Behnam Karbassi - Transmedia world-building

Benhambbb Behnam Karbassi is a founding partner of No Mimes Media, currently producing alternate reality and transmedia projects. He has worked in the entertainment & advertising industry for the past decade, leading teams at Saatchi & Saatchi and producing projects for companies like Toyota, Warner Bros. and Sony. He is a producer & director at LIFTmob, and was a producer at 42 Entertainment where he worked on the alternate reality experiences Why So Serious? for The Dark Knight and Project Abraham for Playstation 3's Resistance: Fall of Man franchise.

I sent him some questions about transmedia world-building and the new media landscape... [Disclosure: No Mimes is a Hukilau partner.]

Before creating No Mimes Media, you and your partners were at 42 Entertainment where you helped create the Why So Serious? transmedia campaign for The Dark Knight. Would you describe that project? Did the results meet or exceed your expectations?

I've worked on a lot of amazing projects, but, at the time, Why So Serious was by far the most incredible movie marketing I'd ever seen, much less, been a part of. I think that's because it went way beyond marketing, it extended the story of the Batman reboot, bridged the gap between the two films, and most importantly, made millions feel they were actually citizens of Gotham City.

This was in part thanks to a very willing studio, an extremely involved director, producer, and writer, and a groundbreaking creative team. By the numbers, it was the biggest experience of all time (in budget, participation and ticket sales), with the most interesting part being that it grew over time and across media rather than dropping off as is the norm. It was a perfect storm of 50 years of mythology, a great first film and an outstanding campaign. Best of all, it was when I met Steve Peters and Maureen McHugh who would become my partners at No Mimes Media.

Transmedia is becoming a hot Hollywood buzzword. How do you define transmedia and what do you feel are some of the key elements to a successful transmedia project?

We've spent the last year meeting with and helping educate studios, networks, brands and agencies on the potential of transmedia. We're very happy that it's catching on, because we really do believe it's the future of storytelling. But there has been a lot debate over the definition of transmedia, especially since the PGA's bold move to add transmedia producer as an acknowledged position. We've whittled it down to a three-fold explanation:

1) franchise transmedia: extending a story world across media

2) marketing transmedia: stories that support another brand or transmedia

3) native transmedia: stories intended to weave across media from their inception

The holy grail for us is, of course, native transmedia, but both funders and audiences have to change their thinking before it is widely created and accepted.

The key element that is shared across any definition is story (and the world that this story creates). Applying this essential narrative base to the right media for the right audience is our formula for creating compelling transmedia.

How does transmedia extend & challenge the idea of the traditional narrative? Are these experiences primarily brand-driven or are they ultimately about world-building and engagement?

Prior to the web, audiences had become accustomed to sitting back and taking their entertainment as it was given, usually in a linear fashion. The web and digital media gave audiences on-demand and the ability to easily make and share their own content. Transmedia takes the best of all worlds, and adds a non-linear element by reacting to its audience. This is why we like to think of it as the truly interactive way to tell stories.

Transmedia has the amazing ability to create "brand evangelists" (whether it's for soap, a movie or an original story) BECAUSE it is about immersing the audience in a story world and engaging them with interactivity. And they are truly an "efficient" way to get an audience thanks to huge engagement times as compared to a 30 second commercial or even a 2-hour movie. All marketing buzzwords aside, they are most importantly, a lot of fun.

No Mimes Media recently partnered with Hukilau. Do you see transmedia as a way for independent creators to engage new audiences without having to deal with the major studios?

The fascinating part about the digital and transmedia revolutions is that they are closing the gap between big budget studios and independent producers. It is no longer a top down situation. Indies are generally bigger risk takers and they are embracing transmedia and its potential much more quickly than the big guys. Transmedia works best when its thought of at the beginning of development, and indies can do this much more nimbly. They realize the benefits of building and engaging their audience with compelling experiences since they don't have huge marketing budgets and big-name stars. Hukilau is at the forefront of providing independent producers with the tools they need to digitally (and traditionally) distribute and market their work, and we're thrilled to be partnering with them. When were you able to ever do this before?

Does transmedia represent a fundamental shift in the way media is created & consumed? Is the fourth wall coming down?

The future of transmedia experiences that we envision will require a shift in the way we use and interact with stories/media. Kids are already porting content from one screen to another, blurring the lines of media. Perhaps their kids won't give a second thought to starting a story at home, calling the phone number that leads them to the event that then gives them rest at the movies that they help end with their fellow viewers.

In the future of transmedia experiences, do you imagine a role for emerging technologies like augmented reality & geo-location?

We've already used both augmented reality and geo-location activities in our past experiences, but the mobile hardware has not really caught up to our imaginations. One day, you'll exit your flying car and use your neural visor to see the transmedia world in front of you, or just use the transmedia holodeck. Either way, we're always looking for new ways to push the limits of storytelling.


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