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Michael Fry
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Michael Fry

"Devices and delivery mechanisms will change, but good storytelling remains a universal need—we are not defined by the device but rather by the stories told via the device.”

Michael Fry

Written by Michal Percival

Most Columbia students have been making art since they were little kids, but you might not realize that even when you played all those video games, you were participating in an act of artistic creation: Transmedia storytelling.

According to Michael Fry, Associate Professor and head of the Television Department’s writing concentration, “Transmedia storytelling is the idea that one concept or core narrative can be used across multiple distribution platforms. It’s about ‘world-building,’ or creating a giant concept that can then take many forms. One way that Transmedia properties can be distinguished from adaptations is that the story changes ever so slightly from platform to platform, i.e., the video game story is a different way into this imagined world than the movie.”

As co-creator of Columbia’s new Internet and Mobile Media concentration, Michael has developed and co-teaches Transmedia Critical Analysis, Film, TV, and Game to demonstrate to students that this approach to storytelling isn’t just about mass merchandising and marketing. “In Transmedia Critical Analysis, students experience the deliberate nature of Transmedia as a creative form with the intention of communicating one idea in a plethora of ways.” In the class, students learn to identify the commonalities that exist between film, TV, and game production. “We focus on common threads like three-act structure, depth of character, back story, world-building, and context as the fundamental building blocks of good story. Good story remains good story.” And Michael knows good story—having earned a B.A. from Georgetown University and a M.F.A. from Tisch School of the Arts, he is an Emmy- and Humanitas-nominated screenwriter, producer, playwright and director who began his artistic career working on such modern television masterpieces as The Cosby Show and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The IMM concentration is designed to emphasize the individual and collective production of emerging forms of episodic and standalone content, including mobisodes, webisodes, and interactive and viral video.  Sexperts, the program’s pilot project, became the top comedy channel on YouTube within its first 48 hours online. Michael sees that the very nature of television “changes every day, every time someone posts a video to YouTube that is innovative. The word ‘television’ can be replaced with ‘episodic content,’ meaning that whether on a flat screen at home or on a Smart Phone, we love to see the same characters, week after week, scripted or unscripted, distributed by and created for whatever new technology comes next. Devices and delivery mechanisms will change, but good storytelling remains a universal need—we are not defined by the device but rather by the stories told via the device.”

For Michael, “The future of TV is now. Innovation is about educated risk-taking; it’s about being well versed in what was so we can create what will be.” And if you want to see what that is, tune in tomorrow.