Transmedia

In the mid-1990’s the Internet emerged in the consumer marketplace. Although it was crude compared to what we have today, it showed great promise for connecting people across the planet at precisely the same time the world culture was going global. Little did we know at that time the Internet and mobile networks would fundamentally change the world. Although I had played with a few Internet ideas in my time at Philips Media and Interplay, something about the this new medium was fundamentally different. I was eager to experiment with using this global network to tell stories while connecting people with each other, but once again we had to invent it.

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To that end, while I ran the interactive entertainment group at Time Warner, we developed the first visual chat application called “The Palace.” It allowed individuals to build their own graphic “palace” on their PC and connect with other folks “palaces” around the world. They talked to each other in comic thought bubbles. It developed a significant cult following for the time although we couldn’t figure out a way to monetize it. Something that was quite common for early Internet applications. There is still a network of "Palaces" all over the world.

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The second experiment I tried was at Disney. The first Toy Story film was coming out and my group was tasked to develop an Internet game that people could play at Disney.com. No one knew much about how to do this at the time, but we designed and deployed a simple, but elegant puzzle game called “Hunt for the Lost Toy.” Cliff Johnson was the game designer. Players used clues on different pages of Disney.com to figure out where the toy was hiding. Each day a different toy went missing. Again, because of the slow Internet bandwidth this game was very simple, but on the day it launched it crashed the servers at Disney.com because of the number of people that wanted to play together. This was a sign of things to come.

So, my interest in this new collaborative media form grew to the point that I wanted to explore it full time and that meant leaving my big Hollywood life at the studios. After 16 years, I had grown weary of designing and directing interactive movies and games back to back and dealing with the antics of the crazy corporate world. I was also aware that there was a lot going on in the world that felt challenging and people needed help. The life that I had at the studios was massively fun, creative and paid well, but it was an isolated elitist world that did not intersect with the real world very often except to sell them something. I was interested in seeing what I could do with my storytelling skills in addressing some of the cultural challenges I was experiencing.

 

The concept of “convergence” transmedia for me was born out of this work and influenced by many others. What I found interesting about working in this new medium, was  instead of creating in just one form, the Internet and later mobile phones allowed you to create in multiple forms and “converge” the common story to a global audience. I began to think of these projects as not just television shows or games, but as multiple pieces of transmedia/storytelling that all added up to some common collaborative result.

 

For example, the Random 1 television show we did for A&E Networks certainly featured the television series, but its concept of guerilla philanthropy played out with the million viewers of the TV show interacting with us and each other on a specially designed web app "transmitter". The audience built on what we created and one of those stories led us to creating the documentary film “Lost in Woonsocket” chronicling what happened to us on the show. These days this convergence method is common place often called "transmedia," but at the time we were experimenting, failing more than succeeding. As a storyteller however, with an interest in how the future would turn out, it was the perfect medium for me to play in.

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Random 1 TV Series- A&E Networks - 2005-6

In 2005 cultural cynicism seemed at an all time high. Lots of people were in need of help, but the question was, did anybody care. Doc film maker John Chester and his partner, street shaman, Andre Miller set out to find out. Their work birthed this R1 reality show concept with a heart. They would “randomly” ask people on the street what would make a difference in their lives. Then they would tell that story to someone else that could help. Even though the show had money we never solved the challenge by spending our funds.

 

It was in the connection piece between the need and offering that "guerilla philanthropy" emerged. Later when I interviewed those that helped, they said it wasn't that they couldn't see the problems, they just didn't know what to do about it. We told them a story with a single request and they gladly stepped up to help. Some of the asks were small and some were huge. Somehow, when we put things into play they just worked out.

 

When John first showed me the concept I thought it didn’t have a prayer of getting on cable television. Reality shows at the time were mostly about embarrassing people or seeing how they would react to getting a new house or car. It was all rehearsed and staged for maximum emotional effect. Random 1 was none of that. It was gritty, unpredictable and heartwarming when it worked out. It took three years, but A&E bought the ten episode series.

