Get ready to do a Dark Detour

DD2 2

Last year Steve Peters and Alison Norrington launched the first installment of Dark Detour, a Halloween multiplatform ghost story that gained a considerable amount of interest as well as eager participants. This year they’re back, bolstered by the addition of Jenni Powell and with a new rabbit hole to dive into, called “All That Glitters”. I caught up with the trio to ask them some pertinent question about this years project (which is successfully crowdfunding over at IndieGoGo, now looking to unlock some stretch goals):

So, what made you decide to do a season 2 of Dark Detour? What were your final experiences of season one and what conclusions did you draw from the process and the outcome?

Alison: We’d always planned to make Dark Detour an annual event – an anthology if you like, but we wanted to see how things played out last year before we made any promises or announcements.  Our final experiences of Season One was that we were excited to deliver a story in real time over social media, that ARGs are far from dead, that Steve is awesome at creating puzzles and that working across 2 timezones really works for us!

Steve: I considered Season 1 a success, and I think we stumbled onto a unique way to tell a story that I hadn’t quite seen before. We really tried to do things in a way as to be accessible to as many people as possible, and people sure seemed to have fun in the process. We wanted to crowdfund again this year partly to gauge interest as well, plus we wanted to grow our audience as compared to last year.

Jenni: I have the unique experience that I was actually a participant in season 1 and now I get to go behind the curtain and experience that in season 2.  It gives me an opportunity to give the player point of view in order to help us make season 2 an even stronger experience.  I also have a lot of interactive storytelling experience myself from my work on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy.

When we discussed this second season earlier, you mentioned adopting a new take on crowdfunding? Would you care to elaborate – what kind of a new take, and why?  

Alison: We were inspired by Elan Lee’s gamification spin on the crowdfunding process – where retweets and challenges added community, not directly equating to more funding, but to more fun!

Steve: Well our new take really concerns the stretch goals. Once we hit our goal (a few days ago), I blatantly stole Elan Lee’s Exploding Kittens mechanic in that we didn’t ask for more money from people we’d already gotten money from, but instead asked them to do things that a) were fun; b) were free; and c) helped spread the word and get more people involved.

Last year the two of you, Alison and Steve, did the project between the two of you. What made you expand?

Alison: A few things!  Workload of course – we both worked a ton of additional unexpected hours on Dark Detour last year, but we wanted to bring in Jenni Powell and Nick Tierce because we know they will bring some fun creative muscle too.

Steve: Reality! Alison and I wore ourselves ragged last year, so we wanted to not only divide and conquer the workload a little better this time, but also sought out people we knew could bring really creative things to the table. It’s a win/win/win/win. :)

Jenni: We’ve actually doubled the team and I think that’s going to help so much.  Pretty early after the conclusion of season 1, I reached out to Steve and offered myself up as help as I know how much work these can be and felt I could be a big asset…I guess they agreed and here I am!  :)

Care to lift the lid on the project a little bit? What can we expect? You’ve mentioned a Nordic twist – how will that play out?

Alison: Oh yes, there’s a Nordic twist!  Last year our story was set in US – a journey from NY to LA.   We’ve brought the story to the English moors this year but have sprinkled a distinct Scandinavian flavour – one of our main characters and some very real mythology can be expected!

Steve : There may be lutefisk. That’s all I’m gonna say :)
You can expect us to use some new, different platforms to tell our story this time around. Plus, we have some more spooky social media tricks up our sleeve that I can’t divulge.

Jenni: Seeeeeeeeecrets.

Final question – why should I as a viewer/user engage in this? And how do I do it?  

Alison: Firstly we’d love you to join our community.  Facebook is the primary place to like us and then if you could help us reach our stretch goals and unlock Jay Bushman (as a first) we’d be super excited!  Then you simply need to follow our main characters social media accounts – still to be announced.  If you like jumping into rabbitholes, All That Glitters is for you – there’ll be some demystifying and figuring out to be done over the 4 days that we’re ‘live’..  Is ‘live’ the right word??……

Steve: You should take part if you like fun, interactive stories that feel like they’re actually taking place in the same world you live in. Because all you do is follow a few people on social media, the story will come to you the same way all your friends’ stories do, which makes it feel pretty real. Plus you never know when they might reach out and interact with you on a one-to-one basis.

