Producers’ new frontier

Transmedia storytelling to get its due

In a rare move, the Producers Guild of America has added another credit to its quiver: transmedia producer.

The new moniker recognizes the growing role of transmedia storytelling, which can be described as the creation of major franchises — think “Star Wars” and “Batman” — via the extension of their storylines across multiple platforms, from film and TV, to comics, broadband and mobile. Now that the PGA has lent its stamp of approval, the “transmedia producer” credit may start appearing on movies, TV series and other media to designate those involved in steering a property through multiple incarnations.

“It’s the first credit we’ve added in a long time,” said PGA prexy Marshall Herskovitz. “Our goal is to reduce the number of credits, not to add to them, but this is a new function that didn’t exist before, and it needed to be named.”

PGA defines transmedia both narrowly and broadly. To be considered transmedia, a project must “consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe.” At the same time it can exist on any media platform or technology “that may or may not currently exist.”

Org is careful to stress that the transmedia designation does not apply to simple re-purposing of content from one platform to another.

The new credit has “profound implications,” said Jeff Gomez, who sits on PGA’s New Media Council and is a co-founder of transmedia developer Starlight Runner Entertainment, which has worked on large multiplatform projects like “Avatar” and “Transformers.”

“It moves the concept of transmedia storytelling from a methodology to an art form, and will transform it from marketing tool to a conduit for realizing a creative vision,” Gomez said.

“The new credit is all about producers extending their franchises into very powerful kinds of transmedia stories,” added Christopher Pfaff, another PGA New Media Council member. “It’s very transformative.”

In Herskovitz’s view, the addition of the credit reflects the growing power of producers to shape projects.

“There’s a larger context here,” he said. “With the New Media Council, an important part of our guild is staying at the forefront of the technical and business changes where things are heading. The generation of intellectual capital in the entertainment business comes from producers, and that’s not well understood by the big media companies.”

Herskovitz is not certain to what extent producers themselves will embrace the new credit rather than continue to take on older titles like executive producer. “There’s no way to predict that,” he said. “I hope it catches on, but that’s not for us to decide. It’s for the industry at large to embrace it if it makes sense.”

Gomez argues that the transmedia producer credit is an attractive option for “producers rising through the ranks and developing their careers across multiple media platforms. That’s where some remarkable new storytellers and producers will be coming from. These are people who have a fundamental understanding of the way contemporary audiences want to be told stories.”

The new credit was announced by PGA’s board of directors, which approved its addition to the org’s Producer Code of Credits.

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