"Trans-media" usually refers to projects that aren't tied to a single medium. Either because they unfold across several different platforms, e.g., combining TV and the Web. Or because they contain elements of several different media, e.g., combining computer games and film.
At the Danish Film Institute, New Danish Screen maintains a special focus on the phenomenon. To Jakob Høgel, artistic director of the talent development programme, it's important to try out trans-media opportunities. He's seeing a new development in the field of documentaries.
"We have to investigate the storytelling forms that are out there," Høgel says. "I see some interesting shifts happening in documentaries. How do people use the Internet? In other ways than sitting still, reclining and looking at something. They want to be able to do things, choose things, interact in various ways. And that type of experience will, of course, also exist in filmic documentary forms."
"48 Hour Games"
New Danish Screen has had a hand in this shift. November saw the premiere of "48 Hour Games", an interactive documentary by director Suvi Andrea Helminen and game producer Dajana Dimovska.
The project is based on Nordic Game Jam, an event where young computer game developers over one frantic weekend developed an entire computer game from scratch. It was all caught on video – and the user will now create her individual version of the Nordic Game Jam story by picking her own way through the material. Picking certain clips triggers rewards and there are small games to be played along the way, including those developed by the teams featured in the film.
"48 Hour Games" is produced by Mikael Windelin for Minerva Film.
New business models
A pressing aspect of trans-media that needs to be resolved is revenue options. How do you sell something that's available online or involves multiple platforms?
"We have to get away from the retail sales philosophy," Høgel says. "There has been a tendency to sell individual units: one DVD, one cinema experience of a certain duration. People exhibit an entirely different behaviour online – first they need to get something for free, then, if they are interested, they will pay to go in-depth, get extra stuff, etc. That's also a development we'll be supporting."
"Cloud Chamber" is a Danish example of this strategy. The project, a trans-media fictional story, is produced by Vibeke Windeløv and Stinna Lassen, directed by Christian Fonnesbech, with Fabian Wullenweber as the episodic content director, and features a cast starring Jesper Christensen and Sara Hjort.
The story is set in an online science fiction universe and includes film, computer games and social media. Solving a mystery about a secret signal from outer space, users have to work together online to find out what really happened – in the past and in the future, on Earth and in the rest of the universe.
Fonnesbech, the director, expects the game to be free at first.
"The payment model will probably be that the first episodes are free and then we introduce episode sales – possibly combined with "free-to-play" options like purchasing extra adventures inside the game. One possibility could be paying to progress in the mystery instead of having to play your way through, which takes time and effort, or buying increased visibility to other users. The attraction of such ‘virtual merchandise' is that it's cheap to make – while an extra film clip, for example, is really expensive."
"Cloud Chamber" is supported by New Danish Screen. The game is expected to go fully online in February 2013.
Education and new networks
Apart from new storytelling forms and business models, trans-media involves new players in creative development and financing. This takes new networks and skills for working together across industries.
An important initiative in this regard is the National Film School of Denmark's new programme, European Cross Media Academy, which offers graduate students from all over Europe who have the relevant professional skills a semester's training in a trans-media approach to animated films and computer games. The programme will initially train 200 students over the next three years.
New Danish Screen has supported two projects this year that develop National Film School graduate projects: Petter Madegård and Jakob Balslev's "Cinema dell'Arte", blending animation and live motion-capture, and Trine Laier and Lise Saxtrup's "The Cosmic Top Secret Experience", a platform game and autobiographical documentary hybrid.
Another initiative is PIXEL JAM, an annual three-day networking workshop organised by New Danish Screen and other partners. The aim here is to develop original concepts, make new contacts across the worlds of film, gaming, TV, music and the Web, and bring creative people together with commercial interests to help out with the continued development, financing and distribution of the projects.
Finally, there are the film festivals, whose markets are increasingly focusing on new networks and financing opportunities.
"Trans-media has become a very important part of certain festivals. IDFA is raising its profile and there's the market in London, which is probably the international leader in interactive productions. This year, four Danish projects were pitched, which is amazing," Høgel says, referring to the London Film Festival's trendsetting Pixel Market.
At Pixel Market, 30 trans-media projects are selected to meet with 100 potential investors and decision-makers.
The four Danish projects this year were Cinema dell'Arte and The Cosmic Top Secret Experience, along with Let's Dance – A Casual Game about Death by the Kong Orange digital agency with support from DFI's Video Games programme, and World Online Orchestra Project by the Copenhagen Phil symphony orchestra in partnership with the Makropol media agency. Cloud Chamber was in last year's market.