Where do you feel the media world is at the moment, and how has it evolved in 2015?
I’m fascinated with how young people are using media as an extension of identity. Because we can touch and play with the things we love through digital media, the boundaries of ownership are blurring and being crossed with growing regularity. We see ourselves in facets of the characters in movies, comics and TV shows, and those facets take on growing significance, sometimes beyond the characters’ original intent. Is Deadpool a gay or pansexual icon, a lunatic who acts on sexual whims, or both? Is Rey a new role model who opens a major entertainment franchise up for girls, or is she a cipher, a Mary Sue manifestation of JJ Abrams’ goddess fantasies? The passion is palpable on all sides, and it only became more virulent with politics and hot button issues like race and religion.
I know its been reading like a whole lot of angst, and a lot of people are tired of the bias and vitriol, but I find it exciting. Look at all that self-expression! Ten years ago, if you wanted more than a handful of people to know how you felt about something, you had to make a tremendous effort. For most of us, that was unreachable. Today, not only can we reach hundreds of people at the touch of a button, but we can also reach and impact the source of our passion—the storytellers, the politicians, the brands, the government. With growing frequency, we can make a difference. The Confederate flag came down, Abercrombie & Fitch dropped its douchebaggery and changed everything about itself, we now know how many people have been killed in police actions and can set about reducing those numbers.
I also appreciate that it still takes an effort to express oneself through social media, and that more and more people are refining their skills in this space. Arguments are becoming more cogent. Words and images are being combined more effectively. Video is being used more powerfully. Older and younger people are joining the conversation. Compare this with what was going on in most online chat rooms in the 1990s, and you can see that we’ve come a long way, and will continue to get better.
What has been the best of 2015? What made you squee with joy?
Purely subjectively, this has been the first year in quite a while that the full spectrum of my creativity has been put to the challenge. In projects originating in Canada and in the Middle East North Africa region I’ve had to think about how religion and spiritual belief can be transformed to better meet the needs of people in the digital age. In the process, I’ve had to face some of the darkest and most wayward aspects of human nature and ponder how narrative can be moved from that which controls to that which enlightens and empowers. I’ve had to look at the violence and dogma in some of these religious scriptures and try to get people to understand how the sheer passage of time demands that we move away from authoritarian communication and the placement of the meaning of these texts into new, modern contexts.
In Australia, my company Starlight Runner had its first transmedia population activation project to be announced publically at launch. We are using our narrative-based multi-platform techniques to help indigenous, regional and remote students and those from low socio economic backgrounds succeed at university. The project is sponsored by Curtin University in Perth. The challenge is a big one, because there is a significant communications gap between cohort and institution. Finding the key to this one has been tricky, because the thought processes of a lot of these students has been difficult to understand. The narrative is nonlinear.
This prompted me to pull out a project I’ve actually been working on since the late 1990s. It’s a narrative model that can function as an alternative to The Hero’s Journey popularized by Joseph Campbell. We’re calling this new model The Collective Journey, and it takes into account the nonlinearity of the kind of communal storytelling we’re seeing in social media, and the new dialog-based storytelling happening between storytellers and audiences across all media around the world. Transmedia and transmedia-adjacent people like Maya Zuckerman, Joe Brewer, Jordan Greenhall and Alan Berkson have been pondering these issues over the past year, and Starlight Runner is actually in the process of integrating The Collective Journey model into our solution for the Australian activation. I can’t think of much that is more exciting than this, because if it works at all, we’ve made a significant breakthrough in the transmedia space. We’re documenting this so that people everywhere will be able to benefit from this work.
What are you looking forward to for 2016? What projects will you follow?
For fun I’m fascinated with how Star Wars is evolving the conversation around the potential of transmedia entertainment. More than anything before in global pop culture, the 2015 rollout of Star Wars by Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm and Disney is informed by a highly contemporary reading of franchise transmedia storytelling as espoused and informed by people like Ivan Askwith, Caitlin Burns, myself, and the Producers Guild of America. Kennedy decided to wipe the slate clean by dispensing with the Extended Universe (thousands of Star Wars stories in comics, novels and video games that George Lucas never considered canon), and starting from scratch with an entirely canonical transmedia story world.
Now we have the centerpiece of that world in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it’s a “driving platform” story, a big movie, that is wildly successful even though, arguably, there are several pieces of plot and information missing from it that many people believe make the movie less enjoyable. You can find those pieces in the novelization, or articles that interview key stakeholders, or in comic books, or even in online fan speculation. So is this bad filmmaking? Is it bad transmedia? Or did transmedia just come of age? I think 2016 is going to help us figure that out, and it’s going to set the course for the future of this type of storytelling.
On the business end I’m intrigued by this relatively new trend of live immersive experiences. They’re evolving beyond zombie runs and high end Sleep No More choose-your-path plays. We’re seeing these locked room mysteries and horror houses that test your mind and fortitude. We’re also seeing installations that leverage performers, gadgets, practical effects and a variety of media platforms to pull you into their stories. When done best, you are actually the protagonist in the story, not just someone walking around and watching it. It’s been a dream of mine to bring something like this to life. I’m hoping we can apply some of what we’re extrapolating from The Collective Journey model to make projects like these even more successful.
If I should follow one person or one company in 2016, who or what should it be?
Maya Zuckerman is one to watch. She’s learned how to surf waves of synchronicity, and land herself at the nexus of what we’re looking for. If I want a fast way to bring myself up to speed on what I need to know, I check out her Facebook and Twitter . If I want to talk media theory without worrying about crossing the line into metaphysics, I go to her. I’ve been having a great time talking with her about The Collective Journey, and editing her series of articles on the topic on Huffington Post. But all of the people I’ve mentioned above are well worth following.