Posts tagged ‘artist series’

Seeing It From the Audience’s Perspective: An Interview about Transmedia with Lucas J.W. Johnson

I met Lucas J.W. Johnson at Merging Media 2011 where my friend, Cinci, suggested I blog about him.  Lucas is exceptionally sharp and ambitious – and he has clearly spent considerable time researching the transmedia landscape.  I figured it was in my best interest to sponge off his knowledge. (I found his responses to my interview questions to be quite thought-provoking – so I’ve added a few comments after some of his responses.)

What is a valuable lesson you’ve learned about the digital space? 

Look at your project from the audience’s perspective.

You come to a project with the perspective of the creator — I have this awesome story I want to tell, and this awesome way I want to tell it.

[But] if you’re going to actually succeed, then before you actually release it, in the process of creating it, you have to shift that perspective, and come at the project from the point of view of the audience.

Not only things like what will they want, but also how they access the project. Imagine coming to the project as someone who’s never heard of it, right when it launches — how do you draw them in, and convince them to stay? What about if they come to it months after it’s launched — how do you make sure there’s an easy way for them to figure out what’s going on, and where they should start?

The same goes for how you’re presenting the story — what if they’re not on Twitter? Not on Facebook? Don’t have a smartphone? Never engaged with a transmedia or digital media project before? Any time there’s any friction, and moment when it’s easier for them to close the window than it is to delve deeper, you’ve lost them.

(I love this so point so much, because I think that seeing your project through your potential audience’s eyes is so frequently overlooked – even though it’s one of the most important aspects… Think about this more broadly: how many sites have you encountered where you can’t immediately find things like donate buttons or how to purchase a product.  Or one with the message “we’ll be launching in December 2011. Come back then” with no way to pre-order the product or even enter an email address for updates? Or how often have you attempted to listen to a podcast only to shut it off after hearing an initial 5 minutes that consisted of an interminable and irritating musical intro or a lengthy introduction of who all the hosts were and what they got up to that weekend…)  

Was there anything at Merging Media that you were excited by?

Most mindblowing at Merging Media was hearing Henry Jenkins speak (over Skype, interviewed by my friend Simon Pulman ) — he’s an academic, so clearly he’s smart, but man does this guy know what he’s talking about. He spoke about spreadable media, that what will succeed is not that which is easily broadcasted, but that which is easily shared among friends. Entertainment becomes a gift — let me bring you into this new world, let me give you this experience by sharing it.   

(This is brilliant.  And an excellent reality-check for the “this will go viral” mentality.  We all want to have our posts and projects spread, but there are a number of factors that make people truly want to do so.  The premise that “I really want people to share this [project/message etc.] so they should” is oddly at the heart of many campaigns and pitches.  The concept of the gift is fantastic.   And looking at it from that perspective, and of making your content truly great so that people will be motivated to share can be very eye-opening.  Because “it’s OK” or “I like it because I made it” or even “it’s good enough” does not constitute a gift.)

What have you learned from players in the Transmedia space (that you’ve interviewed, read about or had at your Transmedia Meetups)?

To be very broad:

  • listen to your audience, engage with them directly, build loyalty;
  • give a big chunk of your work away for free, especially if you’re working on IP that isn’t already a blockbuster success, to get people in the doors;
  • don’t be afraid to pimp yourself, just don’t be an ass about it;
  • experiment, try new things, know that you’re going to fail — but get back on the horse, iterate, move forward; genuinely be a good and honest and open person — people like that.
  • Finally, do something with your work — be aspirational, be inspirational, be a force for good; you’re asking a lot of people for a lot of attention and potentially a lot of money — to do anything else is irresponsible.

(These are all very insightful.  My favorite is the first, because I feel that the direct connection with one’s audience is how social media has truly empowered artists.  And it’s a beautiful, exciting and, occasionally, humbling thing to have such an immediate and easy access to people who connect with what you do.  But those artists who have something special to offer along with a real relationship with their audience (which they demonstrate that they value) are the ones who gain the most from social media.)

What projects have inspired you?   

