Transmedia Interview with Jeff Gomez CEO at Starlight Runner Entertainment
As coursework for the Cross Media course Ms. Nora Schmidt conducted an interview with #Transmediavisonary Jeff Gomez @ - CEO Starlight Runner Entertainment CEO.
Interview with Jeff Gomez
(CEO Starlight Runner Entertainment)
New York, USA
Jeff Gomez: Hi, how are you doing?
Nora Schmidt: Hi, awesome, how are you?
Jeff Gomez: Very good, very good!
Nora Schmidt: So, I have thought about the questions I wanted to ask you and if you are okay with it I will just start shooting them at you.
Jeff Gomez: Please do. Go right ahead.
Nora Schmidt: So, first I was wondering how do you describe to someone what your job is, who has never heard of transmedia? And what belongs to the field of tasks of the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment? In short, what are you doing?
Jeff Gomez: Really good question. I call myself a producer. I am a producer, someone who comes in, looks at a big job and knows what all the pieces of that job look like and how they interact, how they work together. A good producer will assemble those pieces and allow for the whole project to function well. And I am a member of the Producers Guild of America. Those are largely movie and interactive producers. It’s an organization around 6000 people across the country, that do this mostly in Los Angeles, but I am from New York. As the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment my idea or the concept is, that usually the producer selects a medium and collects perhaps a series of artists and craftsman and develops a project within that medium. So, the question I ask is, is it possible to create a project that is leveraging several different media at the same time. Can it be done in a way, that is performed in concert, so that the message is not repeated exactly in each medium, which is a kind of cross media implementation, but what if little pieces of the story exist on different media platforms and come at you at roughly the same time. That to me is transmedia storytelling or transmedia production. I created a model for accomplishing this in the 1990ies. It was very successful on two occasions and that was enough for me ,because I liked it, to create my own company in the year of 2000 and become a transmedia producer.
Nora Schmidt: So, you would differentiate between the terms transmedia and cross media? Because in our course we basically learned that you can say cross media or you can say transmedia, it’s basically the same term. But you just said that cross media is telling the same story in every channel, but transmedia is kind of adding little pieces of information as well, right?
Jeff Gomez: Yes, although in your professor’s defence, Europeans and Australians I have noticed, make cross media and transmedia synonymous. They say it’s the same thing. In the United States, what I felt I needed to do, is to distinguish a subgroup of cross media, to be stories that are told differently on different media. So, the umbrella is cross media, because everything is running across different media. For Hollywood, cross media was, “well, we take an old television show that was done for a television network and we put it on cable. Cross media! Or put it on DVD or video tape back then. Cross media!” you see? The same advertisements on television as it is on the radio, or it is in the newspaper. It is the same saying, the same slogan. Cross media! So how do I distinguish this new technique that tells different parts of the story. They only had Star Wars. There weren’t too many. “Oh okay, Star Wars is a successful movie, the novels and comic books are telling different stories. Well, that’s the exception, that doesn’t happen, you can’t design that from scratch. You need for the intellectual property to be very successful before you can do this.” And I said “No no, you can design it from the start to operate, to function differently and on different media. This is transmedia storytelling.” And they were like “Well, we don’t know how to do that, you better show us and we will give you money”. The word transmedia, at least in America, and I know in other parts of the world now, is a certain legal term now. So, I can use the word transmedia in a contract, and there is a legal definition that distinguishes it from cross media. To be able to use the word transmedia means, that I can earn a certain rate in my pay, I can earn health insurance, I can earn a credit in the movie and things like that. So that’s important.
Nora Schmidt: During my research, I also stumbled across the term “Transmedia Bible”, which is as far as I understood, a collection of ideas for extending a products presence over several media channels. So, it’s this collection of ideas, that you then in the end hand over to the client. Is that a good wrap up of it or is there more to it?
