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by David Craig

One of my father’s favorite mottos was “Think too long, get it wrong.” Granted, my father was not a contemplative, philosophical man and he got it wrong fairly often. Nonetheless, he taught me the power of iteration.

What is iteration? It’s a process. Start with a hunch, fueled by passion, framed by a vision, informed with wisdom, developed with a strategy. With a sense of fearlessness, launch your project, service, company, with a mix of reasonable risks and measurable outcomes. Most importantly, reflect, improve, and repeat. If my father had been Nike, he would have taught me to “Just do it… again… only better.”

In the Digital Age, iteration lies at the heart of media entrepreneurship. According to Ken Auletta’s Googled, Google began as a utopian vision by a pair of engineers for curating the Internet through artificial intelligence and techno-efficiency. Only someone forgot to figure out how to pay for this and even cyber-revolutions cost money. But the Googlers soon discovered AdWords, which turned searchers into customers, and now they are bathing in coin while colonizing our minds and pockets. Google’s mistakes? There’ve been a few, too few to mention, especially once Google adapts and re-launches these projects to far greater effect and return. In other words, I would not markdown Google Plus as a minus quite yet.

Similarly, as described in Gina Keating’s book, Netflixed, Reed Hastings has tilted against every Hollywood windmill and blown them over. Coming from Silicon Valley, Hastings destroyed Blockbuster before launching the user-friendliest streaming platform with the longest tail of media libraries and the help of bands of broad and golden delicious Apple consumer electronics. Now Keating’s House of Cards is burning down the house of Paley. While HBO Go will likely go over–the-top, Time Warner Cable has been unplugged. It’s not TV. It’s HBO, Netflix, Apple, YouTube, Amazon, or Comcast… all masters of iteration.

But how might Hollywood storytellers embrace more risk-embracing iterative strategies? The challenges are only dire if you define story solely as conventional narratives with three-act structures and closure. After all, we may not be a Bible-toting community but we have faith in the Aristotelian ideals of drama and catharsis. I too lust for the single cultural narrative.

During the season of awards, I American Hustled to the theatres for 12 Years of Philomenic redemption and raved about these films on Facebook, aka my version of Her.

But said faith may backfire. Cue Hollywood war story. In the early 1990s, I worked for two feature film producers who set up an adaptation of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn at TriStar Pictures. We attached a European auteur and the Shirley Temple of his time, Macaulay Culkin. But the project sat there, spinning in development hell-ertia. Over the span of one weekend, Disney received their version of Huck Finn and greenlit the project by Sunday night. On Monday morning, The Hollywood Reporter announced that, “TriStar gets ‘Hucked’ by Disney”. Turns out TriStar thought too long and got it wrong.

Today, we live in the Marvel-ous age of narrative, where every film represents but one incarnation of a larger world of characters, narratives, and experiences featuring Campbell-esque hero journeys that combine world-saving with self-actualization. Christopher Nolan reinvented Batman into a cinematic trilogy capable of launching an infinite number of prequels, sequels, and new mythologies. So the world has changed. Or has it? What is Batman other than a modern-day re-imagination of the struggle over the duality of human nature?

These films are 21st century adaptations of 20th century comic books inspired by the 19th century novel Jekyll and Hyde, based on the B.C. account of Cain and Abel. In the past decade, we’ve seen multiple Hulks, Spidermen, and Supermen because the end (or failure) of one franchise is nothing other than the opportunity to launch a new and improved one.

Likewise, television fosters this spirit of iteration with series’ remakes, spinoffs, and transmedia storytelling online and on phone. We’ve witnessed ever-evolving casts and locations of Law and Order and CSI and even non-procedurals have gone rogue. Breaking Bad may getter badder in Better Call Saul. There’s got to be a morning after The Walking Dead, and it’s a talk show that appears right after each episode and a spinoff that was just announced.

A warning, however. These programs must hone true to their underlying mythology. Stick to their throughline, which is a term derived from the German term roto-faden, in turn derived from the myth of the Minotaur. See? It’s all Greek to media, including narrative diasporas.

As 21st century storytellers, let’s embrace these iterative processes to create cross-media narratives. Be faithful to Aristotle but also media agnostics. Our stories are but imagined constructions, not narrative constrictions. We can laugh at the folly of the Gods on one screen, and watch Medea murder in another medium. To slay the Minotaur of media, we need to wade fearlessly through the maze of multiple monitors that permeate this multi-screened digital age with content that cannot be contained from our imagination. But don’t forget your roto-faden.

Do over? Do better? Why don’t you tell me that again and again?

David Craig

About David Craig

David Craig is a media producer, communications professor (USC), LGBT media activist, and education scholar (UCLA). In other words, a storyteller. Please follow David on Twitter: @Producing2Power

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