See Jack Die: Chronicling a Transmedia Production
By David Marlett, Managing Director, enkHouse
It’s been a few weeks since my last entry, where I discussed Transmedia Production Contracts and offered to share my drafts with you, upon request. Many of you emailed, and I hope I communicated to you that it will take a few weeks to get these deals through the publisher’s attorneys.
Then, when they’ve been beaten up and polished, I will redact the deal-specific parts and email you the forms.
If you missed that article, and want the docs when they’re ready, email me at dmarlett@enkHouse.com. (When you do, please tell me a little about yourself and your role in this new entertainment industry.)
What I’m finding are three basic types of transmedia deals: the production agreement, the co-production agreement, and the license agreement. The Transmedia Production Agreement (TPA) seems to work best with our own stable of authors, where we are producing original transmedia content and/or they are creating it, for inclusion in an original body of work to be released under our enkHouse brand (eg: there is no previously published book or other material upon which our content will be based.)
For previously published work coming from publishers, so far the issue has come down to how involved they wish to be in the creation of the enhanced ebook. If they want to be hands-on, then a TCPA (Transmedia Co-Production Agreement) seems right. If they want to be hands-off, and we are to come back to them with the finished transmedia product, then a TLA (Transmedia License Agreement) is in order.
So far, the larger the publisher, the more likely they want to do a TLA.
Moving past the question of contracts, let’s talk about some specific transmedia projects. One of the original intents of this column was to lift the veil and publicly chronicle the process of one of our own transmedia projects (aka Enhanced Ebook or EEB). My hold-up to-date has been in the picking of the project, as the telling cannot be to the detriment of the launch (aka, driving in competitors), and the publisher must be okay with the revelation of the process.
As our projects with publishers will all be unique, first-of-their-kind initiatives, I am finding it difficult to use them as examples. So I have decided to chronicle the process with one of our own authors, Nick Black, and his amazing novel, See Jack Die.
But first let me share some insights into how our development process works. I receive a large number of emailed manuscripts (where are the gate-keeping transmedia agents!) and try to get through all of them. Not read them all, mind you, but get a feel for them and respond accordingly. It doesn’t take long to get a sense if the story has legs, and if it has sufficient uniqueness to lend itself to an EEB-first campaign.
I will discuss this in detail in future columns, but for now let me say that the key ingredients to me are:
- Story. Actually it is: Story Story Story. My years of writing and reviewing screenplays comes in handy here. I am fast on story… to see it, or to see its absence. Good transmedia projects have story-game from page one.
- Writing. Great writing skills and a unique, powerful ‘voice’, with limited developmental edits required.
- Setting. Unique and visual setting (lending itself to either graphic artists or creative photography, for example).
- Author. An author who will be collaborative and whom really enjoys the idea of taking his or her audience on a much broader journey than is possible within the confines of a printed book.
- History. Does this particular work have a history? Was it self-published? If so, does it need significant editing to get it into shape for enkHouse?
- Production. I get a quick snapshot of how the EEB might look, and what additional content will need to be produced to get it there. Are there existing media available? What is the scope of what will be required? Can it be recouped in the end while still keeping within enkHouse pricing (less than $9.98 retail)?
- Audience. Who is the target audience? If the EEB is going to require extensive production, the audience must clearly be international.
- Marketing. How long would it take to get this out on the market? What might the technology be at the time that could lend to the marketing (wow factor)? What might that marketing cost?
- Cross-media. It needs to be fairly evident that the EEB can be the foundation of a great film or premium cable series. And if the story has the potential to spawn a terrific digital game, all the better. And of course, a print book will also be considered.
- Competition. Are other EEBs likely coming for this same topic? This is usually not a problem at this early point in the industry, but it is still an important consideration.
- Subject(ive). Is the subject enjoyable to me? Will it be a good addition to the enkHouse catalog?
- Gut sense. This is why I’m paid the big bucks (Ha!)
These are not necessarily in priority order, with the exception of the first two. I imagine that my process is similar to a traditional acquisition editor’s process, though for transmedia projects it requires a broader approach; the ability to imagine the alternative media elements as well as what it takes to produce them.
For us, being a digital entertainment company, we are only looking at ‘digital-first’ projects, those which, based on the above criteria, can work better in an interactive medium, and then the print book can be ‘found’ within the multi-dimensional EEB. Secondarily, film adaptations will be pursued. It is all led by the enhanced digital product first; that is the keystone from which the narrower media forms can pull their content.
So, back to Nick Black’s manuscript. He came to me a few months ago with his self-published work, See Jack Die, and a plan for a series of books to come using the same Jack character, and the branding concept of See Jack ___ (Run, Kill, etc.) I read the book and the manuscript for the second in the series, and was immediately hooked. It was a true XJ7, firing on all 12 cylinders (aka, all 12 of the above criteria). Check. Check. Check.
Great talent. Fresh voice. Good story. Well, there were some things that needed further investigation, but on first blush: bingo!
And the fact that Nick is fresh from prison and before that the French Foreign Legion, was of interest…not sure how we will use that later.
Coming from the film side of things, specifically screenwriting, I guess I have an eye/ear/nose for concepts that will translate well to film. It is a zone I am comfortable hangin’ in, and Nick’s series was also particularly suitable for it. I was naturally interested when it was obvious the See Jack series would be ideal for a dark Showtime or HBO series, for example. Or perhaps a feature film. But today, the money is in series, and his story is ideal for it.
One key element I needed to further explore was the ‘author’ himself.
Nick and I talked at length, and being an author with an entrepreneurial spirit, he was on board with letting me do our editing ‘thang’, and to start bringing in the alternative media elements. So it was decided. Nick signed on as one of my managed writers and we entered a Transmedia Production Agreement for his manuscripts. Specifically, we will produce/publish the book digitally, as an EEB, then produce or license the film/TV media rights, and then go to a print book.
(It is also prime for a game, but one thing at a time. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…”)
But before we did any of that, his manuscript needed some story work, and copy and line editing. And before even that could start, Nick had to pull all his self-published stuff off the Internet, etc.
The ‘book’ that was out there was not the same as what it would be when we relaunched it under the enkHouse label. The cover art wasn’t of our caliber, the characters needed polishing, the story tightening, and, of course, it needed editing. So it had to be pulled. The way I figure it, whatever audience he had built via self-publication will still be there later, and they will be the first in line for its reincarnation.
It was a good start, and in early August we were underway…. (to be continued)
David Marlett is the managing director of enkHouse, a transmedia production company based in Dallas and Los Angeles, focused on enhanced eBooks and interactive apps for the publishing, film and other entertainment industries.
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