Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Internet Explosion

The Internet Explosion

by PGA NMC Member Jeff Gomez

Trans-media storytelling would come into its own with phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project. It’s important to note the distinction in the relationship here: as opposed to a piece of licensing or other afterthought spin-off, the Blair Witch website existed as a precursor to the film. It laid down the mythology of the film’s world, even expanding on it, in a way that was scary cool. By spreading the word about this site, you were getting a charge out of letting someone else in on a weird secret.

You were validated and celebrated for your participation in the Blair Witch happening, right there, on the fly, in real time. You and your friends could connect, theorize, and explore this world to the point where the movie became far more than a self-contained piece of entertainment. It was simply a component in a greater experience, and that made it magical. The hip execs like John Hegeman and the folks at Artisan Entertainment took a fascinating risk, and the studio and filmmakers made a fortune.

For savvy marketers like Gordon Paddison at New Line Cinema and on-the-ball filmmakers like Peter Jackson, the web became a platform to launch the fictional universes around which their film franchises would be built. Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, would continue to innovate with major trans-media endeavors based on an array of Disney properties, such as Lost, Pirates of the Caribbean and High School Musical. For fans, these web sites were portals into a philosophy and way of life that they could not find in their local communities. “I love your world,” they seemed to be saying, “and for at least a few minutes every day, I want to live in it.”

The Blair Witch Project is a textbook trans-media execution, adhering to all
8 Defining Principles of Trans-Media Production. But as Jeff touches upon, it was principle #8 – “features audience participatory elements” – that turbocharged its success.

The Blair Witch visionaries, in a very Orson Welles War of the Worlds kind of way, hijacked media platforms of their day to position a fictional story as real. They employed a number of innovative techniques: Shooting cinéma-vérité style -- on home video cameras with no script. Releasing a television “documentary” Curse of the Blair Witch – claiming to explore the legend. And, of course, seeding the internet with a rich detailed back story that reinforced the air of believability.

Both The Blair Witch Project and War of the Worlds played off humans’ deep-seated emotions related to the supernatural... but the internet gave the Blair Witch audience an outlet for those emotions. The combination of great storytelling... sparking powerful emotions... and providing multiple avenues for expression/exploration results in a truly transformative entertainment experience. This is what trans-media is all about.

- Greg Weinstein

Jeff Gomez (jeff@starlightrunner.com), is the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Inc., a developer and producer of highly successful trans-media projects whose clients include The Walt Disney Company, 20th Century Fox, the Coca-Cola Company, Mattel and Hasbro. Over the next few weeks he’ll be sharing his expertise on the white hot trans-media industry – exploring its fascinating history and expanding upon the 8 Defining Principles of Trans-Media Production

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