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THE TRANSGRESSIONS CYCLE
3-book series of supernatural gothic horror. Published by Simon & Schuster. August 2015.

Tuesday
Jun232015

Putting the Audience in the Story

Interactive narrative – stories where the audience has some level of agency to influence, effect, control, manipulate, or progress the story – presents a very deep bucket of creative potential.

But interactivity is also a broad spectrum. A 3D, open-world, video game might provide a great deal of agency, where as a tablet-based interactive graphic novel might allow for only limited or specific agency. Yet both (and anything in between) still make the audience active and demand that they participate in order to progress the story.

This idea of agency in an interactive narrative is predicated on a role for the audience to play and the most engaging role play actions come from active verbs – to fight, find, assemble, help, escape, create, and so on. In many ways this is no different to creating active protagonists in a book or film where a person trying to do something is much more interesting than a person passively having stuff done to them. But for any such role play action to be effective for an audience as ‘player’ the action must be tempered with motivation & reward. The audience needs to be motivated to play the role and they need to be rewarded for doing so. Action, motivation and reward are the foundations of any good interactive story.

But what is also important – though perhaps less obvious – is how we position the audience within the story, and how their position relates to playable action. This is a problem I’ve been wrestling with on a daily basis over the past year as I produce a series of adapted interactive projects for studios in the US – studios whose development language stems from cinema, not from game play. So to break it down I began to frame writers’ room meetings around four types of audience position – Progressive, Reflective, Parallel & Extraneous…

Read the rest of the post here at Queensland Writers Centre. I’ll be in Brisbane 18-19 July to deliver a workshop and masterclass program entitled, ‘The Adaptive Writer: Storyworld Design and Writing Across Platforms’. 

Monday
Jun152015

SUPANOVA!

Supanova Pop Culture Expo is about to land in Sydney and I’ll be there Friday 19th June to talk about writing page, screen and intercative stories, and building storyworlds. Along the way I’ll be sharing some insights on being a cross-platform writer, working with studios in the US and developing successful local SpecFic projects like Wastelander Panda. 

Program Blurb reads:
“In this exclusive workshop for Supanova, writer and creative producer Mike Jones will introduce participants to a grounded framework for expanding their writing opportunities, explore some of the trials and tribulations of being a working writer, and focus on high concept genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction and the Supernatural.”

Hope to see you there!

Monday
Jun152015

Byron Bay Writers Festival 

There’s a lot of great writers festival events on the calendar but few offer the appeal of superb location as much as the Byron Bay Writers Festival/ And, as if the idilic setting wasn’t enough to get me up there to be part of it, the line-up of internationally regarded writers and events makes the BBWF every bit as compelling as any of the major city festivals. 

With my new three-book series, The Transgressions Cyclereleased in August the timing is perfect for me to make an appearance in Byron Bay and talk all things writing, multiplatform, genre and gothic.

Over the course of the August festival I’ll be speaking at three separate events, starting off with a masterclass workshop entitled ‘Storyworld and Adaptations Across Platforms’. This session will look at a process of defining stories as multiplatform storyworlds and narrative engines that can generate ongoing stories for page, screen and interactive media.

As the festival proper kicks off I’ll be appearing at an event entitled ‘Narrative Futures’ where, with popular film critic and broadcaster Marc Fennell (That Movie Guy), I’ll be discussing working in digital, interactive and cross-platform media. Then to finish off the festival triptych I’ll be sharing the stage with, among others, eminent Australian screenwriter Andrew Knight to talk about adapting stories form page to screen (and beyond)

Screen adaptations are a bit of a hot topic at the moment. A high profile event at this years ‪Vivid Festival in Sydney identified that a very low percentage of Australian screen productions are adaptions, and focused on forging better partnerships between publishers and producers.

And certainly adaptations are a dominant part of my own work… I’ve spent the past 18months working on developing interactive adaptations for studios in the US, whilst also adapting my own book series as both TV and interactive experience with multiplatform studio The Project Factory. In addition, I’m currently working with showrunner Vicki Madden on a new TV series drama entitled ‘Shrewsbury’ which is itself loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’; and I’ve been working with Deadhouse Films on a game-film adaptation of ‪‎horror‬ first-person game ABSENTION. 