 

The converged transmedia piece was the R1 web transmitter (on the left) we set up in the back of the Random 1 RV studio. It connected our global audience to us and to each other. It turned out that people wanted to help others, but just didn’t know how. R1 told them a story and asked them to do one simple thing. That idea caught on with the audience and led to an unexpected outcome as all of us on the R1 crew experienced our own story of redemption. That story is chronicled in the award winning documentary film “Lost In Woonsocket”  

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Google Ocean - DOER Marine - 2008

I have always loved maps. They define the territory of many a story. Google Earth was one of the best. When I got involved with ocean activists, we were looking for a way to tell the story of the damage that was taking place in our oceans. Dr. Sylvia Earle, world famous marine scientist, her team at DOER Marine and me came up with this idea to put the ocean on Google Earth and tell the stories from there. Google Earth at the time had land images, but the ocean was just a big blue painting. Fortunately, the director of Google Maps at the time, John Hanke, also had an interest in doing this. The design geo-located ocean stories all over the world featuring award winning media. They then converged with documentary films and other types of media programing. For more detail, click the Google Ocean button.

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Two Voters Campaign - Obama 2008

We had suffered through 8 years of George W. Bush. Then from out of nowhere a bright light emerged in Barack Obama. My close friend, Cliff Branch and I decided we could not sit the 2008 election out. We felt called by Obama's message of hope.

 

We created a convergence political media campaign called "Two Voters." We created political spots that Democrats could send to their undecided friends. The campaign was advertised in NY Times, USA Today and other major publications. One spot in particular was pulled from network television during the Republican convention. We considered that to be an honor. The night that Barack became our new president is a moment I will always remember. Never say never.

Here are two examples of our TV spots...

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Integral Life - 2007-2019

For the first 10 years of my transmedia work we created some outstanding projects like Google Ocean. Random 1 and Lost in Woonsocket. Although they gathered fairly large audiences, I had this feeling that we were preaching to the choir. We really were not influencing the larger cultural conversation concerning our future.

 

This was confusing to me, but as fate would have it, when I finished the LIW documentary film, I was introduced to the famous American philosopher Ken Wilber. Ken was a film and TV geek like me so we had a lot to talk about in terms of the importance of stories to what we are imagining about the future. Ken had developed his Integral Theory and written best selling books for years. His teachings had a profound influence on me about addressing the audiences we were not reaching.

 

I thought I would hang out with Ken and those that he influenced for a couple of months and it turned into ten years. I ended up running Ken’s media company Integral Life. We utilized a convergence media approach of weekly content, web courses featuring particular applications of Integral Theory and convened big conferences that explored the now and the future. My time with Ken and  everyone at Integral Life literally changed my perspective on my life and work and for that I am eternally grateful. Some of the bigger projects we did in that time follow down this page.

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The Future of Christianity Documentary - 2008

During the shooting of the Random 1 television show I had a mystical experience of a Christian nature. The people that were helping us with the "Lost in Woonsocket" story were Christian pastors directing churches that ministered to the homeless, so it wasn’t that surprising that Christ Consciousness was hovering.

 

I had grown up in the Christian Congregational church, but had no mystical experiences in my younger years. I definitely had some of those experiences in my Buddhist meditations later, but I was so dumb I didn’t know there was a contemplative path in Christianity. I was curious in finding someone who could help me sort it out and that led me to Father Thomas Keating of the Snowmass Monastery.

 

Father Keating was a collaborator with Ken Wilber so it made perfect sense that when I joined Integral Life to create a documentary film about "The Future of Christianity" with Father Keating and Ken Wilber. Mostly we look back to debate the teachings of Jesus and the founding of the Christian Church but there is a progressive, contemplative movement that is trying to figure out what their relationship is with Jesus for who they are now .

 

The film was well received and drove the audience to a web community called "Return to the Heart of Christ Consciousness" where a wide variety of progressive Christian thought leaders interacted with the audience. Check out some of those teachers by clicking the HCC icon to the left.

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Integral Life Conferences - 2012/2018

Part of my transmedia approach included live events. As much as we do everything on-line these days or over social networks, live events are still where communities come together. As part of my Integral Life work, we convened many conferences. Two that I am the most proud of were on the topic of the now and future. At What Next in 2013 and What Now in 2018 we gathered an outstanding group of world thought leaders and explored what the now and the future looks like through an Integral lens. This clip is part of a What Now piece I did on the difference between a generative approach to culture and a extractive one like we have now.

 

 

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What's My News - Serial Programming - 2017

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One of the topics I track in terms of the now and future storytelling is the NEWS. With the rise of social media there has been a fundamental change in the way we get our news. Over 44% of people now get their news from social media. That is a cultural sea change that is rippling out globally.

