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April 26 2012

14:00

'Carnivàle' Creator Bypasses Hollywood, Launches Transmedia Story 'Haunted'

Discovered on the Internet and known as a storyteller with a unique vision, writer and producer Daniel Knauf, best known as the creator of "Carnivàle" on HBO, has ditched Hollywood and struck out on his own to mine the field of transmedia.

With a beta project made public called "Haunted," Knauf's new company, BXX, is jumping feet first into the transmedia world.

Difficult to separate the plot from the technology, "Haunted" is best described as a fictional story that follows paranormal investigators working inside an abandoned house tormented by supernatural events. The storytelling format features multimedia elements such as research documentation and investigators' blogs. Shot with multiple cameras, the project's navigational timeline allows viewers to manipulate how they view the story.

The transmedia world is a popular one, with Sundance Institute announcing this past fall six transmedia projects accepted into its first-ever New Frontier Lab, with an impressive list of Hollywood heavyweights as advisers. In an article on Mashable, Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of Bravo Digital Media, defined transmedia storytelling as telling a story that extends across multiple media platforms. (For television, it goes beyond the on-air show.)

I spoke with Knauf to find out why "inventing a new narrative" is so important to him, what potential he sees in transmedia storytelling, and to ask him, "Why the rebel stance?" The following is an edited transcript of that discussion.

Bxx: "Haunted" Promo No. 1 from Daniel Knauf on Vimeo.

Q&A

Tell me about BXX (pronounced BOX) and what drew you to create the transmedia project "Haunted" for the Internet?

Daniel Knauf: Black BXX LLC is the name of our company, but we're going by BXX now. I wanted to see if I could make a nonlinear drama work. I came up with BXX Mars about five years ago, and I did the normal thing and talked to the money people. Everyone said, "This is interesting. Can we make a TV show out of it?" It's the first place they go.

The traditional entertainment industry is not known for their humility. They tend to think they are the end all. You don't take a TV show and put it on Hulu and call it Internet content. No, it's not. It's a TV show you're watching on your computer. Hulu's not really Internet, Funny or Die is not really Internet; those are just TV being watched on a different screen. For me, I wanted to invent a narrative that there was absolutely no way you could have done it if the Internet wasn't invented. That was the goal I set myself.

In the end, I just got tired of trying to convince them this lives and breathes on the Internet. I got tired of explaining finance models to them and I thought, let's just do an inexpensive version of this and show them. I had sold "Carnivàle" off the Internet. I've always been into the Internet, and it stuck in my craw that the Internet wasn't treated as the medium it could be.

But obviously money comes into play; what are the plans to monetize BXX?

Knauf: I've given up on Hollywood. They are too frightened. I've gone so far off the reservation. All I want to do is set up shop here in Nashville and build a studio and start making these things. If I had to monetize this right now, I would use surveys. I think they are the least intrusive. I don't think I need people to watch ads every 30 seconds. I hate roll-ins, banners and pop-ups. I'd like to give people the option to subscribe and watch without surveys for a reasonable price. Choice is best.

But let's be realistic, in order to make these things, they cost money. I'm a huge believer in capitalism, and we'll look for people to invest in this. Money follows the eyeballs. I tried a Kickstarter for this, and I didn't meet my goal. But when I told people they would get their money back, I got $14,000 sent to my PayPal account from total strangers in $5 and $10 amounts. They just wanted to see this thing and loved "Carnivàle" and what I do. The money will come.

Audience-building must be key to a project like this that's outside of the Hollywood system and without its production and marketing budgets.

Knauf: I've built a relationship with my audience. It used to be complex for the audience and artists to connect, but that chasm doesn't exist anymore. We have no PR. We've really only promoted through social networks. We had about 3,100 people sign up for early access, and we've had about 8,000 unique visitors. Not bad for no advertising or PR. Only 22 people put their hands on this thing. We are all artists or craftsmen. Even our CFO was pulling cable. I was driving the RV. We didn't build sets. We shot on location. We used high-end security cameras and made certain compromises and bootstrapped it ourselves.

The actors ended up doing such an amazing job, that what was supposed to be a beta, not for the public, we decided to release to the public. We did the pre-launch because we thought it would be pretty buggy and wanted to get feedback before it went public, and two weeks later we went live. Anyone can access anything free. They do have to register if they want to unlock documents; this is so next time you log in, you aren't locked out of documents you've already opened up.

