Exclusive Interview With StoryWorld Conference Chair Alison Norrington (Part 1)

The StoryWorld Conference + Expo is the first major gathering of content creators, platform providers, and entertainment industry leaders dedicated to exploring new business models and working together across media boundaries. The event, looking to become the first and primary transmedia conference, takes place in San Francisco from October 31st to November 2nd, and we had the chance to talk to Conference Chair Alison Norrington about it.

Norrington is the founder of storycentralDIGITAL and has worked on and spoken about transmedia for years. She is currently a PhD student studying Transmedia Storytelling. On her website she has talked about why she agreed to chair the conference, so I wanted to talk more about what the conference was in general and what their goals are. Below are some of the highlights of our discussion.

On a potential big name speaker that ended up not working out:

I was trying to get Guillermo Del Toro to come and open up the conference, because they had just opened up Mirada Studio. I had quite a lot of back and forth calls, because they were quite interested in being involved.

On the success of storycentralDIGITAL:

It’s kind of really gone big, which is great. I just think I’ve been at the right place at the right time to a certain extent as well…It started off as like my place for my PhD, where I could take a lot of information of things I’d read and then put it through my filter…And now it’s kind of the umbrella company through which I’m running transmedia development master classes in Europe and New York, consulting to publishers and writers…But I’ve got good plans for it too, a little strategy that I’m ready to kick off soon.

We talked about her first transmedia novel and how that helped shaped her view of transmedia. She had created a forum for readers to discuss her main character and what choices she should make, but she didn’t get much response at all. Later she discovered that a completely independent forum had been created to talk about all that because hers was too strict in its rules and formatting. She said the key to making something that works is to be real with your audience.

The key is to be geniune. We’re being sold to 24/7, billboards and the sides of buses, on our phones, pop-up, and TV ads, and I think we have a real savvy audience now, and if you’re not geniune and relevant, they sniff that out straight away. So, it’s kind of upped the stakes really. I think that’s why there’s a lot of interest in transmedia, because I think without a good story, it is like a flimsy attempt at marketing. If you’ve got a really good story that allows it to travel across different platforms and infiltrate and seep into peoples’ lives, on their devices that they have every day, without them even questioning what they are looking at it on, then you’ve got the possibility that things really can spread quite quickly. I think if something is pushed out in peoples’ faces too much, it’s obvious that the hope is that it goes viral…and people know that is what is expected of them, and they won’t do it. I think there’s kind of a thin line between creating the architecture of a story where people enter that, and they know what’s expected of them. But if something’s done with the idea to make it go viral, that is quite obvious that it depends on them doing. I think they probably won’t do it.

On transmedia as a tool for viral marketing:

There’s been a lot of talk about Transmedia being used as marketing, and it’s immensely successful. Even looking at what Campfire have done for HBO’s Game of Thrones and for True Blood, it was more than just marketing…it has offered real life artifacts that people can actually hold in their hand. That gives them a relationship already with something they are going to see in the story.

On the mix of speakers at StoryWorld:

It’s something I’m really passionate about, I’m really excited about it. It’s a balance really between bringing in freelance content creators, writers, screenwriters, producers, everybody at a grassroots level as well that are doing really fantastic things. They are able to move quick, they’ve got big ideas, but they can move fast because they are small and adaptable. They are probably to a certain extent embedded within the social networks of who their audience are. So, as well as doing the top down approach where they are going to tell their story, they are doing the bottom up approach where they are already in there and they are listening to what people like and don’t like. I think that’s hugely beneficial, and that’s an asset that any writer could bring to the table if they are already in the community.

I’m also bringing to the conference some of the Fortune 500 companies like Disney, Orange, Random House, THQ, Microsoft, someone from Hasbro that has been working on the Transformers property…there’s some kind of big names…these people are already adopting this transmedia approach to their work, but not shouting it out as such…I think if we are going to push the word transmedia onto the consumer and to the public audience, they are going to switch off, because it sounds like a gimmick. Which is why I want to bring together these really fabulous indie freelancers who have fabulous ideas, and also the Fortune 500s who are already doing it and have earned their stripes. So, it’s quite an exciting mix, and I’m hoping that both demographics definitely can learn from each other.

Check back this week to read Part 2 of our interview with Alison, where we talk more about the conference, including the amazing 1-on-1 mentoring opportunities for attendees.

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