Industry Pro: Transmedia Producer and Executive Jackie Turnure
In an article about Fourth Wall Studios last April, the Los Angeles times wrote that they are ”trying to create a new form of interactive programming that fits the era of apps, friends lists and watching two or three screens at the same time.” Today’s profile subject has been working on that objective for much of her career. Part of the Emmy award-winning team that created the “Dharma Wants You” campaign for “Lost,” she and Fourth Wall just took home the 2012 Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Original Programming for their project, “Dirty Work.” Read more about Jackie’s career path and her groundbreaking work below…
Current position: I’m Head of Production at Fourth Wall Studios. I’m across all of the projects at Fourth Wall, but every now and then I produce one of the projects as well. I produced a three‑part series called “Dirty Work” and I’m currently producing a digital short called “Flare: The Hunt.”
Hometown: I was born in Sydney, Australia to a New Yorker father and an Aussie Mum. I spent most of my early childhood living in Australia, but spent a lot of my adult years in the States.
College and degree: I got a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications from Sydney College of the Arts, which is a four‑year degree that covers everything from photography to graphic design, advertising, marketing and film. And then I got a Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco State in film production.
Did you have an internship while you were in school? I had a fabulous internship at KQED, a public television station in San Francisco. I worked with Jack Walsh, a filmmaker who was running the Living Room Festival, a short film showcase. It was a great way to get insight into how to program television.
Did you go directly into the entertainment industry when you got out of school? My first degree was in graphic design and I thought I wanted to get into 3D animation. I actually came to the States determined to get a job at Pixar. I organized an interview and met John Lassiter who told me my animation wasn’t terrific, but I had good story sense. He told me I should take more animation classes, but when I called San Francisco State to find out about their classes, I was put through to the Graduate department. Before I knew it, I was doing a Master of Fine Art in film production.
When I finished film school, my first paid gig was teaching screenwriting. I taught initially at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and then at NYU and Hunter College in New York. At that time, I was trying to get a feature film off the ground. I also wrote a play and learned bass guitar; all those crazy things you do when you live in New York. I moved back to Australia where I got a job with a post-production house that was opening a games division. I thought the job was just going to be a stopgap, but it ended up being one of the most important jobs I’ve had. I was a production manager for 3D animated games for kids. I had always been interested in alternative structure, such as in MEMENTO and MULHOLLAND DRIVE, in film school and in my teaching, and now I was looking at non-linear storytelling in terms of the games. So that job really set me on the path I am on now.
Over the next few years, I worked in games, then did about five years writing children’s television, and then had a period trying to get another feature off the ground. So when I look back, I see that I’ve had a very “transmedia” career. I started in photography and graphic design, did film, games and kids’ television, then made a crazy independent feature using Machinima, which is animation using a game engine. After that, I ended up at the national film school in Australia, the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. I was teaching screenwriting there when the digital media department started up an amazing initiative called LAMP, Laboratory of Advanced Media Production. I was very excited by what they were doing, combining games, film and TV. And there were a lot of really interesting people working there, so I badgered the director of LAMP to take me on as the story mentor. We had week long workshops away where eight teams of three people would work with international mentors to brainstorm and build these fantastically innovative ideas, like alternative reality games. At the end of the week, the teams would present to a panel of VIPs and commissioning editors.
While working at LAMP, I won an international pitching competition in Cannes. That gave me the confidence to contact the folks at a transmedia company that I was very interested in working with, called Hoodlum. Hoodlum works with studios and their big entertainment brands, to create online multi-platform experiences to promote the shows, entertain the audience between seasons, and get them excited about their upcoming season. I flew myself to Brisbane where they are located and showed them my work and a few months later, I moved there. I spent three years working with them on some amazing brand of properties like “Lost,” “Flash Forward,” SALT and the popular British television series, “Primeval.” In the last year I was there, Hoodlum was producing their own intellectual property (IP) including a huge multi-platform project called “Slide” that we co-produced with a television production company. While working with them, I got to know a lot of the people who ended up being my peers at Fourth Wall Studios.
So that was your introduction to the Hollywood digital media world. Yeah. It’s a pretty small group so you get know everyone and all the companies working in this space. I knew the experience designers and the producers and writers and I followed them all on Twitter.