Thumbnail image for Documentation Haunted.jpg

About 30 percent of people who visit spend more than a half hour, and about 12 percent spend more than an hour. I created this to engage people, so we are really happy. Strangely, the U.S.A. is the No. 1 place for hits, but Norway is second. My wife says it is because it's where 'Big Brother' was invented.

Speaking of 'Big Brother,' there is a voyeuristic aspect of "Haunted." It reminds me of certain forms of reality TV mixed with paranormal activity. I think the use of the security cameras amplified that feeling. Can you talk about that?

Knauf: There is a voyeurism quality. Even a good movie feels voyeuristic or (like) a stage drama. What's interesting is, with this shooting schedule, you're not just watching actors acting. You're watching actors living. There was no off-stage. We had cameras in the bathroom. When we said 'action,' we didn't say 'cut' for 32 hours. There is a certain level of reality that occurs in that situation. We directed in shifts, and there is still some footage I haven't seen.

My partner, at about 26 hours, said, 'You gotta come in and watch these people.' I would say they were experiencing some kind of incipient post-traumatic stress syndrome. They were zombie-fied and behaving oddly. The location was like a spook house with sound effects and things falling and crashing. There isn't a big difference between being an actor pretending to be attacked by a haunted house and being a person being attacked by a haunted house. It was a traumatic event for them, and I ended up cutting about eight hours off the shoot.

Dan and cast.jpg

What about the tech part, the security camera vibe and ability to track the characters' movements throughout rooms? How does this factor in, and where do you see this going?

Knauf: I'm used to copywriting everything, but now I get patents and I feel like Thomas Edison. It's really cool, like I'm an inventor or mad scientist. The hardest thing when we are explaining 'Haunted' is the easiest thing when you get on and play with it. People ask, 'How do I watch this? What if I make a mistake?' It doesn't matter. You can't do it wrong. I tell people just watch it, and you'll see how natural it is. Nothing is more artificial than a three-act structure. They don't exist in nature. What you find when you play with 'Haunted' is you are accessing it like you do your memories. Memories don't work in a linear fashion. Memories work like we work on the Internet -- something reminds us of something, that keys something, that then links to something else.

It was designed to have multiple cameras and views open. The first thing that came up was people wanted to sync them all up. I hadn't thought about that, and we did our best to make that happen. Of course with the Internet, maintaining sync is hard unless you have a really big pipe. I would like to make it work better on tablets. We have 90 percent function. We can't get the time slider to work on touchscreen HTML 5 yet, but we are working on it.

What I really want to do is make it so people can download these videos and cut their own movies and have a film festival. We haven't licked that end of the coding yet, but definitely for the next one.

Is there a specific 'event' I can send readers to find to get a taste of 'Haunted'?

Knauf: Saturday, Hour 5, Segment 6, Camera 1 is a good time for people to check out to see a character reacting strongly to something she is watching on camera, then they can go find which camera she is watching. Our audience has blown my mind. We have a lot of multimedia research stuff, articles and such, and they knew to go to the logs and find out when all the weird s--- happens. It didn't even occur to me they could do that. People are so smart at figuring out all the 'wow' moments.

Screenshot Haunted Seg 5.jpg

That's clever of the audience -- a true use of a multimedia project. With this under your belt, are you ready to tackle BXX Mars? What genres of storytelling do you see as lending themselves to this format besides supernatural or horror?

Knauf: BXX Mars is the next one we're doing. It's about a group of astronauts facing being marooned. They have a short launch window they have to make or be stuck on Mars. BXX Mars will be 72 hours. I'd love to do BXX Niagara about a honeymoon hotel. A family reunion would work, too -- any story that Robert Altman would have done. This whole thing is character-driven. We could follow people in a shelter in a hurricane like Katrina or track a firefighter on 9/11 -- or BXX Whitechapel and set up the East End of London and have the actors living that role for a 12-hour period.

How do you decide the length of time to cover?

Knauf: The length of the event isn't as important as how we are covering it. One isn't directing in a traditional sense -- more like cuing events to poke the actors with a stick. It's a marathon for an actor. I'm not willing to hurt people to deliver entertainment. The next one, the actors will really have time to train, especially when we aren't on location but on sets. You could technically call a cut or shoot an insert, but the problem is it feels totally false. There is a level of reality in these performances that exist only in this format. Even voices change in tone depending on whether one is tired or scared. It is impossible to duplicate.

