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Sony, Starlight broaden ‘MIB’ franchise

Transmedia work aims to expand growth prospects for sequels and beyond

Sony Pictures Entertainment is moving to amp up the “Men in Black” brand.

Studio has teamed up with Starlight Runner Entertainment, which worked on the “Avatar” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” transmedia stories, to help extend the intellectual properties associated with the “MIB” franchise.

Starlight co-founders Jeff Gomez and Mark Pensavalle created and expanded a “franchise mythology” for “MIB” — including establishing a headquarters, various global precincts, a chain of command and historical background for the MIB organization. They also outlined a backstory for each of the alien species and the multitude of weapons in the three films.

Starlight has already teamed with Activision on the “Men in Black: Alien Crisis” vidgame.

“We came on to it fairly late in the development process on the game, which is a shooter game, so we had to create reasons why there would be a lot of shooting,” Gomez told Variety. “The movies aren’t about slaughtering aliens — they’re police procedurals. So the videogame is a natural extension of the story and you can be sure that the bad guys are really bad.”

The duo noted that they have worked closely with the “Men in Black 3” team, including star Will Smith, director Barry Sonnenfeld, producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and screenwriter Etan Cohen.

Sony grossed nearly $600 million worldwide from the third pic and has not said if it’s planning a fourth. Studio said in Wednesday’s annoucement of the Starlight partnership that the application of transmedia storytelling techniques had reached “an unprecedented level of ambition.”

“As we sought to create a unique buzz and fan engagement around the launch of ‘Men in Black 3,’ we felt that we had an excellent opportunity to expand the world of Men in Black beyond the film. Starlight Runner’s work on the movie ensured that no matter how fans engage in the world of the Men in Black, they will immerse themselves in a wide-ranging, consistent universe,” said Parkes, producer on all three of the films.

Gomez said the transmedia partnership with Sony and Parkes represents a recognition of the change in how studios handle franchise properties — by including storytelling that spans film, TV, videogames, comicbooks, toys, the Internet and mobile.

“It used to be that you’d open the movie and then decide if you’d do a sequel,” he noted. “But now, you’re getting all the stakeholders to tap into the same resource.”

Starlight Runner Entertainment has worked on large multiplatform projects such as “Avatar,” “Tron Legacy,” the second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and “Transformers.”

Gomez said he believes that the majors have started to realize that their approach to transmedia needs to be less reactive. He has noted previously that Warner Bros.’ approach to its Batman films and games demonstrated that a vidgame can expand the property, not just replicate it, by exposing other aspects, as was done with “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City.”

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