by Ruth Witteried
I met with Luke Ryan in February of this year at his Disruption Entertainment office on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. A stalwart supporter of Willamette Writers since his days as an MGM executive, Luke has been a consistent presence at our conference teaching classes, guiding nervous writers through the pitch process and last year, taking pitches on behalf of Disruption. Much of our conversation was centered on the need for innovation in the emerging new film economy. Change isn’t coming, it has arrived and we shall call it: Transmedia.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept you would do well to get familiar and to take Luke Ryan’s class on Transmedia: The Future of Storytelling, as well as Hollywood Manager Seth Jaret’s The New Hollywood for Writers, to get a sense of how to position yourself in exciting, emerging new markets. For it is no longer enough to tell your story via a single medium. Publishers and producers alike are looking for writers whose stories are coordinated across multiple platforms to create immersive experiences for their audience. That’s not sequels or adaptations; we’re talking about the same story, experienced at the same time, through multiple digital media. In fact, Luke will surely discuss the new trend of second screen technology, something you’re probably already familiar with: watching a show on the tv while engaging with media on your smart phone, iPad or laptop.
David Howe, President of the Syfy Network, describes their newest transmedia show, Defiance, as “…one world, but with two ways in.” It is part television show and part video game. Each offers a full narrative experience, but if you choose to participate in both, your experience will be richer and fuller. The show’s timeline will be influenced by the game’s timeline, and through their actions, gamers will influence the show’s narrative.
If you have barely established your first platform and find the idea of telling your story on multiple platforms intimidating (and who wouldn’t), make sure to check in with John Ellis’ The Web Was Made For Writers; a series of classes that will continue all three days of the conference and teach you the fundamentals of web technology, e-publishing and social media. Randall Jahnson will give you insights on creating Webisodes—something you may have never considered but may find useful, even in limited form, for your new on-line presence. And of course, you cannot neglect the importance of your story. We have tremendous classes this year, including a three day workshop on Subtext, taught by Clark Kohanek.
If ever there was a year to commit to all three days of the conference, this is it.
Transmedia is supposed to be a good thing for us screenwriters. Actually, that term, “screenwriter,” may be a little antiquated for this new version of Hollywood. You are, we are all, “content creators,” now, not just screenwriters because you may not get to write the screenplay, but perhaps use your visual writing skills to write synchronized content for the website, podcast or graphic novel. Or maybe you’ll do it all? More platforms means more material. More material means more writers, writing for the new guys in ‘the biz’.
One of those new guys, Netflix, got into the television business when it outbid HBO for House of Cards (Esquire Magazine’s Emmy pick for Best Original Mini-Series). They used to rent dvds and stream shows. Now they create original internet television programming; that requires content. A lesser known, but equally important fact, according to Luke, is that Sony funded every penny of the show. How long before Sony creates its own branded shows? Not long at all. That’s two new giants in series programming. AT&T, Google and Amazon are getting into the act, both with feature films and television (that’s five) and when Coca-Cola jumps in with their billions, they will bust the system wide open and it really will be a new world in entertainment writing.
At the end of our meeting, Luke said, “There’s a flood coming.” Maybe he’s spending too much time on the set of Noah, but in actual fact, if you’ve been paying attention over the past few years, he’s been saying it all along. There is a flood coming and the structures that have propped up the broken Hollywood system for so long, will collapse and dissolve and all that stored up capital will be released to flow far and wide.
The time is now; to educate yourself and create relationships with agents, managers and producers that can share your vision and help it grow across multiple platforms and markets. Sink your roots and build that platform so when it comes, your creativity is nourished instead of washed away.
Ruth Witteried is Film Coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference and Executive Producer of last year’s winning short, “Alis Volat Propriis”. She teaches screenwriting at Clark College and can be followed on Facebook at SitYourAssDown, or on Twitter @sityourassdown1. She also writes YA under the pen name RH Cohen at the website zombienoel.com.