There is a strength in the performance from the actors being in character for so long. The actors had to change how they act. I had to change how I write. Everything changed. It turned out to be a surprising way to tell a story. They wake up in character and cook a corn dog in character. It leads to some real moments. We connect with the quiet moments. That's where drama lives. This format really delivers that.

MS: So is this goodbye to Hollywood?

Knauf: What has really burned me out on Hollywood is since I did 'Carnivàle,' I have a stack about 11 feet tall of material, and maybe 18 inches of it has landed on eyeballs. I didn't get into the business to write for half a dozen studios executives. I've been paid well for the 11 feet, but that's not why I do this. I do this because I am paying forward for every writer that inspired me. If my stuff isn't landing on eyeballs, then I've failed at that. In Hollywood, they are always teetering on the brink of saying no for 1,000 reasons. With BXX, I can create huge amounts of content for peanuts in Hollywood terms. I can create 1,500 hours of content for under a million dollars. This is potentially very profitable, and I can take those profits and do standard productions as well.

BXX Mars will create 1,600 hours of footage. I could easily cut a mini-series out of that for TV. What's cool is once everything is set up, I can bring in an American cast and then bring in a Chinese cast and do it all over again. It is so cross-platform. Everything follows the Internet because the Internet embraces every medium.

And everything you do is yours as opposed to working within the Hollywood system and selling rights. Is that a motivating factor?

Knauf: My big bugaboo with Hollywood is copyright. If you open a Stephen King book, it is copyright Stephen King. If you watch 'Carnivàle,' it is copyright HBO. The only reason for that is they are pigs. There's only five or six of them, and they know they have to stick together. It's like a cartel and so against antitrust laws. I want to create a studio where if someone wants to make something at my studio, they get to retain their copyright. It will never be 'copyright BXX.' That's my pipe dream. We would be what Random House is to Stephen King -- we would publish that person's work. Why would I pirate someone's intellectual property just because I'm the one with the money? It's disgusting the way Hollywood treats artists. Everyone's convinced we are always on the bubble of being fired at all times. The town runs on flop sweat. 'Everybody will never work again.'...There is so much fabulous material that didn't move forward because of Hollywood timidness.

People ask why there isn't anything good on TV. I'm coming from the inside, and I'm telling you that not only do they think the audience is an idiot, to the point where they think you can't feed yourself, but they loathe you, too. They hate the audience because they can't figure out why they watch what they watch. I've read somewhere that the odds of a show succeeding is about the same as they were in the '60s. Things fail now because they are exactly like 10 other things on TV.

I think we are going to have another renaissance. My showrunner friends listen to me being a mad prophet, and they are amazed: 'You do whatever you want to do? No one tells you what you have to do!?' I think when people realize the gates are open and no one will shoot them when they step out, things are going to change.

Mad Scientist Daniel Knauf.jpg

Technology is definitely pushing storytelling to new limits. As writer and blogger Chuck Wendig wrote on transmedia, 'It makes me feel like I'm from the future. In the end, though, whether you call it transmedia or cross-media or new media or hybridized-story-pollination (HSP), it's still just storytelling. Though it's storytelling in a bigger, sometimes weirder, way.'

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

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March 25 2011

16:30

SXSW Showcases Rise of Multiplatform Storytelling and Collaborative Filmmaking

South By Southwest (SXSW) is an annual gathering of interactive, film and music creatives, executives and marketers in Austin. It is the ideal setting to explore multiplatform storytelling, multiscreen experiences and projects that reflect the talents of the collective. After several days of knowledge-filled panels and hyper-networking featuring digital thought-leaders, there were a few notable trends that made an imprint once the conference's closing credits hit the screen.

The Two-Screen Experience

The two-screen, or so-called companion viewing experience, was recently implemented at the Academy Awards via the Oscars All Access app, which gave viewers multiple camera angles within a paid app. While laptops, smartphones and tablets are all capable of the two-screen implementation -- basically, using a device while watching additional programing -- the ideal form factor is the tablet due to its screen size and ease of interaction. The rapid emergence of tablets such as the iPad have opened up a new opportunity for studios and networks wishing to amp up DVD sales and TV ratings.

