“We live in extraordinary times and the last five years particularly, a renaissance of storytelling. We are, as we were pre-printing press days when we equally shared, enhanced and distributed the fragments of our engaging stories. Today’s technology has delivered a new spirit of connectivity, a democratisation of story given back to the ‘many’. Storytelling not at walking speed but the speed of light. You equipped to deal with this?”

OK enough opening fluff and straight to the point. I was having a chat yesterday with a colleague at Screen Australia trying to answer a simple question. Cue music…

If you have a story project, that’s a little bit ‘strange’, who ya gonna call?

Magic Point Maroubra LX3 dBW 26

Not Fearing to Tread - Photo cc GHayes

(Strange = new format, transmedia, innovative, social, game-like, fragmented.) If you have a film and TV project and you need assistance to develop the script, help with the production, work through the characterisations, get advice on Red or 3D etc: there are a zillion consultants, vocational educational courses and many willing wannabe advisors to draw on. Film, Radio & TV particularly have 100+ years of maturity so it is also pretty easy to incrementally innovate, floating in watertight boats on tried and tested waters. Sadly the options for story rich projects that fall outside the straight and narrow linear path, have a more difficult time.

To be professionally guided or get the skills to create new storytelling formats you can

  1. Get in touch with professional agencies already doing this stuff. But they are often rather busy making ends meet and engrossed in ‘transmedia’ marketing big budget or existing story brands to really give you the time and advice you need.
  2. Find a traditional academic ‘digital story – type’ course (marketed as a world first) in your local area. Spend 6 months or longer working with ‘we need to do this stuff’ academics and theorists or at best, passionate aggregators of the best ‘new story’ project trailers masquerading as educational case studies. Also these course tend to be trials and under resourced – erm not the views of me with lecturer hat on, local employers 😉
  3. Find a local specialist individual who ‘seems’ to know about this new space – very few good experienced, passionate folk about and also a bit hit and miss.
  4. Seek out a handful of seminars, short workshops or networking events around the world. There are actually very few and they are often of the evangelising vs really getting down to nitty gritty ‘storytelling’ processes.

So here we are, a great dawning of transmedia storytelling, innovative new services and products yet still no true, deep development initiatives? Academia and industry either too money-busy, unable to take risk or focused on the past to really fill in this void?

Flash back to my early 90s when I was running immersive new media workshops in recording studios for musicians creating ‘multimedia’, then (when I joined the BBC as producer) running training in ‘networked audience futures’ for BBC execs. A couple of years later Frank Boyd invited me along to one of his independent residential MultiMedia Labs, an eye opener and which most of today’s ‘Digital Cross X Futures’ residential and other types of labs are based  on. Frank and I then ran several highly successful (especially from a people development perspective) internal BBC Labs using this basic Large Group Awareness Training format – which actually goes back a few hundred years but works especially well to expose traditional thinkers with new approaches. Since then we have seen sporadic charges in the longer format development labs from the likes of BBC again,  AFI Digital Content Labs, AFTRS Laboratory for Advanced Media Production (which I ran of course!)  and recent or continued carriers of the baton bTweenCrossOver (Frank Boyds), Pixel Lab, BAVC & Pygmalion amongst other longer format ones. There are others but they tend to be short, sharp shock, rock star events with at best solid international business networking outcomes.

What seems to be missing though are two key ingredients.

  1. Community. After all of these events/labs finish there is often a big drop off in keeping contacts and those with great story ideas just loose momentum as the weight of ignorance from the traditional industry and commercial pressures hit home. Great projects wilt and die if the original ‘spark’ people disperse.
  2. Story Development. As we know with the best traditional stories ones needs time to really fold depth, back story, great characterisation and wider story worlds into the mix. Like good original cooking it often comes down to good ingredients, time, taking risks and distilling the flavours (must be lunch time he says!). In a distributed and networked story environment these sorts of labs often fail to deliver this deeper more intense development nurturing. So…

A few ‘mates’ and I got together and we drew in some of the best transmedia thinkers and experienced lab folk and …. drum roll…


For Release 9 a.m. GMT – August 26, 2010 – printable PDF download click here

StoryLabs Launched to Create and Educate the Next Generation of Storytellers

    Global transmedia experts join to launch story innovation lab in four countries

Gary Hayes - Australian Founding Mentor

Sydney, Toronto, Los Angeles, London, NYC – August 26, 2010. Support for the evolution of storytelling enabled by new technologies took a giant leap today with the founding of StoryLabs, an organisation of leading international multi-platform and transmedia creators dedicated to the education and mentoring of storytellers. Powered by a unique worldwide mentor network, participants will benefit from the rich knowledge and experience of renowned professional experts including innovative digital producers, games creators, TV and Film writer/producers, social media and community experts and transmedia content creators.

