THE STORY CUBE. Understanding the many dimensions of today's storytelling.
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THE STORY CUBE. Understanding the many dimensions of today's storytelling.

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Here's the slides from a talk I gave to my friend Anna Marie Piersimoni's class at California State University, Northridge. The "cube" includes the three-legged stool, the traditional narrative......

Here's the slides from a talk I gave to my friend Anna Marie Piersimoni's class at California State University, Northridge. The "cube" includes the three-legged stool, the traditional narrative dimensions, and those that are new in the digital world.

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  • 1. THE STORY CUBE CAL STATE/ NORTHRIDGE April 24, 2014 These slides were produced for a presentation called “THE STORY CUBE” for a class at California State University at Northridge on April 24, 2014.
  • 2. ME? Movie Geek Journalist Filmmaker Marketer Strategist What qualifies me to give this talk? I am a movie geek.I am an ex-journalist, filmmaker and marketer. And I spent 20 years running digital programs and initiatives at the American Film Institute, some of which are listed on the next slide. To learn more about my career, check out my website at
  • 3. 20YEARS @ AFI: Computer Media Salons EnhancedTV Workshop Digital Content Lab DigiFest During a tenure of over 20 years at AFI I developed a range of programs at the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. To learn more about my career, check out my website at
  • 4. What I Do Now: Strategy for the Digital Era In 2010 I launched a consulting business to help companies navigate the digital era. Most of my work is in content and distribution.
  • 5. CLIENTS Among current clients are a business accelerator for digital entertainment called ideaBOOST, launched by the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto; Mind Pirate, a tech startup delivering an application and cloud platform for the development and distribution of wearable computing apps, called Callisto.
  • 6. CLIENTS Another client is LLC, a Houston-based startup which offers a cloud-based platform that delivers a range of applications that bring user creativity onto the websites of storytellers, brands, and educators.
  • 7. TV ACADEMY I’m also on the Executive Committee of the Interactive Peer Group of the Television Academy, the part of the Emmy group focused on digital and interactive media. The Academy also has a robust student membership program and a summer internship program.
  • 8. 3-LEGGED STOOL: Content Technology Business For years at AFI, I used the metaphor of the three-legged stool when talking about media -- without all three legs, the stool falls over sooner or later. More than ever before, the form of our stories is impacted by the technology through which it is consumed, and the business model by which consumers access the content.
  • 9. 3-LEGGED STOOL: I used to hate the word “content,” used by Silicon Valley to refer to the artforms that so many of us in Hollywood sweated bullets to create. There’s something dismissive about calling a work of art simply “content” -- it’s the wine you put into the bottle. But the term has stuck.
  • 10. CONTENT Tale, story, novel, play, motion picture, comic, serial, radio play, television show, videogame, interactive story, transmedia story… If I ask you to name some different forms of story, we see before very long that the form of the story has emerged as a result of some innovation in technology, and just as importantly, the financial viability of the means of production and distribution. This is the root of Marshall McLuhan’s deceptively simple phrase, THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE -- in other words, the content cannot be extracted from the medium (e.g. Technology) by which we experience it.
  • 11. 3-LEGGED STOOL: The second leg of the stool is technology. If you think of it, every form of story is dependent upon the technologies available at the time to create, distribute and consume the content.
  • 12. TECHNOLOGIES Book, magazine, newspaper, telegraph, telephone, sound recording, cinema, radio,TV, computer, game console, digital network, Internet, cell phone, social media, apps…. Indeed, it seems to get harder and harder to distinguish the actual technology from its application, or specific business use-case. The movies, for instance, are a cluster of technologies applied in a specific business use- case that evolved over our history. McLuhan used the term ‘rear-view mirror’ in describing the characteristic strategy for a new media technology -- e.g., that it mimics an earlier form. TV used radio and cinema at first, before unique story forms evolved. YouTube encompasses many technologies and many creative formats, in addition to spawning its own. Ditto with social media.
  • 13. 3-LEGGED STOOL: Leg #3 is the business model. I spend a lot of my time with start-ups helping them understand what entrepreneur and author Steve Blank says: “A start-up is an organization in search of a repeatable and scalable business model. . Without a business model, either an existing one or an innovation (disruption), one cannot sustain the creative enterprise over time.
