How do you recognize the end of a transmedia project?
Imagine yourself waking up each morning to the familiar taste and smell of your creation, you two have been together for years and you can’t remember why. These are the days you have forgotten who you were, before it began, and how you’ve ended up where you are. Piles of notebooks and hard drives full of assets and ideas litter your work space. Posters and post cards, t-shirts and stickers bearing a logo are insignificant reminders of a marketing campaign that lives in your closets and drawers. Today you realize the time to end it has arrived, there’s nothing left; you’ve been doing this for so long there is a tangible fear it has become the definition of who you are.
How did it come to this? How long has it been? A month, a year, ten years? Did the end arrive gradually, or did you wake up only today knowing that the once creative energy filling your veins has turned to apathy? The story you once found so compelling is draining, its (lack of) growth, discouraging. At last night’s dinner party you were the only one talking about it and your team of creative engineers has all but dwindled to the scarce few who still believe in a single, unified vision.
As transmedia storytellers we know what it’s like to be completely engaged in a project, but how deeply do we ourselves become immersed? Any project with multiple moving parts is time and energy consuming, hell even small team ventures can become downright overwhelming. And say you are on one of those small teams, the team shrinks until one day it is you and one other person, the last of the collaborators, captain and first mate battling over semantics and royalties. You’ve stopped seeing eye-to-eye, maybe you’re both tired, or there are other projects to consider and this one just hangs on like that last leaf of autumn. How do you then decide that it is over? Is there something else to be done? How can you just walk away?
Perhaps I’m waxing a bit poetic, anthropomorphizing a concept, however as the creators, we are a part of the narrative and transmedia storytelling absorbs. We hatch the plot, develop the concepts, build our teams, collaborate, construct, de-construct, examine, hypothesize and launch. That initial release felt so good, didn’t it? The roll-out was fantastic and you rode the waves of praise, read and re-read the reviews, congratulating yourself on the parts that were lauded, took notes on the failures. But unlike static projects such as a film, or a novel or a website this launch is just the beginning, the storyworld is in your hands and your brand new audience awaits with baited breath your next move, they’ve wandered down the rabbit-hole and now you have to show them the way.
Social media networks need to be maintained, websites need updated, blogs need posts and events need planned. The rest of the story is unwritten, a publicist wants a call back, conferences have to be attended. But a transmedia project is not a business, it will not keep generating revenue forever. By definition a project is just that, it contains a beginning a middle and an end. For some the end comes when the sponsorship is over or the campaign funds have run dry. For others the end comes when another project or job comes along and requires your undivided attention. But what of the rest, those who have kept one foot firmly planted in a project that had no ending date? What then? When do they say good-bye?
So often we talk of the beginning of a project or work, the idea, the concept; that word alone elicits butterflies deep in our creative bellies. Starting out fresh we can’t wait to start building the new storyworld, we call our friends and co-workers, we ask for help and funding, we cast the roles and promise the world, we pour our hearts and souls into it for as long as humanly possible. But how many times do we talk about the end? Perhaps the project had a good run, a great run even, if it was backed by a sponsor its life can go on indefinitely (as long as the cash flows.) However, these aren’t the projects that tear at our souls, the ones that are the hardest to separate from are the ones we design for ourselves, the ones that we built for no one but the love of a dream. It started as a film, a short story, an unfinished novel and your collaborators saw your vision and they happily came on board because they too had the same dream. And the dream grew, and took shape and became a living, breathing entity, it brought tears of joy, frustration, elation, doubt and euphoria. There seemed no end in sight, until one day… when you woke up you realized that the taste and the scent of your story had grown stale. Dust had collected on the photos and hard drives and you could no longer remember how you got there. It is that day that you remembered that you have other stories to tell and that finally it is time to feel that excitement again. And you pause and you understand finally, that the project does not define who you are, it defines whom you have become.