story begin with an email the moment you buy your ticket online? Why can’t the film’s sequel begin with a text message on the drive home from the theater?
My prediction is that soon, a mainstream property is going to get it right in a game-changing way. A story is going to emerge that actually requires the transmedia content, and their audience is going to get used to having the story that way. Once that happens, programming will evolve, and fast.
At that point, those who aren’t working with Experience Designers to utilize these new technologies may find themselves like those who continued to make buggy whips while the Model T Fords were rolling off the assembly lines: Left in the dust.
[Read Part II of this article here.]]]>
Movies are dead. TV as we know it is dead. Print is dead. Or at least that’s what everyone in entertainment seems to think. But we know the truth, right? None of these media are truly dead. They’re simply evolving yet again. Back when VHS tapes went the way of the dodo, surely someone said home entertainment was finished, but it only improved with DVDs. Over the course of the next few months, we’ll talk about how the advent of what we’re calling “Connected Experiences” is another evolution of entertainment.
In the last decade, multi-platform storytelling has become more and more prevalent even though the likes of Mickey and Yoda have been practicing it for decades (though those are arguably franchises). This was made possible by the Internet, which brought people together. Then, came mobile devices allowing the story to follow you everywhere. Now, you can interact with the story and your friends, instantaneously through social media. But as access increased so did the choices, fragmenting audiences into the highly specific niches of personal interest.
Marketers reveled at this (after their initial panic), and a few smart people came up with the concept of the Alternate Reality Game. Why not take full advantage of ravenous fans in that coveted 18 to 34 demographic that notoriously hate advertising but were willing to do anything to get more about the thing they loved. The best of their kind were groundbreaking and amazingly creative endeavors. But only a few IPs out there were big enough to warrant a multi-million dollar experience that often touched small numbers of people in isolated timeframes. Sure, hardcore evangelists are crucial to a brand’s longevity but a funny Super Bowl spot will reach 100x the audience for the same cost. Even people who hate advertising watch Super Bowl ads.
Then, more smart people started bringing their favorite characters to life in such places as Twitter and Facebook. And after that initial panic, media outlets jumped on board and hired their best, bright-eyed interns to tweet like Don Draper (after fans took it upon themselves to tweet like him first). But then, that may not gel with the network’s ad campaign or the actor’s Conan interview.
Meanwhile, millions of videos were uploaded to YouTube and audiences started ditching their cable box for a Netflix account and once again, there was panic.
So, what’s a media conglomerate to do? Or more to the point, what’s a content creator to do? We know it’s not shrinking a beautifully made theatrical film to fit in your pocket. Even though the Internet can do that. And we know it’s not ignoring digital or snubbing television. Even though the Internet can do that too.
We think it’s about connecting all the media together by story. It’s not a new idea but one that’s been misused by siloed decision-makers who mostly care about selling a product. We’re ok with selling products too, we’ll just do it with a little flair and a cohesive plotline across every touch point.
In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about how to concept and execute Connected Experiences: the writing, the experience design, the production, and the learnings. Join us, comment, or go out there and prove us wrong.
Just don’t panic.]]>
That’s it! If you enjoyed our quick example of the possibilities of transmedia entertainment, tell your friends.
But beware the Master Mime…]]>
Well, this is the obligatory SXSW Panel Picker Post. There are lots of great Transmedia/ARG panels up for voting this year (including three by NMM partners), and here are our favorites, for your consideration:
If you’re a transmedia fan, please take a look and vote!
ETA: Sara Thacher’s panel]]>
Near, far, wherever you are – ARGFest 2010 in Atlanta, GA was a blast. Whether at ARGFest or its virtual Twitter counterpart #PretendARGFest, the annual…(read more)
This is the epigraph that begins Christy Dena’s PhD thesis, available online. Christy is one the sharpest, most thoughtful, and yet still accessible thinkers on transmedia out there. I will be pouring over this document in the next few months. I am sure it will make me see things I hadn’t seen before.