  • 14. BUSINESS MODELS Patronage, philanthropy, work- for-hire, direct sale, subscription, advertising, loss- leader, cross-subsidized, e- commerce, in-app sale, image marketing, B2B, white label… The business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value -- this has been true down through history, from royal patronage onwards. We often take the business model for granted -- movies require payment, either at the box office or via advertising -- until they don’t, with the advent of p2p file-sharing protocols. Early stage businesses, especially tech startups, are unique.
  • 15. 3-LEGGED STOOL: Content Technology Business So the three-legged stool -- content, tech, business -- comprise a set of aspects of the media business. But, our “products,” whether we call them “content” or something else, rest on the time-tested fundamentals of storytelling….
  • 16. STORY (TRAD.) Plot Setting Character Conflict Theme Imagery Point ofView The traditional elements we deal with in the all sorts of story forms include plot, setting, character, conflict, theme, tone, imagery, and point of view.
  • 17. ? We don’t have to look at modern examples to see how the traditional elements I just mentioned intersect with the three-legged stool. Here’s an example of a story with legs -- the Bible.
  • 18. ? And the story of the English royal family, certainly a multi-dimensional story that has touched millions for generation after generation, from Shakespeare to TV to movies, and more.
  • 19. ? For many in our business, however, it is Star Wars that epitomizes the conscious form of multi-dimensional story telling, what some call transmedia. Some in the field who prefer to think of Star Wars as a storytelling FRANCHISE
  • 20. TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING Multiple media platforms All contribute to story Each provides entry point In recent years, with the help of scholars like Henry Jenkins, the concept of transmedia has taken hold. These are stories that appear on different media platforms. Each story form contributes to the overall story world, and each is a portal through which a consumer can enter fully into the story.
  • 21. A.K.A.: Franchise Multi-platform; cross-platform ARG Interactive media Multimedia Connected entertainment These are related words describing various story forms. Some would say that none is as complete as “transmedia.” Others say, to hell with the language wars. Let’s get to storytelling! (Note: ARG=alternate reality game)
  • 22. STORIES NOW Context Engagement Integration So we have the three-legged stool and we have new transmedia dimensions of the traditional narrative construct. I would add a final set of facets -- Context, Engagement, and Integration. We encounter our stories in vastly different contexts these days; we expect the opportunity to engage with the content in the age of the fan; and we expect our stories to become integrated into the way we experience life digitally.
  • 23. I love this quote from a recent study : “Peop want to befriend characters and influence their decisions.” This is the pull of fandom, deeper levels of engagement than were possible in the past when stories were presented in various one-way formats.
  • 24. Digital (Mostly) Multiplatform (Maybe) Interactive (Low vs. High) Social (Shareable) Media Dense (Video) Contextual (Story) FAN-CENTRIC MEDIA I call it the era of “fan-centric” media. It’s all possible because of media are now, mostly all digital -- bits. The story plays out on several platforms. Usually there is interactivity -- “Low is liking or clicking” & “High is deep fan engagement.” Our media is shareable across the web. There’s the question of density -- video and gaming are dense. Text is not. Finally, we talk about context, especially the story in which fan engagement occurs.
  • 25. This chart illustrates how diverse our TV ecosystem is growing in all directions. Experiments in fan-powered media will necessarily evolve as the tools, platforms, and enabling technologies come and go. This is the 2013 version of an infographic depicting all of the sectors of the social TV ecosystem provided by Trendrr for Advertising Age.
  • 26. WALKING DEAD AMC’s Walking Dead is an iconic show, now in its fifth season. Fans now have both the means (and the desire) to engage with each other about the things they are passionate about & the result is that TV shows have become the hub of vast fan networks that enable massive sharing and content interconnection across the web, on both official and unauthorized sites. (twice as many are unofficial). For more about the show’s marketing, check out this video from the PGA .
  • 27. FANS=CONTENT • Fans have the desire & means to engage others – Show is hub for vast fan networks – Shareable and viral across the social graph – Authorized and unofficial platforms – Content takes many forms & depth – User-generated content – deep, deep engagement – Derivative UGC – the ultimate fandom • Important lens to view audience - Fanthropology – Active (10%) vs Inactive (90%) Fans – Fans / Superfans / Ambassadors – Curators / Collectors / Producers – Fan engagement & content is part of the TV experience Experts like Kris Longfield (@fanthropologist on Twitter) segment the audience by active vs inactive. There are superfans and ambassadors, and they tend to curate, collect and produce, depending upon where on the spectrum of fan engagement they fall.
