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Transmedia Documentary Storytelling

Challenges and strategies of transmedia documentary storytelling: narrative design, market and production culture

Julieta Romero Güeto

on 2 June 2014

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Transcript of Transmedia Documentary Storytelling

Julieta Romero Gueto
M.A International Media Studies

A documentary project can start as a book...
Continue on the web...
Or be experienced through game play
And be experienced through gameplay
Each story is part of a big storyworld
The anchors of the storyworld...but for how long?
“Book, the old fashion medium is a great entry to a film. If you are a documentary film producer and you buy the rights to a successful book you already have a certain amount of awareness and audience. It is an old fashion technique that still works”(Anne Zeiser)
Advertising of DVD and Book of PBS transmedia documentary project Half the sky
Documentary films, short films and documentary series are good for unifiying the storyworld. They are ideal for transmitting emotions.
"The film is a 90 minute long docu drama. Although it is impossible to include all the details, the film manages to provoke the viewers' enthusiasm and offers them an insight into history" Cédric Bonin
Documentaries are no longer just films...
Anne Zeiser:
Research question:
Margaux Missika:
Julien Aubert:
Nonny de la Peña:
Theo Rigby:
Picture taken from Tribecca Sandbox
picture from Ambulante
Picture from Your Next Quest
Picture from Arte Blog
foto from I-docs
Semi-structured interviews
What are the main challenges faced by, and strategies implemented in, transmedia documentaries?
six experts on transmedia and interactive storytelling answer...
Short documentaries
good for:
Internet audiences with shorter attention span.
As a marketing tool to attract audiences for the next story extension.
But, also useful to deliver the macro-story of the project.
Short documentary for the web "The Caretaker", part of Inmigrant Nation's transmedia storyworld.
Challenge of traditional media:
Shorter attention Span
“...Another challenge is the attention span of today's people..it is way shorter, so you need lot more gratification from all of your media.
(...)I just think about documentary film in general. They've got to get shorter! You're not going to bring 25-years-olds again if they're too long”. (Anne Zeiser)
Interactive media
A tool for audience involvement
with multiple entry points
Storming Junos' interactive extension is part of a TV Documentary broadcast on the History Channel. The format used for the web extension is an interactive navigable timeline.
Highrise is the storyworld of three interactive documentaries, museum installations and live events.
How to avoid killing narrative pleasure?
How to set boundaries and avoid the
“There is a fine line between overwhelming your reader, your audience with too much supplement or content, and just give them just enough to make them curious. That was a really challenge for us […] if it is to much text no one is going to read it right?”(Daniel Burwen)
A conversational documentary does not need to be a game (inspired by facts rather than fiction), it is a digital artifact that simulates reality and that can have a game logic. (Sandra Gaudenzi).
DOC GAMES: learning by doing
Go beyond entertainment
Have become a platform for dealing with serious issues
Give audiences a role, a function (like solving a problem or reaching a goal)
Pulse!: a game that teaches how to react in an emergency
Make use of gaming strategies, but not exactly a game.
Nobody is keeping score
Immerse the player in a situation
Alternate Reality Games
The content is delivered through the so-called real world media
The players navigate through all those platforms in order to uncover clues and find out the plot of the story
ARGs target larger audiences, so that the collective intelligence of players helps the community win the game or solve the mystery together.
Christy Dena on ARGs
Challenges of web-docs
Fun or not fun?
“If a serious game is serious, meaning boring, it means it is a bad game...that's why most serious games are bad games, because they have a serious purpose and make a game that is actually serious...it should not be serious, a game should be fun. We try to make it fun”(Julien Aubert)
Not necessarily
"There is also the problem of cultural acceptance of games as a serious medium... There may yet be an expressive mixing of the game and documentary
forms that will someday carry a cultural value equal to that associated with film documentaries. We are not there today, but these games show a desire to get there..." (Tracy Fullerton)
Traditional media extensions
interactive & participative media extensions
Participative extensions
Web-docs extensions


Blending the virtual and the real world
Situated documentaries:
Immerse audiences into inaccessible realities.
Take users away from computer screens, and bring them into physical spaces.
Usually make use of locative media and/or augmented reality devices.
"There's a lot of research that has being done in laboratories about what they call presence, the sense of being in another place, and it's extremely powerful... It is very strange how evenly the mind can be tricked to give you the sense of being on a street, in a place or even in another body.
So, I think that as journalists and documentary filmmakers the opportunities with immersive tools are really quite big" (Nonny de la Peña)
How much agency is good?
“If you leave too much freedom to the viewer to change the reality, it can be a bit weird. We know that documentaries are concerned with social issues, human rights, things that seem not to be going that well… so, it has to be balanced” (Margaux Missika)
Life events: connecting with people's physical world

