Leave the Door Open

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Did you watch that? Not only does it (thankfully) conclude my three-part sojourn into the realm of horror, but it showcases how seeds turn into oaks… or rather, alien skulls into crossover franchises. That forty-second clip created a host of novels, comic books, films. I’m not going to pass judgment on the quality of all of those. But hey: for less than a minute worth of cinema, that’s a lot of quality spin-off content.

I’m not saying we should all ape Predator 2 (though, truthfully, it’s not half-bad for a sequel) but here are lessons to be learned from that one segment. What started as an easter egg in that film turned two franchises into one. Does your work have such open nodes to extend your content? I’m not talking about cliffhangers or branching storypoints. I’m talking about those throwaway, cast-off, blink-and-you’ll miss it points that expand the universe in ways you couldn’t possibly perceive. Well, that is, you can’t perceive them, but fans? If you leave room for their questions–if you open the door to their imaginations–they’ll clamor for more.

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The Problem with Horror

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Clients come to me and Starlight Runner all the time with problems regarding their horror franchise. It used to connect with audiences, so why isn’t it doing so now? Why is the main character so popular but the series dragging? Why can’t we seem to re-invigorate the story world? It’s a constant refrain, one that provides no easy answer. At the base of things, transmedia has a problem depicting horror.

This isn’t for lack of effort or appreciation. Hell, I love horror. I just want to make that absolutely clear from the beginning. The Thing is one of my favorite films ever, as are 28 Days Later, The Exorcist, Evil Dead, and too many others to mention. Cthulhu-style insanity-terror creeps under my skin and refuses to let go. I’m even working on a horror project myself, so feel free to hold my feet to the fire when it comes out. Understand that my discussion below is not meant to be a criticism of the form. There’s nothing wrong with horror as a genre.

Unless you happen to be a premarital-sex-loving, pot-smoking teenager who works at a summer camp. 

Unless you happen to be a premarital-sex-loving, pot-smoking teenager who works at a summer camp.

What I’m going to talk about here is why horror doesn’t always translate in a transmedia sense, both from a franchise perspective and as a stand-alone story across multiple media platforms. Characters from horror? They thrive in popular culture long after their initial depiction. Creators of horror? They can be rock gods. But long-form series? Those are much rarer in the grand scheme of things, and those that exist tend to tone down their straight-up scares fairly quickly or go straight for camp.

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