Is it possible that future Australian Writers Guild AWGIE awards might include categories for Best WebSeries, Best Multi-Platform Script, Best adapted Screenplay for an Interactive Medium?
Or are some of these categories redundant even before they exist? We might observe that within a decade any separating out of ‘TV-Series’ from ‘Web-Series’ will be defunct as TV over IP becomes the norm making all TV, in effect, WebTV. Yet a separation between interactive and non-interactive would seem to be a fair and viable distinction with longevity - though there will invariably be overlaps and hybrids; in a multi platform world any story is likely to be both in some form. The principles of Adaptation hold strong across all media and I would argue that Transmedia is, almost be definition, ‘adaptation’ - trans means to move and when a storyworld moves across platforms it Adapts….
Why this musing…?
For both writers and their professional institutions, consistently and flexibly accommodating such shifting sands is integral to the job. The Australian Writers Guild, of which i am a member, is a crucial part of that process and requires that professional writers for any and all mediums, be part of the answer.
The digital world is a complex place and for screenwriters the complexity is wholly apparent in the very screens we write for. As i have written about in the previous posts, the challenge for writers and their professional bodies lies in how to define professional work in a hugely diverse ecosystem of multi-platform and interactive media.
Writers Guilds build their strength as a collective voice to speak for, and work on behalf of, writers by venerating high standard work and having clear definitions of professional practice. In the past this has had distinct weigh-posts in the form of Broadcast Transmission and Theatrical Presentation. But of course the digital age brings this long standing duopoly undone with streaming, on-demand, online and interactive all being mainstream content for audiences yet outside of what we would otherwise perceive of as Broadcast or Theatrical.
I outlined some of these challenges in my previous post and i thought it worth highlighting the case study of my own guild - the Australian Writers Guild - and how they have developed a process for inclusively embracing new media writers and adapting in a productive way to the changes wrought by digital technologies.
Aside from Associate Membership open to anyone, Full Membership of the AWG is obtained by satisfying benchmarks for professional work. In the case of theatre, film and radio this is 50mins of produced content and for TV its 45mins of broadcast. However for screen media and performance writing that sits outside these traditional frameworks the AWG has developed a very simple yet forward thinking framework, one that is both flexible and accommodating yet still retains professional benchmarks. This is by no means an easy balance to strike. Be too restrictive and you fail to embrace dynamic new forms that are increasingly the bread and butter work of writers. Be too open and you trade off the power of the guild to lobby on behalf of writers by undermining the status of professional writers.
The AWGs full membership criteria for Interactive/Multimedia states:
“the applicant may be required to have a number of screen credits or a range of interactive projects to gain accreditation. That is, 10 small platforms (1-5 minute) or 5 large platforms (more than 5 minutes of produced work or at the discretion of the Membership Committee, subject to specialist advice. Such material must be accompanied by a declaration from a producer that the writer was integral to the development of the story/script.”
The wording of the three base parameters here is important. The number and size of the platforms is a simple but effective way to begin to separate that most crucial of professional qualities - Labour Consistency. It is one thing to shoot or edit a great video and put it up online and attract a lot of viewers. It’s quite a different thing to produce quality video content week after week, to a brief, in collaboration and deliver on time for stake holders - be they producers, investors, clients or directors. For all the boon of inexpensive cameras, editing software and free-for-all online delivery; this simple separation between the occasional Amateur and the working Professional remains a yawning chasm. I have seen so many would-be cinematographers, directors, editors - with all the talent in the world - crash and burn because they failed to recognise this leap they had to make.
This seperation is no less significant for writers. The art of creative writing is something a great many people can, do and should, engage. Frankly the world would be a better place if more people expressed themselves in words and ideas. But the Profession of creative writing is a different beast requiring dedication to craft, discipline and the building of professional relationhips. Everyone can be a creative writer, not everyone can, or wants to, be a Professional writer; something as true in the new media space as it is in traditional media.
The second part of the criteria “subject to specialist advice” speaks to the desire and ability of the framework to be flexible now and into the future. Anything more specific would chain the category to invariably narrow parameters and restrict the ability for writers to access and belong to the guild who are working in forms as yet un-quantified. More importantly this idea is essentially a kind of ‘jury of peers’ and as such borrows from the long-standing idea of peer-review that underpins science and academic research. In effect, to be accepted into the guild is to be judged by your peers to have produced work of a professional standard AND in a professional context.
There is the potential that this might be seen as ‘subjective’ but the alternative to avoid this perception is to instigate specific criteria in terms of what forms and formats are and are not acceptable as professional work. Such a stipulation is fraught with problems potentially much worse than any perceived subjectivity. Such would be invariably too conservative, restrictive and undoubtably need to be re-drafted on an almost annual basis. The challenge the Guild must take up is to ensure that any panel assembled to offer ‘specialist advice’ is suitably both qualified and diverse and whose decision making processes is both transparent and consistent.
If anything is certain about the future of screen and performance media it is that the long-standing hierarchies will dissolve. The environment of only a select group of ‘forms’ and a particular structure to their dominance resulted in - amongst other things - business models based on scarcity, release-windows and territory sales. These structures are quickly dismantled when product copies are infinite, multi-platform releases happen in parallel simultaneity across media and the universal internet collapses any viable distinction of borders and territories. What’s interesting about this is that if we project forward it’s not too much of a stretch to see such simple and open frameworks as the AWG’s category for Interactive/Multimedia being applied across the board to all forms of screen and performance writing.
That said, there are two things that havn’t changed and are very likely to never change. The first is that writers - perhaps more than any other role in professional creative practice - are vulnerable to exploitation. Writers in any media are rarely visible. The second is that writers are only as good as the creative community they exist within and that they learn and grow from. Hence I would stress the crucial role of Writers Guilds around the world - when they are at their best they are both the pit-bull to fight your fights and the giant upon whose shoulders your work will stand; a source of continual development of craft, discipline and professional relationships.
The catch however is that for a Writers Guild to have weight it must have members. And if a Writers’ Guild is going to have clout across new media forms, active professional writers in these forms must be well represented in the guild. Unfortunately many writers working in new media forms often feel that the concerns of the Guild do not extend past ‘film, theatre and TV’. I would hope that the existence of the interactive/Multimedia category of full membership in the Australian Writers Guild is sign that such perspectives are not true. And such a category is only a beginning as the AWG continues to explore an inclusive and holistic approach to creative writing practice into the future.
If we want to ensure that narrative experience and rich storytelling continues to be at the very centre of multi-platform and interactive media we need the practitioners with the expertise in these forms to step up and become part of the Guild. Moreover, if we want the profession and practice of new media writing to mature and grow we need to make it part of the larger screen and performance writing community.