By robert pratten, October 22nd, 2009

For my inaugural blog posting here at Culture Hacker I’d like to discuss the issues of collaboration.

Although audience collaboration may not be a prerequisite for a transmedia project, I think we’re at the point where the benefits of encouraging collaboration outweigh the problems. The benefits I see relate to the fact that we now work in an overcrowded, competitive and often free content marketplace. Hence, collaboration for me means an opportunity to:

  • test ideas and gauge support as early as possible and hence optimise investment of time and money – or give up early
  • attract skilled, creative people to ambitious projects too big for either of us to tackle alone
  • attract like-minded enthusiasts to help spread awareness in a win-win relationship rather than pestering friends to spam their friends.

There’s a Lack of Transmedia Tools

What becomes apparent very early on for anyone attempting transmedia storytelling, and particularly one that seeks collaboration, is a lack of the following:

  • tried and tested practical templates
  • reference tools, processes and project structures.

Transmedia is complicated stuff. It’s difficult enough to develop a movie script so that it hits all the right buttons at the right time for a passive 90 minute experience. Now the transmedia evangelists are telling us to throw away the Syd Field and Blake Snyder templates and go non-linear, cross-media, interactive and collaborative. It’s an alluring and exciting prospect but where do I begin?

In launching my open-source, collaborative transmedia project Parasites, I wanted it to be ambitious enough that collaborators and I broke new ground and could use it as a vehicle to develop these tools and templates.

The two primary umbrellas under which these tools and processes could be discussed are:

  • Storytelling – how to develop a plot and characters across media (as directed by the original storyteller/writer)
  • Collaboration – how audiences and creatives contribute to the storytelling with ideas & media.

Storytelling Problems To Be Solved

Most of the established work I could find by searching the Internet revealed not really tools or templates as such but insights or suggestions into how one might develop a transmedia story. I crunched this together and created the diagram you see below. It’s a just a start at a possible development process and there may be others, but at least it’s a start.

In the upcoming November issue of Indie Slate magazine (#59) I present some concrete steps that one might take in evolving an existing feature script or new idea into a transmedia project. I discuss in the article that too much of what some are presenting as transmedia storytelling is just boring exposition or tedious detail: they might argue it’s immersive but I’m saying it’s not entertaining.

Anyway, in true transmedia fashion, the printed article references two online, downloadable tools created in Powerpoint & Excel to help with character and story development across media in a way that aims for increased engagement. After the 60 days exclusivity period has expired I’ll present the article here too. But if you’re reading this before Feb 2010, check out the Indie Slate website once issue 59 is out.

I’ll return to this subject area again in future posts.

Collaboration Problems To Be Solved

I’m aware that there are different levels or types of collaboration but for the purposes of this post I’m thinking mostly in terms of active contributors to an emerging or developing storyworld.

Anyone that went to film school is sure to be familiar with those shoots where “collaboration” was taken to mean “everyone tries to do everyone else’s job” – which of course results in conflict and disaster. Collaboration ought to mean me doing my job and trusting others to do theirs. But that involves appointing people in clearly defined roles with clearly defined responsibilities. The issue with audience collaboration or open participation is that it can become a free for all. Clearly, to prevent chaos there’s a need for collaborators to have some form of guidelines and a structure for how and what they can contribute.

A great insight to these problems can be found in the presentation below, by David Bausola from Ag8, in which he discusses the aims and needs of the Purefold project.  David’s collaborative transmedia framework has four pillars:

  • Editorial: how the story develops with time and with collaboration
  • Commercial: presumably how to meet the needs of the brands financing the project
  • Technological: how the project is implemented
  • Operational: how collaborative input and responses to it are managed. Which for Purefold they hope to be close to real-time.

Another way to break down the problem may be to say that the four cornerstones to be defined for a successful collaborative project are:

  • the process, which describes how contributors can participate
  • the business model, which describes the financial incentives & rewards, if any, for collaborators
  • the legal framework, which describes the contributor’s rights and the project’s rights
  • the platform that supports the above.

One collaborative project worth checking out that has addressed these issues is a multiple media fantasy world called Runes of Gallidon. The project clearly defines and explains:

  • the process: contributors (Artisans in their world) must submit work for approval. Submissions are known as  “Works” (complete standalone entities, like a short story, say) that contain “Ideas” (elements of the Work, like a character, say, or a location or spell). Only a Work counts towards the revenue share, Ideas are free for all to use
  • the business model: if Gallidon makes money it’s a 50:50 split for the contributor, if the contributor makes money then Gallidon takes 10%
  • the legal framework: Creative Commons +
  • the platform: email for submissions, a dedicated site to showcase contributions,  and an online forum for discussions.

Another example to check out is which has a bespoke platform developed to support its collaborative process. It’s cornerstones are as follows:

  • the process: project owners pitch tasks; collaborators can “take a shot” which means submit an idea or the piece of work
  • the business model: not immediately clear but I think no profit or revenue sharing is assumed
  • the legal framework: select one from three Creative Commons licences
  • the platform: bespoke collaborative online software that accepts uploads, commenting, notifications and so on.

While it seems that a Creative Commons license will solve most people’s legal issues, in future posts I’d like to address the other areas of process, business model and platform.

In fact I’d be interesting to hear if there’s any support from readers for forming some kind of “alliance of collaborative projects” that could share insights and develop these frameworks to support this emerging and fast-growing area.  It would have to have a snappy name though, like the Collaborative Open-source Project Alliance (COPA). My only stipulation is that is operates with full transparency because there’s nothing worse than a bent COPA. Boom boom :)

Er… did I really just finish on a bad joke?


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Posted in audience-building community cross-media crowdsourcing movies social media transmedia

robert pratten Robert Pratten is CEO and Founder of Transmedia Storyteller Ltd, an audience engagement company and provider of Conducttr, an pervasive entertainment platform. He has more than 20 years experience as an international marketing consultant and has established himself as a thought-leader in the field of transmedia storytelling. He is author of the first practical book transmedia storytelling: Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners.


  • Highly Interesting. You might be interested in contributing to our conference http://narrative-innovation... at Karlshochschule International University (

  • The mechanics of transmedia storytelling certainly comes with a host of logistical challenges. The cornerstones you have identified are spot. These are super way of chunking a huge set of questions and and possibilities into some manageable components.

    You might enjoy this two minute piece I did on the intersection between BME (beginning, middle, end) style storytelling and more non-linear approaches. Love to get your feedback. It's a framework I am using from my collaborative, transmedia efforts. Thus far it is helping me tackle some of the things on your road map.

    Great piece - thanks for sharing!

    Warm regards,
    Terrence Gargiulo

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