Jeff Gomez: Well, yes, it’s a little bit more than that. What we learned about our clients was, that sometimes they had an intellectual property that was very large. We call them story worlds. And the problem was, that when we gave them some information about this world, it would be in an email or some brief document and it wasn’t enough. Also, they needed to share the information about the intellectual property with many of their stakeholders, the people who are creating the production and the people who are marketing the production. And so, we started to create guide books for all of these stakeholders, because we noticed that there was inconsistency in the property. So, we decided to create what we call a mythology. A document that recounted every aspect of the intellectual property, but also was instructive. It told people how to write for these properties and what the message of the property was. That’s different from a standard television or movie bible, which is just describing what’s in the movie or what’s in the TV show. These guide books told you how to create new content for the intellectual property. The Pirates of the Caribbean mythology is 400 pages long. Its huge! And it’s used as a basis for all these different products that the Walt Disney company put in. The content includes one or two sentences that sum up the entire property. Not the movie, not the hero, but the whole world, the whole universe of the property. We profile the characters in great detail and then we summarize the character with little boxes. Then locations. What are all the key places in the world. For example, from the coca cola happiness factory. Imagine in that little 60 second commercial there are dozens of different locations and different places. What if we wanted to tell stories that are set in those locations in the future. We need to describe them and explain what they do and things like that. Special items, like Jacks Sparrows compass. How does it work? What kind of magic operates the compass? So, we have to describe those things, but then, here is where we get into the assents of the brand. The core elements, that allow for us to truly understand what makes this story world special. For example, the archetype of Jack Sparrow is the trickster from mythology. So, what are the trades that the trickster shares with Jack Sparrow? This is extremely helpful, because this tells you, that Jack Sparrow for example is not a killer. He doesn’t murder or rape people or things like that, because he is not a pirate. He is disguising himself as a pirate so he can have freedom. When you understand this and you are writing a novel about Jack Sparrow, you are less likely to make him into a monstrous villain who does what pirates really do, because that would make him seem terrible and it could damage the brand for Disney. Finally, there is the chronology and distant mountains. This is a timeline of all events that have happened in this universe that are documented. That way everybody knows what the chronology, the history of this property is, in terms of its fiction. The beauty here is, that all of these things on this page of the guide book take place before the first film. And each of these little paragraphs can become a story that you can use in a novel or a comic book or a theme park ride and things like that. So, the results are great, because you can create content that is authentic to the Pirates of the Caribbean universe and still have it be new content, instead of repeating the story which is in the movies over and over and over again.
Nora Schmidt: So, there is definitely quite a bit to it.
Jeff Gomez: Yes. It’s the same for describing the world of happiness factory. The themes of the series of commercials, which the theme is not, “Oh let’s sell Coca Cola”, the theme is, that the real happiness factory is located between your ears. In other words, pursue what’s going to make you happy. You are in control of your happiness, not outside forces. There is a section in the happiness factory, a mythology on the creatures, like the kissy puppies. They fill Coca Cola with love. The results are extensions that are true to the original commercial. They feel the same and that’s important, because in the case of happiness factory you are dealing with agencies all over the world, that are trying to manifest elements from happiness factory. It’s easy to get it wrong. It’s easy to make mistakes and make the characters mean to each other, or hit each other and that’s not what coca cola is trying to convey. So, it’s important. We were very successful, Jonathan Mildenhall, he was with Coca Cola, loved the mythology and put it to work all across the world. And it’s adaptable, they look different for each property. There is Transformers, where the magic in the super science is described in a science fiction property and everything is now held together from the transformers mythology. For Men in Black we got very fancy with the instalments. The mythology weighs 20 pounds and is made of steel. So that’s the deal, that’s what is contained in our mythologies.
Nora Schmidt: So, I was trying to look at transmedia also from a little critically view. Isn’t it also a way of tricking people into watching advertisement?! That it gets to a point where people watch the film and then in the end the advertisement pops up? For example, the Happiness Factory, it’s this little movie that kids could watch. It’s a funny little clip and then in the end it turns out to be advertisement. Because, the actual aim then again is to lead the people to the brand or to the product, right?