The ARG known as the Beast, for the movie AI, back in 2001, because it was so groundbreaking and inspiring for the time — now of course it doesn’t hold up and there are a host of problems with doing something like it, but the point isn’t that we should do the things the Beast did, it’s that we should find new things just like the Beast did. Lance Weiler’s Pandemic project, for the hugely innovative and experimental nature of it, and his Robot Heart Stories project for its educational and aspirational nature. Failbetter Games’ Echo Bazaar, for its twisted and entirely engrossing story and setting. 

I’ve also been inspired a great deal by the old tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.  Like transmedia visionary Jeff Gomez, D&D did a lot for me as a kid to be able to express the stories I wanted to tell, and the things that make for a great D&D game are in many ways the same as those that make for a great transmedia experience. (I even wrote a whole six-part article about it all on my blog.) 

Lucas J.W. JohnsonLucas J.W. Johnson is a freelance writer and transmedia storyteller from Vancouver, BC. He received his BFA with Honours in Creative Writing from UBC, and has worked in advertising, PR, television, digital media, gaming, and transmedia. He’s published short stories and stageplay, organizes the Transmedia Vancouver Meetup, and is an active member in the international transmedia storytelling community, with his business Silverstring Media. A storyteller above all else, whenever Lucas isn’t writing, he wishes he were. Find him online at, and on twitter @floerianthebard 

Azrael’s Stop is very much an experiment for me, but I think it’s a fun one, and I’ve already had people respond quite positively to the story and even the way it’s told. I’d love for you to check it out, and especially let me know what you think, at


December 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm 1 comment

Contests for Artists?

Recently, YouTube and the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival ran a video contest asking participants to submit a commercial for a shot at going to Cannes.

These kinds of competitions are interesting animals… While exciting, I am of two minds about the concept, alternating between feeling that they are fun and can be useful, and thinking that there are somewhat exploitative – a great way for a company to get a polished product for way less than they would if they hired someone.

In my experience, it can sometimes be a creative jolt to have some sort of theme and deadline to work with (whether my video on Twitter was creative or jolting, remains to be decided, but it got me doing something actory that day).

It's A Gamble

Photo Credit: "It's a Gamble" by MarkyBon

Of course, quality submissions require effort – along with an idea that the odds often against you (depending on the number of submissions).  It is a gamble.  Whether it is worth it, in my opinion, depends on level of exposure and whether you can truly learn from it, have fun and/or make valuable for your portfolio even if you don’t “win”.

A great example of someone making a contest work for them was Jaemin (aka Chris) Yi who filmed three very cool commercials for a Doritos contest.  My favorite is below:

His excellent post about what he learned from the process is on his blog.

On the artists survey I ran, I asked the (admittedly unclear) question:

“What are your thoughts on spec work/contests for artists? (e.g. a design contest where you create a poster for a film, but may/may not have your submission selected in the end) Feel free to rant or praise:”

I received a variety of excellent responses – here are just a few:

“Like the idea, especially if the selectors come from the public or readership, rather than a closed secret panel of jurors” – Mitchell Teplitsky, Filmmaker

“I like it so long as the people running the contest are honest and the winner gets some real exposure and the collectors of the data share it with the participants” – Scilla Andreen, Filmmaker & CEO of

“Spec is always out of bounds. Don’t do it! It’s the bane of all writers, no matter what kind of work they do. Contests, on the other hand, open doors. I signed with an agent after receiving a national award for my first book. Never would have gotten his attention without it.” – Laine Cunningham, Writer

“They’re good for exposure. They’re good for creating portfolio pieces. They’re good for expressive fun works– for those who do not get to be as creative as they’d like on client work.” – Ori Bengal, Photographer, Photoshop artist, full-time couchsurfer, web designer, marketer

