I’m back! Many apologies for the long absence! Since my last entry, I’ve traveled around the entire world teaching and listening with people about transmedia storytelling. What was once a little known academic concept is now proliferating into a significant paradigm shift, not only in Hollywood but also everywhere from Cardiff, Wales to Sao Paulo, Brazil to Melbourne, Australia. I promise to post more regularly and catch you up on all of these developments, especially where it concerns kids entertainment. In the meantime, here’s the second installment of my Hot Wheels adventure (you can review the first one here). This is where things get rough!
So Mattel realized that my company had the smarts and the creative firepower to tap into the Hot Wheels brand and build a story world around the brand. Now they needed us to floor it to 300 MPH and get them a few dozen comic books and the first episode of an animated series by October of 2002—less than five months from our initial pitch meeting! This is where the traits of any transmedia producer worth his or her salt kick in: the work would need to be split into a spinning DNA strand of creative and production.
My partner Mark Pensavalle immediately jumped on the phone and started recruiting talent to the project. We chose popular comic book artist Walter McDaniel (Deadpool, Fantastic Four) and WAM Enterprises to help realize our vision for the characters and Hot Wheels world. At the same time, I pulled in writer Fabian Nicieza to help me create a bible for the characters and storyline. Fabian is one of the most prolific and successful comic book scribes of the past two decades, and he immediately grokked my vision for a series of alternate dimensions through which our heroes would drive their Nitroxx 2-powered racecars.
We quickly realized that this would be no ordinary bible. Mattel was rapidly shoehorning the burgeoning Hot Wheels: Highway 35 campaign into their licensing and merchandising plans. I was certain that I did not want to repeat the same story in the comics, animated series and videogames. This meant that the story world had to be expansive and robust enough to furnish many hours of content in ways that best leveraged these varied media platforms. So the bible kept growing, and would wind up becoming a prototype for the Mythology books we would become known for.
Starlight Runner Mythology books differ from show bibles in that they also survey vast swathes of the story world in terms of time, space, metaphysics and theme. They convey the brand essence of the property and provide guidelines for writing the characters. Sometimes they even suggest how the meta-story plays out over the course of years, with the main throughline covered by the driving platform (the TV or film series) and important (and juicy but non-essential) elements playing out on ancillary platforms (the comics and videogames). Copies of the heavily illustrated books would be shared with animation houses, videogame developers, and many licensees.
In the case of Hot Wheels, I owed a debt of gratitude to the gang at Mainframe Entertainment (now Rainmaker) in Vancouver, as they helped us customize the Mythology to their needs for the series.
The show, of course, would be a major challenge. None of us wanted a story where cars simply circled a track. This meant that the backgrounds were going to be constantly shifting and that several exotic settings would be needed for each episode. But there was almost no time to invent any of it from scratch! All eyes were on Fabian and I to come up with a narrative-based solution. Thinking fast, I called up series co-producer Gio Corsi and asked him to get us a list of Mainframe assets. Tropical mountains, a huge dinosaur, Mayan pyramids, glaciers, ocean water—we wrote it all into the story world. The Racing Realms of the alien Accelerons was coming together!
Within a month of our pitch, my company was in the midst of a full-scale transmedia production. We were cranking out comic book pages, assisting publisher THQ with the videogame, approving character 3-views from Mainframe, and providing assets to Mattel Digital so that a fan portal filled with unique background info on Highway 35 could be built on their web site. But when you’re blasting away at full speed, even the smallest bumps in the road can toss you into a ravine…!
Next time: The challenges of dealing with a very…particular…client, uniting different factions in service of a single story world, the role of girl characters in a boys’ property, and establishing an iconic character whose adventures are recounted on television to this day.