Furious crosstown rivals USC and UCLA made peace for a day last week to jointly present a symposium entitled "Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story,"
co-hosted by USC Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts Henry Jenkins
and Denise Mann
, an associate professor in UCLA's Producers Program.
Too simply put, "transmedia" means telling a story across different platforms, each element of which may or may not stand on its own but contributes to an enriched, dynamic, more participatory and "lifelike" experience. The sense I got from the three packed panels I attended, which featured an array of academics, game designers, content creators and brand managers, is that the term itself, which is gaining industrial currency, can mean a lot of things at the moment, from creating a clever website to sell your movie to the sprawling media empire/alternate universe that is "Star Wars."
Increasing Internet bandwidth -- and the cultural (and economic) validation of science-fiction, still the genre most likely to play in this sandbox -- has lately pushed these concepts to the fore. But they are nothing new, as even Jenkins, the learned voice most associated with the term transmedia, is quick to point out. ("Batman," for example, lived in comic books, on radio, in Big Little Books, as a movie serial and a TV show before Tim Burton got a hold of Frank Miller's graphic-novel remake -- and that was only another beginning.)
As the program's title indicated, much of what currently might be described as transmedia is driven by commerce, designed to build a brand, multiply revenue streams, or drive eyes toward a central moneymaking mothership. But now and again, as with, say, "The Lost Experience," or the matrix built around "The Matrix," it does approach Jenkins' vision of a new kind of integrated, multi-pronged storytelling.
I spoke with Jenkins over lunch between panels. The author of the books "Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide" and "The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture" and the director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program before he moved west, he's no ivory-tower observer of pop culture, but an avid consumer -- the academic as total fanboy.