Storytelling in the Age of Distraction: Transmedia to engage fractured audiences with short attention spans
Here is an excerpt of his post regarding the creation of SEAM. Some of the information has changed since it was first posted (this site didn't even exist) but there is still a great deal of relevance with what we are doing today.
Excerpt from Original Transmediator article on SEAM:
Today I want to talk about a new transmedia production company that I am involved with called, “Shared Experience Art Machine” (SEAM).
First, a short introduction
For a long time now, I’ve been looking for a better way to develop feature film projects – franchises, in particular. Film development is complicated, specialised and time-intensive. You can easily spend a couple of years crafting a quality script, only to find that the Studios aren’t interested. And when the Hollywood system of one-stop shopping is no longer available to you, you face an arduous task of cobbling together financiers, distributors, soft-money, tax incentives and angel investors in a patchwork of convoluted cross-purposes. At any given moment, the whole thing is likely to fall apart.
It’s not for the faint-hearted and for many, it is soul-destroying, especially if all the rights and fees have long been given away just to get the film off the ground. Many independent producers are left with nothing except their screen credit (and a lot of debt), but even that credit might be in peril from people who enter into the mix further down the value chain and take credit for everything at the last minute. I imagine that many of you who are reading this have been down this road before.
Perhaps the system isn’t broken, because many films do get made every year and to a high standard. But at a great cost and, often, through an enormous amount of friction. Why must it be so hard? I have my own take on why this has happened, which you can read here.
Plus, as time goes by, I find myself less impressed by what finds its way onto the screen. There are so many derivative works on display that it feels as if the Studios are running out of fresh ideas; continually raiding the larder of past successes. There will come a point when “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” has run its course, when the Marvel comic universe has been strip-mined to oblivion and when all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. What happens then? Where are the franchises of the future going to come from?
I have been very honoured and inspired by the writers with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work with at the Eon Screenwriters Workshop. I had the opportunity to work with many writers (182, in fact) from a variety of backgrounds and varying levels of experience. At the end of the day, I found the most rewarding projects to be the ones that were the most collaborative. For practical reasons, they were generally ones that we had cooked up together, so that the participants were less precious with the material. In other words, it mattered less if the work got passed around between writers in the team. But that didn’t mean the passion suffered. Quite the opposite, once a good working relationship is forged based on a foundation of shared interests, trust and commitment to a common goal, everyone did their very best.
In some ways, this is similar to the process of television with its writing teams and writers’ rooms. Not to far off from the way that Hollywood used to operate, way back in the day. One of the most illustrious, generous and phenomenal writers I have ever had the good fortune to know – Richard Maibaum – came out of that universe as a Studio writer from Paramount. He worked graciously with many writers over the years and it never diminished his passion for the job. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he was a better writer because he was the most generous. Everyone who came into his orbit was humbled by his phenomenal experience, knowledge of his craft and extensive literary education. Yet, he never traded on this. Often a mentor, always a colleague, he would go into the trenches at each and every opportunity.
I think the common denominator between the great writers is that they know how to become part of a team. They know the benefits of community. For, at the end of the day, the community becomes their family. It becomes the constant source of inspiration and support. I certainly know enough about myself now to say that I come up with better ideas when I can bounce them off of other people. When they live in my head, they often stay there forever. The act of exploration, performance and play is a powerful part of creation. It’s what is needed to get things done.
Writing need not be a solitary art. Yes, there are going to be times when you’re sitting by yourself just staring at a page but it’s great to have other people to show stuff to, collaborate with and make it better. That’s the power of community and that’s why it’s at the heart of SEAM. Even better, it’s very rewarding to see what’s written on the page go into production. We’re trying to find faster ways to market to make this happen.
What is SEAM?
SEAM is in essence a production company. Nothing new there. And, as I’ve eluded to, Studios once were a great place for nurturing talent but have since become too risk-averse. SEAM wants to fill that gap in the marketplace. We have aspirations to become a family of creatives and technicians, who flock together to learn from one another and to craft great transmedia experiences that, ultimately, culminate in great motion pictures. We want to make an impact on the entertainment industry by creating compelling drama that not only tells an interesting story but also changes the way we all see the world. In some respects, it’s another kind of workshop, tinkering with ideas, challenging the norms, pushing the boundaries of education and media, learning from its failures and its successes – in order to make movies that mean something.
We have taken a transmedia approach out of pragmatism. We want to create the franchises of the future but, until we have an audience, a voice, a demographic and a body of work, Studios, Broadcasters and other traditional stakeholders won’t be interested in what we have to offer. We need a track record. We have to prove ourselves first and to do that, we need audience engagement from the get-go. We need to start with lower-cost projects that we can iterate upon faster in order to capture people’s attention – hopefully, building a fan base little by little, click by click, until we have an army of supporters.
