UCLA Producers Program Faculty Member Transforms Television With New Series

Tonight, a new comedy premieres on CW that demonstrates the changing nature of the business of television. Leading the charge is Maggie Murphy, head of the US division of the Canadian production company Shaftesbury, and one of the UCLA Producers Program’s own faculty members. Backpackers follows two twenty-something best friends, Ryan and Brandon, as they race across Europe in search of Ryan’s fiancé, while trying to figure out who they are and what they want to become of their lives.

The idea for Backpackers came from Jay Bennet, Vice President Digital/Creative Director of Smokebomb Entertainment, the digital arm of Shaftesbury. Murphy came on board to help develop the idea internally and planned a new strategy to pitch the show. “Visual sales tools are becoming more and more important in the industry,” says Murphy. “Before they move forward, buyers really want to know what the show will look and feel like.” So for Backpackers, she and her team hired a writer, a small cast and a skeleton crew. They all hopped in a van and drove around Europe for a few days and shot about ten minutes that effectively conveyed what the show was about, as well as the humor of the show.

”We didn’t even pitch it, which is unusual,” recalls Maggie. Instead, they shopped their presentation around to a few networks and immediately received interest from CW. Maggie and her team sold it to CW for their digital-only network, CW Seed, and they got funding from the CW to go into production. Additional financing came from pre-selling the concept to the Canadian network CTV, as well as Canadian tax incentives. Backpackers lived online among several other digital-only comedy series from CW and, to date, is the first and only digital series to be picked up by the network for broadcast.

It’s not surprising that Shaftesbury is bringing a new strategy to TV in the US—the Canadian company is used to a very different modus operandi. “In Canada, they go straight to series, they don’t shoot a pilot. And the same in the international world,” says Murphy. This trend has of course made its way to the states with places like HBO and Netflix giving straight-to-series orders, but even broadcast nets like Fox are giving this model a shot as well. Murphy has seen more and more traditional networks foregoing the traditional pilot order. “I have a series that just had five more scripts ordered, but no pick-up,” says Murphy. She believes it makes good economic sense: “Instead of shooting that pilot that is seven to ten million dollars, and then seeing it’s not good, why not pay half a million for scripts and see what you’ve got.”

Murphy and Shaftesbury are so eager to see up-and-coming creators adopt innovative practices such as these that they recently announced a multi-year gift to benefit the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program, a highly selective, two-year MFA degree. The gift will allow Shaftesbury production executives to help producing students create and develop television and digital projects, and then provide the necessary resources to complete them. The partnership will also create opportunities for Producers Program students to network with Shaftesbury’s network of top-tier industry experts.

Denise Mann, head of the Producers Program and co-head of Transforming Hollywood, is “thrilled [by the] generous donation.” “With the help of Ms. Murphy and our other key television creators, executives, producers and cutting-edge media scholars teaching in the UCLA TFT Producers Program, the department has been able to be responsive to the renaissance taking place in the television industry,” says Mann.

Murphy intends for the gift to help students create important products that are essential to selling TV series today. “People have less money and they want to have as much insurance as possible,” Murphy explains. “It’s important to be able to go to potential buyers with a clear idea of what the series is and where it goes, and we’ll be able to get these students in a position where they’re ready to be a part of the transformations taking place in Hollywood today.”

Study and Practice Transmedia in Italy

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If you’re interested in joining fellow filmmakers, artists, designers, social media mavens, and developers in Fermo, Le Marche Italy, as they explore innovative storytelling techniques and produce a project for the town of Fermo, then be sure to check out MEDIARS Fermo 2014.

Organized by Alessandro Marianantoni, Researcher at UCLA’S REMAP institute, MEDIARS Fermo 2014 is the 5th edition of the multifaceted experimental approach to read and communicate the beauty of a territory. Using new media tools, the workshop crafts an innovative interface to tell stories about the town of Fermo—its richness in history, characters and traditions. The contemporary digital era heavily relies on transmedia: filmmaking, interactive media design, and emerging technologies to internationally communicate local contents and information, all of which are central to the workshop.

