The Go BZRK Case Study: Interview with Rich Silverman (Part 1)

by April Arrglington on October 26th, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure to sit down and interview Rich Silverman, the writer and co-creator of the Go BZRK Alternative Reality Game (ARG) that just came to an end on October 20th. The ARG is part of a broader Trasmedia strategy that was built from the ground up for Michael Grant’s new book series, BZRK. The first book in the series, due this February, is the driving platform of the whole experience. For the purpose of this case study Rich and I spoke mostly about the mechanics of launching and running the ARG, which I think many in the community will find very helpful. The interview is a bit long, so I’ve decided to split it in two posts for a more convenient read. Enjoy.
1. How did the idea of the ARG came to be? When Michael approached you did he have a clear concept of what he wanted to do, and just needed someone who knew how to execute it? Or did you have to conceptualize all the material for the experience from scratch, making it completely separate from the book?

Michael and Alex LeMay, the CEO of the Shadow Gang, the company that produced this experience, had wanted to do a Transmedia experience for the book for over a year. Michael is a successful novelist in the YA world and Alex is an accomplished documentarian and filmmaker, but neither had created or produced a transmedia project before. Fate brought us together at the Transmedia Hollywood event at UCLA earlier this year. We hit it off immediately and they brought me on to develop, write, and co-produce this experience from the ground up.

They pretty much gave me carte blanche for that, which was great and quite possibly unprecedented. I’m used to layers of approvals and bureaucracy, but we were able to cut through all that and focus on the creative, which is more like how a book writer works as compared to someone in film or a creative working on an ARG for a marketing campaign.

Basically, Michael handed me the rules of the universe and a bunch of backstories and characters that he created that are not necessarily included in the novel. At least not in the first book. I went through this material and cherry-picked certain elements and characters that I thought would be compelling in an ARG… then went on to adjust timelines, character details, and create new characters and situations that sort of hung on some of his pre-existing mythology.

Michael was very open to my ideas and re-working. When I pitched my three-month narrative for the ARG Michael loved it and let me run with it on my own.

2. How many characters or plot points from the novel are integrated in the ARG? Since the novel hasn’t been released, there is no way for the audience to know how the storyline for the ARG is connected to the novel. Or how many questions raised by the ARG are going to be answer in the novel, etc.

Most of the narrative for the ARG I pretty much created from scratch, though several characters that play smaller roles in the ARG turn up in the novel as key figures. However, most of the ARG characters were created to serve the needs of the transmedia experience. And as I already mentioned, a few elements came from some backstory Michael had sketched out, but these were, in general, lifted out of these existing situations and transformed to fit the needs of the new narrative.

In terms of how the ARG and the novel are connected, the novel will not answer some of the questions that the ARG poses, but the questions will be answered because the ARG is not the end of the Transmedia experience. The first novel comes out in February, so we have several more months of content that we are going to be releasing through a centralized experience – we won’t be sending people all over the web like in an ARG. Some questions posed by the ARG will be answered there. Some won’t be. People will have to drop in at when the new site launches and see what we have for them. They’re going to be surprised. That’s for sure.
3. Are you referring to the Mobile App?

Partially. A Mobile App for IOS and Android is coming out closer to the book launch. The app that is a transmedia extension that ties into the ARG, but is not a primary delivery mechanism for narrative content. In terms of continuing the ARG story, we are launching an interactive website before the release of the novel that will feature weekly short stories by Michael, a social network, and some comics and interactive stories that I’ll be writing.

4. I’m curious about the plans for the experience after the launch of the first novel in February. Because I know there are still two more books in the works.

Well, I was hired to create six months worth of story. Some of this was included in the ARG, and some will be part of all the content to be released in the next few months leading up to the launch of the first book. There are some ideas for continuing a Transmedia builtd-out after the book launch, but right now we’re focused on creating an exciting, fun experience that leads to book one.

5. So is the Transmedia experience supposed to last past the release of book 1, and between launches of book 2&3?

Yes, the plan is to release content across multiple platforms between book launches. Thankfully the books are set to be released much closer to each other than has traditionally been done in the past for book series, so that gives a bit more containment to the Transmedia strategy.

6. That would be a lot of material and up keep, a huge commitment. So, who is in the team?
Well from the narrative standpoint it’s essentially me, but Alex has good story sense and had some great ideas, and Michael was always there as well if I needed a sounding board. I wrote the entire ARG and will be writing all most of the additional content set to be released in all these other platforms before the launch of book one.

In terms of graphic design and Photoshop wizardry we have Eric Burton, who was also the video editor and special effects guru who cut all the videos for the ARG. He also designed several of our websites, and all of the ARG assets… which includes all the news paper articles, pictures, etc.

Alex LeMay, who acts as the executive producer, put all of the film shoots together. He did all the casting, which is really top notch, and produced all the video content for the ARG. I co-directed the videos with Alex.

Dee Cook, who is out of Austin, helped me out by designing most of our ARG puzzles, and was also the official community coordinator during the campaign.

We also have a comic book artist from Chicago, Jim Terry, who was brought to the table by Alex to do all of the art comics from my scripts. Plus, Digital Intent, who is also based out of Chicago, did all the tech support. It was a pretty small creative team when you really look at it.

7. What about the budget?

Let’s just say the ARG appears to have three times the budget it really does. In terms of content we are talking about at least 30 videos, up to 5 min. each, which were shot in about four and a half days. The whole timeline of the project was extremely crunched. For example, I wrote the bulk of the video videosscripts in a couple of days. There wasn’t a lot of time for second- guessing. It’s both liberating and frightening. The creative professional is always standing on the ledge. You can’t look down or you fall.

8. Can you expand on the timeline you had to work with, how much pre-production time you had?

Well, we had May and June for pre-production. During this time we had to come up with all of the narrative, game design, structure and mechanics, social engagement plan, and marketing strategies for the launch of the ARG. We also had to organize pre-awareness for the ARG for the last couple of weeks of July. Then we had to shoot all of the filmed content and get our core sites designed and built by August 1. After that, Dee and I were mostly responsible for running the ARG and uploading about half the content while it was running, which involved managing and uploading the video, tweets, blog posts, etc. The experience was set to last a total of 12 weeks with the first four weeks designed to build an audience and deliver exposition.

9. You just mentioned having to come up with marketing strategies for the ARG. I know that Michael has Miller PR promoting the novel. Was there a synergy there at all in terms of approaching Michael’s pre-existing YA fans to participate in the ARG?

We reached out to YA bloggers through places like GoodReads, but we wanted to reach beyond the group that reads YA literature. Many of our most active participants were ARG gamers, which is something we were happy with because we wanted to expand the scope of what YA means. This particular novel is also skewed a bit older than a typical YA book. So we looked at the ARG experience as an opportunity to build a broader audience.

For Part 2 of this interview click here.

Posted in Publishing, ARG, Winning Properties, Mobile    Tagged with Go Bzrk, Rich Silverman, Michael Grant, Alex LeMay, Shadow Gang, TH2, UCLA, Eric Burton, Dee Cook, Jim Terry, Digital Intent, Miller PR, GoodReads


dreamdancer - October 26th, 2011 at 8:28 PM
wow, is there anything eric burton CAN'T do? oh wait, yes, the butterfly.

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