To take part, go to darkdetour.com and register. Then, when Halloween approaches, we’ll email you to let you know who to follow/friend etc. That’s it!

Jenni: And, you know, how often do you get to get together with a group of people…some friends, some strangers…to help move a story along in a way that your actions have real effect?  For a week, you get to step outside your normal routine and dive into other people’s lives and experiences and actually have a real impact?  There truly is nothing quite like it.

DD2 team

The Great Narrative

Over the summer I’ve actively tried to avoid doing what I’ve been doing for the past couple of decades – craft stories, design and produce them and tell them to an intended audience. I’ve found that I tend to absorb myself in my own projects to quite an extent, and in turn have found it difficult to find the time to take part of other stories, however interesting, timely or urgent they may be.

This summer I’ve put almost everything on the shelves and concentrated on not being the producer but rather the consumer. I will admit, it has been a bit of an alarming experience.

The prevailing narratives – large and small – are a constant worry on the mind. If it’s not ISIS and terrorism, it’s #BLM and shootings, or failing integration projects, nationwide bankruptcies, a consistently widening gap in income and wealth distribution, an ecology and a climate on the verge of upheaval… We are constantly, unendingly, bombarded with apocalyptic messages, which in an unrelenting battle for clicks get blown up and scandalized into every extreme possible.

I know, this is not news to anyone who has access to even the most feeble of news sources. We all experience this, daily, and handle it in different ways – some get worried, some get angry, many have developed a highly refined sense of indifference, a few take what action they deem appropriate and necessary.

But I have an increasing feeling – perhaps even conviction – that we as storytellers have a great responsibility as a part of the larger picture. I believe it’s time for us as storytellers to evolve – or rather, evolve our thinking. I read an article that the voices of the world are dying, as large parts of biological ecosystems, previously teeming with life, are becoming increasingly monotone, if not outright silenced. And the voices that are left in the world are either screaming in agony or busy greasing the wheels of hundreds of years of enterprise – be it in the form of progress, of globalization, of gadgetry, of startups or something similar.

The emptiness at hand is something we need to address. We need to fill it with stories – stories that point to and lead the way to a time and place where the old voices are welcomed back. Yes, this is a future where there is sustainability in the world. Yes, it’s a world less hungry for what passes as ”success” today, less focused on monetary gain. Yes, it’s a future where what counts as a ”good life” has been re-imagined.

As events become stories, these stories eventually turn into legend, the legends become myths, and in time, ingrained truths, taken for granted. But we need to start telling these stories in the first place, for the chain to remain unbroken. The canvas we’re all painting on is the fate of humanity. So the questions I’m pondering now are – what stories do we tell? How do we make them convey hope, how do we turn them into something that guides the way to an imagined future where we stand a chance? Is it even possible?

ForwardSlashStory – the stone that sends the ripples

FullSizeRende4rI’ve been trying to write down my experience of attending F/S 2015 several times already. It’s been difficult. Mostly because I feel what I learned – or, rather, immersed – there has yet to sink in properly. Sink in, and rise to the surface again.

I agree wholeheartedly with what people have written about it to date; great blog posts by Lee-Sean and Fan and enthusiastic mentions on social media from just about everyone. The enormous luxury of spending time – exclusive, uninterrupted time – with magnificent, warm hearted, brilliant people, discussing the very things that make us all tick… in a way I only feel how unique the experience was now in hindsight. A couple of weeks ago, in Nosara, Costa Rica, I was too busy living it.

I’ve written a couple of small posts about things that came to mind during discussions there. I thought I’d give it a shot in this post to briefly list some things that pop out of my notebook when I read my notes from those few days. These are not in any kind of order, but they are things that have been coming to the fore again and again during the past couple of weeks.

Empathy was such an important word during many of the different talks. Feeling empathy, conveying empathy, fostering empathy… using empathy as a driving force to create desired actions. By acknowledging and supporting our own empathy, we can reach a deeper understanding with those we wish to share our stories with. I was introduced to the Inzovu curve, which is an interesting way of visualizing a method to create a certain impact and show a way forward.

A method that sounded infinitely interesting was that of breaking up something, give the pieces to the audience and then let them piece it together as they see fit. This goes against much of my professional experience – from TV, radio, publishing – where near-full control has been the desired modus operandi. And that, in my mind, is what makes this a very exciting way of operating. Not to mention that it directly turns what has been an audience into something else, something much more exciting.

