The search for revenue in a fast-changing Hollywood is giving new currency to the notion of “transmedia” – but one company has given up on putting movies at the top of the value heap.
Blacklight Transmedia, a two-year-old company founded by former Fox Atomic executives Zak Kadison and R. Eric Lieb, has set out to develop books, movies, comics, games and other media properties — simultaneously.
“Success in any one medium furthers the other mediums,” Kadison (pictured below) told TheWrap. “It’s been wildly fun and incredibly beneficial trying to conceive of these deep mythologies and worlds.”
There's another practical consideration: “In order to make a $150 million movie without having Christopher Nolan or James Cameron, I’ve got to prove the concept.”
He said that by pitching a package rather than a single product, he can do just that. Although the company develops everything at the same time, sometimes the book or the videogame will come out before the movie. Sometimes they all come out at all at once.
This approach seems to be working so far: In two years, Blacklight has struck an overall deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment; sold three projects — including one to Walt Disney Pictures; signed on with a publishing house to give it its own imprint; and developed relationships with videogame producers.
Disney recently acquired “The Runner,” a science fiction adventure film that was originally conceived as a spec for a television pilot. Grazer is producing, along with Kadison and Brad Simpson, of Marc Forster’s Apparatus Entertainment.
As with all of Blacklight’s projects, the company, which has four full-time employees, also conceived graphic novels and games for “The Runner.”
Instead of making a book that’s the same as the movie – or a videogame that slavishly follows the story of the movie — each medium propels its own story.
“You’re able to do things in a videogame that you can’t necessarily do in a movie,” Kadison said. “A good example is ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ You’re rewarded for being a really bad guy. Can you think of any version of any movie and be authentic to ‘Grand Theft Auto?’”
When they develop projects, they create a “bible” that contains intertwining storylines and artwork. That way, when they pitch projects to studios, they step in with broadly fleshed-out ideas. Blacklight's principals believe that by coming up with the ideas all at once, each element of the broader project will be better.
The concept doesn't work for everything. It lends itself to big stories — action and science fiction movies whose fans already play a variety of video games and are drawn to comics. Generally, they're looking at young men.
Finding stories that work across media in this fashion in easier said than done – and absolutely essential. Jeff Gomez, who runs transmedia consulting firm and production company Starlight Runner Entertainment, cautions that, “transmedia development is a complex and highly detailed process where story is absolutely critical — more so even than the technology."
Craig Detweiler, who directs the Center for Entertainment Media and Culture at Pepperdine University, said he salutes Blacklight’s big thinking — but worries it may be a little too big.
“There are so few creative universes big enough to hold all of that,” he told TheWrap. “J.R.R. Tolkien, or the early ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars’ that had such a massive backstory that gave people room to roam. But those are literally about one a decade.”
But Detweiler said Blacklight is on the right track.
“I think all content creators have to think of a minimum of five screens,” he said. “TV, film, the internet, cell phone and iPad.”