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Transmedia Storytelling: A Future Scenario for Media Development

Transmedia storytelling is one of the latest phenomena in the media world. It doesn’t yet have  its own specific methods of analysis, and for many of us this concept remains a mystery. What is transmedia storytelling, and why is it so specific? What makes it trendy? Dr. Renira Rampazzo Gambarato, Assistant Professor at the HSE Faculty of Media Communications, author of the MA course in transmedia storytelling, agreed to give an interview to the HSE News Service, to shed some light on the subject.

—    Tell us about your course in transmedia storytelling? Why is transmedia drawing so much attention?

—   The course is structured as an introduction to the theories of transmedia phenomena, and offers in-depth analysis of transmedia narratives  and creative development of transmedia extension. Moreover, the course introduces an original analytical model to  examine cases of transmedia projects that I have been working on in the past years and provides an opportunity to students to experience the development of a transmedia extension.

Transmedia storytelling refers to integrated media experiences that occur among a variety of platforms. A transmedia narrative tells altogether one big pervasive story, attracting audience engagement. It is not about offering the same content in different media platforms, but it is the worldbuilding experience, unfolding content and generating the possibilities for the story to evolve with new and pertinent content. As a matter of fact, transmedia is a buzzword that has been used (and misused) in the last couple of years. It is new as a concept and draws our attention because it embraces the rapid changes the Mediasphere is experiencing in the context of convergence culture. A plurality of media platforms (Internet, mobile, TV,  etc.) and different devices (computers, tablets, mobile phones,  etc.) are part of our daily lives and transmedia storytelling takes advantage of it in order to offer the audience a more enriching experience.

—    Can you give some  examples of interesting transmedia projects?

—   The “classic” example of transmedia storytelling is The Matrix (1999) by the Wachowski brothers. In between each feature film additional content (including graphic novels, animations, video games and memorabilia, for instance) were released to give the audience a richer understanding of the storyworld and to help keep fans engaged. Other examples could be the TV series Lost, Mad Men, Heroes, for instance. It is also important to highlight that transmedia storytelling is connected to both fictional and non-fictional narratives. A great example of a non-fictional transmedia project is Fish Fight from Channel 4, in the UK. The project pointed to the issue of a large amount of fish being captured by mechanized means and being thrown back dead in the water because they exceed the regulations specified by European Union. Fish Fight’s objectives were to amend the fishing policies in the European territories by making people aware of the implications of this practice and giving them the chance  to take part in a campaign that concerned an entire community. As a result, the transmedia project culminated in important changes in  fishing industry policies that are going to be implemented soon. Other interesting examples could be The Great British Property Scandal, The Cove, and Land Share, for instance.

—    Is there anything specific about transmedia storytelling in Russia?

—   One of my current research interests is to overview the stateofthe-art emerging initiatives in the realm of transmedia storytelling in Russia. From a heavily propagandistic soviet paradigm (local) to a westernized culture of private media ownership (global), Russia is developing new practices in fictional and non-fictional media by merging the two perspectives. The regulatory state tradition coexists with new media dynamics. My hypothesis is that the transmedia strategy, although still timid in a country with enormous proportions, already exists and it is a probable future scenario for media development in Russia. The national interest around multiplatform media production is growing. In 2012 the Russia Forum discussed transmedia storytelling as a new language for a new audience; in 2013 Moscow MIPAcademy hosted a panel entitled “Transmedia Stories and Multiplatform Content Monetization Models”; and the IDEA! 17th National Ad Festival, in Novosibirsk, offered a master-class about transmedia storytelling. Some examples in Russia could be, for instance, projects such as True Love, Red Quest, The Voice and also the 2013 political campaign of Alexey Navalny as transmedia initiatives produced locally.   

—    What’s your teaching method? How do you inspire students?

—   I believe that the best way to teach students is to make them participate during the class instead of simply sitting there as mere spectators bored by a talkative professor. To encourage them to participate, first I try to quickly get to know each student and call them by name (aiming at creating a bond), ask them questions to get them to think before I give the answers, and provide interesting visual material to support my explanations. As a designer myself, I think that both content and the way you present it are equally important. So I dedicate time and effort to prepare all my teaching materials with special attention to the visuals. Moreover, I make all the information related to my courses available online on my own website. There, all my lectures (prepared using the zooming tool called “prezi”) can be easily accessed by the students, as well as a whole set of files and links related to the course. If I want to inspire my students, I should be myself the example, the mirror in which they can look. That is my goal.

—    How do you see the future of transmedia storytelling?

—    I infer that large broadcasters as well as independent media companies are already aware of the global developments in transmedia storytelling and understand that this is the trend. Transmedia storytelling is both a reality and a tendency worldwide and the prospect of it is to grow and to improve rapidly.

—    What appeals to you about collaborating with the HSE? How did it start?

—   Last year I was presenting my research in a conference at HSE in Saint Petersburg when some of the colleagues from the Media Communications department from HSE Moscow contacted me. They were interested in transmedia storytelling and this was how it started. HSE appeals to me because of its intense interest in internationalization and the emphasis on research. The  university is prepared to create  conditions for me to teach, to research and to present my results at international conferences.

Ekaterina Solovova, specially for the HSE News Service

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