That storytelling is one thing, but storymaking is quite something else also became abundantly clear. There has been a lot of talk on storymaking, especially in marketing, over the past year. Just like a lot of other buzzwords in the field I feel that this term also carries a lot of potential for all kinds of storytellers, as long as we’re able to look beyond the hype and into the heart of the matter, the core principles of – in this case – storymaking.

I found the notion of looking at stories as pure evidence of what issues really matter to people a fresh one. For me, in the enormous flood of content we’re surrounded by daily, to observe and nurture the stories that do take hold, that do resonate, that do gain a following and that do get shared and retold, gives us a lot of food for thought regarding what things really do matter to people today.

Using games, not for the sake of gaming or as an attractive vehicle to entice people to enter your story world, but as a way of getting them to move from their ”regular” state into a play state, that’s another very good way of looking at your projects. In a play state, people are more ready to experiment, to achieve goals, to abandond their shells in favor of interaction… just the kind of active audience member we would all like to have. This is one approach I’ll be trying out for sure. Just as long as the project knows how to harness that play-state, once achieved…

There is no need for an answer, or even many answers. As long as we are able to hand our listeners and readers and watchers a really good question, that is enough – and more than enough.

To start development work on a story with the designing of a game is a novel approach that I’d be eager to try out. With that game – in whatever form and shape it emerges, be it a paper board game or something else – in the hands of yourself and other people, there then exists the possibility to create your story based on the reactions and actions of the people playing. Seeing the world – and your work – through someone else’s eyes is often crucial in order to have any hope of reaching a full potential, and this would stand a chance of making that possible.

…. there are many other notes on Post-It notes, in notebooks and Word-files, but I think I’ll get to them in due time. As a final note, a massive thank you to all who participated, talked, discussed and shared openly and warmly. If I could wish for something for my future, it would be for many more opportunities like this one. And my deepest thanks to Christy and Lance   , who made it all possible.

Comments, as always, extremely welcome.

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… and if anyone is planning on visiting the west coast of Costa Rica, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Sunset Shack and the Harmony Hotel, the venues we were located at. Beautiful places and great people.

Simon Staffans is a content developer and producer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development principles and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon_staffans.

The No-Plan Plan

One evening a couple of weeks ago I found myself in deep conversation with a couple of people. Hank and Julia and I were discussing the notion of the Plan-life and its’ counterpart, the No-Plan life, reflecting on how the notion of these two impacted our own lives.

The discussion continued sporadically over the next couple of days, and the more I’ve thought about it since I got home, the more I think there is a grain – or more than a grain – of truth to the matter.

Most of us live Plan-lives. This includes myself, and I’ll readily admit that I’m more comfortable – or perhaps more secure? – with a life that has a clear plan for the path ahead. I know where I’m heading – or want to head – and I know most of the things I’ll need to do to get there. I even have a notion of what will happen once I achieve what I’ve set out to do.

After our conversations I’ve increasingly begun to appreciate the notion of the No-Plan life. It’s something that can be forced upon you by external forces (just like I’ve felt a pang of excitement when lay-offs have been in the air at places I’ve worked, something along the lines of ”whee, I might be FORCED to throw my life up in the air and find a new track forward!”). It’s something that you can choose for yourself (quit your day job?) and sometimes a combination of the two.

The thing is, there’s very little room for newness in the Plan-life. While I might very well be nearing the completion of what I’ve set out to do, it’s moving along a pre-planned path towards that goal, without many external, non-planned influences.

Un-Planning your life and your processes, however, will let new variables influence everything. Not only is it a bit scary – and scarier the more you like to have control over your life, like I do – but it’s also liberating and exciting; not to mention creatively rewarding.

The key, as I see it, is to find the balance. Having lived the UnPlanned life, I feel there needs to be a moment when I stop what I’m doing, take all the influences and variables and contacts and notions and start again, in the Plan-life way that is guaranteed to let me achieve a result within a reasonable amount of time.

Let the No-Plan into your life! And keep the Plan life in your back pocket, to pull out whenever you feel the need to accomplish what you want to accomplish!

