Mike Monello’s Secrets of Storytelling

A great benefit of being a Wheaton student is getting the opportunity to hear lectures from brilliant minds across myriad fields and disciplines. One such event took place on Wednesday, February 5th, in the Old Science Center’s Hindle Auditorium featuring Mike Monello, producer of The Blair Witch Project and founder of the transmedia marketing company Campfire. Throughout Monello’s hour-long lecture, he captured the attention of the audience with stories about various transmedia initiatives he worked on including New York Comic Con’s Westworld: The Experience and The Man in the High Castle’s Resistance Radio.

Dubbed the Key Principles from the Front Line, the following tenets of storytelling are all worth consideration. The first, Design for Multiple Levels of Engagement, describes the way in which pieces of immersive fiction should be catered for fans of different commitment levels. Monello uses the terms “skimmers,” “dippers,” and “divers” to delineate the self-selecting groups of fans who engage with a work anywhere from a casual to a hardcore manner. For the filmmakers or writers of rich, science fiction or fantasy stories, this lesson is especially important. The second, Embrace Genre & Adaptation, describes the manner in which creatives looking to subvert expectations should ground such experimentation in an element of familiarity. Either subvert form or narrative, but not both at once, according to Monello.

The next principle, Think like a Forger, applies universally and is all about the minutiae, because as Monello says, details aren’t important, but essential. Another significant principle, Create White Space for Individual Storytelling, centers around the notion of leaving gaps in a fictitious world for one’s audience to fill in themselves. Fan theory and engagement is key to prolonging the life of fiction, and so this technique is invaluable.

The final principle outlined by Monello, Look to our Past for Inspiration about our Future, requires the sort of close observation and introspection that all the creatives on the Wheaton campus possess. This technique is all about noticing patterns in people and allowing them to engage with old habits in subversive new ways. Monello talked about the shift from sending friends and family Coney Island vacation postcards to Coney Island Instagram selfies in order to illustrate this movement over time. With the advancement in technology comes the opportunity to share stories in new ways, and that is what Mike Monello and Campfire are all about.  As the next generation of creatives, getting the opportunity to learn from those who came before us is the key to improving our own craft. Thank you to Mike Monello for an insightful evening in Hindle Auditorium.