You may wonder why we feel that we need traditional media companies at all – why not go all the way and do everything ourselves? Well, that does sound exciting but, also, foolhardy. We don’t see a need at this time to recreate the wheel. Studios and Broadcasters do a great job at making and distributing the products that they are good at. We would love to partner with the best there is to grow our audience and sell high-quality product to people in as many ways as possible. Ideally, we would love to leverage the talents of the people that work within those organisations and I doubt we’ll do this by alienating them. Instead, we’d like to bring something to the table of sufficient quality and then work together to make it a success to new audiences.
Working with traditional media affords us credibility. But, engaging with the public in the process in order to grow a community brings authenticity. Authenticity is often lost when a project starts at the Studio. We are trying to have the best of both worlds.
Our mission is to work with whomever can to further our goals, while helping us to retain ownership in what we do, so that we can reward the people that helped us to make it happen.
In order to engage an audience as early as possible, we’d like to invite public participation. This can take many forms. At a bare minimum, we’d expect to elicit feedback on what we’re doing – constructive criticism, likes, dislikes and evangelical support.
Further down the line, we hope to entice creative prosumers to contribute their skills – writing, sound design, animation, graphic design, technical services, etc. We could certainly use all the help we can get. Partly, because we are operating at a bare minimum and we need this to scale. Also, because we cannot possibly be experts at everything we want to do. For example, we run a number of different websites to tell stories, each of which require a significant amount of time and expertise in the design, management and moderation – skills that we don’t necessarily possess in-house.
But I know from experience, how difficult building a community can be. If you have a strong point of view on this, we’d love to get your feedback. Everyone has a role to play. Everyone can be part of the SEAM family, if they choose.
Our philosophy is to try to be as transparent as possible. I’ll admit, this is scary. Do we really want to peel back the curtain and expose the little man working the machinery? Does the magician want to reveal how they do their tricks? Before now, I would have said ‘no’. But in this day and age of distraction, fragmentation and social media… we have both a challenge and an opportunity. Secrecy just doesn’t feel appropriate anymore. That’s not to say that we’ll lay all our cards on the table – we still need to hold something back to give an element of surprise and wonder. But it need not be all-or-nothing, that’s the point.
By inviting the public – and by ‘public’, I mean any other interested parties – be they passive consumers, amateurs, professionals or creative consumers – we hope to create a community in which our organisation can interact with the public in a fruitful way. The dialogue between audience, performers and creators has always been a virtuous circle in my opinion. SEAM aims to be a place where the audience gets its say, amateurs get discovered, professionals promote themselves and forge life-long partnerships, and the Studios get great franchises.
I’m sure that our business model will change over time. We’re not clever enough to conceive of the perfect plan, although not for lack of imagination!
Why should you join the SEAM Studio?
I am not offering money (not right away), so let’s address that issue right off the bat. All the professionals who are currently working within SEAM are doing it for the love of their craft. They do have sweat equity in what they do and so will you. In fact, anyone who becomes involved in a SEAM project becomes vested in its future net profits, so we all have an incentive in creating upside.
In fact, we ask all our collaborators to pay a subscription every month. Not much. Less than the cost of a couple of Starbucks Lattes. I’m sure that there are many caffeine addicts amongst you (myself included) who could easily forgo a single cup a month. We do this to keep out the spammers and ensure that the people who are participate are serious. If we grow a large enough community of subscribers, it will give us the funds we need to cover the costs of our servers, websites and initial exploitations.
Here is what we are offering:
Community. We are building a community of passionate and talented individuals who love entertainment. They might come at it from different angles – education, philosophy, traditional media, or even social activisim – but all of whom are interested in how good storytelling can change our lives. We already have a number of technicians on board who are leaders in their fields. By working alongside them and one another, we enrich our experience, create networking opportunities and create life-long friendships. At SEAM, nobody has to work alone. Friendships foster reciprocity. You will get as much as you put in, hopefully even more.
Learning from one another. There’s a lot that we can all learn from this collaborative experience. It encourages us to push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. We can hone our craft, while acquiring new skills. We inspire learning. For some, working on someone else’s project can be very liberating. We can experiment without being judged. Failure is an important part of learning and we provide a safe environment in which to fail without getting in the way of success.
Discovery. There is a chance that you will meet life-long partners, who will promote your services and skills elsewhere. You can point to your body of work at SEAM and use it to advance your careers. You might even become a life-long member of SEAM itself. Furthermore, you might even feel that you’re in the wrong job right now and want a career in the entertainment business but wonder how to get started. Well, here’s your opportunity to show the community what you can do and help promote yourself – and your business – to get to where it is you want to be.
Equity. I want everyone to participate in the upside – if it comes. And, if it doesn’t, well… like St Crispin’s Day, you can say that you were there; one of the first and noble few.
Thanks for reading. Everyone at SEAM appreciates your support.