Tag Archives: Transmedia

Cultural Interview: PBS Digital Studios’ Frankenstein M.D. [Part Two]

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The relationship between Pemberley Digital and PBS Digital Studios—the two producers behind Frankenstein M.D.—makes a lot of sense to those familiar with both parties involved: both have taken their respective “projects” as creators and translated them for an online audience, taking advantage of the affordances of platforms like YouTube to create content that connects with those consuming content outside of “traditional” spaces of distribution. In this way, the idea of combining the former’s literary webseries development with the latter’s investment in creating STEM-related content on digital platforms with an adaptation of Frankenstein makes perfect sense to those following along.

At the same time, however, their inherent philosophical compatibility must nonetheless negotiate the fact those philosophies have been heading toward two different goals: whereas Pemberley Digital has been developing web franchises that can be spun off into ancillary projects like books or merchandise, PBS Digital Studios remains bounded within the logics of public television where its primary goal is serving the public interest.

And so while web content has proved a valuable tool to both producers within the contemporary web video environment, building connections with audiences from both profit and non-profit perspectives, the convergence of these two companies nonetheless requires each to adapt accordingly. Whereas unscripted YouTube content related to science and culture showcases PBS translating its interest in documentary programming into a more web-friendly format, how does one design a scripted webseries to fit into that mission? And if you’re the one designing that webseries, how do your goals for audience engagement change when views might become less important than connecting with audiences in an educational—or at least informative—way?

While the interview I posted yesterday touched on a number of these issues, and the series itself will ultimately stand as the answer to this question, I wanted to create a second part to the interview focused on this intersection of approaches to web video content. Some of these questions and answers also appear in the previous interview with executive producer Bernie Su, star Anna Lore, and PBS Digital Studios senior director Matthew Graham, but they’re presented here to isolate the relationship between the two companies and their relationship with webseries, transmedia, and the various component parts that will make up Frankenstein M.D. as it rolls out over the next few months.

Cultural Learnings: From a PBS Digital Studios perspective, this is the first time you’ve developed a fictional webseries of this kind—what drew you to Pemberley Digital as a partner for this milestone?

PBS Digital Studios senior director Matthew Graham: What was great was that they had this amazing track record, and the qualities of Lizzie Bennet and Emma Approved that we really look for: audience engagement, smart content that’s innovative and totally different from anything else you see out there, etc. It’s unique, and it appeals to the kind of person that is drawn to PBS, and a big push behind Digital Studios is reaching those 13-34 year-olds that are on YouTube and consuming lots of content. And Bernie’s a great guy. [Laughter]

During the PBS executive session [at July’s TCA Press Tour], president and CEO Paula Kerger was talking about how PBS has audiences at a young age, and then it gets them again when they’re older, but sort of loses them in the middle. So you see this specifically serving a similar function from an educational perspective for one of those generations in between?

Graham: Absolutely. I think it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity to reach these younger folks with higher-quality, educational, entertaining content. The mission’s a little different when you’re talking about very young kids: there the PBS kids team does incredible work structuring the content so that it’s age appropriate and they’re actually learning letters. Here it’s a little bit more “Sure, there is science information that the audience is consuming, but it’s a little bit more of a cultural exposure: STEM careers are cool, this is an exciting space, there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening around it.” So it’s more kind of inspiring people to think about these career directions as opposed to trying to teach them science.

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At the Knick: A Transmedia Invitation to an Uninviting World

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One of the most striking elements of Cinemax’s The Knick—which debuts tonight at 10/9c—is its electronic score from Cliff Martinez. It’s purposefully anachronistic, and crucial to the series’ disorientation. It never wants you to feel entirely comfortable in this early 20th century world, which sits on the cusp of scientific progress without being able to fully embrace it. The score, working alongside Steven Soderbergh’s cinematography, works to disrupt the viewer’s sense of immersion while simultaneously drawing the viewer in on more complicated terms: it’s a great score, and a beautiful show, but The Knick is not something one luxuriates in.

This creates a somewhat complex set of parameters for the marketing around the series, one that has been translated into a campaign by Campfire Media, whose work for Cinemax, HBO, and A&E I’ve written about on the blog in the past. The “At The Knick” campaign mirrors elements of those previous campaigns, particularly the Game of Thrones Westeros Revealed scent box; ahead of The Knick’s premiere, Cinemax has delivered customized medical kits meant to transport the recipient back to a different era of medicine. Meticulously crafted, it’s a beautiful and compelling piece of transmedia worldbuilding, although one that works best as an introduction to rather than representation of the world in the series.

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Alone in a Dark Place: Building Byzantium for Cinemax’s Hunted

When you complete each stage of the process involved in ByzantiumTests.com, an immersive website experience for Cinemax’s new series Hunted (which debuts tomorrow night at 10/9c) that positions the user as a test subject for diegetic organization Byzantium Security International, it asks you whether you want to share your process with any number of social networks.

