9 questions for Dean Johnson [INTERVIEW]

Dean Johnson

In the run up to BookMachine Unplugged we interviewed Dean Johnson of Brandwidth. Dean will be talking at Unplugged about Brandwidth’s latest project The Numinous Place  – an example of multiple partners working together to produce a new fictional experience for readers.


1) For anyone that hasn’t come across Brandwidth before can you sum up who you are and what you do?

In a nutshell, without too much ‘marketing speak’… We’re a group of companies working with some of the largest global brands to select, design, develop, market and maintain great digital content. The result? Enterprise-level websites, apps, iBooks, 3D and gestural screen technology and the future of Smart TV for publishers, Music labels, TV and film studios, automotive manufacturers, museums and financial institutions (to name but a few). Does that all sound too corporate? Well, we do work with some big brands but the end product doesn’t talk down to the reader, player, listener, viewer or adventurer. We live and breathe this stuff, the machines don’t.


2) Your talk for BookMachine is about the latest collaboration you’ve been involved in The Numinous Place. What is TNP?

The Numinous Place’ is the first published work of fiction from Mark Staufer, the former Head of Production at Universal Studios in London, now living and working in LA as a successful screenwriter. When Mark first approached us, he was looking for a creative partner to help bring his project to life. Fast forward 18 months and we now have a stunning demo app, forming the first stage in the run up to launch early next year on iPad and iPhone, followed by additional platforms, an eBook and print/app hybrid publication. That’s all before TNP hits the silver screen.


3) The Numinous Place has been a successful crowd funded campaign through Kickstarter. Is this the first time you have been involved in a Kickstarter campaign? And does it change the dynamics of how the project is conceptualised? Ie is there more of an equal footing between everyone involved?

When one of your most prominent Kickstarter investors is Russell Crowe, you’d think the crowd might adopt the role of backseat driver. Not so. Russell, as with all our investors, knew we had the best team in place to deliver the best product, so left us alone to raise the money, then make something special. This is our first Kickstarter-funded project and I’d happily take that route again – if the team, talent and raw material are as good as this.


4) Digital/transmedia narratives aren’t a new phenomenon but what makes The Numinous Place different? Does it give the reader/user any more satisfaction than a good book, film or game?

Many attempts at transmedia fiction have failed to hit the right balance for the right audience. We are still primarily catering to readers, not viewers or gamers – they don’t want interactive content to break their reading experience and obstruct the narrative. Audio enhances, video is contained within the key text and interaction occurs as a result of the narrative, not in spite of it.

Our aim was always to produce an app where the technology is recessive, not excessive. The Numinous Place hits a comfortable middle-ground without alienating its key audience as Mark has written the book with the comprehension and mentality of a screenwriter that understands the power of a digital display.


5) What was your role in the production of TNP?

Leading the design, innovation, production and development teams has kept me out of trouble. I’m not always this close to all aspects of a project but as I was helping Mark and his US team shape the public image for both the Kickstarter campaign and the recent launch at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I jumped in with both feet.


6) And what skills and experience did Brandwidth bring to the process?

We pride ourselves on great creative and technical skills but our real strength on digital projects is the user experience. TNP has this in bucket loads, but not to the detriment of the narrative. The experience is the text itself, once appropriately enhanced where necessary.


7) Has creating TNP made you see yourselves and the direction of Brandwidth differently? Are you seeing yourselves more as a publisher now than maybe producers/developers?

We’ve seen ourselves as publishers of great content for a while now – either our own apps (Headspin: Storybook and F:sh) or great content owners (Journey to The Exoplanets and the Doctor Who Encyclopedia) so we always felt comfortable working on The Numinous Place. We do, however, relish the new challenge of bringing adult fiction to life.


8) What else have you got planned to build the brand of TNP and enrich the story further?

This platform is merely the beginning, the place where we can best tell the story with the tools we have at our disposal. In no particular order, we’ll tackle the print/app hybrid, eBook, game and film series. A great story shouldn’t be shackled to one platform, but it should be told in the best way possible for each.


9) Why do you think it is important for cross industry collaboration to take place? And do you see this happening more often?

It’s essential. If publishers only partner with designers and developers that work predominantly in the publishing arena, they will be offered a very blinkered view of the real world and will fail to tap into their dynamic and tech-savvy audience. It’s time for publishers to claim new ground or they’ll lose out. We know, our Music, TV and film industry clients ALL want to own the narrative. The race is on.


If you’ve enjoyed this interview with Dean Johnson then get yourself on the waiting list for BookMachine Unplugged where Dean will be talking more about the The Numinous Place.

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