Feel free to contribute

My name is Michael Beets and I have been invited to submit a proposal for the Sundance New Frontier Story Lab (it is invite only, and not open for submissions).

I am a theatre and film director who for the last year has been experimenting with the idea of a theatre production with transmedia qualities. The deadline is June 3, 2013. Below I will be tracking my progress, as a way to document the process

Click here for the updated project 

Feel free to comment on any impressions, ideas, or even criticisms you might have. 

Location: Farms (outskirts of Shanghai)

We have found our location! We will be shooting on the outskirts of Shanghai where industry has almost but not completely taken over the landscapes.

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I am sure in a couple of years all of this will be gone, making way for more some sort of factory or highway. Just down the road from this is a massive coca cola plant, and a coal fuled electricity

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Its amazing how a location can inspire ideas and jumpstart the storyworld. I could really picture our main character walking along the railway tracks, or eat dinner in his kitchen. There is something very raw about this place. It feels completely organic.

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For hudreds of years these farms were owned by Shanghainese but now they are mostly rented out to migrant workers who are either working on the farms or in the factories nearby.

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We are aiming to film samples for our pitch next week. Which is extremely exciting.

Chicken or Egg? – Writing a Transmedia project

I am a terrible writer. Every year I say ‘This year I am going to write something complete, I am going to finish a script’. Yeh, I never do. I’m always trying to convince myself that I can write. I‘ve listen to podcasts, I’ve read books, I’ve sacrificed a mantis (ancient Egyptian ritual). I suck at dialog…my characters are bumbing idiots, repeating themselves at every turn.

Man #1: I’m quitting.

Man #2: You’re quitting?

Man #1: I’m quitting.

and so on… (crap!, even that dialog was rubbish)


Its actually refreshing to just say ‘screw it’. Since then I have brought on a writer, and what a relief it is to think about the story from a whole new perspective. I’ve passed on all the information I could about the story world, and I am super excited to see her perspective. I told her about how we plan on using a transmedia approach; how all these different forms are going to tell one story; and that every media is as important as the theatre show. She loves the idea, she’s on board,we’re moving forward, but how do we write this thing?  How do we write for all these formats and platforms? We sat staring at each other, searching for answers.

One question she kept asking me was How long do you imagine the project to be?

This is a difficult question to answer. Usually there are some kinds of guidelines or set formats that one can follow. Feature films, novels, even webisodes have certain time structures or page counts that stories can adhere to and which audiences are used to. A writer can base their project around a model, whereas transmedia type projects don’t really seem to have any model to consider or fall back on (Which is pretty awesome actually).  If  we are using different types of media in each episode than how long should we keep them?  Should we write specifically for each medium? The obvious answer to me would be- Make it however long it takes, to say what is important to the story… but it seems a bit more complex than that. Should I firstly create the story in a more traditional three act structure, and then adapt the content to what I believe would be the most effective medium for that part of the story. Or should I settle on my medium and then write based around that.


For now, we are going to concentrate on the story first, create the story in a more traditional sense and then once we have our turning points, our messages, our ending, and whatever else feels impossible to leave out- then we will think about the ways in which we can express them to our audience.

Once that is done, then we will think about the interactivity… but I have an interactive designer to help me with that… Thank God.

Man #1: Perhaps this isn’t the best way to approach a transmedia project

Man #2: This isn’t the best way to approach a transmedia project?

Man #1: Uh yes, Oh I don’t know. At least we have something we can fall back on – the story.

Go dialog!

Some links about writing for transmedia




Engaging a theatre audience with an App?

During the last couple of days of my Chinese May holidays I’ve completely revised my project based on the questions I raised from the post ‘Is this just a trick?”.

@MikeVogel in a comment said it perfectly “I tend to enjoy sitting back in a theater and experiencing the story without interaction” – and he is perfectly right, so do I.  

With that in mind, how do I make the use of an app within a theatre show seamless and without distraction.

OK, this is what I came up with.

Why not make the application the heart or common thread of the story that ties everything together. Treat the theatre show as simply the last chapter in a series of chapters that are all expressed through the application.  So that by the time the theatre show comes around, using the app would feel familiar and integral to the performance and the project as a whole.

The below cheesy flowchart  are just samples of what could be used in the app.


Check out the ‘Project as it is’ for an update on a more detailed description of how the app will be integrated.