“Technology has created both new tools and new ways to reach connected audiences. Mastering these new storytelling tools in the changing media landscape is the mission of StoryLabs,” said Gary Hayes former BBC Senior Development Producer, CCO MUVEDesign and Australian StoryLabs Founder. “StoryLabs experts are the actual pioneers and commercial leaders in their fields pushing the frontiers of storytelling across many different platforms. StoryLabs is dedicated to the evolution of storytelling through its incubator labs and a persistent mentor community”

Storytelling 2.0 and Specialised Development Tracks

Matt Costello - US Founding Mentor

StoryLabs deep focused project mentoring cycle will go from incubation to production and distribution providing an education in the writing and design process and best production practices. Development tracks include: Ad Lab focused on cross media advertising, Mobile Media Lab, Community Lab focused on Social Media Story, Games Lab, Innovation Lab focused on story around new services & product and Transmedia Lab focused on the development of new forms of storytelling.

“The elements of a good story that engage an audience such as story arc, compelling characters and good production values don’t change in a transmedia world,” said Matt Costello, US StoryLabs founder and writer of The 7th Guest,Doom 3 and the 2010 E3 award winning Rage. “At the same time we are seeing new forms of storytelling that for the audience are part rich narrative, part play and game as they become co-creators and ‘users of story’. We are here to enable that kind of innovation. “

Neil Richards - UK Founding Mentor

StoryLabs mentors, who have had extensive experience in other lab environments, will provide a hands-on opportunity for brands and media properties to advance new story formats and to shape a fully integrated story based transmedia solution.

“Towards the end of the 90s there was a real energy around interactive story-telling which has slowly evolved into today’s buzzword, transmedia” said Neil Richards, UK StoryLabs Founder and Director of The Mustard Corporation. “We intend to go beyond the hype and at the heart of StoryLabs is a belief that whatever the platform or purpose, however participatory or shared – there are universal qualities of good story-telling.”

StoryLabs Network and Engagement Futures

Tony Walsh - Canadian Founding Mentor

StoryLabs is also hosting an evolving mentor and participant online network that will allow experienced incubator labs mentors and participants to continue to engage in the creation of new form storytelling. There are twenty four renowned global story and experience creators listed on the StoryLabs site, four from Canada, nine from Australia and seven from the US and UK.

“Entertainment shouldn’t be restricted by national boundaries.”, said Tony Walsh, Canadian Founder and CEO of Toronto-based Phantom Compass: “StoryLabs recognizes that great stories are universal.  Our network connects top international mentors to creative personnel, propelling emerging projects towards global markets and audiences.”

The StoryLabs network invites TV/Film writers, games storytellers, advertising writers and others who want to evolve their projects to initially provide expressions of interest at StoryLabs.us/submit and begin a conversation about changing the face of storytelling.

Brian Seth Hurst - US Mentor

“I am seeing a tremendous shift in the foundations of the film and TV industry as storytelling becomes dramatically more experiential”, said Brian Seth Hurst, CEO of cross media strategy firm The Opportunity Management Company who is currently at work with transmedia pioneer Tim Kring on the Conspiracy For Good. “Working with some the top TV and Film creators I am deeply aware of their desire to understand and develop new ways of reaching and including the audience and building vibrant communities. In the early days of TV new production processes were developed that became standard, I see the StoryLabs serving that function relative to new forms of storytelling. I am truly honoured and excited to be part of this initiative and I know participants will greatly benefit from the pooled expertise.”

StoryLabs are planning incubator labs for the first quarter of 2011 and Screen Australia are already onboard as a first sponsor. Other agencies & funding bodies who want to bring the StoryLabs process and incubators to Canada, UK, US or Australia can become a regional partner or sponsor in the first instance by contacting info@storylabs.com.au


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