A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Deep Inside the #Algren Project: A Framework for the #Transmedia Experience | #ThinkState

Like many independent storymakers (a word I love to use and will one day soon pass spellcheck), my sister, Gail Sonnenfeld, Michael Caplan and I are having our struggles with funding to keep the Algren project moving at a faster clip. While this struggle isn’t anything new to artists of all types, it does bring to light a single equivalence about our media ecosystem: there is very little support, if any, in the way of content that is not immediately considered “commercial”.

There is a great irony in this because we often don’t even take the time to understand the influences behind potentially viable commercial works.

In the case of Algren, there are a host of highly prolific artists talking about a highly prolific (yet underground) artist, with a set of dynamics that have the potential to enlist even more prolific artists, who can then influence many different types of people – participatory audiences if you will – that are, well, all over the world.

Okay, so we could probably say this about any project. Maybe this isn’t really the point. Fact is, any narrative has a mythology that can be tied to influential people when you really think about it. Story mechanics should lend to influential ties... That’s what makes stories so engaging.

But here’s the bigger rub. When we remove story from its own media confines – labeling it a mere “documentary”, a “film”,  a “TV show”, a “game”, a “webisodic” or otherwise – and we focus on its own intention, we find ourselves in a very interesting position, which is to expose all the possibilities.

In commercial film or TV development circles, for example, how often do we build out a story mythology? How often do we look at the range of influence? What considerations are we really taking on to make stories and their extended narratives commercially viable?

With Algren, we’ve decided that our narrative lifeblood resides in chapter and verse, meaning that each of these chapters is extensible and scalable in and of its own weight and influence. Further, “influence” can be architected as the amalgam of narrative and persona.

Deep Inside the #Algren Project: A Framework for the #Transmedia Experience | #ThinkState

There’s an interesting side note to point out here. Not all of the artists listed have agreed up front to actually “do the project”. This is perfectly fine; in fact, we might even argue that this is what we want. One of the great things about transmedia experiences is that influence and participation are really an open book (pun intended). Once certain narratives take shape in the form of media, products and/or memes, people can see the value of what is being spoken about or shared and then decide to participate, and in very profound ways.

I won’t go into the details of every chapter and verse, but there are 12 core narratives to start with that dimensionalize Algren’s life, and two “floaters” (Institutional Influence and Political Indifference) that we are considering to be interwoven as meta components to the core dozen. Within that are amazing stories tied to modern philosophy, music, art, literature, economics, social reform, education and Hollywood.

For reference, here is the “trailer” we cut to get a feel for how Algren’s story could play out tonally:

The reality for us as writers and producers of the project is that we really don’t know where this might land as a transmedia property. But again, the larger point is that we do have a very good idea of where it can go in terms of its own narrative potential.

Here’s what that looks like.

Deep Inside the #Algren Project: A Framework for the #Transmedia Experience | #ThinkState

You’ll notice some critical elements in this map.

First off, it is a framework – nothing in this is static or set in stone, rather it is adaptive. The elements will constantly change, and as well they should. Chapters of the core narrative have been distributed to specific channel types or platforms, but they are not dependent on them, meaning that if they don’t take, we can reassign them to other channels or platforms. In our belief, this is also reflective of what makes transmedia storytelling so dynamic – stories and extended narratives can create synthesis and interdependency between various technology and media types, instead of having to just rely upon them.

In the spirit of the relatively new transmedia production guidelines (and our blatant affinity for 3s), we have numbered the disbursement of the chapters according to how we think they might develop sequentially; for example, we will likely start narrative development with film, gaming and webisodic properties. While this is no big surprise, it should also be pointed out that the film piece can be fictional or non-fictional in nature. It is very likely that the film directors who are already on board with the project – Michael Mann, Philip Kaufman, John Sayles and William Friedkin – will actualize this with their own participatory renditions of the narrative, which can manifest through a “film school” component. From there, new properties or media extensions can emerge.

In the gaming pod, you’ll see that we’ve conceived of an ARG (alternate reality game) and a LARP (live action role-playing) component. As Algren was often thought of as a womanizer of an odd, empathetic and intellectual nature, one game is a pick-up construct that takes quotes from some of Algren’s greatest works  and allows men and women in bars or other “socially lubricated” environments to create personas around them (odd & bashful | bold & strange | fluid & whimsical | downright dirty). From there, they can either connect or make matches with other people they think might be a good fit for each other. And of course, all of this can be done through a mobile app in which the metadata is shared in real-time.

The larger intent here is for people – particularly young men and women – to get a sense for what Algren was like as a man who really understood the struggles of sexual identity and social confidence, yet someone who had relatively little means to share those attributes in a modern world. And as those attributes become affinities with new audiences, the idea is then to leverage them as a platform whereby people will be more inclined to participate in upcoming narratives such as the live event pieces (designated currently as second and third-stage extensions). We also hope that through this people will be inclined to actually read or reread his works.

The real boon in all of this is that we can test audience participation and affinity as we go. Whatever catches fire we can build upon, and whatever doesn’t we can simply remove from the experience. We will also use social technologies (some of which I’ve helped build myself) to monitor interaction, focus our intent and craft the narrative pieces according to what we see happening in these various environments, and in real-time.

Another thing to point out are the white “watermarks” you see on the map – those are actually part of a code language system we are using called Metacodes that allows us to build fractal sets around the narratives as we see them proliferate, get adopted and remixed. This is important because it will give us purview into how and why these stories (and others) take shape in the real and virtual worlds, as well as how we can apply these learnings to future projects.

One final thing I’d like to point out, and something you’ll notice that is placed throughout the map, is the notion of cause. I’ve talked about this at length in other posts over the last couple of years and want to reinforce that causality can be looked at something that compels us to tell and share stories, as opposed to something merely philanthropic that imposes some sort of unwanted social responsibility on us, and often in the form of donation.

A very powerful thing that transmedia introduces to us is the chance to participate in narratives that have real meaning and purpose, whereby we act according to how we feel, which then allows us to contribute to things in ways that are seamless and organic (such as philanthropy). In the case of Algren, it is very likely that we will create entirely new social movements around educational and economic reform that inspire people to participate with acutely defined roles... Extensions of the self, if you will, acting on the part of the whole. Even greater, we no longer have to look at cause, marketing and media creation as separate entities.

So, a quick recap of the fundamental mechanics of this framework:

It is non-linear.
We can build as we go. We can course correct. We can reshape and redefine.

It is participatory (in varying degrees).
People can get involved in the ways they want to or need to.

It is recursive.
Everything we do ties into, or back into, the core narrative(s) and builds intelligence.

It is scalable.
Everything we do can grow into other forms or properties to some extent.

It is indefinite.
At any point in time, a narrative can plateau, merge, reemerge or converge around new or old ideas.

Next stop on this transmedia journey: a co-licensing model (and yes, in the spirit of creative commons, we will share this as well...).

Thanks as always to my friend and colleague, @GavinKeech, who makes my chicken scratch into beautiful works of art, such as the screens you see above.