Fragments #2: Continuity and Audience, Part One – On Chains

Harry_HoudiniIn a talk I gave this past November at the Festival of Cartoon Art Academic Conference at Ohio State University, I called continuity “a series of links created in collaboration between creator and fan.” While I was referencing continuity in terms of how it relates to comics, and not in the “the shoe must be tied correctly from shot to shot” way, I’ll go one step further here and say that this definition can apply to and, in the case of transmedia storytelling, across, all media. In this mini-series, we’re going to examine how transmedia storytelling can bring that series of links to film in a way that benefits both you, the creator, and your audience, who crave something new and exciting.

First, a bit on the context of that definition I provided above. It was given during a talk on digital comics’ potential to explore the nature of links and hyperlinking between texts (or media). While I won’t focus on the concept of links, specifically the ability of digital comics to use the touch potential of comics (a medium composed of icons representing reality) as a gateway into continuity (something that could also be applied to digital, touch-based filmmaking), I do want to focus on the idea that those “links” constitute an agreed-upon mythology that keeps a serialized medium running over the course of decades. Every so often, those continuities (or mythologies) have to be updated when they become too convoluted or hinder the creative process, or when publishers need to rake in money and reboot with a new number one issue. In short, continuity is the chains enacted to keep a mythology vibrant for fan and creator.

Let’s talk about those fans, people who have dedicated a huge chunk of their lives to dissecting and disseminating each and every thread of continuity because they formed an emotional attachment to a storyworld. When I interviewed USC professor and Convergence Culture author Henry Jenkins for my book, he said that continuity is a way for fans to demonstrate their expertise. Continuity is the currency that can create social status within a community and build a dedicated and emotionally connected fan base, something of the utmost import in today’s world, where new external stimuli are available at the swipe of a finger.

It should go without saying that the social currency afforded by a continuity only counts if the stories told within those continuities strike an emotional chord with the fan. The great music composition teacher Nadia Boulanger once said that “the greatest artists have created art within bounds. Or else they have created their own chains.” Think of continuity as the chain connecting your world, one that binds and confines and, in doing so, makes your world that much more exciting and vibrant and engaging to an audience. Continuity is the imposition of rules on your world, whether you focus on a single medium, or when you spread it across media. With transmedia storytelling, and by spreading your story across multiple media, you can harness the strengths of both serialized and non-serialized and make something new.

Continuity benefits both the end result of fan consumption, and most importantly for the purposes of this series, the creative process. Throughout this mini-series within a series, we’re going to focus on continuities within a single medium, in this case film, and use those lessons to demonstrate the storytelling potential of continuity-based transmedia storytelling. The three defining film continuities that we’re going to explore are the Universal Monsters films of the 1930s-1940s (particularly the Dracula, Wolf Man and Frankenstein continuities), the James Bond series from the sixties onward, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe of today.

Hey, at the very least, you get to learn something and I get to re-watch all of those great films. We all win.

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