I’m excited to announce that I’ll be headed to the Sundance Film Festival with a new project entitled Pandemic 1.0 This marks the first step in a rolling release of a new storyworld that I’ve been building. It is part of what I’ve been calling a storytelling R&D (research and development) process.
Pandemic 1.0 Lance Weiler (U.S.A.)
Pandemic 1.0 is a transmedia storytelling experience that spans film, mobile, online, real-world, social gaming and data visualization. Over the course of the festival the story will unfold enabling viewers / players to step into the shoes of our protagonists. The story experience starts when a mysterious sleep virus begins to affect the adults in a small rural town, the youth soon find themselves cut off from civilization and fighting for their lives. Will they survive? Can you survive?
The year is 2012 and the world is on the brink of collapse.Rolling blackouts, depleted resources, civil unrest, assassinations and political dissension have thrown the world into a state of chaos. We follow the adventures of a group of young people as they lead us into a world of conspiracy, treason and failing energy supplies. While it sounds like it could be the description of a Hollywood blockbuster, it isn’t. Collapsus: The Energy Risk Conspiracy is in fact a transmedia companion to a television documentary by Dutch broadcaster VPRO entitled Energy Risk. Collapsus takes theories and predictions from the Energy Risk documentary and transports them into a fictional story set within the not-so-distant future. Collapsus becomes a hybrid narrative that combines live action, animation, gaming mechanics and social entertainment in order to present a different perspective on the issues surrounding our struggle to transition from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy. Tommy Pallotta, no stranger to innovative forms of storytelling (he helped to revolutionize independent animation techniques with his work on Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), was tapped to direct Collapsus by award-winning Dutch transmedia shop Submarine.
Over at the WorkBook Project the gang at Culture Hacker have a new podcast called Transmedia Talk. Transmedia Talk is co-hosted by and looks to shed light on the topic of transmedia storytelling with commentary, interviews and tips on how storytelling is moving into the 21st century. It seems like it could become a weekly affair. Make sure to check it out if you’re interested in all things transmedia.
The Summer issue of Filmmaker Mag is now on newsstands. For my Culture Hacker column I look at how transmedia can be used for R&D around stories.
It’s tempting to get distracted. It happens to filmmakers all the time. Concern over gear, building audiences, developing social media strategies, new tools, new services. The promise of transmedia (the ability for a story to live beyond a single screen, device or medium) offers such rich storytelling potential. But for some it will become yet another distraction. Case in point: After a recent speaking engagement I was approached by a group of filmmakers. Some were trying to figure out the value of transmedia while others said with a sense of pride that they’d designed the perfect transmedia experience, as if it was something to check off a list. There was the Web component, a mobile series, a game and an app, not to mention an assortment of social media accounts thrown into the mix. It was if by adding more to their project they’d be guaranteed an audience in a media-saturated world.
Now don’t get me a wrong, I’m a strong proponent of filmmakers embracing emerging creative opportunities. But when I posed a simple question asking what the filmmakers with the perfect transmedia strategy were trying to say there was a moment of pause. I wasn’t asking about the plot or characters. I was looking for the passion behind the project. What was it that the filmmakers needed to say? What was their story really about? Interestingly, that simple question became paralyzing.
I’ve been there. I’m guilty of it. After all, most films are underdeveloped. It’s easy to fold to the pressure of what seems like a limited window of opportunity. The gut-wrenching feeling of “it’s either now or never!” But after finishing my last project I made a promise to myself that I would let the next one grow organically. By doing so I discovered that I could use transmedia as a way to develop the stories I wished to tell.
Transmedia is so much more than marketing and promotion. Of course, transmedia can benefit a project during a release or before, when a filmmaker attempts to build an audience. It also has value with regards to how a project can be funded and packaged. But let’s put that aside for a moment and focus on the creative side.
For those in Europe who are interested in how storytelling is evolving, I’ll be part of a three day workshop called Transmedia Next which takes place in London Sept. 8,9,10. It’s a comprehensive look at how to fund, design, produce and distribute transmedia projects. Space is limited for more info visit www.transmedianext.com
While going through some older files I found this case study for an ARG that I ran in 2007.
CINEMATIC GAMES: The first version of the cinema ARG started with a number of mashup screenings of my newest feature film HEAD TRAUMA. Version 1.0 was a collision of music, movies, gaming and tech. Here is a story that Current TV did about the release.
INCREASING THE REACH
For HOPE IS MISSING the goal was to create a social media driven ARG. We wanted the game to have various levels of interactivity. For instance, someone might just watch the web series and do nothing more – others might choose to dig deeper.
