We've Got Hollywood Covered

But What I Really Want to Do Is … Transmedia?

The PGA’s recognition of the Transmedia Producer credit is a step toward understanding that the very nature of narrative is changing

Today, the Producer’s Guild of America agreed to recognize the credit of "Transmedia Producer." 

This long-overdue credit honors the contributions of producers of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), Twitter-based series, Augmented Reality (AR), online narratives, mobile apps and other multimedia experiences.

You could say that transmedia production originated with an Alternate Reality game called "Dreadnot," produced by sfgate.com in 1996.  The film "AI," was supported by what was generally acknowledged to be the first smash hit Alternate Reality Game, nicknamed The Beast by its players.
An academic would probably take a more expansive view and maintain that that movie fan clubs of the 1930s, and Little Orphan Annie decoder rings, were progenitors of the genre. 
Whatever. The credit came online today. Let’s talk about today.
The PGA’s recognition of the Transmedia Producer credit is a step toward understanding that the very nature of narrative is changing. Is "TRON Legacy," for example, a feature film in the traditional sense of the word? Not if it’s going to realize its full potential, it’s not. It’s a narrative that began 30 years ago, spawned an entire (CG) industry, has legions of fans who never stopped sharing the story and will be re-engaged with it via transmedia experiences, such as Saturday’s "Flynn Lives" press conference in San Francisco, a scene from its "Flynn Lives" ARG developed by transmedia production company, 42 Entertainment. 
I personally think the Daft Punk soundtrack is gong to be just as important to the "TRON Legacy" narrative as the film itself, maybe more. Perhaps the film will be the world’s first "cyber opera," a first-of-its genre concoction of mythic music and digital visual effects. Like the ARG, the "TRON Legacy" game plays a role, too, as will the website, as will conversations on Twitter and other social media platforms.
In the networked environment, the narrative form bends and flows like the space-time continiuum. We can’t shape it, all we can do is ride it like light cyclists on the game grid. Transmedia Producers are the best light cyclists we’ve got.
That’s the good news side of the credit coin. Here’s the flip side:
When viewed vis-a-vis the politics of Hollywood, the Transmedia Producer credit balkanizes a certain kind of storyteller, one who works across platforms, while platform-specific roles (Director, Screenwriter, Producer, D.P. Game Designer, et al) still have all the status and make all the money.  The credit screams ‘generalist’ in a town ruled by specialists.  
The PGA credit indicates that Transmedia Producers won’t escape the Marketing budget for franchise films anytime soon. It’s a shame, because studio franchise films are already de facto transmedia models, and some of the studios, Disney, to continue the "TRON Legacy" example, assign franchise managers to these big films. As long as the financial metrics are platform specific, however, platform managers aren’t going to give up control of the narrative to transmedia producers, and transmedia producers, in most cases will not be involved at the inception of a project. Media genres will procreate, and transmedia will nanny.
The breakthrough opportunities for Transmedia Producers are primarily outside the big media companies, and outside the entertainment business. The breakthrough title won’t be Transmedia Producer, it will be Producer … Writer … Director … Star Player … Game Designer … Chief Marketing Office … Brand Strategist … Storyteller … Narratologist. 
The stories these players create will be designed, from the beginning, to flow agnostically across all media platforms. When the financial accounting for narratives transcends platforms (or silos or genres or channels — name your container), the people the PGA labels today Transmedia Producers will have truly arrived.


Mike Bonifer is the CEO of GameChangers LLC, and the author of "GameChangers: Improvisation for Business in the Networked World." He occasionally performs with an improv group called Hoosier Daddy that preps for its shows by eating oatmeal cookies.