What Will They Do? Transmedia Producers as Narrative Architects

For a long time, this blog has been dormant. While I have been busy writing elsewhere, regrettably I never felt compelled to post my thoughts here. That is, until this week when the Producers Guild of America officially announced the “Transmedia Producer” credit. The news inspired a revelation, an awakening, an epiphany of sorts. It suddenly hit me: this is really the future and I need to be more active in shaping it.

There are many exciting implications about officially sanctioning a transmedia profession. Beyond legitimizing an area of personal interest, I can now finally point to a job description and say, “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” In that regard, I am very grateful to people like Henry Jenkins, Christy Dena, and Jeff Gomez (and others) who, by promoting knowledge abundance in this area, helped provide storytellers all over the world with a new kind of career aspiration.

There are also a lot of questions swirling around the transmedia producer buzz. What will the transmedia producer do that the traditional producer doesn’t already? Why do we need a new position that overlaps with the function of marketing executives and show runners? (there’s also the question about the role of independent producers, but that’s for another post)

It’s true that some producers oversee the development of narrative extensions as they relate to their property. However, there are also many producers who are either better at management and financing, or whose expertise pertains solely to a specific medium. Not every traditional producer knows the transmedia environment. Not every marketing executive knows how to tell a story (in one platform or multiple) The transmedia producer thus holds a different type of skill set, one that draws connections across media forms and one that involves conceptualizing, analyzing, and designing experiences at the macro-level. It is a person that does not just dive into the transmedia realm with a laundry list of media to explore, but actually has a deep understanding of the relationship between content, context, and culture.

Though incomplete and over-generalized, I like the metaphor of an architect for several reasons. First, architects are in the business of merging theory with practice to make art. Jeff Gomez has argued all along that transmedia storytelling, in its purest form, is a technique. Just as an architect aims to design something to be marveled at,  transmedia producers specialize in bridging narrative materials, sculpting intriguing mythologies, and embedding satisfying revelations for those who want a closer look at the details. Thus, the main difference between traditional producers of today and transmedia producers of tomorrow is that the former tends to understand transmedia in terms of preserving business-as-usual, while the latter will approach transmedia on its own terms, creating its own set of aesthetics and modes of engagement.

In addition, just as architects must consider the limitations and affordances of every material in order to ensure a sturdy, functional building, transmedia producers must understand the unique storytelling potential behind each media platform. Certain stories lend themselves to particular media and vice versa. And as more narrative complexities threaten to impede comprehension , transmedia producers guard against blatant inconsistencies and contradictions. The narrative structure they design must be durable and organized, all while allowing room for future construction and additions.

The best architects draw on a range of influences, disciplines, and perspectives, taking into account history, theory, and criticism to develop innovating concepts. Likewise, I see a similar approach to the emerging field of transmedia studies, which cannot be limited to a single historical era, country, genre, style, or industry. Transmedia producers possess storytelling talent, yes, but they should also appreciate the complex relationship between story and game, author and audience, openness and closure, art and commodity. They are as well versed in any sector of the entertainment industry as they are in popular culture and fandom as a whole. In other words, as story architects, transmedia producers understand how their IP edifice, whether a high rise or low rise, will fit within the larger cityscape.

Finally, when they’ve done their job right, transmedia producers design spaces not just for people to admire, but also to interact, play, and collaborate.  It seems so celebratory and cliche to talk about this now, but the transmedia producer will have an incredible knack for activating communities and rewarding collective intelligence. As the influential architect Philip Johnson once said, “All great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.” While we could argue all day about whether transmedia storytelling empowers or exploits, for me, recognizing the transmedia producer is a major step towards realizing the potential for great, masterful architecture.

I hope this means I’ll be back blogging again. Thanks for reading!

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5 Responses to “What Will They Do? Transmedia Producers as Narrative Architects”

  1. Scott Ellington Says:

    I share every last one of the multiplicity of hopes and gratitudes you’ve expressed, with a passionate leaning for the humanity in the transmedia tansformation from business-as-usual to the futures of entertainment, but chiefly, welcome back!

  2. A Portent, Ctd « Join the Conversation Says:

    [...] Portent, Ctd Here’s an intriguing follow-up to this new “transmedia producer” [...]

  3. sebastian Says:

    Intriguing, future is now

  4. Loraleigh Says:

    Hi, Just read your article on the 39 clues books, wondering if you can help me? I’m looking for books for my son that would be similar to the 39 Clues books in that they would take you to a web site and offer more info, or something more to do etc. but simpler to read. The 39 Clues books are a little advanced for him (he is grade 2 -7 years old). If you have ideas as to what books might be good or could help me even with what to type in for a google search that would be great! Thanks from Canada!

  5. Edward Bass Says:

    Edward Bass Producer…

    What Will They Do? Transmedia Producers as Narrative Architects « Asmedia…

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