Small, Far Away… storyworlds worth celebrating

I’m in the final stages of building an intensive, interactive workshop on Transmedia Development for Digital Book World…

The workshop is 3 hours long.

And I wish I could spend those whole 3 hours talking about ‘story’ development …  but I can’t because although Transmedia Development includes a huge element of that aspect, there’s also a whole lot that needs to follow on.

Under the workshop heading of ‘Transmedia Development’ perhaps I could solely focus on storyworlds, incubation and the importance of an invigorated fictional landscape – as to truly develop a transmedia IP must begin with the storyworld. The bottom line is that a robust, water-tight storyworld is the backbone to a pleasing, genuine transmedia extension.

I recently watched a documentary about UK Channel 4 sitcom ‘Father Ted‘ – a series that ran for three years and received a cult following as well as critical acclaim, picking up multiple BAFTA awards throughout the 1990’s.  The  show followed the misadventures of three Roman Catholic priests who presided over a parish on the fictional  Craggy Island, located off the west coast of Ireland.  Father Ted Crilly, Father Dougal McGuire and Father Jack Hackett lived together in Craggy Island’s parochial house, along with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle, who often wanted to serve them tea.

In the documentary ‘Small Far Away – The World of Father Ted‘, writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews  discussed the initial concept for the series they had intended as a documentary about six Irish characters.  They began with an idea of wanting “the insanity of The Young Ones, the cleverness of BlackAdder and the farce element of Fawlty Towers“, but how they also wanted a place for this farcical insane action to take place.

Craggy Island was born.

They say (at 1:00 of this excerpt)  how they “wanted to create this odd world that was outside of everything” which would give them a free rein.  They also mention that to keep it authentic it “had to be a bit shit“.. ;)   They’d found their storyworld.

I was reading some #transmedia-tagged tweets recently raising the importance that a storyworld should be worthy of adulation and celebration and then I remembered this quote, from Henry Jenkins ‘Convergence Culture':

“When I first started, you would pitch a story because without a good story you didn’t really have a film.

Later, once sequels started to take-off, you pitched a character because a good character could support multiple stories.

And now, you pitch a world because a world can support multiple characters and multiple stories across multiple media.”

Hollywood scriptwriter, cited by Jenkins in “Convergence Culture” (2008, p116)


Anyone who has heard Jeff Gomez speak on transmedia will be familiar with his term of ‘distant mountains’ – the suggestion and subtle references to wider, more-vast world than is immediately visible in the current context of a storyline or landscape.  This is something that Pixar have managed to do very subtley with many self-referential nods contained within Pixar films and shorts.

None of these specific ‘nods’ seem to have been developed (yet) in their fullest transmedial sense, but have the potential to be extended and built on because they have been weaved in from the beginning:

Pizza Planet

Pizza Planet – the fictional pizza restaurant introduced in Toy Story is a large restaurant with arcade games who runs a fleet of run-down Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks with a rocket on the roof with the Pizza Planet logo.  It has been reported that Pizza Planet is referenced in A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3.  Pizza Planet restaurants at Walt Disney World,  Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland Paris have been named after the site in the film and are designed to resemble it.

Buy n Large (BnL)

Buy n Large is a fictional company that first appeared in WALL-E and also featured in Up and Toy Story 3.

Dinoco

Dinoco is the fictional oil company that appeared in Toy Story as a small gas station and later in Cars and WALL-E.

From a development/acquisition point-of-view, identification and assessment of suitability for a story for transmedia is an essential and time-consuming task and must precede the storytelling.  This early commitment to detail will ensure that the story doesn’t become diluted as it organically flows over platforms.

Transmedia development is really a double-development process – the initial development of the storyworld and then the development of strategy, architecture, design and execution.  It’s a big call and getting it right takes a lot of planning and the ability to see both the big picture and then the many small pictures.  I’ll finish with another Don Draper quote (episode 3, series 2) as Sterling Cooper prepare to pitch a multi-platform campaign to American Airlines, “we got a lot of bricks…. but I don’t know what the building looks like.” As a transmedia producer/writer/developer you need to know that storyworld, your audience and platforms brick-by-brick and at the same time as the fully-furnished, 5-star IP that it deserves to be.

See you at Digital Book World, New York City on Mon 24th January for some more!