SXSW featured the "TRON: Legacy" Lounge, which allowed visitors to experience Disney's Second Screen -- a parallel universe of interactive features on an iPad in sync with the Blu-ray version of the movie (available April 5). The additional content on display included filmmaker annotations, image sliders, progression reels to show effects in a scene and more ways to immerse yourself in the movie's Grid. Learn more about it in this video:

A separate SXSW panel titled "TV + New Media = Formula for Success" featured executives from USA Network highlighted Psych Vision, a two-screen experience to promote the TV show "Psych." The app enabled viewers to check into the show, unlock exclusive video content, earn points and redeem them for show merchandise.

Telling stories in multimedia

Transmedia, or telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, is in chapter one of its journey to mass adoption. But it has quickly moved from experimental buzzword to a powerful new storytelling genre.

There were several panels focused on transmedia at SXSW, including: "Can Transmedia Save the Entertainment Industry?," "Transmedia Storytelling: Constructing Compelling Characters and Narrative Threads," and "Next Stage: Transmedia: An Interactive Exploration of the History and Future of Production in a Transmedia World."

I attended the "Unexpected Non-Fiction Storytelling" panel, which featured many creative interactive projects, including "Collapsus," this year's SXSW Interactive Award winner in the Film/TV category.

"Collapsus" is a great example of the promise of transmedia. This eco-thriller from director Tommy Pallotta (producer of "A Scanner Darkly") was developed by SubmarineChannel and is based on the documentary "Energy Transition" from Dutch broadcaster VPRO. It is a mix of animation, interactive maps and documentary, presented in three panels and requiring viewers to make informed decisions about energy production:

Collapsus Walkthrough from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo

While a worldwide tour with PowerPoint slides may have been effective in driving awareness on global warming, "Collapsus" presents a compelling new media approach to addressing planetary issues.

The National Film Board of Canada showed several interactive projects, including "Test Tube." It deals with another global crisis -- the exponential growth of the human population (represented by bacteria) within a finite planet of resources (symbolized by the test tube). The site asks visitors what they would do with an extra minute, then environmentalist David Suzuki makes a compelling case on why we're in the final minute of existence. The concept is thought-provoking and the innovation is evident in the various tweets that are dynamically pulled into the site based on your "extra minute" entry.

Out of more than 67,000 entries, the most popular response to the minute question is "sleep" followed by "eat." (Disclosure: I entered "make coffee" for my final minute, which may not have been the best answer to save the world/test tube.)

Crowdsourcing and Collaboration

Star Wars Uncut "The Escape" from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

SXSW also featured award-winning crowdsourced projects and the premiere of one of the most anticipated crowdsourced video initiatives. Creators of the Emmy-winning "Star Wars Uncut" film, which is featured above, discussed how "the Force" of the crowd helped re-imagine one of the most beloved films in the galaxy. More than 1,200 contributors from 100 countries helped build the final film, elevating scenes into the film based on popularity or likes.

Annelise Pruitt, one of the project designers, called it "the largest user-directed movie" in history. She attributed its dynamic playback capability as the main reason that "Star Wars Uncut" won the 2010 Emmy for interactive media.

Another contemporary classic in the brief history of crowdsourcing is The Johnny Cash Project, a music video for "Ain't No Grave" composed of 1,370 frames built from art submissions worldwide. And there ain't no stopping the success of that project as it received another prize at SXSW, the Interactive Award in the Art category.

The YouTube project "Life in a Day," produced by Ridley Scott (Oscar-winning director of 2000's Best Picture "Gladiator," as well as "Alien" and "Gladiator"), also relied on the submissions of the collective. The project received more than 80,000 video submissions from people in 140 countries who wanted to share their personally documented story on July 24, 2010. The film made its premiere at Sundance earlier this year and was screened at SXSW last week. National Geographic Films picked up rights to the movie and will distribute it in theaters this summer.

JuntoBox Films.png

For filmmakers looking to develop and distribute full-length features rather than a slice of a larger project, JuntoBox Films is a new collaborative film studio that merges social media with traditional film production. They plan to finance five films in 2011 with a budget range of $200,000 to $5 million each. Filmmakers are encouraged to "get junto'd" after creating a profile on the site and having their project rated by their peers in order to be considered for the film assessment phase.