How did you get from over there to over here, from Hoodlum in Australia to Fourth Wall Studios in the Los Angeles area? I spent a lot of time as a child living in different countries and I wanted to give my kids, who were in elementary school, the experience of living overseas. I also have family here and I wanted them to get to know their American relatives. I was visiting my sister, who lives in San Francisco and made contact with Fourth Wall Studios through Twitter. I met CEO Jim Stewartson for lunch and he told me they were setting up a company in Los Angeles. All of a sudden the planets aligned and I realized if we were going to move overseas, now was the time. It was kind of a no brainer. Of course I just had to convince my husband!
When was that? We moved here in February of 2011 and when I started at Fourth Wall Studios, there were only 12 of us with no phones, no furniture, nothing. Now 18 months later we have close to 70 people.
Can you give me some examples of Fourth Wall Studios’ work? Sure. Our goal is to create the next generation of storytelling, to take entertainment off your television or better yet to extend it beyond your television. We’re trying to combine the best of linear storytelling and episodic television with gameplay, producing both the shows and building the platform on which they play.
We have made a number of programs already that showcases our technology, including a show called “Claire.” “Claire” is a series about a young woman who is a telepath. In it you are watching this young woman who can hear other people’s thoughts. Throughout the show, your phone rings and you can hear her thoughts on your phone as she uses her telepathic power. The name of the platform I’m describing is RIDES.tv. We basically take you on a “ride”, where you can sit back and just watch it or you can interact with it. Another example is in our series “Dirty Work,” when a character gets a text message, a text message arrives on your phone. You are experiencing the story beyond the screen, involving the different devices that you use in your day‑to‑day life. Another example is a horror short where a child is hearing voices in his head. You hear those voices on your phone immersing you right into the experience as if those voices are in your head. It’s really creepy.
Our goal is to develop stories that make are delivered across different devices. We’ve had some successes and we’ve had some failures in terms of trying lots of things. We just released our fifth property. I feel like we’re starting to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t when you try to involve people and engage them in a way beyond just watching. We’re also starting to work with outside creatives. We’ve been looking for other creative teams to come in and pitch us their ideas to either co-finance or finance. So it’s a mix of our own stuff, externally submitted ideas, and commercially branded projects.
So what do you consider your big break? That’s a really tough one because there’ve been so many little breaks, so many moments where, if I would have gone left instead of right or right instead of left, I would have maybe ended up somewhere completely different. But winning the international pitching competition was definitely one. You had to come up with a branded entertainment idea for a client. I pitched an American Express alternate reality game that was kind of a James Bond spoof involving a diamond heiress, a thug, a kidnapping and a chase around the world. You had to pitch a 45-minute version, then a 15‑minute version, a 3‑minute version and finally a 30‑second version in front of 500 people. It was pretty nerve-wracking. But I won, and took home 10,000 Euros.
The prestige of this competition, for me, was a huge break because it was the first time I actually created an interactive project that was my own idea. It incorporated a lot of the things that were happening in terms of combining games, story, real world and virtual world, online and mobile. The fact that that idea took me all the way to Cannes gave me the confidence and inspiration to talk to Hoodlum about working for them.
What’s the best career advice you ever got? The thing I keep coming back to is going to sound kind of cheesy, but it’s so true. When I was in film school I found the critique process utterly devastating. I made so many mistakes and felt like I was failing all the time. My film professor, Karen Holmes, found me sobbing one day, and told me, “You can’t be afraid to fail. You have to be okay with failing because failing is never going to go away. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn. It’s only a mistake if you stop.” It was such a relief to hear that. She gave me permission to fail, which also meant giving me permission to take risks. I think as I look back at my career, I have always been pushing myself creatively and technically, taking myself out of my comfort zone. It was probably something Karen said to a million students, but it really resonated with me.
Now I’m looking for your eureka moment when you realized that you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently? I think one eureka moment was when I was teaching screenwriting at the national film school in Australia. It’s a very distinguished school and I had a very prestigious position. At the same time, I’d started working with students who were making animation and games in the digital media department. I tried to be in both departments, which got kind of crazy because I was in two department meetings every month and had two sets of students. I finally reached the point where I needed to choose between them. Every single filmmaker I knew told me I was insane. “Why would you leave screenwriting to go to digital media? What the hell is digital media anyway?” I realized then that I was always going to love watching traditional, linear films, but for my work I wanted to be on the fringe, pushing things, taking risks, and exploring alternate entertainment platforms. So I walked away from a coveted screenwriting position to work in digital media.
