MIT to create a Center for Future Storytelling

It goes without saying that when we decided to christen our writing workshop the Transmedia Lab, the name was an homage to the MIT Media Laboratory and to Henri Jenkins, the  co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program who coined the concept of transmedia. It’s as though the Media Lab had taken a trans-Atlantic to plant our seedling!

And yet I hadn’t imagined our project was so much along the same lines as theirs till I read an article in the 12 December 2008 edition of Le Monde entitled  “L’histoire vouée à la casse ?” (“The Story Doomed to the Scrapheap?”), which an eminent colleague of mine in television sent me yesterday when I mentioned our Transmedia Lab initiative  based on an article in the 17 November 2008 edition of The New York Times.

In essence, Christian Salmon’s article reports on MIT’s creation of a “Center for Future Storytelling”: its object is to invent a new writing paradigm that will take into account the “explosion of digital communication, the emergence of interactive media (telephones, iPhones, microcomputers), the multiplication of new immersive universes (video games, Second Life, reality shows…) and the rise of new narrative formats (hypertexts, multimedia)”. “The stories have to be more appealing, more open-ended, interactive and adapted to the new social networks.”

Thanks to MIT technologies, one axis of research would involve “moving from a completed film, enclosed within a book or a film, to open-ended narrative forms in which virtual actors and “morphable” projectors can instantly change the appearance of a physical scene”.

“The audience is increasingly turning away from the long narrative tunnels of Hollywood productions to devote their attention to other forms of and platforms for reading and writing, like screens and mobile telephones. Hollywood’s storytelling capabilities are being progressively eroded by the spread of messaging and micro-narratives in the mediasphere.” This scenario patently echoes our transmedia approach based on the use of multiple screens to revolutionize storytelling.

So for MIT and Hollywood, the time has come to reconcile modern-day uses and stories, and the Center for Future Storytelling will be striving to do precisely that…starting in 2010. The Center won’t be getting off the ground in Plymouth, Massachusetts till 2010, but with a tidy $25 million in funding from David Kirkpatrick, CEO and co-founder of Plymouth Rock Studios and ex-president of Paramount Pictures: it should be worth the wait.…

The Transmedia Lab, on the other hand, is already up and running – since 7 July 2009! We don’t have $25m, to be sure, but we do have the energy of our convictions and the hope that our open minded, open-ended approach will get a powerful collective intelligence working full throttle on our workshop projects!

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