  • 28. THE STORY CUBE Digital pioneer Suzanne Stefanac coined the term “Story Cubed” to try and capture the multifaceted, multidimensional way of thinking about story in the digital, interactive era.
  • 29. THE STORY CUBE Conflict POV Imagery Content Technology Business Context Engagement Immersion Character Plot Setting When you array the many dimensions of today’s story on a single page, you see why the cube is a good way to think about this material. Each of these facets intersects with and impacts the others in ways that we are all learning about together as innovators and creators develop new work, which is what I want to turn to next.
  • 30. LET’S GET STARTED! So let’s play with some of these dimensions, just as the Internet’s favorite, plays with this rubic’s cube.
  • 31. PERFORMANCE 1981:TAMARA. Interactive Theatre Tamara was a theatrical event launched in Toronto in which the audience moved into different rooms and interacted with the actors. The story would unfold differently, depending upon your journey and what happened in each room. The show ran for many years in Los Angeles and New York, and was revived in Toronto. This is interactive, but not really multi-platform, though a CD-ROM was attempted.
  • 32. INTERACTIVITY 1990: Hyperland BBC & Douglas Adams Douglas Adams, the creator of A HITCHHICKERS GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE built this work with the BBC at the dawn of the interactive media age in order to explain and explore hyper-media. It could be said to be multi- platform because the links took the user into different environments and domains. You can tell that the ideas were ahead of the technology by looking at the clunky fonts.
  • 33. IMMERSION 1992: MYST from Cyan & Broderbund MYST was a ground-breaking game series on CD-ROM back in the 90’s, which remained the highest grossing title until the SIMS overtook it. MYST was a unique journey of discovery in which users proceeded into environments and worlds by finding clues and activating elements of the system. Again, not really multi-platform, but a new way to tell a story. MYST and its sequels are now available in the iTunes store in both a free and $4.99 version.
  • 34. MULTI(PLATFORM) 1992: Bram Stoker’s DRACULA Game based on Coppola’s Film Francis Ford Coppola created a successful film adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel about the original vampire starring Gary Oldman, and Sony released a game version that utilized footage shot on the set of the film, which nudges into the terrain of multi-platform. We were excited to show it at the time because of the high profile of the director, who created iconic films like THE GODFATHER trilogy.
  • 35. PUZZLE 1995: In the First Degree Interactive CD-ROM from Broderbund Another CD-ROM title from Broderbund was created by my friend Haney Armstrong, a fllmmaker who came up with this extension of the traditional police procedural story by allowing the user to interrogate people.
  • 36. GAME-ISH 2002: Push, Nevada: ABC & LivePlanet Play along with the mystery to win $$ TV interactivity is a whole topic in and of itself. I included PUSH NEVADA in this presentation because it did represent a breakthrough. Clues were peppered throughout the show and the website that allowed users to amass points leading to a winner. I think I remember that some clues involved mobile calling as well, Even though the show was not popular enough to be renewed, it was an early example of multi-platform enrichment of a primary story.
  • 37. COMPLEX 1995: Johnny Mnemonic. CD-ROM from Sony Imagesoft This William Gibson classic was made into a film with Keanu Reeves, not well reviewed, but significant because Sony released a CD-ROM game simultaneously which allowed gameplay in a movie-like setting based upon the same story. The casts were different.
  • 38. EMERGENT 2003: Battlestar Galactica.AFI team: Schematic, Syfy, others When the Sci-Fi Channel wanted to bring back the classic Battlestar Gallactica, representatives of the company, as well as Universal’s game division, came into the AFI’s Digital Content Lab to create a multi-dimensional viewing experience. The user interface, created by Schematic’s Dale Herigstad, allowed seamless movement by the user in and out of the primary story (TV), a first-person spaceship flying experience (game), and deep data about the ship, the characters, and the backstory, which also included clues. This was not the version launched at the time of the show, but inspired lots of others.
  • 39. HEROES Ditto with HEROES, which launched its 360 experience, later renamed EVOLUTIONS. Producer Jesse Alexander worked closely with the TV series creative team.
  • 40. LOST The Emmy went to the LOST EXPERIENCE, an alternative reality game from ABC and Hi-ReS, a design and experience company. The TV Show’s millions of fans could deepen their experience of the story world via this comprehensive site.