"Junto" means together in Spanish. The interactive storytelling, the two-screen experiences and the collaborative initiatives showcased at SXSW reveal that projects built together and experiences shared together are worthy of the highest rewards.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and Web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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December 29 2010

17:30

2010: The Year Self-Publishing Lost Its Stigma

birds 2010 small.jpg

For over a decade I've been speaking at conferences about self-publishing to audiences of dejected, rejected authors. There was always a stigma associated with self-publishing, with many people considering it lower quality vanity press.

But this year, new faces appeared in the crowd: agents, editors, and publishers eager to understand self-publishing. Why? Self-publishing books has finally reached the mainstream, with enough success stories to make it a legitimate part of the publishing world.

Here's more about this and other trends in 2010, plus some crystal-ball gazing into what's coming in 2011.

  1. Self-publishing lost its stigma
    rinzler.jpgIn today's tight traditional publishing market, agents, editors, and publishers are now encouraging authors to test market their book by self-publishing. Yay! Self-publishing has finally lost its stigma. So if you've been dissed by agents in the past, 2011 might be your year to try again. Alan Rinzler is a longtime acquiring and developmental editor at major publishing houses and an independent editor with private clients. "Literary agents have been the missing link for self-published writers trying to break through into mainstream publishing," he states in Literary agents open the door to self-published writers. "But new attitudes are taking hold, especially among younger up-and-coming literary agents."
  2. Ease of tech attracts traditionally published authors to go indie
    Technology companies have been wholly responsible for providing tools that let authors easily publish in print and on e-reading devices. "Many of our indie e-book authors are outselling, outmarketing and outpublishing the traditional publishers," says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who in 2010 helped indie authors publish and distribute over 20,000 e-books. "Self-published authors are finally gaining much-deserved respect, not only from the industry, but from readers as well." Coker adds that the 60-80% earnings from the retail price of their books "has caused many traditionally published authors to go indie." I like a core group of proven e-book creation and distribution solutions, but keep looking to technology companies and partnerships. Just a few to note are Issuu, BookBrewer, and Monocle with its associated Bookish reader.
  3. The social graph makes conversations and recommendations easier
    Social_Media_optimization.jpgAuthors conversant with social media tools will get even more of a leg up in the coming year from technology services. "There's a lot of buzz about reading moving onto digital devices, but people don't talk as much about the consequences of such a shift," says Trip Adler, CEO and co-founder of Scribd. "It's much easier to share what you are reading if you are already reading on an Internet-connected device with your whole social graph right there. Over the next year, you'll see a lot more books, short stories, poems, and other written material recommended to you by your friends and through your likes and interests." Authors who understand this will cultivate relationships with bloggers and other curators who can make their voices heard above the fray. Among interesting offerings here is BookGlutton, which lets readers and reading groups converse inside a book via a widget. Possibilities are vast: authors can upload and discuss them with a virtual writing group. Reading groups, classrooms, and book clubs can discuss books uploaded from the web or from Feedbooks.
  4. Online communities and curation continue to grow
    storify.pngOnline writing groups and communities like Red Room and Figment are increasingly valuable resources for authors testing ideas and looking for input. For readers, they can provide much-needed recommendations. Twitter and Facebook are also venues for recommendations from trusted bloggers, blogs of peers, famous people, or sources in vertical markets. For literary books, Goodreads provides a really nice social media platform":http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2010/goodreads-takes-next-step-in-social-reading/ in their community of more than 4 million readers. Their iPhone/iPad app (over 30,000 downloads) has an integrated e-book reader, rating system, buying, progress reports. They also launched a free author program that lets you upload, sell, and even promote e-books. Look for sites that offer similar services in niche and genre, and more product innovations that make curation easier, like the ones MediaShift's Roland Legrand mentions in his recent post on Storify.
  5. Content-rich, relevant tools for marketing are still emerging
    Karen LelandIn addition to participating in communities and wooing bloggers, Karen Leland, president of Sterling Marketing Group notes that "one of the most exciting developments in 2010 was the expansion of multimedia into the everyday promotion of books and businesses. YouTube has become the biggest search engine outside of Google. In 2011 I think driving book sales with content rich, relevant video placed on YouTube and embedded in blog posts will expand as a leading source of driving awareness of a self-published book." This kind of marketing also improves book discovery with the proper use of metadata.
  6. But book designers are still frustrated
    Joel FriedlanderJoel Friedlander aka The Book Designer has been frustrated in 2010 by too many competing formats and not-quite-ready-for-prime-time design technologies and standards. "My biggest hope and expectation is that we will get better tools for creating e-books in 2011. Great strides are being made in EPUB and other formats but the device engineers and software coders need to finish developing and hand the tools over to the designers. We are eager to use them to create beautiful books and quality experiences for readers." Good news for Friedlander and other design warriors, EPUB3 is scheduled for review and approval in May 2011, and it's got lots of bells and whistles.
  7. Out-of-print titles continue to be revived, shared, and sold
    bookscanning.jpgFor authors with a stack of out-of-print books, 2011 will be the year to get them into e-book format and recreate an income stream. Among others, the non-profit Internet Archive will scan and run OCR across texts, convert them to the various formats for use in their library for the print disabled (blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired), and in the free archive. Or, for a reasonable fee, you can exclude them from the archive and get the files to sell them yourself in all the usual places on the Internet.
  8. The single-purpose e-book reader phases out
    ereaders.pngThe iPad was the first multi-purpose e-reader (besides the web browser). More than one pundit thinks that single-purpose e-book readers are transitional devices, and that, in the future, we'll be reading comfortably on book size-and-weight versions of the iPad by a galloping herd of makers including the ones making devices today. Expect some to fail.
  9. Transmedia "immersive" books and apps become more common
    Transmedia, enhanced, and multimedia e-booksAuthors who can think "writing" and "movie" and "gaming" are going to love transmedia storytelling. Especially when multi-use devices and books in browsers become the norm. 2010 saw enhanced e-books and magazines, learning materials, and apps based on books on the rise. Watch for continuing growth in the number of startups, a la those Multimedia Gulch CD-ROM development days, to help produce these "transmedia properties."
  10. Oh yeah . . . print books
    Author services companies will continue to serve up Print On Demand (POD) books for multi-book authors and the masses of people who just know they have a book in them. It's a great business. Who knows, maybe the Espresso Book Machine will make it into the few bookstores left standing in 2011. But bookstore distribution will continue to be a less viable option to any publisher's income stream as mail-order from Amazon and the other major retailers continue to usurp brick-and-mortar bookstore sales. The new smaller, lighter, better multi-use devices will encourage e-reading. That leaves the rich and privileged to order special limited print editions of books by authors they love. Okay, that may be gazing a few years too far into the crystal ball, but look, some authors are already finding it a trend, nonetheless.