Is this just a trick? Questioning my Transmedia Pitch

Yesterday I sat down for a brainstorming session with an interactive designer who is partnering with me on this project. I explained the current brief, showed him some of the inspirations I found online, and justified my reasoning. (see current brief here) He looked at me cautiously and asked a question that I think will stick with me throughout the next month of pitch development.

He asked me “You have to ask yourself, is this a trick? I mean sure this looks cool, but does it have any emotion, does it move you?”– I looked at my brief and replied “Yes most of this is just a trick”.


At the heart of everything is the story, and I am very aware of the importance of this, and I’m always thinking of the story. However,  I feel like I’m bogged down by all the possibilities – The possibilities of technology- the possibility of reaching a global audience- the possibility of allowing an audience to interact.  The list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong all of this is freaking cool, but I suppose what I’m saying is: I ‘ve been asking myself the wrong questions! You’d think I would of asked the right questions with all the research I have done with storyforward/storylab podcasts, Andrea Phillips book, and the many sites that are discussing these ideas. I suppose there is something in discovering it through development and practise.

For now on in, everything I do, the following questions will be asked:

1) Will this move an audience? 

2) Do all these different parts feel like part of the whole? Is it seamless? 

3) What technology will portray what I am trying to say at this moment in the most impactful way?

With that said, I’ve got to do some work. I need to rethink this idea.

One thing I am going to consider in detail is this idea of global vs local. 

Why am I trying to please a worldwide audience? Make it work locally first.


Feel free to comment. 

How much interaction?

How much interaction do I give the audience of both the online story and theatre show?

Current Interaction Idea: 

1. The online film is interactive in that it requires scrolling/swiping and clicking. The audience will also be given choices that the character will need to make.

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Inspirations: Clerkenwall Close  and Chris Milks ‘Rome’

2. At a certain point in the online story, the audience will reach a specific location where they can’t continue the story. This location will be an exact representation of what the set of the live theatre show looks like. To continue the story, the audience will be able to return at a specific time and watch a streaming live theatre performance. Once the theatre show is complete they will be able to continue the online world and finish the story.


*Inspiration for the set of the theatre show*

3. Theatre goers 

Participants will also be able to attend the theatre show and watch it live. Of course, this has geographic constraints but those able to attend will have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of a theatre performance. After the theatre show, they could then log into the app/website and begin or continue the online story.

Interaction Possibilities. 

1. The choices made previously in the application or website could inform the choices made by the actor on stage during the live theatre show.

2. When an audience member logs in online, there could be some sort of mapping device or visual representation of them in the theatre.  This could be a nice way of connecting the audiences together.

3. The online audience members could determine the path of the theatre show through various choices they are given online.

Check out the ‘Project as it is’ for an updated brief.

‘How much interaction should go into a game’ – interesting read.


Feel free to comment…

Will theatre audiences enjoy a ‘second screen’ experience?

This is a big question that I would like to put out there- the project kind of depends on the idea 😉

In my previous theatre show I added a projector to the back wall of the set. The videos projected were scenes that occured within the story world and made sense to the original content.


For ex. Pierre excuses himself to go to the toilet. The audience sees him exit stage and then walk into the bathroom (video) as he contemplates his ‘next move’. Katya lies on the couch waiting for him.

Everybody in the audience really enjoyed this part of the show, and it was integrated in a way that it made sense to the story.

With that in mind, why not allow our audience to have a device with them that pushes the story along, or sends them content that adds to the storyline.

Should theatre stay true to its form or will audiences get into a ‘second screen’ experience?

Check out the ‘Project as it is’ to get an understanding of how it might work.

Character Descriptions

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS (images are reference only)

DA WEI, 17


Da Wei has been in a camp for the last 10 years training for the Olympics. The environment is extremely strict, and he is a product of that environment. He strives to be normal and knows that there is more to life than training for the Olympics. He has extreme amounts of pressure from everyone around him. He truly believes that he is not good enough anymore and has convinced himself that he will never succeed in the sport. As a result he yearns for a normal life. He is a sincere and kind hearted young man. However, he gets easily upset and can lose him temper at any minute. He doesn’t understand certain social situations and often misreads them.

MR. WEI, 47


Da’s father Mr. Wei, is a simple man who has lived all his life on the farm. The years of hard work has had its toll on Mr. Wei, and he is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their piece of land. He is counting on Da’s success and is very much looking forward to leaving the farm behind. At times, he can be completely stubborn and a hard man to deal with. However , when his tough exterior breaks down (which is not often), he can be a very warm and loving man.

