(For first-time readers: I've written for TV, Web, Mobile platforms and been a member of the WGAw since 2000. You can read more about my background and work experience here.)
This afternoon I attended the WGAw/MEF panel "Content Creation for Mobile Devices." There were some incredibly informed people on the first panel*, including Ryan Stoner of Omelet LA and Steven Hein of FOX.
While it was clear that the panelists all were not only knowledgeable but also successful in their fields, I wondered about the audience. The panel was open only to WGAw and WGA Caucus members; the 75-person venue was sold out, and there was an "overflow room" which housed another fifty or so members. We all know that digital content creation - whether used as a tool to further extend conventional TV and film narratives, or as a primary distribution method - is where we're all headed. I applaud the WGA for recognizing this and attempting to create a forum for its members to learn more about storytelling on different platforms.
However, what was shocking to me is the lack of participation on those platforms.
Prior to attending the panel, I searched twitter for "mobile" and "WGA." I saw one hit - one of the panel members, Steven Hein. I arrived a few minutes early and had the opportunity to speak with Steven and told him that if there wasn't an agreed-upon hashtag for the conference, I'd be using #WGAmob.
As we all took our seats, we were told by WGA's New Media Project Manager Tamara Krinsky to use the hashtag #MEFWGA (I was impressed they were on top of it!), and we were encouraged to ask questions using this hashtag on Twitter.
Again, the panel was incredibly informative, and I imagine if I hadn't already worked on New Media projects like Woke Up Dead and Valemont that I would have learned more. But what shocked me was that, in the 100+ person audience, there appeared to only be 3-5 of us on Twitter. As I followed the #MEFWGA hashtag, I realized that it was...pretty much just me.
We were at a panel discussing creating content for mobile devices. While not solely mobile, Twitter is a popular mobile application. And yet...no one used it. Which got me to wondering if anyone used it?
How can one expect to create content for platforms we know nothing about?
I discussed this briefly with Miss Krinksy, who said that she thought people needed a reason to use platforms. And I don't disagree. At the inaugural Transmedia-LA meeting, we discussed how there seems to be a rush to tick off boxes on transmedia projects. (Don't know what transmedia storytelling is? Click here.)
However, if we expect to create for those platforms, shouldn't we understand what they're capable of? Social media isn't just media. It's SOCIAL. You don't tell the same stories at a job interview that you do at a cocktail party. Each nugget of social interaction is governed by sometimes specific, sometimes general rules.
The first time I had dinner at the Hotel Bel Air, I was terrified that I would use the wrong fork or speak too loudly or pronounce my entree incorrectly even though I had taken seven years of French. I wasn't comfortable with the social rules, so I listened, I watched, and I "got it" by the time dessert was served. (In fact, I became so comfortable that the second time I had dinner at the Hotel Bel Air, I passed out in the restaurant's plush bathroom. Back medication and martinis don't mix, kids.)
Platforms live and breathe the same way. Blogging is different that SMS messaging is different than Twitter is different than Facebook is different than email is different than voicemail I don't know, if as the brilliant and forward-thinking Jan Libby mused, that people are expecting to "wing it" when it comes to these options, or if they're afraid of the technology.
As a writer, I'm attempting to take advantage of the unique properties of each platform** to create, as my boss and mentor Brent Friedman*** likes to say, "universes worthy of devotion..." You don't need a WGA card to tell stories across these platforms. (See Jay Bushman's CtHalloween, or my husband's 3 Tweet Stories.)
Writers would do themselves a huge favor by learning about these platforms, at the very least becoming an observer if not an active participant. It's not difficult, but it is different.
And if we want to write in New Media, we have to be prepared to experience and embrace the part that's "New."
*I did not stay for the second panel.
**You can see my talk at the 140# conference "How I Became a Zombie on Twitter" (on the benefit of Twitter for characters) here.
***He may have been quoting someone else. Not that you're not a smartypants, Brent!