June 18, 2010

When transmedia becomes fansmedia

If media artists are going to be pushed to extend their offerings across platforms, shouldn’t they be thinking about how these practices can be exploited to create richer aesthetic experiences, to support the creativity and engagement of fans, to deepen the meaningfulness of the stories and performances they are staging? Henry Jenkins, Hollywood Goes “Transmedia”

For the past week the internet has been awash with a Mortal Kombat Rebirth short film. 5+ million views awash. It’s brought about a hell of a lot of confusion for fans who have mistaken it for a real trailer for a new Mortal Kombat film.

It’s actually a teaser made by fan Kevin Tancharoen, intended to persuade Warner Bros to use his vision, and consequently his directorial skills, in the fated franchise reboot.

It was produced through small fan favors and volunteer work which is completely awesome considering some of the high-caliber actors (Michael Jai White as Jax) and naturalistic big-budget feel of the film.

Kevin explained:

“I would love it if Warner Bros wanted to do it this way. But I was so passionate about doing this, that I just had to pick up the camera and do it. Now like I said, because I am such a fan of the Mortal Kombat series, I know there’s a lot of concern about the mysticism and the special powers and all that kind of stuff. Well, like I said, this is really designed — the short so far is really designed like a prologue to the movie. Now, in a movie version, I am going to have that mysticism there, but it has to be done in a very tasteful way. I wouldn’t like it too campy or too cheesy. I know this is a weird analogy, but it’s the best one I can think of right now. It’s kind of like when in Harry Potter, there’s two universes that coexist with each other. There’s the real world, and then you get on the train and then you go to Hogwart’s, and that’s where all the magic is.”

Kevin’s right to show caution about respecting the fan’s universe but rather than what might have been a studio instigating a horrible financially incentivised resuscitation of the franchise, Warner Bros. has at its disposal a vision of a film that has already got fan appreciated buzz to the tune of 5 million views.

I really want to see this movie come to fruition. Not just to generally push the crowd-sourcing of stories, but for the need to see more rich fan content in blockbusters as we’ve been let down too many a time from game to celluloid transitions.

It’s a perfect fit as there’s gaping story space to work with. Mortal Kombat has a huge fanbase and few established plot lines (being a fighting game) outside of poor attempts at the classic martial arts tournament format.

Mortal Kombat Anhilation, the second film, miserably failed at any plot which took it outside of that and you’ll do well to find a lower IMDB rating than 3.2. Just in this short a fan has nailed a gritty interpretation of the tournament narrative that studios fail to do time after time in full features.

In more general terms of plot crowdsourcing, online series trophy examples such as KateModern and lonelygirl15 are also becoming stale. Let’s see this in a blockbuster.

What will be interesting is when and how Warner Bros. choose to join the conversation to either confirm some degree of interest or total disassociation and how that it will effect its spread. I’d love to see them eventually do a Paranormal Activity and stick it on Eventful whilst tipping off bloggers.

Will Warner Bros be as brave as producer Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Evil Dead) who has invested 30 million to turn Fede Alvarez’s YouTube short “Ataque de Panico!” into a full feature? Panic Attack! (English title) featured giant robots invading and destroying Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

How does 5 million views (+ 80K+ Facebook/Twitter shares) as a demand for a film compare to the 1,000,000 “demands” on that Paranormal Activity received? Warner Bros., like Paramount before, may well be gauging their own social media demand to blockbuster measurement. There is still part of me that conspires that this may all be instigated by Warner Bros – wily transmedia planners that they are at an early stage – to distribute a faux fan made short that they had long planned and knew would generate many more million views than an official trailer.

In the meantime, what of the spread of the conversation around it by fans and how far should they let it go?

We know how much fan fueled stories can be inherently more spreadable – each individual joins in with their own legitimate conversation within the fan’s film universe which can keep expanding and expanding through their own speculation. We recently experienced this in the seeding of Iron Man 2 transmedia fragments.

Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool spotted that Accutech (the company producing the tech in this film) resembled the Avengers logo. Was this an intentional content cue for fans? We can say out of it flourished a conversation we never would’ve envisaged around the content which produced 55 blog posts (make sure you check out his comment beneath the logo):

The slope of the “A” very much resembled the Avengers logo used repeatedly in the comic books. Could Accutech provide the tech, funding and organisation for the upcoming Avengers team being set up in the Marvel Studios movies?

Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 14.25.48

Just another reminder that it’s not all about the transmedia we put out and script, but the fansmedia they create.