Transmedia views: An interview with Nuno Bernardo

Nuno Bernardo is an award-winning transmedia writer/producer and creator of the world’s first international interactive on-line teen series, Sofia’s Diary. He is also the CEO of transmedia production company beActive and author of The Producer’s Guide to Transmedia.

Your background is in advertising and journalism. What element or factor would you say it was decisive to setting up your company to develop transmedia projects?

My career until I set up beActive, was a very “transmedia” career. Advertising, event management, audiovisual production, IT, so I was able to learn how to do several tasks that are key when you develop and produce Transmedia projects. I always loved storytelling and computers (new technologies). Transmedia allows me to do both.

The 350 South – an American journey is described as the first Beactive’s transmedia documentary. In fact, a fully participatory documentary experience.  Will the audience participation change the story?

The goal of the interactive or participatory element of 350 South is not to create an experience where the audience can decide between door A or door B. Or, in this case, a different routes for the participants. It’s more to allow the audience to be part of this journey: cycle with the participants along their journey, help them, giving them accommodation or just meet them for a drink. The goal is to make the audience part of the story, part of the show.

How is transmedia enhancing audience participation?

In my opinion audience participation is not just about voting, about interactions, about allowing audience to make decisions. Is to make the story part of the audience’s life and routine. Transmedia allows – as using different platforms – the story to get out of the traditional formats (a one hour weekly episode of a TV show or a 90 minutes feature film, or a 300 page book) to be come a full entertaining experience where audience is close to the characters, and experience where characters and the world they live is part of audiences world.

Dialogue and collaboration are essential elements for any director and producer working with transmedia. How much do you allow audiences to affect the stories you create?  Can you give us an example?

We don’t allow our audiences to affect our stories. We allow the audience to decide and affect small parts of our story (like, deciding who will clean the Flat in Flatmates or what Sofia will do on the next day on Sofia’s Diary), but not the full narrative. If you, as a creator, do your job right, audiences will love your lead characters (the hero) and will hate the antagonist. If you allow audiences to decide everything, they will get ride of the antagonist and any difficulty that may affect the hero. When that happens the main character will not face any drama and you get a dull story.

How is the process of designing for different platforms and how should one decide which ones are the best to tell your story?

In beActive’s methodology we always develop the story and the script first without figuring out where that piece of story will play out. Then, analyzing the first drafts, we decide what is the best media to tell that part of story: TV, Web, mobile, a social media post, an SMS message, a Radio show, etc. Different medias are more suited to different types of scenes or story events. What we always try to do is to make each element on each platform self-contained. For example, if the audience only listens to the daily radio segments, they need to make sense as a radio series. Of course, we want the audio to be engaged and explore the other elements of the story on different medias, but that shouldn’t be mandatory for audience to have a good experience in one of the medias.

Some of your projects, like the Sofia’s Diary, last for quite a long time. I heard in one of your interviews that one of your goals is to create transmedia projects that will last indefinitely. What is your fascination behind this ‘open’ approach to time in relation to storytelling?

The set up and development of a Transmedia project takes a long period of time. From the initial idea to development until you start to get traction and a community on-line it may take 2 to 3 years. It’s a big financial (and emotional) investment. To pay off, it needs to last at least the same amount of time. As we live in a world of excess of content and entertainment products, getting audience attention is key, so if your Transmedia product is getting an audience you don’t want not to be prepared to extend this successful connection with your audience as much as you can.

When creating a transmedia property we operate in different mediums but the requirements from broadcasts are different from other new media platforms. How do you navigate between these worlds?

At beActive we try to be as platform agnostic as possible and try to finance our productions outside the broadcast circuit. Usually when we approach a broadcaster we already funded the show and it’s more a licensing deal than a full commission. This way we can control the brand and have more creative and marketing freedom to connect with our audience.

For decades, cinema and tv have established financial models. But for transmedia projects we haven’t yet established one strategy. Apart from the use of brands, could you tell us how do you finance your projects? Could you also give some suggestions for creators working with new platforms?

My recently presentation at Power to Pixel in London was about this subject. The business model behind Transmedia is the same for all medias: or your audience pay for your content, or you give it for free and get the revenue from advertisers. The difference is that in Transmedia you still don’t have a sizable number of commissioners or distributors that will commission producers to create content, as you have on TV or Film. Without someone that takes the risk, as a broadcaster or a Film Distributor, the risk stays at the producer. He is the one that needs to get the money (or put its own money) and get revenues from the audience or from advertisers. To get these revenues producers needs to get a big audience. But the world is changing and we saw recently, on-line distributors as Youtube, Yahoo or Netflix start to commission original work for their digital platforms.

How do you see transmedia evolving in the near future?

As audiences are more and more multi-platform and want different and more immersive experiences (and one day still has 24 hours), we will see more media segmentation, ie, audiences will be organized in more niche products, and the big, global, pop culture type of entertainment franchises will become rare. This will make the advertisers to shift their behaviours: they need to engage with this communities, with this more niche content offers to attract their consumers, meaning more money will be spend on Transmedia projects. On the creative side we still need to evolve from this experimental period and establish the rules and the language of this new art form.

Nina Simoes

New Media Artist/Researcher