HOPE IS MISSING consisted of four web films that were loaded with hidden clues. The videos were released on stage6, myspace and xbox. By design we wanted to make the ARG (alternate reality game) accessible. In order to do so, we created layers of interactivity that allowed viewers to go as deep into the experience as they wanted.
The Interactive Layers:
1. just watch the videos
2. read the forums
3. dig for clues
4. capture and share clues
5. create their own worlds – blogs, wikis, forums, and chat rooms
Richard Chambers is searching for his fiancee named Hope who has been abducted. Hope returned home after receiving a series of strange late night phone calls from her mother. In the brief conversations her panicked mother is convinced that people are in the house and trying to kill her. After each call Hope phones the police but when they arrive they find nothing and Hope’s mother has no recognition of making any calls or the incident.
After Hope returns home she uncovers her mother’s strange nocturnal behaviors and realizes that her mother is not alone. Hope begins to dig deeper in an attempt to pull her mother out. But then Hope mysteriously disappears – abducted by a hooded figure – her last moments are captured by a surveillance camera.
As the date of Richard and Hope’s wedding approaches he becomes frustrated with the way the police are handling the case. He is determined to marry her on Oct. 20th. But as things are lucking grim Richard receives a strange package in the mail. Inside the package are a number of tapes that show Hope, a strange letter and a return address that only says Deep Throat. Richard reaches out the video sharing sites and social networks in an attempt to spread the word.
THE TAPES ARE RIDDLED WITH HIDDEN CLUES
We created four web episodes with the goal of releasing them leading up to the Warner Bros VOD release of HEAD TRAUMA. Each webisode was riddled with clues. There where audio clues that had backwards masking and subliminal frames that contained ciphers of varying degrees of difficulty. Once solved the clues lead to numerous hidden sites, blogs, social networking profiles and other media. They are what as know as rabbit holes in the ARG community which is a nod to Alice in Wonderland.
The HOPE IS MISSING ARG took a decentralized approach to releasing the game elements. ARGs typically will have many hidden sites and digital assets. For instance the 42 entertainment ARG for the THE DARK KNIGHT, the newest Batman film, has 10 different sites (as of 11.24.07). In order to increase our reach we gathered a number of partners and releasing outlets to help expand our reach.
As the game unfolded we leaked clues detailing a number of secret HEAD TRAUMA drive-in screenings. In order to find the the locations players remixed a collection of media through http://eyespot.com. As they remixed, certain combinations of footage unlocked hidden clues. These clues provided information about screening locations and point to additional hidden assets.
One of the subtle builds of the game was to blend the storyline of HOPE IS MISSING directly into the VOD promotion of HEAD TRAUMA. As a reward to players we offered a number of free screenings. The screenings were held in Milwaukee, San Francisco, San Raphael, and LA.
I was at the LA screening and over 70 people attended. The audience was a mix of people, some who were playing HOPE IS MISSING, others who discovered the location through friends that were playing, and some had simply stumbled upon the location and saw a movie playing.
The audience was a mixture people. There where those who were playing HOPE IS MISSING, others who discovered the location through friends that were playing, and finally some who had stumbled upon the location and saw a movie playing. During the screening audience members used their mobile phones to interact with the film’s characters. Then after the audience left, the movie followed them home. A couple days after the screening we called and texted everyone with a number of game related messages.
PLAYERS HELP TO SHAPE THE GAME
As players cracked the clues they were lead to hidden media, sites, blogs, and social networking pages. In some cases clues were multi-leveled and required keys in order to crack them. Often these harder clues would lead to a special call-in number that allowed the first 96 players into a special conference call. The calls included players and a number of moles from the game. During the calls players discussed clues and their theories around the game.ARGs are driven through community interaction so it is common to have moles or people within the game who assist with story or in some cases game direction. Players often help to shape game-play and in the case of HOPE IS MISSING we experience an interesting range of interactions as players created their own blogs, wikis, and forums around the game.
THE STATS AROUND THE GAME
Some of the videos break into the top 10 most watched clips on the Web – Vidmeter 10.18.07
*Player interactions based on aggregation of forum posts and video comments across known outlets (myspace, stage 6, eyespot, etc.) – does not include player generated sites, blogs and forums.
This is a place where I collect the things that I <3. It's a mashup of tech, culture, music, films, games and anything else that catches my attention. My name is Lance Weiler. I enjoy telling stories across mediums and devices. I've written, designed, built, directed, and run various film, tv, gaming and immersive storytelling projects. I'm a columnist for Filmmaker Magazine, where I write about the impact of technology on entertainment. And for the last few years, I've been teaching a course at Columbia University on the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c.
Why Text of Light?
The name is a reference to a film by experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. "Text of Light" (1974) is a wonderful film by Brakhage, who during his forty year career made over 200 films of varying length.