Julian McCrae of Portal Entertainment is passionate about new ways of telling story. We met, both trying to raise money for entertainment projects through Tech City, an accelerated development, government and match funding mash-up of a scheme. His pitch was about immersive storytelling, having created a truly cross platform series; he was creating a future storytelling structure, one likely to influence our entertainment viewing within a few short years. But he was struggling to find good writers.
Within six weeks of that internet-start up speed-dating event, he had pulled together the BBC Writer’s Room, (the BBC department dedicated to the development of new writers), and Ravensbourne College (a design and digital media college with a 100% post graduate employment rate) and curated a two day conference on Immersive Storytelling.
Named the Immersive Writing Lab, it is a conference that like many others puts good writing at its heart. But, this course acknowledges there are now many platforms to write for, and often the writer lacks the confidence to take advantage creatively, and so sticks to the traditional routes to get storytelling to an audience. The resulting output is patchy, traditional and not what commissioners want.
Julian’s experience at an advertising agency delivering the cross platform strategy for big TV brands (CBeebies, Dr Who, MI High, Sarah Jane Adventures) had shown him that success depended on a thorough series ‘Storyworld’ (the arena in which the characters operate). Adding-on a character FB page, and presenting it as a cross platform project was typical but did not make a series cross media. ‘If Hitchcock was starting to write today,’ he said, ‘he would look at all the platforms available to him and develop a way of telling a story which used them all’. A current project in development at Portal Entertainment has just 12% filmed content, a concept impossible to digest for the majority of TV/Film writers. Industry writers (mainly from TV and Film, but gamers too), it seems have developed skills which bind them to their preferred medium and, prevent them from being able to think across all of the options when planning the beats of their story. The writing lab gives them a chance to re-learn their skills.
However, truly interactive series ideas take time to develop. Series creator Toby Whithouse had shot a couple of series of Being Human before he felt confident to develop, plan and write an accompanying cross platform series. The resulting Becoming Human, designed to dovetail with the broadcast version was an on-line series which tracked a young vampire’s rehabilitation in to the community. This character appeared in only one episode of the broadcast series and yet was a hero in the on-line version. This successful multi-platform series was created under the stewardship of Sarah Clay – BBC Multiplatform Drama Commissioner and another Immersive Lab speaker. To support the development of such series, Sarah will be reviewing the top five storyworlds to come out of the two-day conference.
In fact, the program of speakers for Day One is designed to be inspiring and illustrative in equal measure. Matt Locke turned round the way multi-platform was treated at Channel 4 before setting his own company dedicated to digital storytelling: Storythings. Paul Ashton is the Development Producer for the BBC’s Writer’s Room. J C Hutchins has changed the way audiences can engage with story through touch. Julian’s experience of multi platform dramas from his agency background centres on the idea of introducing the protagonist through social media. All the speakers understand emerging writers need safety and direction to develop their storyworld.
The second day focuses writers on creating the arena for the story, or the storyworld. The lab is designed to create an environment which fosters collaborative learning, to allow emerging writers to create worlds that people want to lose themselves in. Good platform specific writers need to learn to work collaboratively, planning out content per platform and working with other parties.
The two-day course runs on the 20-21st August. It is priced to attract big minds, rather than big budgets, and is £40 for both days. Designed and dedicated to growing and developing the writer of tomorrow, it offers a timely opportunity to understand how entertainment consumers want to interact with stories.