In part 1 of my Transmedia series I looked at the threats and opportunities for the film studios that have caused them to look seriously at Transmedia storytelling and the concept itself. In this post I will look at particular case studies that have applied transmedia storytelling successfully.
My starting point is with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008. My reason for picking this example is because it was and remains to this day the template for applying transmedia narrative to film with it’s scope and vision.
In my part 1 post Â I wrote that transmedia seeks to engage the viewer to become a participant in the narrative.Â The unique selling point of Warner Bros marketing campaign for The Dark Knight, was to turn the audience into an engaged one with a series of loosely connected web sites in the build up to the release of the motion picture.
The first engagement point was the release of a mock campaign site I Believe in Harvey Dent related to one of the films central character’s. A few days later a variant of the site went live – I Believe in Harvey Dent Too which temporarily introduced the Joker to the audience, and in parallel joker cards were placed in comic shops with details of the site.
The pivotal moment of audience engagement came about with a further website going live – WhySoSerious, which encouraged fans to go on a scavenger hunt for further clues or engage in activities and events that blurred the distinction between fact and fiction.
The effect it had was to initiate both online and offline user engagement. What happened was that participants became incentivised emotionally and intellectually to upload photographs of themselves or to participate in an event at a given time and place in order to advance the story.
This had a threefold effect, firstly it created advocates for the film in the sense that people had invested their time to piece together the puzzles put before them. Secondly that engagement was no longer restricted to simply online channels but was opened up to include offline opportunities for engagement. Finally each channel, each point of engagement, enhanced and embellished the narrative of the feature film itself. What appeared to be a series of loosely connected activities was in fact a carefully constructed eco-system with the film at it’s core.
In his book Cognative Surplus, Clay Shirky puts forward the proposition that conditions must be right if social interaction and participation with the engaged audience is to be successful. This is just as applicable to transmedia storytelling. A situation where there are no formal or informal rules engagement could potentially lead to the transmedia narrative being undermined. Conversely too much control, too much interruption stifles any creative act or willingness by the audience to engage.
In effect successful transmedia narratives are those that that willingly give control and creative output to their engaged audience, whilst ensuring the story is not compromised. To that end The Dark Knight succeeded because the ecosystem provided the conditions for audience engagement but within the framework of the wider narrative or universe.