  • 41. TRUTH ABOUT MARIKA My mind was blown by this Swedish alternative reality game from Company P, (Christopher Sandberg). They used TV, newspapers, the web, live events and kind of took over the whole country for a few weeks. The premise was a fake event, but it was treated as real, and people engaged with the story in a sort of ambiguous way, not knowing for sure what was real, what was fake, what was conspiracy, etc. Such a fictional trope is often part of ARG work, and many would date it back to Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre’s radio adaptation of H.G.Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS in the 30’s.
  • 42. I LOVE BEES 42 Entertainment produced an ARG called I LOVE BEES to support the release of Microsoft’s HALO game.
  • 43. LONELY GIRL 15 The technique began at the dawn of YouTube: Lonely Girl 15 was a very influential early use of YouTube in which actors portrayed young people’s lives as if they were really opening up to the world via video. Most people thought these were real people, and responded in kind with video uploads of their own, creating a tapestry of video storytelling that was quite unique. What has become a standard feature of YouTube was pioneered by Lonely Girl, and the lessons are being applied by the firm founded by its producers: EQAL.
  • 44. WHY SO SERIOUS? 42 Entertainment created this multi-platform alternative reality game that invited players during the period bridging the release of the two Batman films, especially the much-anticipated DARK KNIGHT from director Christopher Nolan. Because the Gotham setting and the tone and elements of the franchise are so well known, the creators could play off of that with newspapers and other media released in sequence that contained clues and links to fill in the complex world of the films.
  • 45. YEAR ZERO YEAR ZERO is an ARG that involved fans of the band Nine Inch Nails at concerts by leaving USB drives in restrooms. Those who activated the files contained therein on a computer got instructions that involved them in launching the viral game, which depicts a theocratic dystopian future, the subject of the album.
  • 46. CONSPIRACY FOR GOOD Tim Kring created Heroes and in 2010 launched a global ARG called Conspiracy for Good which was sponsored by Nokia. There were extensive live events that contained clues that could be retrieved via mobile augmented reality technologies, as well as many other events. The fictional elements, especially those about the evil corporation, were quite elaborate. There was a real-world charity in Africa that benefited from the activities as well.
  • 47. HEAD TRAUMA This is just one of the properties created by Lance Weiler, whose breakthrough film THE BIG BROADCAST was itself a precursor to more complex storytelling components being added beyond the film “platform.” 2010: HEAD TRAUMA/Hope is Missing Lance Weiler/ Seize the Media
  • 48. COLLAPSUS COLLAPSUS was a documentary film on Dutch television that was expanded into a broader transmedia experience that integrated game-play, global mapping, animation and other elements. Directed by Tommy Palotta, who produced Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Won the best interactive film award at the SXSW festival in 2011. From Submarine and VPRO.
  • 49. TAKE THIS LOLLIPOP Interactive Live Facebook Connect Experience Take This Lollipop is a cinematic website created in HTML 5 that requires users to launch Facebook Connect and authorize the use of content in the account, which is integrated into a creepy, serial killer type short film. http://
  • 50. Take this Lollipop screen shots -- it starts as a regular film.
  • 51. But soon you get a view of his computer screen, and because I’ve registered via my Facebook account, he’s looking at me….
  • 52. … and stalking me in his car.
  • 53. TAKE THIS LOLLIPOP And suggesting that somebody from my social graph on Facebook may be next. Very creepy, and very innovative. The cinematic experience of “Lolllipop” is startling because it embeds images, maps, names and facts extracted from your Facebook account into the movie seemlessly.
  • 54. ARCADE FIRE LEVERAGES HTML 5VIDEO The Wilderness Downtown. : Indie Rock Band Arcade Fire, working with filmmaker Chris Milk, released a song “We Used to Wait” produced with HTML5. Users enter the zip code of the place they lived as a kid, and the video incorporates street scenes grabbed via Google Map Street View feature. Milk has a slew of experimental video/web projects on his site, including the 2012 FWA Best website (voted by fans), another collaboration with a band, this time Danger Mouse.
  • 55. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Tommy Pallotta and other collaborators created a game to support the release Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol, requiring a Facebook Connect log-on.
  • 56. FACEBOOK CONNECT INTEGRATION This is the image generated at the end of the Cobalt game, which is then sharable on Facebook.
  • 57. 3 DREAMS OF BLACK WebGL/Chrome Project by Chris Milk & Aaron Koblin is another Chris Milk project using Google Chrome’s browser, this time leveraging the power of Web GL technologies.