 

In this series I take a look at the practices of Google and Facebook as it relates to the social media news. As our news gets customized according to the data that is being collected from us, it is no wonder that tribal bubbles and a polarized cultural landscape is one of the results. These changes are here to stay and they are not all bad, but the big issues going forward is how each of us as individuals controls our personal data. In a dystopian model like China, data is collected and controlled by the state. If we are going to create a more generative cultural approach it will require that our data is our own unless we agree to share it. Click on the icon on the left to see the entire series.

 

 

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Integral Life Practice 2.0 - 2017

Integral Theory developed by Ken Wilber spawned a life practice program for everyday living. It was called Integral Life Practice appropriately enough. Ken had done an original version of ILP during Institute days, so we decided to take a shot at creating an Integral Life Practice 2.0 in 2017 to update the training.

 

So many practitioners in the fields of leadership, meditation, health, strength training, death practice etc. were influenced by Ken’s work that I had my pick of these talented teachers. We shot everything in high def video and offered the results on the Integral Life website. One of the common complaints about Integral teachings is that it is too theoretical, so ILP 2.0 is designed to fully embody life practices for practitioners in very practical ways. As many of the teachers moved from cognitive teaching styles to more experiential methods, I began to see that VR/mobile technology could take this experiential approach to a whole new level.

 

The video trailer to the left outlines the ILP 2.0 approach to Health. To see the examples of the ILP 2.0 offering click the ILP button to the left. To see the beginnings of the VR/mobile design click the VR/mobile button.     

 

 

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The Ken Wilber Biography Project - 2016

When I joined Integral Life in 2007, one of the first things I did was review all the footage that had been shot of Ken Wilber up to that point. It was a considerable number of hours mostly from workshops and conferences.

 

As Ken’s health declined, he did less of this and for the first five years I knew him we shot nothing new, preferring to just do audio programming. Through those years Ken would also complain that people were taking his work and teaching it incorrectly. This was a huge frustration for him. I suggested we could remedy that by creating a Ken Wilber Biography project where he would talk on a variety of subjects including his life experience, philosophy, writing his books, Integral Theory and reflections on the many questions we humans have about our existence. If anyone wanted to know what Ken thought, they could just watch the videos.

 

He finally agreed to be on camera again and that began a four year process where we would schedule biography sessions in between everything else we did. It ended up being roughly 60 hours of just Ken talking about everything.

 

Two stories informed its design. First, Ken had followers all over the world. Whatever this was, it had to be available world wide. I also wanted people to have the experience I had  when working one on one with Ken at the loft. Nothing fancy, just Ken talking. We plugged the footage into a specially designed app, a kind of Netflix of Ken, and posted it on the web.

 

Now, when someone gets interested in Ken and asks what book they should read, I steer them instead towards the KWbioapp for a full understanding of who Ken is and the historical work he has added to the cultural conversation. For me personally, this was my gift to Ken for all that he taught me that changed my life.

 

You can see a sample of one of the biography videos to the left. To connect to the KWBioapp, click on the button to the left.

 

 

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Vote Common Good - 2018

I hated getting involved in politics. It’s just not a world I like to hang out in with all its back slapping and phony rhetoric. I made an exception for the 2008 campaign we did for Barack Obama because of the direness of the situation and because he was a once in a generation leader. When he was elected, I thought, good we are back on course. Little did I see the election of Donald Trump in 2016 coming. All my worst fears about what he might do had been confirmed in the two years leading up the 2018 mid-term elections. I really felt that if the Democrats did not take at least the Congressional House back, our constitutional democracy was in trouble for lack of oversight of the executive branch among other things.

 

I looked around for some place to offer my storytelling services for the mid-terms, but could not find a suitable choice. I had been spoiled by Obama. However, in one of those “you have to be kidding moments” I attended a progressive evangelical retreat in July 2018. I was interviewing a variety of these pastors for my Progressive Christian offering. I expected to have a nice weekend of Jesus teachings and instead walked into a political maelstrom. This group was really angry about the term evangelical being hijacked by the alt-right and believed that there were plenty of progressive evangelicals out there that might vote for a Democrat for the first time. The resulting Vote Common Good bus tour was organized in four months and was quite the adventure for everyone involved. For the full story on Vote Common Good click on the button to the left.