So, needless to say, the processes of developing adaptations has been very much at the front of my head and I’m much looking forward to being part of this discussion in Byron Bay.

The BBWF, is a superb festival and I hope to see you there. Come and say Hi.

Saturday
Jun132015

Dark Mofo and The Kettering Incident

A deeply suspenseful, supernatural mystery drama set in one of the most unnervingly beautiful parts of the world… ‘The Kettering Incident’ premiered its first two episodes last week to a sold-out crowd at Hobart’s Odeon Theatre and launched Dark Mofo Film Festival.

It’s been a long road for this extraordinary production. Veteran TV writer Vicki Madden created the kind of show that Australia should, but almost never makes. In her opening speech Vicki wryly observed that many broadcasters talk about making ‘brave and bold’ TV drama but are rarely actually either brave or bold… ‘The Kettering Incident’ is a genuine demonstration of both qualities.

From the early writers-room sessions testing all manner of plot avenues, through to long discussions of folklore, myth and supernatural traditions, it has been a honour and privilege to work with Vicki and producer Vincent Sheehan on this gig. And hopefully it is a production that opens the door of possibility for all Australian screenwriters.

  

Stay tuned for the broadcast premiere on Foxtel, coming soon……

Monday
Jun082015

New Collaboration and TV Series in the works

Very excited to announce a new TV drama project collaboration with eminent screenwriter Vicki Madden (Sweet Potato Films - The Clinic, Blood Brothers, The Bill) and in partnership Screen Tasmania.

Having previously worked with Vicki on her supernatural mystery series, ‘The Kettering Incident’ (which premieres next week at the world-famous Dark Mofo Festival and airs later in the year on Foxtel) we discovered a shared passion of dark genres, mythology and folklore. Now Vicki I are co-writing a crime drama entitled ‘Shrewsbury’; a 6x1hr series, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and set within the volatile politics of a prestigious family vineyard where a murder is the catalyst for an exploration of honour, betrayal and succession.

Moreover, the project opens up a great opportunity for emerging Tasmanian writers to join us in the writers room - an initiative ScreenTas have dubbed the ‘Master’s Apprentices Development Program’ (though I make no claim to mastery - thats Vicki’s domain). 

You can read more about the program at ScreenTas.

Friday
Jun052015

Genre: East, West and Authentic

“we have to distinguish between something that’s part of the essence of the genre and things that are merely characteristic of it.” Neil Gaiman leads a fascinating discussion of Narrative Genre with Kazuo Ishiguro and touches on all manner of topics - from porn to sword fights. Genre is obviously a topic very near to both my passions and my work and this interview circles a rich discussion that merges the pragmatic with the creative - between genre as a toolkit and genre as audience contract.  

The conversation Gaiman and Ishiguro have regarding the difference between western and eastern sword fights is particularly interesting. I’ve spent the last few weeks working intently on a slate of live-action VR and interactive projects that are derived from Gothic and Supernatural Horror ideas, but are set in China and Korea, attempting to draw upon Eastern cultural customs and traditions when it comes to things like Ghosts, Death Rituals and Dark Magic. 

As a result, a story I had originally perceived as centred on loneliness and isolation - the aspirational manor house on the moors that had fallen from grace and was haunted by an aggrieved ancestor - fell flat in a Korean context where family aspiration is more likely to covet the lavish inner-city apartment than the house in the country. So, resetting the story into a haunted, ultra-modern, penthouse apartment in Seoul took the story in different spatial dimensions and narrative mechanics. A haunted ‘smart-home’, a house of perfection on the outside, but with a dark past embedded in the walls and wiring…

The bottom line, which certainly comes out in the interview with Gaiman and Ishiguro, is that for writers all the trappings of genre are secondary to the balance between Authenticity and Emotional Consistency. A genre story needs to feel authentic, that it is honouring the genre, understands and loves the patterns and ideas and themes the genre embodies, is honestly aware of the tradition in which it sits. At the same time the genre - no matter how it is dressed up or down - must deliver on the feeling-states the audience expect. When I choose to read, watch or play a genre story I have signed up to particular emotional expectations; SciFi, Horror, Fantasy all promise to make me feel a ‘certain way’. Too often I see genre stories that are all tropes and trappings but fail to deliver on these two simple ideas - Authenticity and Emotional Expectations. Without those, you’re just paying lip-service to the genre, not genuinely immersing your story in it.

