Transmedia Project Insights: The Numinous Place

Transmedia narratives offer storytellers a range of possibilities that are not available to those who create their stories with just one medium in mind. It is the possibility of creating a multidimensional storyworld in which the physical and metaphysical worlds blend seamlessly that has Mark Staufer excited about transmedia storytelling.

Over the past decade Staufer has been developing the concept and script for The Numinous Place, in which he explores the connection between the dream world and the afterlife.

The First & Last Tertön is a comic book designed to be one narrative element of The Numinous Place. (Image from Mark Staufer)

“It’s been an epic voyage of discovery that has completely changed the way I view everything… Mainly because I’ve discovered that everything is not as it seems,” Staufer said.

He wants to use transmedia techniques to tell his story so the audience experiences the story like never before. Staufer describes his approach:

It’s an account of a vast cover-up being pieced together by a less-than-likely hero. Because of my background in journalism, radio announcing, directing, screenwriting, I found myself bringing all these skills and formats into play while creating the narrative.

So, the less-than-hero Henry Meat tells the story in first-person narrative, and  offers as evidence TV news reports, old documents, newspaper articles, web-pages, phone-calls, and video and photographs he has shot on his cellphone.

Crafting a story for transmedia is very difficult, Staufer said. (See http://transmediadigest.com/blog/2011/11/28/the-challenges-of-transmedia-narrative-design/ for further insights into the challenges of developing transmedia stories.)

“When you talk multimedia, most people imagine reading Lord of the Rings, then hitting a link and watching a video segment of the story, and then hopping back into the book,” Staufer said.  This approach, however, interrupts the flow of the story and it is easy for readers to lose interest.

Staufer said has a first person narrative that “wraps itself around audio (say a phone call), video (maybe a news report), historical evidence (perhaps a magazine article or a webpage) and a conversation (say texting or blog).”

A mobile device like a Kindle, iPad, Nook, or smartphone will be used to access all of the story elements.

The publishing industry is hesitant about transmedia, Staufer said. Publishers have experimented with e-books consisting of text and a bunch of links to audio or video clips, but found that often they simply weren’t very engaging for readers.

“It doesn’t need to be that way,” he said. “Transmedia storytelling is an entirely new medium.  The story needs to be crafted for transmedia from the very start.”

The individual elements of a transmedia narrative – text, images, audio, video, and other forms of media – present their individual opportunities and challenges.

Each medium has its own affordances, its own systems of representation, its own strategies for producing and organizing knowledge. Participants in the new media landscape learn to navigate these different and sometimes conflicting modes of representation and to make meaningful choices about the best ways to express their ideas in each context. (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clintion & Robison, 2009, pp. 87-88)

The creation of transmedia narrative involves not just figuring out how to work with different media, but also working with the production cultures associated with those media. For example, there are significant production culture differences between film, TV and theater production, digital media production, and book production (Jeffery-Poulter, 2001, p. 155).

In transmedia projects that involve distinct media which are part of existing creative production cultures, a practitioner needs to not only understand the affordances of the medium, but be able to negotiate the associated industries. (Dena, Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments, 2009, p. 64)

“I’ve brought all my skills to bear, but have collaborated with a team to help me realize my vision, Staufer said.

He is a former broadcast journalist, was Head of Production at Universal Studios Networks in London, and most recently completed a screenplay about comedian Bill Hicks that will be directed by Russell Crowe. He also brought in lucid dream consultant Dr. Rory MacSweeney, who has designed a revolutionary program of lucid dream instruction that readers will learn alongside the main character. Comic book artist Larry Soileau was hired to create the art for The First & Last Tertön, while photographer Briana Ryan will contribute still images to the project. Producer Sarah Backhouse heads the video production side of the project, while composer Walter Werzowa works on the music.

A brief sample of the transmedia techniques Staufer plans to use are shown on his website at http://thenuminousplace.com/.

Staufer has turned to Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2028397497/the-numinous-place), an online site for raising funding for creative projects, to get the backing needed to turn his project into a reality.

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