Jeff Gomez: Well, here is the challenge, that people who make the products are facing in the 21st century. Interruptive advertising is ending. So, you are not going to be reading magazines for much longer, and those advertisements were interruptive of your magazine experience. You are not going to be watching conventional television for much longer. You can either move through the commercial or just go to Netflix. So, there is no advertising there. What do these people do?! The answer that we predicted would be, a way to go would not necessarily be to product placement. That’s hit and miss. It can work, but what if we go back to the original months and years of television, where the sponsor was actually paying for the show, was actually producing the show in some ways. Well, if you do that, our philosophy at starlight runner is if you do that, you are responsible for creating good content, meaningful content. Content that is entertaining, but also has something to do with the human spirit and with surprising us, delighting us, entertaining us. If you do that and your brand is a part of that, we can give you a pass. Maybe. It better be good, right? And that’s the point. That’s where the Happiness Factory comes from. You can look at Happiness Factory, the whole implementation, and if you remove Coca Cola, there is still something amusing and interesting about it. There is still something about it that’s meaningful. So, you put Coca Cola in, alright, we can live with it I guess. And that’s the philosophy and the philosophic approach that we take to this. So, the bottom line: You have to be a good storyteller. If you are a good story teller, I’ll buy what you are telling me. It’s that simple. But you can do that with politics, you can do that with charities and you can do that with educational institutions. You choose the college you are going to go to, because the collage is going to tell you a story that you like. You are not going to choose the college, that’s going to tell you the stories you don’t like. So that’s kind of where we are coming from with the commercialism of transmedia
Nora Schmidt: I would like to refer back to what you said about meaningful content. In a TedX-Talk, which I watched on YouTube, you finished you talk with a request to your transmedia colleagues to keep one another human with your work. Do you see yourself in a role of a huge social responsibility, that you reach a large crowd with your work? Especially with such well-known clients, do you see yourself in a role of responsibility to create, like you said, meaningful content?
Jeff Gomez: Yes, absolutely, yes. And I can see how easy it is, especially now, today more than ever before. If you remember the warning that was implicit at the end of TedX. It’s that these fictions, these different stories can come and hit us, from all different angles by design, and they can be confusing. They can cause us to vote for something that is going to work against us politically. So, these things are happening now, in the world, and I feel justified in saying that we have to be careful with our transmedia.
Nora Schmidt: Now, I have just recently learned about transmedia, and scratched a little on the surface, but as you have been in the field for quite some years now already. Have you already notices some changes in the few years of transmedia? For example that social media got probably a lot more involved?
Jeff Gomez: Yes, absolutely! Absolutely! Now, with many very large companies that we work with, there is an intrinsic understanding that the message must move across different media in different ways, and that we are moving into a more dialogue based mass communication situation. So, the term that we use for this is pervasive communication. Pervasive communication means that the broadcast model, where very few people were communicating with millions and millions of people and that’s it, one way, it has changed. Now, millions are all broadcasters. Everyone is famous for 15 people or 1500 people. That evens the playing field. There is great power in the hands of the consumer. So, the two things we noticed over the years is, that transmedia is now a more intuitive process with many of the big media companies. They kind of get it, but also, that transmedia is required now. It used to be a recommendation. Now it has to be that there is a dialogue architecture. There must be consideration for consumer feedback and audience feedback.
Nora Schmidt: Except for it focusing more on social media channels, what are the changes you expect to come for example with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)? What do you think will come?
Jeff Gomez: Well, I think we are very, very young with both. We got our ways to go. Some people are over estimating the impact in the presence of VR and AR. Sales at the end of this past year, after a big, big push by the industry, were not that good. There is too much work that has to be done by the consumer in order to enjoy the effect. But in general, every new medium that takes hold and continues to take hold is wonderful, because it affords us new ways of expressing ourselves to a mass audience. In the case of something like VR, that’s accomplishing something that the other media can’t quite do, because there is an intense intimacy and intense imersiveness that other types of media cannot accomplish. So, that makes me very excited.
Nora Schmidt: When I checked out Starlight Runner I found a lot about the projects that you already did. What are you currently working on?
