Not long ago, dot-dot-dot was considered innuendo for something that shouldn’t be uttered aloud. In fact I recall a fun band from Philly in the late 80’s call The Daves, on their breakout album they had a song entitled Sit on my… (great song, I wish I could find it online.) Now, dots are good. Dots connect us and they are the building blocks of our stories…
The ethos has been filled with two themes lately:
1) transmedia – the practice of delivering story content over multiple media platforms. Not to be confused with telling the same story in different formats, transmedia provides additional points of view or scenarios from the main world of the story (or brand*).
2) pitching – if you are a screenwriter, no doubt you were inundated with emails from the Great American Pitchfest, leading up to their annual event June, 1st – but more than that and if you are a writer of anything, annual conferences, online initiatives, crowdfunding and an increasing number of career consultants all point to the fact that if you want to tell your story you need to be able to sell your story –
Most importantly, what these two themes have in common is that if you want sell your story you need to be able to tell your story. Ideally, across converging media platforms.
*I include brands here for two reasons – one, many consumer brands have been transmedia storytellers for decades and two, your brand as a writer should grow to be a natural progression across media platforms.
Before we get into selling and telling I want to turn it over to Amanda F ‘in Palmer (her words not mine) and a talk she gave for grubstreet – another great resource for writers. If you don’t know, AFP is a musician, lover of crowdfunding, a massive online presence, an artist, storyteller, a connector of people – in other words she’s a modern day, transmedia renaissance woman and she also happen to be the wife of another amazing storyteller, Neil Gaiman.
I’m looking at the two themes of pitching and transmedia together and see where the dots fall for you, so this is going to be a post to spend some time with (but hey – they’ve been so few and far between lately they should at least stick to your ribs).
First up pitching — June’s Harvard Business Review features a mashup of Ted Talks and what you can learn from them in honing your presentation skills. What struck me immediately was how these 5 points not only help you pitch your story but how they help you WRITE your story:
1) Frame Your Story…
“We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories, and metaphors abound for the narrative structures that work best to engage people. When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.”
2) Plan Your Delivery…
When pitching you need to rehearse to the point that it flows naturally and you can be interrupted and not lose your place, and that’s what is focused on here. But what I also see falling under this category is considering the story you want to tell, what is the best form? Not everything fits neatly into screenplay or novel structure – TV, webisodes, short stories, graphic novels, blogs, indie film, self-publishing and so on, all are viable and rewarding ways to get your story delivered and if you have conceived a plot that is layered enough, more than one of these will make your story a transmedia candidate.
3) Develop Stage Presence…
This is the hardest both in pitch and writing, it’s being comfortable in your skin when it comes to your craft – it’s the elusive ‘voice’ that producers/agents are dying to discover.
“Acknowledging nervousness can also create engagement. Showing your vulnerability, whether through nerves or tone of voice, is oneof the most powerful ways to win over an audience, provided it is authentic. Susan Cain, who wrote a book about introverts and spoke at our 2012 conference, was terrified about giving her talk. You could feel her fragility onstage, and it created this dynamic where the audience was rooting for her…”
If you think about the first Lethal Weapon screenplay, the one that launched Shane Black into the millionaires club of writing, he is essentially conveying his vulnerability in his humorous voice when he described an expensive Beverly Hills home as “The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge hit.” It’s his honesty in his description that became a sought after style for screenplays.
Your stage presence is your brand, your voice, and your ability to engage an audience when you present your story.
4) Plan the Multimedia…
While this point is focused on how NOT to use powerpoint (for the record – I loathe powerpoint, so I couldn’t agree more with what is said), but for your story, plan the multimedia is akin to the mantra show don’t tell, and how not to be a slave to all of those ‘how to’ books on writing. The article focuses on how to use visuals instead of bullet points and technical jargon – think about the popularity of infographics: those stylized visualizations that go with almost every complicated set of data on the web – your story will be more universally understood when you speak/write in visuals.