Be sure to read the whole article, its a gold mine of great insight. In particular I felt deeply affected by the story Neil Gaiman tells of going to the first Chinese State-Sponsored SciFi convention… 

“I took aside one of the Party organisers, and said, “OK. Why are you now in 2007 endorsing a science-fiction convention?” And his reply was that the Party had been concerned that while China historically has been a culture of magical and radical invention, right now, they weren’t inventing things. They were making things incredibly well but they weren’t inventing. And they’d gone to America and interviewed the people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and talked to the inventors, and discovered that in each case, when young, they’d read science fiction. That was why the Chinese had decided that they were going to officially now approve of science fiction and fantasy.

 

Tuesday
May262015

Talking art, craft and passion in genre cinema

Is Genre the Universal Language? Audio podcast of panel session I hosted at the 2014 Screen Producers Australia conference (ScreenForever) is now available. Joining me on stage where three eminent producers and directors - Roy Lee (The Ring, The Grudge, Bates Motel) Michael Rymer (American Horror Story, Battlestar Galactica, Hannibal) & Chris Brown (Daybreak’s, Bait, The Railwayman).

It was a great discussion offering genuine insight on both creative and commercial elements of development & production of Horror, SciFi and Fantasy films. You can listen to the full discussion here.

“Genre films are understood universally – and make up the greatest proportion of the top films at the yearly box office. A genre film can dissolve cultural and language barriers at film markets all over the world. They attract audiences and have the most commercial appeal in the international marketplace. However creatively they are often misunderstood. 

While some of global Hollywood’s great masters of cinema are acknowledged for their classic genre work (Ford, Capra, Scott, Scorsese) – or for transcending genre with high concept work in these categories – the commercial success of genre tends to position most films to play to the lowest common denominator.

Genre films provide globally recognisable plots, characters and settings, but they also involve a complex layering of psychology and thematic, compelling and enduring characters – and an intense sense of place – all packaged with ironic flourishes and kinetic energy.

This session will unravel some of the challenges of staying true to a genre and to your audience. It’s this combination of elements that makes producing genre films fascinating. Panelists will discuss their approach to the highly creative aspects of genre filmmaking.

In today’s challenging environment of rapidly changing consumer habits, producers are also recalibrating approaches to releasing and marketing a genre film. While genre films are known for their box office clout many do also fail – what are the pitfalls? How easy are they to finance? Panelists will also discuss their experiences of setting up and producing a genre film compared to their work in drama”

Speakers:

Roy Lee - Producer, Vertigo Entertainment US

Michael Rymer – Producer/Writer/Director – Astral Pictures

Chris Brown – Producer, Pictures In Paradise

Mike Jones – Head of Story Development, Portal Entertainment, UK

Sunday
May032015

WebiPod - WebSeries Development Program

Over the next few months I’m going to be showing up all over the place to talk about writing and run a series of masterclasses and development programs for writers and producers working across platforms and genres. 

The Melbourne and Byron Bay writer’s festivals, Supernova, the Queensland Writer’s Centre, Storycode Sydney and PlatformX with the Australian Writer’s Guild are just some of the events I have locked in through June, July and Aug.  

And in the middle of these is the very exciting WebiPod with ScreenACT in Canberra.  

WebiPod is the latest in a long line of intensive development programs run by ScreenACT focused on generating new and innovative works by writers and producers. In July I’ll be running WebiPod centred on the creation of WebSeries and OnlineTV projects; a program that will blend writer-centric processes for episodic storytelling and storyworld building, with audience and business model thinking. 