Jeff Gomez: Starlight Runner is most known around the world for working Hollywood on the big movies that I just told you, but I am always interested in something new and exploring new applications for these techniques. In recent years, we began to apply a transmedia technique to geopolitical and socio-political crisis. What made me understand the potency here, is that with transmedia storytelling in Hollywood, if you tell the story right, if you tell it well and elegantly, then you won’t just go to the movie, you are going to go buy the comic book or the novel or the video game and you want to stay in that world. You will also tell your friends about it and you become like an activist, a fan. Could this be done, with real activism? Can this be done to get people to rise up in the face of oppression, extremism, crime, corruption? Is it possible? My theory was, that it could be possible. This was backed by the behaviour of populations using social media to self organize protests and made change in their homes. Is there something that transmedia can do to exhilarate that process? And the answer is yes! We have applied this kind of technique in Mexico, in Colombia, in Australia, to various crises and now we are working with World Vision, a global charity, to see if we can help them to reorganize their thought process around fundraising and around different ways of getting donors to team with the people who are being helped, so that they see each other as partners.
Nora Schmidt: Kind of closing the gap?
Jeff Gomez: Yes, this is 21st century! And transmedia storytelling is helping that.
Nora Schmidt: That’s amazing, that sounds very interesting.
Jeff Gomez: Yeah, I am very excited with that.
Nora Schmidt: Okay I have one last question basically. So, I am really interested in the field of transmedia and I am finishing up my bachelor next year. I will be graduating with a bachelor of science in International Media Management. What would you recommend to someone like me, after I got my bachelor, to get into the fields of transmedia, get into the industry? What are your recommendations or tips and tricks?
Jeff Gomez: Its easy, and yet it’s so difficult. So here is the advice. The first thing I would say is, that transmedia storytelling technique is not that well documented. You can research it and within several months, maybe a year, you would be able to absorb everything that is any good that has ever been said about transmedia storytelling. All the seminars, all the papers, all the presentations. You can do that and have a pretty good idea what it is and how is it done. The trick is that nobody understands that. So, if you could explain it to people, through a blog, through your social media, through your ability to observe a good transmedia in action, if you can do that, you immediately distinguish yourself. Who is doing that right now in the whole world?! No one! I’m telling you. A very small handful at best, and they are irregular, they are not posting every week. If you can do that, and you don’t have to call it transmedia all the time, you can call it multi-platform storytelling, story world development, brand narratives, corporate narratives, if you can specialize in how large groups are telling stories to the rest of the world, and know when it’s being done well, and know when it could be improved, and then you write about it regularly, you will distinguish yourself in the whole world. And then, when you have got people’s attention you can start to build on that, with your persona, your personality, your philosophy, your particular philosophy about how to do it the best. And then you are going to get clients or you are going to get a job in this field. It’s the way it works. It doesn’t fail. It’s difficult to do, because it takes studies and clear thinking, clear communication and regular posting and if you get all of that done, it won’t be long before you are working.
Nora Schmidt: That sounds interesting. I have never see it that way. But it’s true, the layer of information on the internet is very thin, so far.
Jeff Gomez: It is, and thought leaders are important in the field. My career took off, not because I got hot wheels and Pirates of the Caribbean. Nobody knew about that. My career took off, when people started to write about my work and when I started to write about my work on the internet. Then it got recognized. And Nora, the truly important thing about transmedia is not the geeky magic and giant robots and things like that. It’s the idea that there is now a new form of communication that can go back and forth between millions of people around a specific theme, a specific narrative. And that narrative can be guided and incredible products can emerge from that. Whether they are movies or fan fiction or selforganized protest movements. Things are truly amazing, so that’s what gives me the most satisfaction out of this. The nerdy stuff is fun, but the stuff about truly learning something and applying what you have learned from these narratives in your live to make it better, that’s what grabs me, that what I love.
Nora Schmidt: Thank you so very much for taking the time, Jeff. I really appreciate it!
Jeff Gomez: No Problem.
Nora Schmidt: Have a nice day!
Jeff Gomez: You too, bye-bye.
Nora Schmidt • BA IMM 2015
Interview for Cross Media Production Prof. Michael Schwertel
Media Professor @CBSinfo in Germany, Media Producer, Filmmaker, Designer working with #DigitalMarketing, #Animation, #Transmedia, #VirtualReality and #AugmentedReality.