A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first.
~ Louis L’Amour
The idea of serial story telling has probably been around since story telling was invented, and the idea of superheroes may very well trace its origins further back than anyone can remember. Ancient cultures like Egypt, Greece, and China trace their heritage through the hazy curtain of history to a time before writing was invented. The Egyptians and Greeks had a complex series of mythological deities whose lives were more complex than any daytime soap opera could ever hope to imagine. China's canon includes the discovery of fire and the invention of agriculture, as well as dragons. Many of these stories contain monsters or tricksters that need to be defeated by heroes who sometimes wield their own supernatural powers. These stories, no matter their origins, are often the underlying tales that make up modern storytelling across a wide array of media.
The stories of disasters of biblical proportions have been depicted in modern times in movies, novels, comic books, graphic novels, and games. Among these are floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, asteroids, epidemics, and even anarchy. All of these calamities are eventually thwarted by heroes, many of whom also wield their own preternatural powers. There are also an untold number of stories told about regular people defeating magical catastrophic evil before it is released into the world.
The movie The Ghostmaker is one of these tales. Three young men unleash death upon themselves and, by extension, onto an unsuspecting world in the guise of a mechanical clockwork Grim Reaper. In this case, the men bring about the rising evil through their own avarice, which is one of the seven deadly sins first described by early Christian ethicists. In this tale, the unwise invention of a machine built during Victorian times to explore the first few moments of death is found by a contemporary twenty something. Of course, he can't wait to blab to his friends, and quite predictably, they switch it on to see what it does. Predictably, disaster and mayhem ensue, but what makes this movie compelling is the storytelling.
The one thing that all movies, no matter what their genre may be, have in common is storytelling. Tell a good story, and it will be an enjoyable experience, no matter the cost. Tell a bad story, and it really doesn’t matter how much you spend, who stars in it, or how sophisticated the filming techniques, people simply won't enjoy it. A recent example is the rebooted Robocop, which is rumored to
have cost in excess of seventy million dollars and features some of the most sophisticated special effects to ever come to the big screen. According to rotteutomatoes.com, the original film, made for around six million dollars, was enjoyed by almost 90% of the audience. The new film, costing more than ten times that price, clocks in with apopularity rating of less than 50%. The difference is in the story telling. The original film was driven by the characters and the story, whereas the updated version is driven by big names and special effects. The storytelling is clunky and obvious, and that harms the audience’s enjoyment of the film.
Into the storytelling breech steps Ed Polgardy, who produced the modestly budgeted Ghostmaker. He is developing a media concept that mates the integrated serial story telling style of ancient mythology with the modern concept of transmedia marketing. Transmedia marketing is not new. It’s been around since the middle of last century. In the late Michael Crichton's novel, Jurassic Park, the concept of transmedia marketing was openly explored. The idea that you would create a zoo based on extinct creatures, coupled with amusement park rides, toys, and even lunch boxes, was derided as cynical and dangerous. While the underlying truth of Crichton's cautionary tale cannot be denied, the fact that Steven Spielberg went on to make one of the greatest movies of the 1990s, and ironically, it was accompanied by games, toys, and lunchboxes. Crichton himself didn't heed his own warning, going on to write two more novels about his re-invented dinosaurs. Such is the power of transmedia marketing.
What is interesting about Polgardy's vision is that it is conceptualized in whole from the ground up. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, never expected there to be five television series, twelve movies, amusement park rides, books, graphic novels, cartoons, toys, and games. In 1966, he just wanted to make a little bit of money producing a good TV show. Polgardy and his long-time business partners from Thurber Media are creating a feature film fund that will allow them to make a series of million-dollar movies that are interrelated and feature crossover characters who will reach his transmedia audience. His movies will also have tie-ins to graphic novels, games, and perhaps toys, and a TV presence.