“Oy -don’t get me started. Artists are too often exploited when they are trying to make a name for themselves. … I did enter and win the 2006 Applied Arts Magazine Awards Annual and it did lead to some new contacts and one job. There needs to be a prestige factor. There are enough competitions and awards handed out for even the very least talented people out there. I am the best photographer my living room -right now. I think the competition for the 2010 Olympic logo and the mascot design was unethical. Imagine if I could get thousands of people to do work for me for free and only pay one of them. It was cleverly packaged as a “feel good” inclusive kind of friendly competition but the Olympic Committee received a lot of highly skilled and valuable labour for free. They wouldn’t try that with any other profession but the creative arts.” – Dan Jackson, Photographer

“I both rant and praise. Philosophically, I think it really degrades the industry regardless of if it’s for graphic design or photography or whatever, and that at the end of the day you can get better work if you hire someone directly – most of the spec work type sites attract a mid-range level entrant. On the other side, I’ve used sites like this in the past because I love what they offer. It’s a catch 22.” – Miranda Lievers, Photographer

“Opportunities are always great. But preparing for contests, design work, writing pitches all take time and it is disappointing not to be selected. I’ve had the best luck with entering photo contests. Just won an honorable mention in American Photo – Images of the Year.” – Kim Campbell, Photographer

“This is one of the worst things to ever come about, and it disgusts me. No one would think of doing this to a plumber, but artists are constantly expected to give it away for free. No artist should participate. It weakens the entire profession, and more often than not the “contest” portion is just a scam, or is less money than a freelancer would charge for the work anyway. There are a lot of good rants out there about this subject!” – Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Visual Artist

“I think the internet has created many opportunities for artists to give away their product in the hopes of being recognized. So we have created a nation of “amateurs” in the best sense of the word (the root of amateur is amare, past participle of “to love” in French). Unfortunately, all those people are no longer buying art; instead, they’re creating their own, which is wreaking havoc in the artistic marketplace. I don’t know if it’s good or bad; I just know that it’s what is.” – Marc Acito, Writer

37.They have value, depending on what the outcome is. Using the example, if it’s something that’s going to give an artist a great deal of exposure, it’s a valid time investment (as long as the selection remains in your control if it doesn’t win). At the same time, a documentary or independent film that has a great moral or societal aim would also merit the investment. I just don’t like situations where the outcome doesn’t match the value of the work and time, and/or implies a monetary devaluation by treating professional artists as hobbyists. – Dana Detrick, Musician, Voice Artist and Audio Producer

“I don’t mind spec work/contests but I absolutely detest any contests that require entry fees. They are asking us to pay them for the opportunity to create work for them? Give me a break.” – Bob Johnson, Photographer

Want more articles about artists? I have a whole series here.

May 20, 2009 at 3:36 pm 3 comments

Links for Artists

I have been lax about posting items of particular interest to artists. Mea culpa.

Chonburi International Art Exhibition - Marshall Astor - Year of the Comet - Painting Helpers from Friend Art

Photo Credit: Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer "Chonburi International Art Exhibition - Marshall Astor - Year of the Comet - Painting Helpers from Friend Art"

Here are a few enlightening articles I’ve come across:

David Spark‘s Mashable post, 12 Inspiring Stories of Successful Social Networkers, has an amazing example of the value of twittering for your character:

“Having blown all their budget on production, “My Two Fans” had no money for advertising, so off a friend’s recommendation, Swatek decided to start Twittering as her character, Kate Maxwell (@KateMaxwell). To get some fodder for Twittering and to find her audience, Swatek began following businesses and people that could relate to her show, such as dating sites, single women, girl power groups, fan clubs, etc.”

(Note: more on the topic of Twittering for characters on this previous post and on Gillian Shaw’s story.)

Beth Kanter offers the amazingly comprehensive post “Arts Organizations and Artists 2.0: Social Media for Arts People” which also mentions the value of using a blog as a showcase:

“For individual artists, a blog can also help sell or promote their work. Here’s some artists personal blogs that support their gallery sites where they sell their work — A Planet Named Janet, Self VS Self, PaMdora’s Box and Jen Lemen.”

& Jacob Morgan and Josh Peters recently released their (free) Social Media for Authors Ebook – chock full of useful suggestions, e.g. using Scribd:

“…upload any documents you want to share. Views, downloads, likes, comments, and favorites stats are plainly displayed on the page so you can see how popular the document has been. This can be used for anything from posting up a teaser to your next book to providing a free downloadable short story as a fan bonus. The settings for the documents (like if they can be downloaded or not) are easily set and Scribd serves as a great way to get your writing out to other people.”