The days of the Youtube amateur free-for-all are gone. As the distinction between ‘broadcast’ and ‘online’ TV collapses, audiences are becoming increasingly demanding and broadcasters see the online space as a first-run environment for commissioning and developing programs. The rigour and discipline of storytelling for the online space has become more sophisticated. 

In WebiPod we’ll be exploring the spectrum of online-series forms - from indie stand-alone projects, to integrated cross-platform productions, to commissioned series for MCN’s (multi-channel-networks). And to meet the challenges of these opportunities we’ll be fleshing out a craft-centric process for shaping episodic stories and storyworld engines that can generate ongoing narratives. 

This link has all the information and how to book. Hope to see you there in July.

Monday
Apr272015

Supernatural Mystery Drama, 'The Kettering Incident', coming soon...

First teasers have started to appear for new Foxtel Supernatural Drama Series ‘The Kettering Incident’. It’s an extraordinary and ambitious show and working with showrunner Vicki Madden was one of those rare career privileges.

The Kettering Incident was shown to international buyers at this years MIPTV and high profile international trade press C21 included it in their pick of the top 20 new TV shows generating the most buzz.

Air date for ‘The Kettering Incident’ will be announced soon with the premiere screening being held at MONA’s Dark Mofo festival - tickets for which sold out in just 3hrs..! 

And stay tuned because Vicki and I are now working on some very cool future projects set in dark and spooky places… ;-)

Wednesday
Apr152015

PlatformX 2015 - Writing Development Program 

In a multiplaform world writers need to be flexible. Fundamentally that means being able to conceive and develop stories in a way that allows them to move and adapt across different formats - small screens and large, episodic, immersive and interactive. 

Good writing on any platform can only come from a good creative development Process. PlatformX is a writer’s development program created with the Australian Writer’s Guild back in 2013 aiming to arm established and emerging writers with a writing Process that was designed to bring structure, discipline and pragmatism to writing for multiple platforms. 

PlatformX is about taking the buzzword bingo and bullshit guru-speak out of terms like ‘Storyworld’, ‘Transmedia’ and ‘Immersive Storytelling’  and articulating a tangible writing process that is grounded in long-standing narrative principles and practical, industry and audience-centric thinking for the the digital age. 

PlatformX is not a formula, nor a set of rules, it’s a development program looking to deliver a dynamic process for writers - one that provides a scaffolding for flexibility without sacrificing craft.

Today the Australian Writers Guild has announced the third iteration of PlatformX in partnership with StoryCode Sydney, which will continue to build on the successes of previous programs.

The most exciting part of PlatformX has been the collision of fresh blood with experience in the open writers-room spirit of the program. The multiplatform space over the past decade has been full of energy but, sadly, very thin on story craft. PlatformX is very much about rectifying that problem and bringing experienced writers with lots of skin the game to the table with the digital-native energy of emerging writers.

Celebrated Australian Screenwriter Deb Cox (Gods of Wheat Street & Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) was a 2013 participant in PlatformX and the multiplatform project she brought to the table is now part of the slate of projects she is putting into production. 

‘The AWG Platform X initiative with Mike Jones was a fantastic way of taking time out to immerse myself in the world of online storytelling, learn about the range of projects out in the world and be inspired by the possibilities for my own. With the benefit of Mike’s vast knowledge base and his story-crafting expertise, I felt confident to develop my multiplatform youth drama series in a supportive and encouraging environment that took it to the next level - helping to secure Screen Australia Enterprise funding to bring it one big step closer to realisation!’

So here’s what we’re looking for…

 

  • Exciting and dramatically engaging storyworlds that have the potential to span across platforms old, new and interactive. 
  • A narrative concept that is a powerful story engine - one that can drive experiences beyond a single plot or a single platform and which encapsulates a clear role for the audience to participate or play.
  • Creators with a strong sense of audience, engagement and genre as well as projects that will compel an audience to immerse themselves and become active within a rich experience.
  • You do not have to be a technology expert. We are looking for writers with vision and ideas for constructing narratives across media forms. 
  • This intensive master class is about distilling and articulating those ideas into a refined concept that can be presented and pitched with clarity and vision that spans multiple formats. 

 

To apply visit the AWG for guidelines and entry forms.