I suspect that if you want to enter the discussion of transmedia, this is going to be a seminal text.]]>
If ARGs/transmedia entertainment/whatever-we-are-calling-ourselves-today was a mass entertainment, I could just say, I write for transmedia. As it is, my family isn’t even really sure what I do. On airplanes I usually default to ‘marketing.’ Because given the way the work I do is funded, it’s mostly true.
But we have not broken out in a visible way to people. We haven’t had our Birth of a Nation. Our hit single. We’re not even yet ‘that things that kids do that I don’t understand’ which was what video games were for a long time. The question is, will we ever be?
I believe that an artform will arise out of the characteristics of the internet. I would like to be working on that artform. I just don’t know if I am.
What do I consider the characteristics of the internet? At least for art?
• Self publication.
• Plasticity of platform.
• Technology linked to person, not location.
This is part of the larger parlor game going on in the community about what transmedia is. There are currently a couple of different flavors of people describing themselves as producing transmedia, and I’m pretty sure that for an outsider, the distinction between them is pretty thin. In Hollywood, it seems to primarily mean that a property (usually a franchise like, say, Spiderman) is transmedia if it has a movie, some comic books, and maybe a novel or a comic strip. That is, if it has stories that are part of the franchise on several different platforms.
I don’t deny that managing a project like that is complex. I’ve never seen the Star Wars bible, the massive collection of documents that tracks continuity, but I know two people who’ve written Star Wars tie in novels and they have mentioned that it is vast. I’ve worked off of a couple of property bibles myself, and let me tell you, it’s mind boggling, even when the property hasn’t got the sheer quantity of material in the public eye that the Star Wars franchise has.
But it’s not what I do. It’s weird for me to have people describe that activity, which is essentially a kind of document control system for managing information, as the same thing that I do. For one thing, it’s not as if what I do hasn’t been around for while. I started following this field in 2001, and started working in it in 2003. But by that definition, transmedia has been around forever. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a transmedia project. There was the novel. And there were stage plays. And there were paintings, staged photographs, and illustrated versions for children. You could argue that they were less controlled than franchises today, but I would point you towards fan fiction: George Lucas may not recognize Luke Skywalker/Hans Solo slash fiction as part of the franchise, but for a subset of fans, it is not only part, it is the most important part.
This model of transmedia doesn’t recognize interactivity. Interactivity is most realized as a form of entertainment in video games. A movie isn’t interactive. A print publication isn’t interactive. Interactivity is not unique to the computer—improvisational theater, jazz, even the call and response of certain kinds of church services are interactive. But the interactivity of the kind of transmedia I do is simultaneously private and public. Private, because it is in my email box, or on my phone, talking directly to me, engaging me as a character in the fiction. Public because I or anyone else who received it can record that phone call, or copy that email, and share it with a million other people online.
That weird negotiation between public and private is the art space, the place of exploration in transmedia today. What does the audience want? Some of them seem to want the community engagement of a vast story that no one person can completely experience on their own. But for others that community is forbidding, and they want a private, single person experience. Watching videos on Youtube of people interacting with an experience like 4th Wall Studio’s Eagle Eye Free Fall, it’s clear that there is a level of fascination and of discomfort evidenced by the nervous giggle. Is that because of the sheer novelty of the experience? Will that go away as people become more familiar with the form? Or does a transmedia experience need the kind of careful, mediating rules of a video game interaction, where the interaction often consists of shooting others in a arena of rules embedded in the game engine and quickly discernible by trial and error?
In the face of that, the idea that a Star Trek tie-in novelization by James Blish published nearly forty years ago is transmedia strikes me as missing a very big point about what is growing out of new technologies. We are on the verge of new ways to tell stories, and to make art.
