Though web series as a community have largely moved away from utilizing transmedia elements, with a few notable exceptions, in 2019, I want to encourage everyone to think more broadly about the ways in which we can tell our stories in a digital medium. We have so many options that mainstream TV doesn’t, simply because our content is already made to be consumed online, with all the tricks and tools that come with that distribution method. More video content is great, but if you can engage your audience in their normal lives, through audio, through email, or through social media, that can have a big positive impact on their continued interest in your story. I’m not saying everyone should sign up for 39 in-character Twitter accounts (a massively impressive thing that did happen), but I do think we could all do a little more to aspire to more inventive storytelling. We have the freedom: why not use it?
Defined: transmedia storytelling is storytelling that spans multiple platforms while telling a single, interlocking narrative. Check out Bernie Su’s keynote from Stareable Fest 2018, or our podcast with Carmilla co-creator Steph Ouaknine, for more details about transmedia storytelling in action.
Social media accounts
The obvious choice for a transmedia element, especially if you’re just starting out, is to make in-character accounts on your preferred social media platforms. Especially now that you can schedule and post to infinite Facebook and Twitter accounts straight from your Stareable page, this is a low-impact, fairly streamlined option for making your web series’ world more interactive. It also allows you to reach your audience in between episodes, making your show and your characters a part of their real life world and feeds.
Blogs and websites
In-world or in-character blogs or websites are also a great choice, and still totally free to produce. Plus, you can even utilize Stareable Updates for this, consolidating both your episodes AND your textual transmedia onto one page. If your show is found footage, meaning the characters are aware of the camera and the show, they could definitely also be aware of their own Stareable page, and can update it as themselves. As for creating a whole website (which you can definitely do for free, if you’re fine with a slightly longer URL), some ideas could be a admissions site for the fictional college your characters attend, a company website for the workplace your characters spend their days, or even a portfolio website if one of your characters is an artist.
Podcasts are the new web series, right? So why not make them in tandem? In Carmilla season 3, certain characters were away from where the canonical camera was available, meaning they were largely absent from the narrative. However, because they had phones, those characters were able to secretly record a podcast, which was released alongside the regular video episodes. Your show doesn’t have to be found footage to utilize this (or really any of the ideas on this list). If your characters host a podcast OR are fans of an in-world podcast, record a few episodes!
Is there a newspaper or magazine mentioned in your series? Why not produce an issue or two yourself? You can hide fun easter eggs, bonus stories, and integrate photos from characters who might not get a ton of screen time but are still big parts of the world. If you don’t want to make a full-length publication, digital or otherwise, you can also create an in-world email newsletter that goes out on a semi-regular basis. You can even straight up steal the structure from one of the (I’m assuming) hundreds of newsletters you receive.
This idea is inspired by Kate Hackett’s Classic Alice, which featured a baking-lover who released a cookbook of her favorite recipes. Most shows feature food in some way or another, so release a PDF or two for fans to follow along at home. If you really wanted to push the envelope, you could release a video of your cast and crew cooking the recipe(s) themselves as supplemental content.
Have a short scene that will never make it to screen, or a character you want to further explore that you just can’t schedule enough shoots with? Write a short story of a movement or day in their lives! Many web series writers started as other kinds of writers, so if you’re missing your prose days, lean into it.
This is a new phenomenon, at least to me, but physical transmedia- transmedia you can touch and feel- is a really cool way to potentially further integrate your story into people’s lives. Pair it with a live event, perhaps, or even start a snail mail subscription service where fans can pay a monthly fee to receive actual objects from the world, be them fake newspaper clippings, handwritten diary entries from characters, small trinkets, and more.
This concept is heavily inspired by Vessel Story Lab’s Ephemera Story Box, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of and is run in part by web series creator RJ Lackie (Inhuman Condition). The Ephemera Story Box is “a fiction installation piece set in Elliot Lake [Canada] between 1958 and the present, telling a story through the creation of a physical ‘memory box’ kept by its lead characters, telling the story of their romance.” They literally put together a box like you’d find in an attic with letters and objects and faux memorabilia, which allows people to experience the narrative in whatever order they grab items in, piecing together the love story. How freaking cool is that?? Sorry not sorry that this section of the article is more fangirl than advice. Sidenote: I would also love to see a digital version of this, like a Google Drive full of folders, photos, and documents with notes on the side between characters as they debate about the contents.