(Still) Waiting For the Transmedia Godot

Curator's Note

On April 6, 2010, the Producer's Guild of America announced the addition of Transmedia Producer to the Guild’s Producer Code of Credits. In order to qualify as a transmedia producer, one must be 'responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms.' These 'narrative extensions', importantly, are 'NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.' But might such a clause do more harm than good to contemporary transmedia practice? To address that question, let's jump back some seven years:

In the spring of 2003, Neil Young began a short acoustic tour that started piecing together the world of Greendale. A strange, unruly project that walks a fine line between adaptation (or 'repurposing'), remediation and transmedia(tion), Greendale follows the lives of the Green family in California, and charts the various ways that the outside world—and in particular its media—manages to snake its way into their lives.

Unlike most transmedia productions, however, Greendale contains only a deceptively simple 'core' story told through the point of view each platform (a series of staggered releases ranging from live performance, recorded music, print, film and the internet), one that utilizes a medium's unique properties as a tool for subtly inserting new storylines and pathways. The clip to the left, for example,  taken from a live performance of Greendale, is in fact a vital component of the project: as the live tour developed, Young dropped slightly different information in each show, assured that 'everything [he] said would be recorded, transcribed, and circulated', a stilling of kineticism and improvisation by other media that grows the story in the process (such as in this clip). Similarly, the other sites in Greendale also work by revealing content that is obscured by a given platform's makeup: we might hear about a painting in a song, but see on film each fresh stroke put to canvas while that same song plays; view the painting up-close while wandering through an interactive online gallery, but glean the motivations behind its creation in the recently released graphic novel.  Narrative extension exists here, but in a way that is not only medium-specific, but also potentially transmedia-specific.

In Greendale, Young is playing a role similar, if not identical, to transmedia producer, ensuring that even the embellishments of its off-Broadway stage production were consistent with what came before it. He could also be shut out from receiving such credit under the current PGA transmedia guidelines given the project's passing semblance to 'repurposing'. So while Greendale is far from typical, border cases such as this one raise some compelling questions for current transmedia practice. We might do well to wonder, then, what other casualties such a marked distinction could bring. Could definitions such as the PGA's discourage further transmedia experimentation and close off avenues for new models to emerge, achieve recognition and flourish? In the course of only really beginning to learn how to mutter, have we already narrowed the range of potential transmedia tongues, even as, paradoxically, we seek to grow larger and more complex fictional worlds? While transmedia currently means many things to many people, could the openness of transmedia 'then'  (where, much like live performance, many were making things up as they went along), in some ways be more conducive to progression than the increasingly standardized practices of transmedia 'now'?

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