Transmedia: Phenomenal Art

Text by Johann Recordon

On October 17, StoryWorld 2012, the second edition of the biggest and most influential conference on transmedia storytelling brought together writers, producers, artists, and enthusiasts from all around the world. The three-day event in Los Angeles offered the opportunity to further shape the future of engaging an audience.


The magic resides on the line separating reality and fiction

Think back to when you were five years old. Remember that cardboard box that looked like the greatest spaceship of all time, or how that wooden stick was a laser saber and your bathrobe a Jedi’s cloak? When playing make believe, you were living somewhere between the reality of your life and the fiction of Star Wars.

The children inside us know a secret many of us seem to have forgotten: fun begins at this intersection. This fuzzy line, as Carl Heath, founder of GR Experiential Learning, a Swedish organization working in developing new immersive tools for education, describes it, separates what is tangible from what is possible—that is, the realm of our senses and the realm of our imagination. When you enter this in-between world, what you experience is a combination of what your body perceives and what your mind creates.

To engage your audience, allowing them to walk this line can be a very effective way to create genuine fun in their experience.

Tell a great story and be true to it

We love to write about ourselves. When confronted with the task of writing their best stories, most authors will tell you they ended up telling something that touched them deeply. And this emotional link is what makes their stories powerful and timeless.

Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainmentoffered two commandments for storytelling. First, take the best piece of advice you could give your grandchildren and tell it in a simple but engaging way; that is your story core, so nurture it and never stray from it. Second, make sure everything you produce is true to that story core, because it is the essence of your brand and the heart of your story.


Gomez also argues that technology must be a way to convey your narrative, not simply what allows you to create it. If your story is not compelling or it’s incoherent between the platforms you use to tell it, your audience will notice and you may lose their interest.

Put the audience at the center of your work

“I choose to embrace that the audience creates the meaning of my work,” writes Brian Clark, founder and CEO of GMD studios, in his recent manifesto, Be Phenomenal. Whatever we as storytellers produce, the way it will be experienced is at least partly up to the audience.

audience and work

 This concept has been studied and discussed for decades in a branch of philosophy called phenomenology. It looks into the meaning of our experiences and how we perceive the world from a first-person point of view.

If you want to create a story world that will be engaging for your audience, you have to think about the way they will perceive and experience it. However great and compelling your story may be, if you are not able to convey it in a way that will allow people to feel what you want them to feel, it will fall short of its purpose.

The future is unclear but promising

If you were to ask Elan Lee, founder of Fourth Wall Studios, what the future of storytelling will bring, he would probably say that the experience will become more and more participatory. People crave more interaction, whether that means surfing the Web on their cellphones while watching TV or embracing alternate-reality games.

As with most new art forms, nobody really knows what will happen in the next five or ten years. What we can say, though, is that the numbers of people interested in transmedia storytelling are growing. Production studios enlist transmedia producers earlier in the narrative process, and the returns have been very positive for the ones that have done so. Just look at the transmedia diaspora stemming from the Star Wars universe over the past decade compared to the comparatively static 1980s and 90s.

the great adventure

Providing an entertaining playing field for the audience seems to be a key component. The world has awakened from the couch-potato trend, and the Internet has infiltrated our lives, which we live just a few keystrokes away on almost every electronic device. The technological tools at our disposal are becoming faster and more powerful. We are on the cusp of transmedia launching itself into the mainstream.

The only question left is… are YOU ready to play?

To further explore transmedia storytelling:

STORY2023, a Transmedia Storytelling competition to celebrate swissnex San Francisco’s 10-year anniversary.

A big thank you to Alice Gillet from L’Atelier in San Francisco who made Johann’s trip to StoryWorld possible.