  • 58. 3 DREAMS OF BLACK Users can generate their own “dreams” by drawing on the landscape provided by the site or vote for their favorites.
  • 59. LEVERAGES HTML 5VIDEO AIM HIGH is a web series about a teenaged spy. “Viewers log on via Facebook” and by giving permission, become part of the story.
  • 60. SLEEP NO MORE 2011: Punchdrunk Interactive Production London & NYC “Sleep No More” is an interactive theatre presentation of Macbeth in which audience members in masks interact throughout a physical space where the actors unfurl the story.
  • 61. NO GOOD DEED 2012: FuriousTheatre Company Play & Graphic Novel Pasadena CA based Furious Theatre Company specializes in edgy productions by emerging playwrights. Furious commissioned Matt Pelfrey to write the play, which involves a young loser who inadvertently becomes famous for an act of apparent heroism and wanders into superhero fantasy inspired by the comics he wants to publish. His character-- Hellbound Hero, is the subject of a graphic novel released in conjunction with the show. The show ran for several weeks in 2012 at LA’s John Anson Ford Theatre.
  • 62. ACCOMPLICE The Accomplice is an urban-based exploration game/theatre piece, launched in NY http:// and now in Los Angeles hollywood.php
  • 63. HAUNTED 2012: BXX’s HAUNTED Daniel Knauf (Carnivale)’s online horror/mystery is the site for Daniel Knauf’s beta site for an interactive haunted house story called, fittingly, “Haunted.” His linear stuff (Carnivale on HBO) was beautiful and plenty weird. This is lower tech, not so beautiful, but addictive in a strange mesmerizing way.
  • 64. BECKINFIELD Beckinfield (2011) – User submitted videos tell the story of a town Beckinfield is a new site that creates a story world, e.g., a mythical California town, and a storyline that comes from the site, but the unfolding of the story is created by users who upload videos to the site that they have made in characters. The originator is an actor who had been helping fellow actors upload “audition” type videos to YouTube, and yearned for a way to let actors use their improv skills to further their careers. The company has now licensed its software to other content companies who want to include fans in a story. They call it “mass participation television.” http://
  • 65. BECKINFIELD As the site and story forms have matured, Beckinfield has featured more complexly edited pieces, generated by the site’s creative team. Otherwise, all of the content is in the form of direct address into the camera, usually webcam-style confessional formats.
  • 66. For USA Network, Theatrics helped create The S#cial Sector, an online edition of PSYCH, showing that the platform could be used to invite user-generated content into a branded storyworld
  • 67. “Welcome to Sanditon” is the sequel to popular multiplatform webseries ‘Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries’, both based on Jane Austen novels. Sanditon permits fans to co-create the story based on Austen’s unfinished novel.
  • 68. AURELIA: is billed as an interactive Steampunk Adventure Starring You. We’ll take a closer look at the user experience for AURELIA fans. I’ll get back to AURELIA in a moment.
  • 69. Show header Call to Action Content window Social links Fan response tools Info about window •The header carries the title, subtitle and author. • The content window displays the file -video, blog or image. •Below the player window is information about that content, and a full suite of social and sharing links. •Fans can use tools to post responses & can check out the latest calls to action.
  • 70. INVITATION: Begin a co-creation experience with your fans now during Theatrics’ open beta test period.
  • 71. WHAT NEXT? What kind of jobs should your incoming freshman look for in 4 years, or 7 if they go to grad school? That’s a lifetime. Content creation and storytelling. Transmedia. Software. Data mining. Interface design. Marketing. Entrepreneurship. Theory. For institutions, the need for rapid prototyping of curriculum and learning experiences butts heads with traditions (including tenure) which can slow down change.
  • 72. WISDOM It’s impossible to do anything wrong. Because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up the rules to stop anyone... Author & Screenwriter Neil Gaiman I end this talk with these words of wisdom from Neil Gaiman’s recent talk at a University Commencement.
  • 73. ThankYouVery Much
  • 74. NICK DEMARTINO • TWITTER: @nickdemartino • SLIDESHARE: nickdemartino • EMAIL: • WEBSITE: • BLOG (and newsletter): blog Please feel free to contact me with questions. I will be posting this presentation on SlideShare. If you give me your card after the talk, I’ll send it to you, as well. Please check out my website, and if you like my blog posts, sign up for my newsletter.