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Interview with Dan Light, Part II: the intricacies of creating transmedia content

15th July 10

Author: Ben Shaw, Strategist, BBH London

http://www.vimeo.com/11229983

Last time we left off talking to Dan about the role of transmedia in extending the relationship between entertainment properties and audiences. As expected we soon moved onto Dan’s favourite topic, creating transmedia content for today’s multimedia world. This was just after Dan managed to pour an entire cup of fresh coffee all over himself.

In marketing, we’re often looking for case studies demonstrating the ROI delivered by transmedia. Do you ever get asked questions like that, or has the question already been answered based on your previous work?

In terms of pure marketing ROI, I think there are questions to be asked.  The videos we created for WATCHMEN, or for the IRON MAN 2 Stark Expo films, that’s true transmedia, extending into nuanced corners of the broader universe, but they were also very accessible.

The WATCHMEN videos generated over a million views on YouTube, and maybe the same again through other channels.  For content with little or no paid media support, that’s a very solid return, especially when you factor in the number of tweets and blog posts they solicited.  Not to mention the fact that they also doubled up as DVD extras.

It’s also important to try and understand that engagement qualitatively, as well as quantitatively.  If somebody is sufficiently excited by what they’ve seen to share it online, it’s reasonable to think that their advocacy and enthusiasm will extend offline as well.  And offline word of mouth still counts for a lot.

Perhaps we’re not your average filmgoer, but we’re certainly starting to feel if there isn’t an experience around the film, we feel disappointed.

Yeah, and it’s because there are more and more people like you that we get to do this kind of work.  We can do things that the film-maker might love to do with the whole film, but couldn’t because it would disenfranchise a large proportion of the cinema-going audience.  Personally I’d love to see the whole of WATCHMEN in the style of NBS Nightly News, but only a handful of people would watch three hours of that. But for Dan (Skinner, director of the WATCHMEN videos) it was a chance to experiment in a way most directors probably dream of.

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These transmedia extensions of the narrative; how important is the timing of their release to the overall story arc?

Timing is everything.  The kind of transmedia extensions we’re talking about may be the first thing anybody sees of a film, it’s important that they reach the audience while there’s still something to be discovered about the film – even with IRON MAN 2, where you know roughly what’s coming, there’s still plenty to speculate about.

The reality is that it’s not always possible to achieve that, so you just have to get things done as early in the process as possible. The bigger studios still aren’t naturally geared for that, it needs everybody involved studio- and agency-side to be fighting for it.

It’s happening more and more though.  One of my favourite recent examples of this kind of thing is an 80s-style commercial that turned up for Lots o’ Huggin Bear, one of the characters in the new Toy Story movie.

That’s a genius idea. Manufacture a back story that backs up the fictional popularity of the toys in the film.

Yeah, you’ve created a character that isn’t already known vs, say, Mr Potato Head, so you reverse engineer its history.  It’s just really smart, right?  And that was out well ahead of the movie being released.

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So, from the studio’s perspective, what do you think might motivate them to do this? You were saying there’s still some hesitancy here?

The studio needs to feel comfortable that if this is going to be the first glimpse everyone gets of their multi-million dollar film, it’s going to be a good one!  They are rightly cautious about it.  And even once they’re convinced there are still big challenges to overcome.  Some films aren’t finished until shortly before they’re released, so trying to get finished assets is actually quite difficult!

It helps if you’ve got a director at the centre of it, one that understands what you’re trying to do.  If you can work with them to make the marketing campaign an integrated part of their creative vision then you’re really in business.

Is that what happened with Snyder on Watchmen?

Snyder is a great example of that, a director with an understanding of the wider opportunity and process. We were able to take him through our ideas in person, really early in the process.  Also, WATCHMEN fans cross some really interesting demographics.  It’s not the same audience as IRON MAN at any stretch, it’s a smaller audience but I think the fanaticism of your average WATCHMEN fan runs deeper in terms of their attachment to the material.

We knew we had to get that audience buying in from the start. I think that worked, and grew into huge amount of hype around the film.  The film itself didn’t turn out to be the experience that mainstream audiences were looking for, but I think our strategy worked, it gave it its best chance, and it succeeded partly because Snyder was behind everything that was going on.

He reviewed and fed back on everything we created. For each of the four New Frontiersman videos we got script feedback, feedback on the casting, feedback on the final pieces.  All of which showed a real understanding of the pressures we were under. There was a real understanding there.  That’s the kind of filmmaker engagement you really hope for, but it’s rare. Most filmmakers, understandably, are still primarily focused on their film.

Do you think the future is transmedia entertainment experiences? Will film makers drive this?

I think there will still be some people still focused purely on making a film.  I have a couple of scripts I’m trying to develop at the moment.  One of them would be pure transmedia and another is just a straight-up film. The latter is fact rather than fiction, there are no transmedia extensions that I can see or immediately feel compelled to explore – it’s just a straight story, about the unsolved murder of a silent movie director.

Whereas the other idea, LOCH GHOON, is absolutely teeming with possibilities.   Beyond the transmedia potential, it’s just great to start playing around with things from day one, blogging about it, teasing out possible locations, growing an audience organically.  It also opens up all sorts of possibilities in terms of the opportunities to crowd-source ideas, and maybe even crowd-fund the project.

It’s an interesting time for filmmakers.  There are more and more ways to realise and distribute a film for yourself, more ways to monetise it, but first you have to fund it.  These alternate story-telling models may offer some valuable ways of raising and making money.

Check back tomorrow part III of our interview with Dan Light where we’ll be talking about the potential role for brands in transmedia projects.

http://www.vimeo.com/11154394 http://www.vimeo.com/11154062 http://www.vimeo.com/11158156

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