… Hank had this to say about the post:

I would add a few thoughts:  1. The no plan is the punctuation in a planned life. Without punctuation or parsing, the plan arcs run all together. 2.  The no plan stage is the  only truly open and free moment we have to explore  different directions. Usually, we are following so many plan arcs that our actions and goals are highly circumscribed.  3. Agreed! Be open to the No-Plan, though it is scary and risky. (edited)

Mark Harris also chimed in:

Good post @simon and something I struggle with a lot. Maybe not No-Plan, but going with the plan that presents itself, even if different than the plan I had (which often happens to me), kind of learning to say yes. Thoughts on this trickling into my own slowly-developing post…

… and Claire Marshall had this to add:

I don’t think it is a choice between a Planned life and an Un-planned life rather than you need to plan time for being Un-planned – if that makes sense. It is hard to manifest Serendipity or chance encounters when you always have a place to be and a time to get there. But then just as much if you don’t know what you want or at least the direction how will you see the opportunities that come to you. I believe that you should plan to have pockets of adventure, and allow a little bit of space for the world to surprise you. Now the trouble is to be able to do this you need to be able to do a few things. 1. Be ok not being busy, just wandering, looking. This is hard for most people as we feel like we are ‘wasting time’ if we are not doing anything productive. 2. Be ok with being on your own. Zygmunt Beaumant at a recent conference I went to spoke at length about how we dive into our pockets for our smartphones the minute that we are bored or feel awkward in a social situation and 3. I think we need to be curious and brave. To ask about something, to be genuinely interested in what people have to tell you, and to ask more questions. This has been the one sure fire way that I have been able to “manage serendipity” .

Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon_staffans.

The Difficult Client “You”

I’ve had a number of epiphanies over the past few days, mostly because I’ve spent almost every waking hour of those days in the company of a lot of highly intelligent and creative people in the form of the participants of the 2015 version of F/S (ForwardSlashStory).

Among those epiphanies a couple stood out, however, one of them coming after having had a discussion about how to address your own work and your own productions. As I presented some of the things I’ve been working on, I felt more clearly than ever before that the projects that were my own were the ones that meant something extra. They were the ones that took me further along the path of storytelling and often they were the ones to get more attention and garner more accolades in the long run.

But, and I’m sure many of us have been or are in the same situation, client work often supersedes your own. Clients pay for your services and skills, clients have proper deadlines and clients hold you accountable – all which leads to at least me putting my own stuff on the backburner, for ”when I have time”. Only thing is, that time never seems to materialize.

What struck me during that conversation at that bar in Costa Rica was the need to put myself on the same level as my clients. I too have demands and deadlines. I too can hold myself accountable for my progress or lack thereof.

What I’ll do henceforth is to sit down and have client meetings with myself. I’ll discuss goals and mileposts, I’ll talk about development direction and realistic schedules, I’ll line up deliverables and renumerations. I’ll draft a proper deal and sign it, and I’ll meet again in a couple of weeks’ time, to make sure the project is on the right track. If things need to be amended, they will be, but in a proper manner and with a plan for how to rectify the situation. Conversely, when I overdeliver or beat the deadline, I’ll need to find a way to give myself a bonus…

Help your brilliant idea grow

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been working for a couple of different organizations helping them analyze projects and transmedia projects in particular over the past month. Looking beyond the debate (which has faded quite significantly, perhaps to the current non-buzzwordiness of the term) about what exactly should be considered ”transmedia”, some things have jumped out at me time and time again while reading projects plans and proposals, and interviewing the people behind them.

Many have great ideas, good solid foundations for their projects. Many have a passion about what they are doing or what they would like to do. Many have high hopes for their projects, dreams and visions of how they could make their impact on the world.

Here though, are five things I believe many people miss when they develop their projects and try to communication what they want to do and why anyone should buy into it. You see (and I’ve been in this same position myself) – you get that brilliant idea for a project, a story, a film, a transmedia entity or whatever. When you do get that idea, you need to do these five things, and keep doing them as a continuous part of the development work. They will give your project stability, added creative input, new financial possibilities and an increasing likeliness of your project reaching your intended audience.

(This is a continuation of and an add-on to the last post I wrote – and I hope I can get future projects to read these and take them to heart!)