Did I catch them all? What do you think were the most important developments in self-publishing in 2010, and what do you see in your crystal ball for 2011? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Carla King is an author, a publishing and social media strategist, and co-founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website.

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July 28 2010

19:02

Gaming + Mobile + Social = 'Conspiracy for Good' from Tim Kring

Tim Kring, a long-time television writer and producer, is best known as the creator of the NBC show "Heroes." But he's rapidly expanding his media universe -- last week at Comic-Con he launched a new book project, "Shift," which will debut in August from Crown Books.

He has also created a new transmedia project called "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG), which describes itself as "a movie where YOU can be the hero and impact the outcome of the story for the better." Participants travel through a blurred narrative that mixes media, interactive storytelling and a learn-as-we-go collective approach to fight a greedy corporation and benefit good organizations.

CFG is being partially supported by Nokia and its Ovi mobile platform. Plus, the fictional story includes chances for players to do real good in the world. For instance, there is a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation and Room to Read, where each time an online visitor reads a book to a child, the corresponding book will be donated to five libraries set up in Zambia. Nokia and Room to Read will also fund a year of education for 50 girls in Zambia.

The first live meeting of participants in "Conspiracy For Good" occurred on July 17 in London. I connected with Kring to explore this new genre he calls "social benefit storytelling," and what its implications are for entertainment and social good.

Q&A

What is "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG) and how can people participate or experience it?

Tim Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" is a global movement for change driven by a story, which the audience becomes a part of and every participant has the ability to impact the outcome of this story. The story will be played out on websites, mobile devices, at live meet-up events in London, and ultimately in a village in eastern Zambia where CFG will be responsible for building a library, stocking it with books and providing 50 scholarships for school girls.

This U.K.-based project of "Conspiracy For Good" is the pilot for game-changing entertainment -- narrative mythology that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, compelling the audience to become a part of the story with real world outcomes.

To get into the "Conspiracy For Good" and join in the story, simply go to the web page and watch the featured video. A recap will point you to the current activities and detail how you can get involved. And if you're in the London area, register online at the site and join us on the streets.

