From Zero to Transmedia in Four Weeks
I feel the need to share after supervising my first transmedia project this year. Before I get too deep into describing the process, let me provide some backstory.
Media Arts is a three-year program at Sheridan College that focuses both on TV and film production. All Media Arts students take a Film & Broadcast course in their 2nd year. This course involves three distinct modules that the students rotate through – each module takes 4 weeks. The first module was completed last week.
I am co-teaching a module with Kim Murton. In the past, Kim has focused on TV production. This year, we decided that we would try to give the students a blended experience by:
- setting, as their primary goal, the creation of a pilot episode for a web series
- including the development of a transmedia strategy as part of the production process
- requiring the students to shoot the majority of the webisode as a TV studio production
- requiring the students to pre-shoot material, so that they would have to insert taped segments into the live recording
- requiring the students to use all areas of the TV studio, including the greenscreen
This first group of students decided to develop a sitcom called Entrepreneurs with the central characters being Ben and Reese, two out-of-work twenty-somethings. Keep in mind that the students have only four weeks to pitch, write, develop, rehearse and shoot the show. And, even though we don’t teach acting as part of Media Arts, they are also the actors for this exercise. This is a result of necessity rather than choice – there is no time for casting. But I get the sense that the students enjoy the chance to be in front of the camera.
For this first group, we had a transmedia team composed of three students (Margaret, Andrew, and Kristin). I did some hand-waving in front of a Powerpoint in the first class to try to explain transmedia to the entire group. To their credit, these three volunteered to give transmedia a try. This despite having virtually no experience with any of the related development tools. I was happily surprised that they grabbed onto some of the ideas I suggested and ran with them. Margaret was particularly ambitious as she put together nearly a dozen different web pages and set about tacking up related posters on campus notice boards. When the dust had settled after the final shoot, I put together the diagram below to summarize their strategy.
I was particular happy that they managed to spread their transmedia content across three platforms. There was also a strong attempt to both integrate transmedia content into the webisode and to provide opportunities for audience interaction:
- voicemail messages left for Ben and Reese by the audience were played back during the webisode
- the poster soliciting job opportunities was used as set decoration
- Ben’s online dating profile was going to be shown on-screen as part of a scene involving his ex-girlfriend Tony (although this was cut at the last minute due to difficulties with the blocking for the scene)
- the dating website allowed audience members to make online comments about Ben’s profile
- the plan included regular updates to the LinkedIn parody page – Reese’s embellished qualifications and employment experience would not match with the events in the webisodes. This would provide another opportunity for commentary by the core audience
On the last day, the transmedia team presented a review of the transmedia strategy. I got the sense that an initially abstract concept had come to life. I could see heads nodding and glimmers of understanding. One student actually said something like ‘Very cool – I’m going to make sure I do this [transmedia] for all my projects from now on.’ I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment and I hope the students on the transmedia team felt that way too.