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  1. Do your research. This is something that many projects I’ve been approched with have failed to do, to a higher or lesser degree. That brilliant idea you have? You’re not the first one to have it. You’re probaly not even the tenth first person to have it. All that matters is that you’re the one who actually makes the idea into something real in a way that no one has been able to do before. What you need to do is to find out what other similar projects have been launched or proposed, and what happened to them. Learn from their mistakes, let yourself be inspired by their success… and if push comes to shove and someone else has created your idea in a way that you don’t believe you can improve on – walk away. Go dream up a new idea and a new project!
  1. Another stumbling point – still, which amazes me – is the audience. Not the audience per say, but the attention the creators pay to the audience. It is a fairly straight forward procedure – as long as you know what audience you’re aiming for – to look at what kind of things interest them, how they behave, what their wants and needs are. Not only does this give you a lot of fodder and thought for your project, it also lends a considerable amount of credibility to your project when you approach financiers, partners, clients etc.
  1. Work on your pitch. Chances are you’re very much into what you’re working on. Chances are you might take things for granted that someone who hears about the project for the first time does not understand at all, things that immediately skews their notion of what your project is about and what it could become in the future. Clarity and brewity will help you no end, but only if that clarity and brewity express what your project is really about. So work on the pitch – the elevator pitch, the three-minute-pitch, the sales pitch and the rest – so that you can explain it to anyone, clearly and immersively, in a short period of time. Anticipate follow-up questions and have your answers ready.
  1. Stay realistic. It’s impressive how highly people think of themselves and their projects and their eventual impact on peoples’ lives. Just look at yourself, and how very seldom you actually immerse yourself in something – and how many other things there are that are constantly vying for your attention. Realism is having ambitious goals, but also noting all the things that are needed to come to pass for you to reach those goals and what amount of work and sweat and blood and tears are needed to achieve those things. Realism will help you not lose heart when you hit an uphill struggle, and will help you talk to partners and backers without running the risk of facing accusations of naivety.
  1. Strive for financial sustainability. There is no shame in asking people (or brands or organizations) for money in exchange for the experience you offer them. It doesn’t make your project any less worthy, but it can help you get funds and traction to be able to create your next project, and the next after that. But you need to think hard about what you’re offering your audience. Will it be worth not only their precious time, but also their hard-earned cash? You know what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for them? Have a clear and convincing and realistic answer to that, and you’ll have a much easier time reaching an audience, garnering revenue and attracting partners.

Starting a project? Feeling less than sure? Read this.

These past couple of days I was kindly invited to BoostHBG, an organisation doing great things for the cross- and transmedia practicioners (and VR producers and short film producers etc and so on) in the south of Sweden. My mission was to help some projects a little bit further along the way to fruition.

The projects were many and varied, ranging from the very much we’re-just-starting-this-idea-up-right-now to the ones that have been in the works for years and have many things already solidly in place. Thus, they all had different needs and different challenges and issues to tackle. Some things, though, came to the fore as in a sense very basic things, but in another sense things that are not easy to get right and remember, especially when working on a project close to ones heart:

Always keep the end user in mind, no matter what part of the project you’re working on. This includes the sales pitches, as they – especially if your project has been under development for a long period of time – often can turn inwards, serving more to reaffirm the concept for you, the creator, than telling and selling it to someone else. Honing your elevator pitch is extremely good for anything you’re working on, forcing you to refine and redefine and boil it all down to its essence. Crucial stuff.

As you keep the end user in mind, you really really need to think about who your target group is. ”The world” is not a target group that will help you in any way while developing or drawing up strategies. ”People over 18 years old” is slightly better, but not by much. If you can find what niche audience your content will appeal to, you can much better find out what their wants and needs and habits are, and create something that resonates beautifully with them. And then you can work with them as your beacons and ambassadors to reach a greater audience…

What is the essence of the story you’re trying to tell? Is it a story of love? Or of fulfillment? Or of loss, or of something else? What is the world your story lives in – and what are the rules and other possible characters does the world consist of? What stories can these rules and these characters give rise to, and where can you create them, publish them, perhaps collaborate with the audience on them?

Finally, a big looming question was the one of financial sustainability. In an ideal world, we all want to create great content that people who want to experience it pay handsomely for. In the real world, there is an enormous amount of work; nose-to-the-grind-kinda stuff to get this traction and this revenue rolling. An upside is that there are now many creative ways to look at financing and monetizing – from YouTube ads to merchandize, from crowdfunding to the diversification of content – from the same story or storyworld – for different clients and purposes.

One last piece of advice – get advice and feedback on your particular project from other people. Ideally from people more competent than you, especially in areas crucial to your project. Trust people with your story, and you’ll soon see if it will have legs or not.