Course Spotlight: Transmedia Writing

This month we’re spotlighting the Creative Writing for Entertainment program, focusing on the courses that make up the backbone of the curriculum that students learn across its 20 (campus) or 32 (online) months.

One way for creative ad agencies to engage people with a campaign is through what’s known as transmedia storytelling.

Transmedia, says Course Director Jim Gunshanan, is a “single, cohesive story told across multiple media in a way that is immersive and interactive.” Gunshanan teaches the Transmedia Writing class within the Creative Writing for Entertainment degree program. Typically, transmedia campaigns mix fantasy and reality and involve video, social media, blogs, and other forms of media. Most of these campaigns are designed to get consumers to play along as the story unfolds, so writers are needed to create an overall storyline and to write dialogue, blog posts, ads, characters’ message board comments, and even emails.

In his class, Gunshanan first gets students familiar with the concept of transmedia by providing them with several examples of successful campaigns. “The first week is kind of a crash course in what transmedia is, kind of a taste of the different styles of what this storytelling can be,” says Gunshanan.

While it’s more common to see transmedia storytelling within marketing campaigns, independent entertainment companies are also experimenting with transmedia, says Gunshanan.

“One of the stories that I have them study in class is called the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is a transmedia adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and it’s told mostly in YouTube video blogs, but [the] characters also have Twitter feeds, and Tumblr blogs, and Pinterest pages, and these different ways that the audience can interact with the characters,” says Gunshanan.

“That’s a big part of transmedia storytelling, as well, is your audience becoming a teller of the story,” says Gunshanan. “You want your audience to be active participants in the story and not just passive observers.”

Once the students get a grasp on the concept of transmedia, it’s their turn to try their hand at it: “I have the students create, design, and produce a transmedia story based on one of three stories that they study in their Horror, Mystery, and Suspense class,” says Gunshanan. “These include The Most Dangerous Game, The Dunwich Horror, and The Adventure of the Dancing Men. They’re all public domain too, which is nice. I feel like they’re pretty conducive to updating in this kind of way.”

Gunshanan should know, since he has plenty of experience as a transmedia writer, most notably with two of the producers of The Blair Witch Project.

“They formed an ad agency called Campfire that is devoted to using some of the same techniques that they used to market Blair Witch – expanding the story world and making that world immersive and interactive and using these techniques for other clients,” says Gunshanan.

“They make it more about the storytelling and the audience experience because people are bombarded with ads all the time, and most people’s reaction is to tune them out,” adds Gunshanan. “So their focus is to create compelling, interesting experiences that audiences want to be a part of, rather than try to escape from.”