So are we a niche, like, say live bluegrass? It’s pretty clear that if no one on an airplane ever has a clue when they ask me what I do for a living, we’re niche. The next question is, how come? We give entertainment away for free. The answer could well be that like some things—live bluegrass performances, for example—we aren’t just that intrinsically interesting at this cultural moment. The things we create have some of the same cultural characteristics as live bluegrass performance. The people who like what we do are often intensely passionate about it. A significant, if small percentage of our audience has moved into creating and producing transmedia themselves, either as amateurs or professionals.
For that matter we could be ahead of our time. We could be figuratively making nickolodean shows (the ones that showed short films for a nickel , not the kid’s TV network) while dreaming of making feature length movies. In many ways the technology doesn’t quite support us yet. The holy grail is to make entertainment that feels immersive and somewhat ‘real’. For that to happen, the interactions have to feel real. The problem is automating interactions in a way that feels real. Video games automate interactions. You ‘shoot’ someone/something and it falls down. (Or explodes or disappears in a glow or whatever.) Even simpler, in Farmville, you click on a cartoon tree full of mangoes and the mangoes disappear and you are informed that the tree has been ‘harvested’ and you’ve earned x number of coins.
The model for transmedia though is the model of photography or movies. The ideal is that you call a character and have a meaningful interaction. The technology for this is called phone parsing, and it is still problematic, as anyone who has ever stood in an airport, called an airline, and gotten a phone tree understands. (“Representative!” you say into the phone. “I’m sorry,” responds the cool even-tempered female voice, “I didn’t get that. Would you like to make a reservation, change an existing reservation, check your frequent flyer miles, or speak to a representative?”)
Email parsing is not much better. One solution is to use actors or have someone manually respond to emails. But that’s a niche response. It falls apart as soon as the experience begins to attract more audience or, in the vernacular of the industry, ‘scale up.’
So we do other things. We have the players call a number, get a password from a voice mail, and then enter the password into a website. It’s an interaction. But it’s not necessarily an intuitive reaction. When I’m on a website and there’s a phone number, my instinct is not to call it. My instinct is to avoid it. I go to lots of websites with contact information on them and I rarely call them because people I don’t know answer. And unless I have a reason to call other than ‘I wonder what happens if I call this number?’ they tend to feel put out. (Unless they work for Zappos, but that’s another story.) Even though I know that the International Mime Academy website is fictional, I worry about the 867-5309 effect, whereby someone makes up a number and the people who have that number then live lives of hell. I once had a phone number one number off from someone (I believe) from the Middle East. I don’t know for certain, because I didn’t speak their language and most of their callers didn’t speak mine. But they apparently got a lot of calls because enough of them misdialed that I got some of them.
Transmedia is currently mostly an entertainment that requires the audience to push through it. You can’t get passively hooked on a transmedia entertainment. You can’t even do that thing that happens in video games where you’re just going to get the next health power up and then quit. The experience offers you lots of places where you don’t really know what to do next and it’s easy to quit. Until transmedia entertainments not only interact with the audience in a compelling way that doesn’t make them giggle nervously, wondering what they’re supposed to say, but pulls them from platform to platform, it’s always going to remain a niche experience.
Technology is changing. Language parsing is getting better. Technology is allowing ever more creative ways to pull through experiences. In the 18 to 34 demo, an inordinate number of North Americans watch TV with a laptop or a Smartphone there so they can text or surf while they watch. It doesn’t seem to farfetched to use a television platform as a pull to keep an audience engaged while they branch out through emails and websites to experience a more complex and complete and interactive story. Nor does it seem too far in the future when software will exist to integrate multiple experiences seamlessly so that the audience doesn’t have to go to the website, the experience takes them there. In fact some of it’s here now.
I think that transmedia—multiplatform, interactive, person (rather than location) based—entertainment is ripe for it’s Birth of a Nation. I’d really like to write it. But it’s going to need three things:
• Technology that may or may not be enough
• Compelling entertainment through story or experience
• A lot of money.
The last one is really in many ways the big one. I’m going back to the nickelodeon now and work on what I can. But I’m going to keep dreaming about the big one.]]>