Trans-media production: three heads are better than one

Just how collaborative is trans-media story-telling? That question came up Friday at the latest iLunch 9 gathering as panelists considered how best to secure partners to tell stories across multiple media platforms.
lost girl

Pictured: Bedlam Games partnered with Showcase and Prodigy Pictures to create an online fan site for the Lost Girl TV series.

Just how collaborative is trans-media story-telling?

That question came up Friday at the latest iLunch 9 gathering as panelists considered how best to secure partners to tell stories across multiple media platforms.

The consensus was putting creative heads together, rather than knocking them, is best when producing interactive media content because some collaborators are more equal than others.

Gerry Flahive, a senior producer at the National Film Board, which holds the rights to long-term interactive documentaries it is producing and showcasing online, aims where possible to collaborate with web firms, rather than be seen to purchase a service for a fee.

“As much as possible, these two worlds can find ways to collaborate, so we aren’t ever seen as clients by the web firms,” he argued.

Here collaborative story-telling is about reconciling the relationships different players in trans-media production have with the rights they hold.

For example, Bedlam Games partnered with Showcase and Prodigy Pictures to create an online fan site for the supernatural Lost Girl TV series.

Bedlam Games studio general manager Don Henderson said animating the Lost Girl website – most prominently with interactive motion comics – called for a “process of discovery” that required constant and delicate negotiations with Prodigy to maintain trust and loyalty between creative partners, despite obvious differences.

“We’ve learned a lot, and we found the way we talk is different than how our partners talk. Our work clothes are a bit different than that of our partners,” he explained.

The Interactive Ontario-hosted discussion of digital media production was very much a view from the margins of Canadian TV, where broadcasters mostly trigger funding from the Canada Media Fund and indie producers forever complain conventional and specialty channels refuse to concede digital rights, and so hold up innovation.

With the Lost Girl website, Prodigy Pictures owns the IP to the TV property’s online extension, and Bedlam holds back-end rights to create interactive projects based on the TV property.

The solution, insisted Henderson, was creating informal, yet clear rules for collaboration so that one cook is ultimately in charge of the kitchen.

“Someone needs to make a call on certain things. So without ever talking about it, the writer for the [Lost Girl] TV series, whatever the issue that got pushed to a head, that writer made the final decision,” Henderson recalled.

“And when we had to do something, [Prodigy] wouldn’t come in and disagree unless it had a big impact on them,” he added.

Another informal rule was changing direction when the circumstance demanded: Bedlam abandoned original plans for concept art and 3D morels on the Lost Girl website and shifted the main focus to interactive motion comics.

James Milward, president and executive producer of boutique interactive media producer Secret Location, argued collaborators need to know what respective skills they bring to the table.

“Knowing what you’re good at and strategizing at the beginning worked for everyone,” Milward said, recalling a social media campaign for underwear maker Stanfield’s and ad agency John Street where an online audience was invited to view a testicular cancer survivor live on camera for 25 days in his Stanfield’s underwear without leaving home.

“From a client perspective, Stanfield was incredibly hands-off and didn’t get into the middle of anything. They didn’t disagree with us for more than half an hour and on calls we were able to get them over to our side,” Milward explained.

And rather than carve off and exploit rights, he added that ensuring a successful collaboration best increases the chances you’ll work again with a client when your services are required.