Why Fans Matter in Transmedia Storytelling

According to Henry Jenkins, the leading expert in Transmedia storytelling, in his text on the subject, Convergence Culture, “Transmedia storytelling is storytelling by a number of decentralized authors who share and create content for distribution across multiple forms of media. Transmedia immerses an audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story.” 

Jenkins definition of transmedia that it works if there are multiple story tellers or authors, but there is another school of thought that should be addressed, that there is a singular person at the helm of the transmedia story telling. In my case study of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, we see that one creative director also works for a transmedia franchise. And one of the most famous franchises of all time, Star Wars was sole in the hands of George Lucas until a few years ago when Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney. Up until that time, Lucas had a tight rein on who could write “fanfiction” or other Star Wars-inspired media (not limited to movies, music, and written works). Now the franchise is still expanding. An interesting note about the Star Wars universe, the new movie will be based off of the Star Wars movies and not the books that have their own expanded universe, essentially creating two different Star Wars universes. Transmedia analysis will be interesting when more details about the plot arrive.

But to prove Jenkins point, there are many franchises that are successful with more than one storyteller. For example, Wizard of Oz started as a children’s book series in the early 1900’s. Then it was turned into a play. The most famous adaptation is the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. Over the years since the film there have been numerous reiterations, adaptations and television shows that have showed different sides of the land of Oz. The most interesting interpretation of Oz comes in the form of a book, Wicked by Gregory Maguire, which tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from birth to death. Since it has inspired a Broadway musical, and the story has largely been accepted into the cannon of the story. Fans of Wizard of Oz the film now have Wicked as a delicious background on which to interpret the political structure and character motivations like never before. A franchise has expanded on its own, through fans writing their own ideas.

The problem with fan fiction, as it stands now, is that many creators will not see it as a way to expand the universe as they see it. Take for instance George Lucas, he was hesitant to promote or feature fan parodies on starwars.net because they were not part of the universe as he envisioned in his head. Again, J.K. Rowling was hesitant to encourage fan fiction because it told the story in a world that was not her own. A way that she solved this problem was creating the Pottermore website as a fan community. The website allows users to be sorted into a Hogwarts House.

            Fans are the number one asset to a transmedia enterprise. They are the people who influence others to read/watch/ experience whatever story they have fallen for. Fans are also important because they want the ancillary content that transmedia provides. Delving deeper into a story is what keeps the fans interested. Like I mentioned before, the fans wanted to make Star Wars parodies, fans wanted the Hogwarts textbooks and wizard fairy tales. Immersion in the world is a way for the fans to escape the current reality, something which as a cultural phenomenon, seems to be taking off at an alarming rate. That’s not to say that fan fiction and other fan created art has not been around, many Star Trek fans wrote fan fiction during the shows run in the 1960-1980’s. Today’s fans have more impact.