5) Putting it All Together…
Aside from the following excerpt, the underlying point culled here is how far in advance the presenters start working on their 15 minute TED talks. It is one of the main things newer writers suffer from; not understanding the time it takes to go from concept to completion. Banging out a first draft is commendable, even celebratory, but choose who you share it with wisely and definitely connect some more creative dots before rushing off to meet a competition deadline. This does not mean beat a dead horse for five years, it just means take a breath, change your perspective and collect a few more dots.
“Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story—the presenter has to have the raw material.”
The link to the full article and some incredible TED talk stories follows at the end, if you’re pressed for time, choose to watch the clip from the brain researcher – talk about an engrossing story…
Okay so you probably see where all this transmedia stuff is going, and if you’ve read this blog before you know I’m a huge supporter of getting your story out there across platforms. The key is to find the balance, the dots that connect for you and your goals.
To wet your feet with the whole idea, take a look at how this independent story was handled.
I stress independent, because while we all may dream of a property that someone will take to the stratosphere of gaming, film, books and stuffed toys, that is not transmedia in the true sense of the word, that’s licensing. What Boom Gen has done with it’s Operation Ajax is that it has offered a web that takes elements of the story elsewhere if the audiences so desires. If they don’t follow the web, they can still get the raw material at crux of the story in the ‘main media’ whether it’s book, screenplay, song… whatever.
Seth Godin recently gave a talk where he announced to storytellers, “you are your own media company… We are not in the industrial economy we are in the connection economy.” Seth is sought after speaker on marketing, respect, and the ways ideas spread. In other words transmedia is not a fad it is the new social norm.
His talk, and a nice wrap up of what it means can be found at the Mentorless Blog, (another one to read regularly) an excerpt follows and the full link at the end.
“So, you want to be a storyteller, possibly on film/video, possibly on a dozen different mediums, and you are well and alive in 2013. Well, that’s good news as we are in the midst of a revolution that is opening up hundreds of new ways a) to tell stories and b) to reach and connect with people.
Now, if you are over 25, chances are you are still accustomed to ‘the old ways’ of doing things and imagining how they should be. If you are a filmmaker, that means seeing yourself as doing feature films that people will go watch in theaters. If you are a writer, that means getting a publishing deal and signing books at B&N.
The problem is: there were few people who were able to live that lifestyle in the past, and there will be even fewer of them in the near future. The pyramid is getting narrower at the top, but its spreading big and large at the bottom and for once, it is where you want to be: at the bottom.”
Here’s one more snippet on transmedia from Huffpo writer Katherine Brodsky (link to the full article comes at the end).
“Long gone are the days of static content. Consumers are looking for more and transmedia storytelling offers an increasingly popular approach for creating property-based universes. Transmedia content itself is also evolving. It’s becoming more dynamic, more interactive, offering greater opportunities to engage audiences with creative user-generated content that adds to the storytelling experience. It is becoming more communal.”
So how does a writer connect the dots to be where they need to be in the world of story? This is an especially tough question to answer when conventional wisdom says – don’t pitch your project as a serial or trilogy, don’t say this will be a huge hit that can be made into games, and spinoffs… Well first, that is conventional wisdom, not the new reality. Even so, one has to be very careful in pitching the material in a way that the possibilities are obvious enough that they don’t need to be stated.
Think about the ‘found footage’ craze – it’s not gone, GLIMMER is going to keep it alive and found footage is ripe for transmedia treatments. Here’s the logline: When three friends go missing on a camping trip in a forest rumored to be haunted, the two left behind discover clues that lead them to a safe deposit box containing video tapes… showing exactly what happened to their friends.
Notice how it does not say found footage – but anyone that knows anything about films can take that away… they can connect that dot and they will.
So when you are pitching, after you’ve honed the 5 points in how to give a killer presentation, consider what elements your story may have that can be told across another platform and then weave your pitch so that it is clear to the person you are presenting it to without coming right out and saying, “This will be a perfect spinoff to so and so…”
It’s hard for sure, but such is the life of a media mogul.