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.

14 Replies

  • Christy, thanks so much for your split-second timing in responding to the Transmedia Producer credit. I also appreciate the wonderful support you’ve given to the field and the inspiration you’ve given to me on the subject of transmedia storytelling.

    To respond to your concerns, the minimum of three in terms of both platforms and storylines was indeed designed as a kind of educational tool to distinguish this form from the standard movie/website mentality that had been driving Hollywood marketing for well over a decade. At the same time, I think it’s an easy enough goal to hit for transmedia producers, since very nearly anything can be counted as a third leg on that stool. The text on Avatar or Tron Legacy toy packaging, for example, indeed adds to the overall narrative of Pandora. As producers we simply need to be clever enough, for now, to hit three targets. We can adjust for two (which will be a relief for swarms of Canadians) at some point soon, I hope.

    And with regard to “narrative storylines,” my hope is rather the opposite of yours when it comes to how broadly this will be observed. If something has a thought progression, roughly a beginning, middle and end, then that pretty much counts in my book. Games, game modes or aspects of game interactivity, commercials or aspects of ad campaigns all count as story here, alongside traditional narratives.

    Finally, as for Transmedia Writer, well, why do you think I went for Producer first? Still, our days are indeed coming…

    Jeff Gomez
    Producers Guild of America East
    CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment

  • Hello Jeff!

    Congrats on your split-second response. 😉

    And, thank you so much for helping this credit come through. It is such an important step for this area. Thank you.

    As for the 3-platform rule. I do hope it is moved to 2 (and so will the Canadians! LOL). Just because there are some wonderful experiences that can emerge from small, tight designs. Particularly with the rise of simultaneous media usage too, it is important to include the full range of implementations within this definition. I understand the pedagogical role of 3 platforms. I just don’t think it has a role in these rules!

    I’m glad you see ‘storylines’ as being all-encompassing. It is a difficult problem describing the peculiar skills involved with transmedia writing as we don’t yet have shared terminology to explain the hybrid mix of narrative, interactivity and sometimes game modes. I guess it just becomes a problem when attempting to recognise the skills the involved. If the word ‘narrative’ or ‘story’ is used all the time, how will people know that it takes more than having these skills? But this just may be easily encompassed in ‘transmedia writing’ – which can and should encompass a lot. I’m glad you’ve got your eye on the next credit too. But I do see the transmedia producer credit is written to encompass what you do now already. 😉 I’m trying to get some standardisation with credits too. As I mentioned in my post. I use Transmedia Story and Game Analyst to describe analyst work, then there is Transmedia Writer, Transmedia Designer, and Transmedia Producer. So looking forward to the future! But now the present is looking even better. Thanks Jeff. 🙂

  • nice first step for the people who create extended worlds for films & tv projects. as everyone moves forward, and hopefully we see more and more storyworlds that use the many diff platforms as components of a single story, perhaps “the guilds” will expand on their definition. (or not) all the hwood guilds have been v slow to understand xmedia > or maybe/probably its more that they’ve really been slow to embrace xmedia, or whatever everyone wants to call it this week, due to being artistically hooked/trained and financially invested in broadcast (film/tv are king) storytelling. and i suppose/hope at some point in the future, we won’t really have to create these separate categories within a film story credit list or a tv story credit list that point out a transmedia prod, because the story itself will be a “xmedia story” with a producer, director, writer, actors, designers, etc. who will rock us all with an amazing story that unfolds across different platforms.

    thanks for the post, Christy! and cheers to your hard work, Jeff Gomez!

  • Good thoughts, Christy, and a helpful response from Jeff.

    The hazy understanding of the word storyline seems to leave plenty of room for manoeuvre, particularly if you like the idea that a narrative (or several narratives) arise from witnessing storylines colliding.

    Since one’s point of witness can be manifold and the storylines multiple in TM, this definition shouldn’t produce problems for TM architects.

    The point about cleaving TM production from simple movie/website marketing is well made.

  • In the first place i think it is a great accomplishment to have the transmedia producer credits ratified by the PGA. It is a very strong and influential signal (off which I hope it may .. someday.. even touch a little European country.. to take up on this ;-)..

    That said I do agree with you christy on a too strictly formulated rule on numbers of storylines and narrative that needs to be included. IMHO a transmedia production can encompass game elements with very low levels of narrative up to full-lineair storytelling. What is central is an attribution/building to the ‘art of world creation’ for the property.

  • The “three narrative” thing really gets under my skin! I know that it probably shouldn’t. This is a huge step and one that I can’t imagine was easy for the PGA to take. So, in total, I think this is a good thing and will do much to help transmedia grow and shed the marketing label. But, at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if this is more of a “multiple media” definition and what that will mean for and do to the growth of transmedia entertainment.

    To elaborate… If one can create three very distinct stories each told on a different platform but rooted in the same universe – is that transmedia? I don’t know. How I look at it, of course, it’s not. The stories are related only because of the universe and there’s no real give and take between the media platforms. They are singular and unique and yet they qualify here as transmedia.

    The narrative threading between or across media platforms is, in my mind, instrumental to the definition of transmedia. I don’t see that anywhere in the PGA’s definition. And that is what concerns me. But it’s a good step forward and, hopefully, in time these definition issues will become more clear instead of less so.

    Great work, Jeff.

  • Great news. The long wait is over, ARGs are now accepted as professional field.

    The only question I just have: is it inteded only for commercial ARGs? Or also for ARGs, whose goal is not to promote a product/movie/book, but to be a product itself – I mean, if I am writing a story, playing characters and making the whole project without any commercial goals, am I excluded from this credit?

    I know the whole difficulty of this non-commercial sector, I know the danger of (mis/over)-using of this credit, and I also know, that PGA is actually focused on the commercial projects (where perhaps the grasstoot experiences wouldn’t be attested in the “curriculum vitae” for for further commercial purposes). I wonder, if there were some niche for such situation…

    Even if this situation reminds me on the discurs between writers beeing published in publishing houses and writer using “print on demand” services about their “writer” status.

    But, again, this is great news and it will bring more stability and future to the ARGs.

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