MEDIARS Fermo runs June 21 to July 5, 2014 and a special offer of 10% off tuition fees ($185) is available for all Transforming Hollywood 5 attendees.

Apply soon, a limited number of scholarships will be awarded! Visit for more information and contact to request an application.

Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Television

For the past four years, UCLA and USC have co-hosted the public symposium Transmedia, Hollywood, which has explored the role of transmedia franchises in today’s entertainment industries. Led by Denise Mann (UCLA) and Henry Jenkins (USC), Transmedia, Hollywood has turned the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives, engaging them in critical dialogue with top researchers across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means, as well as looking at the dramatic changes in the entertainment industry as it adapts to a digital economy.

Panel Information and Schedule    

This year’s Transmedia, Hollywood conference is taking on a new challenge—tracking the major changes taking place in the television industry. Companies like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and Microsoft Xbox, all of which began with very discrete goals—online retail, online streaming of network TV shows, direct-to-home DVD rentals, next-generation gaming, user-generated videos—have slowly begun dipping their toes in the original content waters. 2013 saw significant developments on this front with Netflix releasing three original series (“House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove,” “Orange is the New Black”) and producing a new season of the cult hit “Arrested Development.” The first foray into original programming was a success by many accounts, including 18 combined Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations and four wins.

Buy Tickets    

This evolution is a sure sign that big change is afoot in the entertainment industry. For that reason, UCLA and USC’s fifth annual Transmedia Hollywood becomes Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Television. The one-day symposium, set for April 4, 2014, will examine the landmark transformations that are impacting creators, distributors and audiences in extraordinary ways.

Topics to be covered include reinventing TV for the digital future, video streaming on demand, independent content creation, as well as re-imagining television consumption.
Continuing in the tradition of previous years, panelists—cutting edge industry leaders and innovators, content creators, artists and scholars—will tackle these issues in a series of lively debates that take into consideration both the practical and business realities of these shifts, as well as their cultural implications.

More information about the conference can be found on the conference overview page.

Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change

On Friday, April 12, 2013, the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television is teamed up with USC Annenberg School of Communication and USC School of Cinematic Arts for the Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change conference. Presented by the Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. foundation, the theme of the conference was “Spreading Change”.  The event was held at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM and was followed by a reception.

Transmedia entertainment has been advanced within the Hollywood system primarily through a logic of promotion, audience building, and engagement, offering the ideal tools for capturing the imagination of networked audiences through the creation of immersive and expansive imaginary worlds. As transmedia has spread around the world, especially to countries with a much stronger tradition of public media, these same practices have been embraced as a means not of building fictional realms but of spreading change throughout the world.

Voices From the Colosseum

Voices from the Colosseum, an experimental project spearheaded by the UCLA Center for Research in Engineering, Media, and Performance (REMAP) and MEDIARS, invites participants to work through media on cultural sites. This project creates engaging non-linear storytelling media based on historical scenes (known and unknown to the most) on the Colosseum using video streaming, HTML5 technology and mobile phone combined with storytelling and cultural elements.

As you are capturing the Colosseum as well as surrounding sites with your media device, such as a smartphone, you will receive a short video clip pertinent to what you are capturing with your device. The project does not intend to distract the visitor from looking at the Colosseum, but similar to the example provided by The Forbidden City, wishes to add an invisible layer to the historic place, creating a new playful experience. It’s an entertaining application that analyzes the ongoing visit and presents the contents in a personalized way. It also identifies a set of “responsive objects” that are the keys create links between the virtual world of myths and the reality of the historical site.

The project is directed by Alessandro Marianantoni and is in partnership with Google Goggles and UCLA’s Experiential Technologies Center (ETC).

Find out more about the project and the free iPhone/Android app on the Voices From the Colosseum website.