Any other cool stuff you’ve come across lately?  Please share!

May 7, 2009 at 11:19 am 3 comments

Indie Film 2.0 now on One Degree

Back from holidays! Ahhhh, Bali was bliss.

I’ll be posting again soon.  In the meantime, should you wish to read “Indie Film 2.0 – How Social Media is Empowering Independent Filmmakers” (My most recent post on One Degree) – well, I won’t fight you 🙂

April 5, 2009 at 2:46 am 2 comments

Bring Your Characters and Film to Life via Social Media

A huge thank you to Erica Hargreave for all her hard work on yesterday’s panel and to Maayan Cohen and Danika Dinsmore.

Among other subjects, Carol Sill & Erica addressed the role of “characters” in telling a story via social media.*  Gillian Shaw (who was also on the panel & was great) subsequently spoke to Carol & I about our thoughts on the subject.


Now I rarely follow “characters” – likely because there are few television shows and fictional characters that engage me enough to follow their “activities” online.**  And with characters where it’s not clear the “person” isn’t a person, there is a certain deception involved.

It’s a double edged sword for an artist – put forth a character that makes the fictional aspect apparent and many won’t follow an “unknown” character.  Not unless they have something really interesting to say.  Which is why I do follow Emme Rogers (as do many others): she’s fun, flirty and I think the conversation that takes place around her and her exploits brings a great sense of play to Twitter.

And characters can be very useful – and exciting – both for the artist and for the storyteller.

Allowing the character to live in other platforms before the film is released – and whilst the film is being made – gives the character a larger/broader  life – and helps with publicity.

Related stories (lets call them “pre-stories”, for this point) can engage the audience and allow them to have a larger window into/to the character.  After all, any character has a life that began before the point at which the film begins.  Consider what aspects of their life you can explore and what kind of tools you could use to tell the story (video on Youtube et al., photos on Flickr, brief but enticing spurts on Twitter etc.) What parts of their story can bring more life to the character and the film?  Where were the characters 6 months before? What interactions did they have the day before? That morning?   You can see how this can be especially useful for something like a mystery/suspense project!

And, as I said in the above article (and as I have heard Monique Trottier mention with regards to books), there is no reason the end of the film needs to be the end.  I can tell you that there have been several films (Red Road, Sideways) where I was consumed with reading more about the film after seeing it. Or where I’ve seen a film numerous times. So desperate was I to stay “engaged”.

For the artist,  this process, while time-consuming, is in another sense, almost effortless.  After all, as a writer and actor, I always created a background for the characters etc. And, much as I’d love to pretend I’m special, this is pretty standard practice.  So such items can be extremely creative and satisfying – as well as a boon when it comes to building an audience.

And now, with all the tools available through social media, there’s the opportunity to give the audience more, to keep them engaged. Your creativity is the limit when it comes to where your story begins – or ends.


*We managed to talk about several social media topics, but there were some key things we didn’t have the time to address, so I hope we do have the opportunity to do a part 2 with this group so we can take our discussion to the next level.  Oh & Erica and Leah Nelson (who was helping out by being Linkgrrl09 and finding the sites we all talked about) decided to play this video while I spoke, to help er, demonstrate my expertise…

**However, get any or all the characters from The Office on Twitter and I will press “follow” until I develop carpal tunnel.

***I’ll be looking into the use of Alternate Reality Games for independent film projects in a future post.

Want more articles about artists? I have a whole series here.



Bring Your Characters and Film to Life Using Social Media” by Monica Hamburg

March 5, 2009 at 9:52 pm 13 comments

Distribution 2.0 – Learn from Filmmakers Who Made It Happen

Why Use Social Media to promote your film?

