Archive for the ‘ARGs’ Category

Creating Its Own World: Terra Nova‘s Website

September 9th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

In my last post, I noted that the only truly interesting and innovative website for the new network shows this Fall belongs to Terra Nova. Why?

Well, first, let me offer a quick qualifier to the previous statement. Grimm’s website, while largely uneventful and de rigeur, includes what could become a neat little Production Blog, in which various production staff are offered a small amount of space to explain what they do in general and how that works on Grimm. It could provide yet another example of how paratexts teach production literacy, and are invested in a process of multiplying the number of supposed authorial geniuses working on any show … but they have three posts in one month, so perhaps they ran out of geniuses already? Anyways, go see it here.

Back to Terra Nova, though, while not wholly stepping (yet?) into the realm of being an alternate reality game, it does do a good job of setting up the alternate reality in which the show will be set. Almost buried away on the official webpage is a link to become part of the Eleventh Pilgrimage, and by clicking through, one is situated in the futuristic society from which our Terra Novans will depart. The show follows a “pilgrimage” of people from the future who are escaping that hostile future to try and reestablish the past and make better decisions in order to refashion the future (imagine if Wall-E won over the Terminator and the two started hatching ideas). Read more…

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Top Extratextuals of the Decade

December 24th, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

The lists for best films, TV shows, and music of the decade have already begun, but what about paratexts? What have been the best extratextuals of the 00s?

In no particular order, here are 14 of my top 20. I’m banking on having forgotten some biggies, so I’m hoping my readers will jolt my memory, and I’ll fill in the remaining 6 based on those. After the fold …

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ARGs, bonus materials, lists, trailers

The Disney & IRTS 2008 Digital Media Summit, Part 4

August 21st, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

The Thin Line Between Content and Promotion

I’ve waited a bit to post what follows, since it’s still thinking in progress. But, hey, that’s what a blog is, right? So here goes anyways:

All panels circled around issues of monetization in one way or another. Back during the strike, I was frustrated by the degree to which Disney and others suggested that new media were good only for promotion, and that they were barren when it came to revenue generation. This seemed a bad faith bargaining position, to say the least. But at the DMS, new media was again and again talked of as a site for promotion, for brand management, of the shows, yes, but even moreso of Disney, ABC, and ESPN, following a directive from on-high (Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO) that these core brands are what’s being sold. Thus, while I’m not ready to completely drop the bad faith notion, I do see things differently now. I think what we have is a profound shift in business logic, which results in a profound shift in languages used too. Let me explain, and in the process I hope to challenge that new logic somewhat:

If the brands are what Disney thinks it is selling, not the shows per se, then it’s meaningless to make distinctions between new media and those shows. If the “old” job of the network or media conglomeration was to attract viewers to advertisers by producing great shows, then those shows deserved special treatment, and we could easily make distinctions between shows and promotion. But if the “new” model is to regard all elements of the corporation as engaged in the same process of selling the Disney, ABC, and ESPN brands, then everything is promotional. Your station identification snippets exist on the same level as your shows. And so if you’re Disney, and you don’t pay royalties to those who make the station idents, it must seem unreasonable and annoying to have to pay those other “promo” makers, the writers, directors, and actors.

While there’s something to this logic, there’s also something wrong with it. The former first. As you may have gotten by now if you read this blog, I’m a big believer in the creativity in and importance of all sorts of paratexts. I think that designing a good trailer is a creative act. Ditto with movie posters. Even hype campaigns. If it’s done well, it contributes to the text. It doesn’t just sell the text – it makes the text. So I’m sympathetic to the notion that we should or could start to break down the conceptual wall that exists between promotion and creativity, realizing that often the former is an involved part of the latter.

However, precisely because I’m arguing that good paratexts don’t just sell the text, they make it, rather than remove the semblance of creativity from writers, directors, and actors, I’m more comfortable with making creativity a larger umbrella that also covers good trailer makers, good poster designers, etc. In other words, while Iger’s philosophy risks leading naturally to the notion that “creatives” get rolled in with “promotion,” mine is that “promotion” could be rolled in with “creatives.”

There’s a key problem here, though. Above, I wrote of good paratexts. “Bad” paratexts are just promotion. Paratexts can contribute to a text, but they can also contribute nothing. But this can be extended to the shows themselves, if we regard them, as Iger’s philosophy suggests, as promos for the brand. Good shows do contribute to the brand, and sparkle with their creativity. Bad ones don’t: they just sap money and labor, with no good return on investment (for industry dollars or viewer watching hours). Of course, different viewers will disagree on what is good and what is bad, but since I’m not using specifics here (I’m avoiding referring to Cavemen or Big Shots, in other words), that’s by the by. What I’m getting at instead is that it is only good, creative shows and only good, creative paratexts that will help or sell the brand. Reworded, as much as it may seem this way to some observers, it isn’t promotion that helps or sells the brand, it’s creativity. I can open my window right now and yell to all of Sunnyside, Queens that they should watch a certain show, but that doesn’t sell the brand. Only creativity will.

I said I wouldn’t talk specifics, but to break that rule and return to the Digital Media Summit, the panel that examined Lost as a case study was telling. Carlton Cuse noted the challenge to get good content into marketing, and many of their examples suggested that they have succeeded. Lost’s ARGs, evocative promotions, and so forth all impressed the room of largely non-Lost-watchers. Both Lost AND its paratexts sell the ABC brand, since both are good (and if you disagree that they’re good, well that doesn’t hurt my point, since that only shows that they don’t help your notion of the brand).

Going back to the WGA and negotiations in an economy where promotion and creativity are merging moreso than before, good paratexts (frequently produced by non-unionized workers) profoundly challenge the line between the supposed “creatives” and the supposed promotional side of the business. This allows the industry to conflate the two, and see the differential treatment as silly, thereby justifying (in their eyes) lowering creators to the level of promotion. Bad texts similarly (or even especially?) inspire the conflation, since a good paratext/“promo” can do more for the brand than can a bad text. But only good stuff, only creativity, will truly help the brand, and hence it needs to be compensated as such. And only royalties do this, since otherwise you are paying the producers of shows that contribute nothing to your brand the same as you are paying those of the shows that help your brand.

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Dharma Wants Me?

July 30th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Tired of grading and writing papers? Ever wanted to visit “Portland”? Evidently, the Dharma Initiative is hiring, not only at this year’s Comic-Con, but also at Pass 17 questions and you can register. The questions are suitably creepy, very befitting of Dharma, as are the odd incantations and hangar-announcer-in-another-language style that accompany the test.

Their boast of wanting “a better tomorrow for everyone” hardly sounds like the Benjamin Linus I’ve come to know. Yet the neat Flash trick of changing the dimensional perspective of their logo is thematically appropriate to the world of Lost. A fun little bit of transmedia, let’s see where it leads.

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Alternate Realities and Tasty Pies: Notes from the NATPE Exhibit Floor, Part 2

January 30th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Fallen image

I’m sitting in a session about branded entertainment that’s using Axe’s Game Killers as a case study, and I find myself in an odd position. They clearly did a fantastic job, very successfully using multiple media and seamlessly moving the text across these various platforms. But the text is about dudes trying to hit on women and getting blocked. So this marks one of the first times when I’ve seen a masterful transmedia presence for something about which I don’t care for one iota. The resounding cynical question in my head: aren’t guys on the prowl usually their own perpetual alternative reality game already? Usually, a good transmedia attempt excites me, but not here. More after the fold…
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