Theme parks

Giving people something to do
"If you are getting people engaged with or angry about an issue, you've got to give them something concrete to do". (Anne Zeiser)
Engagement/impact campaign extensions
Challenges of web and interactive documentaries:
Challenges and strategies
Transmedia documentaries' audience and market
Transmedia is a tool for building niche and large audiences across platforms.
Transmedia has the potential to increase the life-cycle of projects.
The distribution model is more open. Everybody can be a broadcaster.
“I think we are going to experience a lot with HTML5 and cross-platform. We realize that the IPad was a very interesting device to create strong content...but hopefully not through apps but web-apps, because people don’t care where it is. And with HTML5 it is going to be more effective” (Margaux Missika)
Brian Clark's transmedia busines models
No Budget
Research & Development.
Fan incubation.
Fan Funding.
Ticketed Events.
Marginable arbitrage.
Audience Developed Products.
Infrastructure Play.
Venture Capital.
Hybridized business models are key for boosting innovation at different scales. Artists start mixing models like Research and Development with Infrastructure Play or, as is the case of the author, Research and Development with a traditional service model. Clark observes that the careers of these artists start looking like perpetual start-ups or serial entrepreneurship.
Challenges and strategies on:

Narrative design
Business models
Production culture
Challenges and Strategies of Transmedia Storytelling: A Qualitative Study of Documentary Projects
Transmedia documentary storytelling changes radically the way documentaries are written and produced.
A NEW production culture is needed.
The Production
Beta mindset?
“If you don’t put it into practice and if it’s experimental, you don’t have any idea how is it going to work with your audience.”(Daniel Burwen)
The team
Non-connected units

semi-connected units

single creative unit
New skills, new positions?
“Those new positions experience designers, interactive designers, they are good at navigability and where your clicks are, how to put stuffs, but I still think documentary filmmakers are better in thinking on how you tell non-fiction stories”(Nonny de la Peña)
“I work with a user experience consultant, and then we have another company that we work with to do all the technology, so, it is a lot of relationships”(Daniel Burwen)
The Transmedia producer
“We work with different teams: the team for the app, for the web-doc, a team for community management, and people to coordinate, wich was me as a story architect. In the future, I will consider myself as a producer. That is what the producer does for documentaries: He has an artistic view, he is the head of the team”(Julien Aubert)
The challenge
Directing for multiple platforms
“If you want to produce a project with a TV show, a video game and events, you should be able as a producer to organize and produce the three of them... That demands that the producer be able to deal with it” (Julien Aubert)
Interaction designer
Story architect
community managers
transmedia advisors
His last interactive documentary
CIA: Operation Ajax
was recognized as an honoree at the 16th Annual Webby Awards, and was runner up for the 2011 Best App Ever Awards. Daniel is currently Creative Director at Cognito Comics.
Daniel Burwen:
Julien is the story architect and user experience designer of Arte’s transmedia project
The Cathedral
. He is founder and transmedia producer at Bigger Than Fiction.
Margaux is an assistant producer at Upian- an award-winning web design studio. Salient projects in which she has worked:
Alma a tale of Violence, Prison Valley
Gaza Sderot
Nonny is considered the pioneer of immersive journalism (the art of telling stories with augmented reality devices). Two of De la Peña's most acclaimed projects are
Hunger in LA
Gone Gitmo.
He is a documentary producer, photographer and, above all, a storyteller. Theo's most recent transmedia project,
Immigrant Nation
, was funded by Tribeca's new media fund.
Anne produces transmedia social impact projects at Azure Media. She's worked with partners BBC, PBS, NPR, WGBH, NOVA, National Geographic, Time and many NGOs, and was the architect of the Gates Foundation's
Rx for Survival- A Global Health Challenge
on PBS.
Deductive-inductive analysis
It helps create immersive lean-forward experiences.
It encourages interaction between characters and storyworld.
It makes you a co-creator and/or participant.
Because of its novelty, it helps create a lot of awareness on your project

Immersive Theatre
Experience designer
How to manage audiences' contributions?
Is your documentary living for ever?
Documentray games:

Digging deeper and deeper

let people come in!
The app store
"The idea is that people contribute with their stories and elaborate together the waves of immigration, filtering them by emotions or words, such as work, happiness, etc". (Theo Rigby- Director)
“We used Crowdfunding at the beginning of the project and work pretty well, but is just something to start” (Theo Rigby)
“Funds for feature documentaries are more and better established. From my experience, the film is a cheaper product than the interactive or transmedia one. We need more experts and new skills. So, what has been funded do not correspond yet with what transmedia projects really need... When I say I’m going transmedia people immediately think: cool! That will make your project be funded easier and there is lot of expectations, but it is not always true” (Theo Rigby)
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