Anyone can follow along -- comment, contribute, share, decipher, solve, connect and collaborate at the website. The site is the global hub for all things CFG: Watch videos, follow progress and events on the blog, and make an impact and interact with the characters of the story through the main websites.

"Conspiracy For Good" is called "a social benefit experience." What does this mean and how can an entertaining story generate social benefits?


Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" creates a new genre of entertainment which combines rich narrative, philanthropy and commerce. We call this genre "social benefit storytelling." The "Conspiracy For Good" aims to become a movement. Individuals are now being "tapped on the shoulder" and asked to join this movement to continue to make the work of the "Conspiracy For Good" a reality with global impact. By participating, members of CFG have the opportunity to affect real word change from the environment to education to the economy by applying their unique abilities, talents, networks and passion as an active part of the story.

The entire gameplay centers around causes, and direct action...on the streets in London, where participants will be involved in book drives, toy drives, cleaning the Thames, etc. By creating a secret society for good, and providing a forum for people to connect with one another, the hope is that there will be a tremendous amount of user-generated interest in new and worthy causes.

"Conspiracy For Good" says it integrates "interactive theater, mobile and alternate reality gaming (ARG), music and physical participation." Is there one component that excites you most? And will this multi-screen experience include movie theaters or television?

Kring: I am very intrigued by the mobile aspect. It has just exploded over the last few years as smartphones are reaching a wider demographic. I love the idea that a mobile phone can be both a content consumption device and a content creation device. In other words, an audience can use their mobile phone to receive story and create video and text and geo-tagging themselves. For a storyteller, this really piques my interest.

Tim Kring Headshot_300dpi June 2010.jpg

"Heroes" was a fictional story about people trying to save the world. "Conspiracy For Good" seems to be a real-life extension of this narrative. What elements and lessons from "Heroes" were applied to the development of "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: You are right that I came up with this idea when I saw how connected and committed the "Heroes" audience was to the underlying core message behind "Heroes" -- interconnectivity and global consciousness. So, I thought, wouldn't it be great to not just talk about "saving the world" in fiction, but to attempt to do it in the real world. In many ways this is the logical extension of what was known as the "360 Platform" that NBC.com and "Heroes" built around the show. The attempt there was to build a broad, connected universe around the show that created multiple extensions of the story that could cross all platforms.

We learned a tremendous amount doing this. One of the key things was just how motivated the audience can be to create content on its own. So in many ways, CFG takes that idea and makes it the ultimate goal -- to create a self-sustaining movement for good that ends up having real-world implications and direct action.

You just announced that Room to Read and the Pearson Foundation will be beneficiaries of the "Conspiracy For Good" experience. Will there be additional organizations and how can participants support them?

Kring: Other organizations are invited to include their missions in the "Conspiracy For Good," and participants are welcome to join those missions, too. The meeting place for missions and people is conspiracyforgood.com.


The experience includes live meet-ups in London. How will participants meeting other participants evolve the story? Will there be meet-ups in other cities?

Kring: London is the first of what we hope will be many cities around the world. When participants come together they will follow a clue trail of video drops that move the story forward. They will have to work together in teams to solve various clues in order to advance the story. They will find key props and sets and locations for the story, interacting with these and using their collective efforts to confront our bad guys and have justice prevail for our protagonist. Along the way they will interact with actors in character, creating a sense of a truly pervasive experience.

Here's a video giving the back story on "Conspiracy for Good":

Blackwell Briggs is a fictional greedy corporation in the energy industry that distributes false information. Is it inspired by any real-life company or event?

Kring: We've all become very familiar with corporate greed of all stripes. Blackwell Briggs is an attempt to draw from that sense of familiarity without necessarily conjuring up any one corporation in particular. The corporation seems to be involved in almost everything controversial. So, in many ways, they are a "catch all" for corporate greed. By showcasing a fictional, evil corporation, we also celebrate, by contrast, the admirable, real world companies that really do exist in the marketplace today.

What does success look like for "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: Teams in five different countries have worked together to bring an idea to life, to do something that has never been done before. Designed as a proof of concept pilot that integrates narrative, cross-platform participation and philanthropy, the measure of success is that it has been built and deployed and proves viable on a story level, a participation and community level, providing a foundation for greater expansion.

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Do you plan to join the Conspiracy For Good and contribute to the movement? Share your thoughts about this transmedia project in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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