FANG, 17


Fang is cool, or at least he tries his best to be. He is obsessed with material goods and dreams of driving a porsche, drinking champagne and living in a top floor of an expensive apartment complex. He is a young entrepreneur who is always thinking of ways in which he can make money. Unfortunately, sometimes his methods are on the borderline of the law. He is a confident young man, who has a good sense of humour. His confidence can come across as arrogant, and is more famously known as the town bully.

PANG, 17


Pang is a good natured young women. She is smart (top of her class) and dreams of living in the city. When she was young she was called ‘Fatty’ but has in the last few years matured into an attractive young lady. She has a strong moral compass and believes in hard work.

*More characters to come*

Project Overview – ‘The Champ’ (working title)

‘Champ’ (working title)

Update: Currently rethinking how I can make this more seamless, and more local instead of global. Check out my post ‘Is this just a trick’ to see my reasoning


The below project is a synopsis of a proposal I have been asked to submit for the New Frontier Story lab. I would like to open a dialog with anyone interested in the idea so I can learn from other professionals and develop the idea into something solid.

This project is a cross-platform narrative that will be told through an interactive app, html5 website, and a theatre show. This project is intended for both an adult Mandarin and English speaking audience.

Story Synopsis

The central story follows Da Wei, a strong and upcoming young shot-putter who is expected to compete in the Olympics. From the age of ten to seventeen, he has trained vigorously at an athletics school in Beijing, far from his family.  Da Wei is a physical specimen, twice the size of most, and with a heart of gold. The story contrasts two pivotal moments in Da Wei’s life, the day before he leaves for the camp (at the age of ten), and the day he returns home on holiday (at the age of 17). The project be will fun, adventurous with a few dark undertones.

Stage 1 – Application/ Website

The app will focus on the last day before Da Wei (10) leaves for the training camp. The story world will be an exploration of his village and the characters within in it.  The story will push him into challenging situations that define his character and progress the story forward. Everything that occurs at this stage will come into play during the theatre narrative.

Interactive film (App)

The interactive film will be from the POV of Da Wei as he journeys through his small rural village. It will be a simple design (either an app or a html 5 website), with slick swipe controls, that control his direction, and his interactions within each chapter. Built inside these chapters will be choices the audience needs to make that further the story along. These choices, will be logged inside the app, and will play a major part of the theatre performance, as explained below. Once the audience have completed a certain amount of the story, they will be able to unlock the next part of the story which will be the theatre show. Those not able to attend the theatre performance will be able to stream the show live. I am also thinking of interactive ways in which the online audience could interact with the show itself or even with the audience at the theatre show. A question that keeps popping in me head is “How can I incorporate the online experience to take advantage of the fact that every theatre performance is different, and unique?”

Stage 2 – Theatre Show

After ten years in the camp, Da Wei returns home for the first time to celebrate Chinese New Year. As a result from years of training in this elite athletics school, the pressure on Da Wei has reached boiling point; he is on the verge of throwing it all away. His return home prompts him to revaluate his life, as he is challenged by the expectation of his father, the loss of his childhood, and the events that occurred on that fateful day, before he left for the camp. The theatre show will take place during the first day of Chinese New Year, inside Da Wei’s family living room.

Theatre and the App

During the performance, content will be pushed to each audience member’s mobile device, via the application. The content shown on each device will have been influenced by the previous choices made within the interactive film. The content could consist in a variety of forms such as video, audio, and text messages. This content will serve as vital information that pushes the story arc along, and cuts smoothly within the show, ensuring the technology doesn’t distract from the performance, creating a unique, invested experience for each participant of the show.

Stage 3- Streaming theatre event.

PREVIOUS IDEA –  Stage 3 Interactive Documentary

This idea was part of the original concept, but I feel it may be too disconnected, and might distract from the overall experience. I wanted to mention it, so that I could give a feeling of the direction I was originally headed.

After the theatre show, participants will be sent content triggering the next step of the narrative.  Here the audience will be given the opportunity to follow a real potential Olympic athlete with an inspiring story, similar to that of Da Wei’s. This will occur via a website/ and the application.  These platforms will encourage relationship building between the athlete and the participants. The interactive documentary will follow the progress, hard times, or even failure of the athlete as he struggles to compete in one of the most inspiring events, the Olympic games.