PGA’s Transmedia Producer!

Nikki Finke has broken the news that the Producers Guild of America has ratified the ‘Transmedia Producer’ credit. This is largely due to (among others) the efforts of Jeff Gomez. Go Jeff! Nikki describes the thinking behind the role:

This Guild-wide adoption is unprecedented as it will allow executives who expand storylines of franchises onto multiple platforms to receive official credit on these projects as “Transmedia Producers”. These producers develop cross platform storylines on Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, and Mobile — and now, they’ll be credited with an official title. I’m told this is a historic move for the PGA because the guild rarely backs new credits. “These amendments demonstrate how the guild supports producers making and changing the game,” a source told me tonight.

This sounds fine and is very exciting. But then I read the description of the credit:

A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms:  Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.

A Transmedia Producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.

Transmedia Producers may originate with a project or be brought in at any time during the long-term rollout of a project in order to analyze, create or facilitate the life of that project and may be responsible for all or only part of the content of the project. Transmedia Producers may also be hired by or partner with companies or entities, which develop software and other technologies and who wish to showcase these inventions with compelling, immersive, multi-platform content.

To qualify for this credit, a Transmedia Producer may or may not be publicly credited as part of a larger institution or company, but a titled employee of said institution must be able to confirm that the individual was an integral part of the production team for the project.

Most of this looks good. I’m thrilled marketing efforts are included (‘content marketing’ takes story and game design skill!). I am especially happy with the fact that one can be brought it at any point in the project. Some people don’t get what consultants do and so I’m glad to see that being brought in for a period of time, either early or later, still qualifies.

The parts that are unfortunate are the following:

  • The minimum of three (or more) narrative storylines. This is bad. I know Jeff Gomez has been pushing for the 3 media-platform rule for a few years now. But that was because it was an effective pedagogical device to get new practitioners to understand the need to think expansively. Making this official is a mistake. Although Jeff Gomez and Henry Jenkins focus their studies and energy on franchises, franchises are only type of transmedia project. There are tons of different implements of transmedia projects. What about all the transmedia producers for special television episodes that includes the web in a special two-screen experience? Gosh, simultaneous media-usage with TV shows especially created to work with the web or mobile are one of the biggest growth areas in broadcasting. And books with websites or DVDs? The minimum-of-three rule applies to franchises easily, but it shows how little these people know about how big the area is. I hope it won’t be strictly observed.
  • The minimum of three (or more) narrative storylines. This too shows a very narrow view of the area, but one that is quite pervasive and so understandable. Both Henry Jenkins and Jeff Gomez have been pushing the idea of transmedia storytelling for years. I stopped using storytelling years ago because when working in the transmedia space, I actually found I spend a lot of time working in both narrative and game modes. Game consoles aren’t even listed in the media platforms. Despite the rise of the game mode across societies, most of ‘Hollywood’ if you like, still sees it as a lesser mode of expression. Understanding how games work and how narratives work, indeed, how interactivity works too, is part of the skill-set of most transmedia writers (and producers). For now though, everyone keeps using the term ‘storytelling’ because it helps people understand that it isn’t just about marketing or something like that. For me, it is more important to recognise the unique skill-set involved with this area. But obviously it is so unique most people working in it don’t get it!

Otherwise, I’m thrilled to see this has gone through. Well done to Jeff and the PGA. I hope a Transmedia Writer is the next credit officially recognised. A lot of my work is also as a Transmedia Story and Game Analyst (like a Story Analyst for films and TV shows). But what are the chances of that happening soon? They’re still struggling to recognise game writers, let alone writers who work across narrative AND game modes, across media platforms (minimum of 2 hopefully). Time will tell… I hope so!!! :)

Late Addition: Brooke Thompson thinks it is a step in the right direction but also questions the three storylines rule in Twitter: “RE PGA Transmedia Credit — three narrative storylines? What does that do to the idea of transmedia being ONE story told across platforms?” I saw that and left that because I don’t think the PGA are quite ready to get their head around the single story, multiple media concept. It is one ARGers are quite familiar with, but not those who have come to the area through the notion of ‘story extensions’ in franchises. (I actually talk about some of these issues in my thesis.) Anyway, to me, it is good to see I’m not alone in my thoughts about this area!

Update: The PGA has announced that “the omission of video games from that list is an oversight that will be amended shortly”; and then also clarified that the role includes extending existing IP and introducing original IP.