  • Ability to meet, communicate and socialize with a large group of people (people who I might not had the opportunity to connect with otherwise)
  • Finding an audience, a niche.
  • While you lose some control, you gain a tremendous amount – the ability to market your films, meet your audience and more
  • As with Crowdsourcing – people who participate are more inclined to purchase (same with film participants)

Remember, you have to be invested, engage with people. Don’t broadcast – interact. It’s not like sending out flyers.

Arin Crumley and Susan BuiceFour Eyed Monsters”

The people in the lovely trailer below might look familiar. They are also behind “From Here to Awesome” (and the people behind the awesome video I highlighted in my Film Publicity 2.0 post)

What started out as an art project for Arin Crumley and Susan Buice has turned into a larger conversation about the unique role of web technologies in getting voices heard and movements started.”… “The duo is about more than making movies that entertain — their work exemplifies an empowered approach to media and policy.” – From the “Beyond Broadcast 2008” blog:

Here’s a video “Four Eyed Monsters DIY Distribution Case Study” where the filmmakers discuss how they made their film popular (Source: “Power to the Pixel” and Arin (Blip is embedding strangely today so watch there for now.)


  • Small, Low Budget (“Amateur” filmmaking)
  • Went to SlamDance hoping for distribution – did not happen
  • Created blog
  • Told that film would be hard to market without any recognizable star power
  • Realized iPod might be a good venue
  • Created Video podcasts about the film to build their audience
  • Worked – blogs, Myspace etc. showcased them, helped publicized
  • Got coverage all over which continued through their endeavors.
  • Connected with audience threw these podcasts
  • Online audience helps with getting feedback, helped shaped their
  • Audience got interest in watching film, asked to see it
  • They collected zip codes and emails knowing this would help target their screening/distribution
  • People are subscribed & watching videos through various venues (e.g. Youtube, Itunes), not a website, so they always put “go to our website” at the end of each video
  • Send email to people in related area to invite to IndieWire showcase
  • Many people showed up, people were invested in them, asked friends to go – phenomenon
  • 1 request from filmmakers = 1 ticket sold
  • Created Map with requests = a type of social network around people who were interested in their film – self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Then began cold-calling theatres suggested to them, to screen film (didn’t always work… But it did – sometimes!)
  • Showed the film in 6 major cities (LA, Chicago, NY, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston) every Thursday at 8pm in the month of September (2007, I believe)
  • 1691 were at the screening
  • Arin and Susan were able to prove that they had an audience, could make money
  • Industry averaged 7 people per screening /”Four Eyed Monsters” averaged 70
  • Then they were able to open in the theatre
  • They got sponsorship and
  • Got nominated for a Spirit Awards (previously inelligible since they didn’t screen in theatre)
  • Screened in Second Life
  • Began selling DVDs.
  • Looked a new tactics to further propel (and pay back the money on their credit card they used to fund the film.  Money they got now paid for operations, expenses etc.)
  • Uploaded film to YouTube for free.  Asked them to join Spout and the filmmakers would get $1 per person who joined (that + ad revenue from Youtube = $50,000) (Note: 10MPH is doing something similar)
  • 1 million views, plus boosted DVD sales
  • Online attention landed them a $100,000 broadcast & retail release
  • Ignited interest foreign markets
  • Then posted film to MySpace
  • Saw more boost
  • (since their film was available online and it resulted in sales) Suggest: why not offer low-quality version online and then then high quality for purchase
  • Suggest allowing people to translate (dotsub)
  • One Store – they sell stuff off their websites (DVD, t-shirts – used BSide)
  • Google can teach you everything (search and you will find) (Takes time, but you can)
  • MySpace was first step
  • Was struggle, but wanted to justify making another film – now they can do these things while making the next film

MdotStrange “We Are the Strange”

Jeff Howe’s book “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business” has a nice section on Mike Belmont aka MdotStrange.  Here’s a brief excerpt :

“The 28-year-old self-taught animator has created a movie, entitled We Are the Strange, about a doll and a small girl who search for the perfect ice cream parlor. Along the way they encounter monsters, robots and an unusual hero named Rain. It’s an original, if unusual film. It looks like it was created by someone who has spent his life immersed in video games, the Internet and Japanese pop culture, as indeed is the case. Belmont made We Are the Strange without a cast, crew or budget. But because he video blogged the process of making the movie, he’d developed a sizeable fan base before he’d even finished editing his movie. In 2006 he released a trailer for the movie on YouTube, where it quickly became a cult hit. The notoriety led to a coveted screening at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “

Here’s a video “M DOT STRANGE – Distribution Case Study: We Are the Strange“- from London Forum 2008 – where he talks about the case study of his film with relation to distribution (Blip is embedding strangely today.  Please watch on the original source: Power to the Pixel.)