When I was completing the tests, however, they struck me as intensely personal. Even though the data being collected is far from the precise scientific personality test that Melissa George suggests in the video material accompanying the site, it nonetheless asks us to reflect on ourselves more than anything else, and I’m not sure that’s something I’d want to share with the world at large. One portion of the site asks you to connect the site to your Facebook account, drawing images from profiles—including your own—to probe further into your thought process. The results of the test are rigged in the sense that everyone can make it to the end, but the personalized nature of the test ensures that it’s evocation of the exclusive “1% that matters” highlights the individual nature of the accomplishment (which is part of why I wasn’t interested in sharing my results).

In the previous two campaigns—for Game of Thrones and Bag of Bones—that I’ve discussed from Campfire, who also developed the Byzantium campaign, the goal has been to engage fans and potential viewers in a shared experience of interpreting and participating in a broader activity. We can see a similar strategy in their campaign for USA’s Political Animals this summer—which I didn’t write about given my busy schedule at the time—wherein the community-forming potential for a newspaper’s audience is used to create immersive weekly experiences that nonetheless allow for different people to experience the same basic content. Whether it’s gathering Maester’s for the cause, or working with others to spot the various secrets in the dark stories being told, or sharing fictional political editorials the same way you’d share real ones, the notion of “shareable” speaks not only to the capacity for the pages to be posted to social media, but also the ability for the “experience” to be shared with others like you.

While the Byzantium campaign relies on word of mouth, which is why a wooden puzzle with a flash drive hidden inside arrived at my doorstep late last month, it also relies on potential viewers finding the time to visit the site, take part in the test, and engage with the world-building on display.

Which describes the experience of watching television, in a way. Continue reading

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Transmedia Legitimation: Dark Score Stories and the A&E Brand

Transmedia Legitimation: Dark Score Stories and the A&E Brand

November 21st, 2011

When I was alerted to the existence of Dark Score Stories, the transmedia marketing initiative that serves as a prequel to A&E’s upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, I was interested for two reasons.

The first is that Bag of Bones, a two-part miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and Melissa George (among others) was actually filmed in my home province of Nova Scotia, which resulted in a large number of Brosnan sightings for friends and family and which meant that the photographs that comprise much of Dark Score Stories were in many ways a trip “home.”

The second, meanwhile, is that the campaign is being handled by the good folks at Campfire, who were kind enough to send along their work for their campaign for HBO’s Game of Thrones, and who have been equally kind in assisting me with further research in that area since that point. As a result, I was curious what their next major television project would entail, and how some of the transmedia lessons on display there have been transferred over to this initiative.

However, as effective as I think the campaign might be, I’m somewhat more interested in exploring the existence of the campaign than the campaign itself, although the two plainly go hand-in-hand. Looking through the book of photographs that A&E has sent out for the project, and the Dark Score Stories website, it is clear that Campfire has offered a vivid entry point into King’s fictional community, capturing the author’s trademark style while simultaneously introducing characters that will become more important in the film itself (which I have yet to see, but which I am interested to check out in December).

What intrigues me most, though, is the idea of how these kinds of transmedia experiences function in relation to channel brands, and in particular how those functions might differ with a television movie as opposed to an actual series. Obviously, there is an element of promotion to any initiative like this one, and the wide range of media coverage around the site was likely in many cases people’s first exposure to the film’s existence. However, while the momentum gained from Game of Thrones‘ campaign will carry into fans’ long-term engagement with the series over a number of years, Bag of Bones is an example of “event” programming, which to me creates a different set of expectations both for potential viewers and, perhaps more importantly, for the cable channel in question.

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FOE4 Musings: FOX’s Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

November 21st, 2009

Following along with this weekend’s Futures of Entertainment 4 Conference at MIT (through the Twitter Hashtag #foe4) has been a really unique experience in many ways, engaging with an academic community I’ve only seen from afar in the past, but there are times when the topics being discussed feel almost too familiar.

By nature of the number of reviews I write about particular shows, I usually end up attacking them from nearly every conceivable angle, but there’s something about Glee that seems to inspire more angles than seem physically possible. The show has created a lot of controversy with its struggle to find a clear sense of its identity from the narratological point of view, which is the angle we television critics have been considering most carefully, but as discussed both yesterday (in the context of its use of music/iTunes to create transmedia engagement) and today (in its engagement with culture) during the conference its brand strategy has never had the same identity crisis.

I want to pick up on something that Ivan Askwith said during the discussion of the series’ engagement with culture, as he argued the following:

I am going to investigate this further, as it implicitly argues that the series’ narrative struggles are the result of an attempt to engage with a manufactured narrative structure (that will in the Spring be the show’s lead-in), a fact which is both understandable (network synergy and business logic) and complicated by the needs of serialized drama over reality programming from a narrative point of view.

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