By the way, I am both envious and impressed by the title “professional weirdo” as I aspire to be a professional weirdo myself .

My Notes:

  • Writing in a blog, doesn’t mean people will read it
  • He uploaded clips about how he was making the movie – (like DVD-behind the scenes- extras) to YouTube
  • “Going to give back” – karma – made “film school videos”
  • Asked people to be extras in his film (to be eaten buy a zombie) via photos
  • Crowdsourcing = integrate people into film, and others promote your film
  • More open system rather than old school-closed (putting yourself out there, sharing)
  • New system allows you to open up new channels of distribution
  • Posted trailer on YouTube
  • Doing something different creates a new (your own) niche – that you can dominate – rather than compete with “the sames”
  • Screened at Sundance – more than 1/2 people left
  • Made a propaganda film against his film, by interviewing the reactions of the people who hated the film
  • Didn’t want to lose all rights, didn’t listen to people saying he couldn’t get it sold, watched
  • Focused on YouTube audience – created his own audience, demographics
  • Online puts power back into the hands of the people
  • Distribution has been the final hurdle for indie filmmakers
  • Asked audience to translate film
  • Went with (he retained rights and received 80% of sales)
  • No money on advertising, invested time marketing etc. online
  • Didn’t fight when movie got “torrentrical (released illegally online) – made video thanking (and made up the new term).  Got more press.
  • (From questions) Distribution should be focused on the world – not just North America.

More Resources:




Want more articles about artists? I have a whole series here.


Distribution 2.0 – Learn from Filmmakers Who Made It Happen” by Monica Hamburg

March 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm 7 comments

Tips from the Artists

This is part of my “Artists Using Social Media” series. (For more information, see the intro post).

For the question  & answer posts (of which there are quite a few), I have narrowed the responses down quite a bit.  While most responses were excellent, I filtered down to the (objectively) best ones, to avoid a long, repetitive post.


What kind of tips do you have for using social media to promote yourself/projects?


On How to Be & Behave:

Allison Hagendorf, media personality, writer, producer, foodie, fitness enthusiast : “I view social media as an extension of who I am and what I am trying to achieve.  It is a way of life.”


Photo Credit: Nep (Travis Smith)

Amber Jean, artist, writer, performer: “Mix the personal and the promotional.  Social media is first about relationships.  I like to think of it as “scooby snacks”…just enough bits from personal and professional life to keep an audience intrigued.”

Kim Cameron, Musician Side FX Band“: Stay true and stay on top of it.  Make sure you are as interesting on a screen as you are in person.  No one should be surprised when they meet you in real life.

Hunter Weeks, Filmmaker + Photographer:”You must truly become active in the social media apps. Just throwing stuff up on various sites and abandoning your profiles doesn’t work.” (1)

Scilla Andreen, Filmmaker + CEO & Co-Founder  “Honesty and don’t try to sell anything. Ask for advice and say ‘Thank You’.”

Adrian Ellis, Musician, Composer/Producer: “Be yourself, be interesting, be honest. Don’t sell, offer things – information, ideas, product. Think about the feeling you want people to have about you and write to that. Imagine everyone is a potential friend you’ve met at a party – think about first impressions.”(2)

Jeremy Lim, Musician : “Be active in your community. Help lift others up. Reciprocity is king. Be honest about how you label yourself. There are people looking for what you have to offer, but if you portray yourself incorrectly, you’ll only create resentment.”

(Click on Page 2 to continue)

February 13, 2009 at 11:01 pm 3 comments

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