Describe a typical workday in your current position. I have finally surrendered to the fact that my typical workday is being in meetings. For a long time, I complained and resisted: “I can’t be in meetings all day. I’m not getting any work done!” And then I realized my work is meetings – a story meeting, a product meeting, a table reading, a user testing meeting. We have numerous projects in different stages of production so my day varies from one day to another – from reviewing casting and interviewing producers, to small but important details like looking at prop choices for an upcoming shoot. It’s a very diverse, never‑the‑same‑day‑twice, kind of position. It’s pretty much all meetings, but those meetings are super fun.
“I’m looking for your worst job or worst day in the entertainment industry. I think one of the toughest days was when I was at Hoodlum and we were working on a project for “Lost.” It was the second project that Hoodlum had done for them. We had created this fantastic campaign called “Dharma Wants You” where we were recruiting “Lost” fans to come and be a part the fictitious scientific research company within the world of “Lost.” It was going really well, and we had a really kickass ending to the campaign planned but for a whole lot of reasons, ABC Disney had to cancel the last third of the project. There were 700,000 fans we were taking on a journey that we wanted to reward and we had do this quick wrap up and finish it in a way that wasn’t at all what we had intended. That was a crap day. Ironically, that project went on to win an Emmy. I saw Damon Lindelof a few months later and we agreed it was pretty ironic that we won an Emmy for a canceled project.
Best job or best day in the entertainment industry? Winning the Emmy for “Dharma Wants You” was definitely a really good day, but the moment I often come back to was at the New York Film Festival. A very personal short film I made screened there; it was footage of my mom and me on a road trip, that was very poetic and layered and experimental.. I had spoken before the screening so people knew who I was and when I was walking out afterwards, this Jewish mom and her two daughters came up to me. And, in the broadest Brooklyn accent I’ve ever heard, she told me she loved my film, and that it was totally about her and her daughters. I couldn’t believe that my little Aussie film about my Mum was relevant to her and her daughters. . In that moment, it made me realize how my work could transcend any kind of divide, that if you are really honest in your work it resonates and people will connect with it. And even in my most commercial projects, I remember that. That was a great moment.
So what’s the best thing about your current job? I’m sure that everybody says this, but the best thing about my job is the people. The founders of Fourth Wall Studios have pulled together this incredible team of game designers, filmmakers, writers, novelists, programmers, and visual artists who have had very diverse careers and now have found the perfect home. The team is the thing that makes me get up and come to work in the morning. The other best thing is that we’re making our own IP – our stories on our own platform. It’s incredible to be able to do that.
Worst thing about your current job? Like I said, when we started, it was 12 people and no phones or furniture. I didn’t really know how much infrastructure is needed in a company until I was in one without any. It’s getting better every day and we’re fine tuning it and making it happen, but it’s challenging trying to build a company really fast when you are growing every week all while you are still sorting out your pipeline.
I’m looking for a brush with greatness. When I moved to L.A., I thought I was going to be running into celebrities every day and having all these brushes – though maybe not with greatness! That really hasn’t happened. In terms of being exposed to somebody brilliant, I made an animated feature with a wonderful filmmaker named, Peter Rasmussen. We worked with an incredible jazz saxophonist, Phillip Johnston, who did the score. Peter, unfortunately died and Phillip played the film’s theme music at his funeral. That score was just the most brilliant, incredible, haunting piece and working with both Peter and Phillip was definitely a brush with greatness.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you started? I wish I had known that when you love something, you are good at it. For a long time, I chased what I thought should be my career. I had imposed these idiotic goals for myself like if I haven’t made a feature film by the time I was 30, I would be a failure. Or if I haven’t written a novel by 40, I’d be a total loser. As soon as I started figuring out what I liked doing, being good at it came naturally, and then I actually did become successful. Just not in the timeframe or way I had thought.
Secret of your success /advice to the newbies: Not being afraid to get on a path that is different from what I’d originally set out to do. After film school, I got offered an animation job at the same time I was offered a job teaching screenwriting. It was really hard because for a long time, I said I wanted to be an animator, but when I was finally presented with the opportunity, it was like, “Actually, I think I want to do screenwriting and filmmaking.” I don’t know if you can actually give that advice to anyone or if it’s something that you just have to learn, but my advice would be to stay open and not be afraid to let yourself branch off in a direction that you are not expecting.
What is your next move or your next five moves? As I said, the studio has grown from 12 people to about 70 in just over a year. And we have so much more growth to do. We have new projects, new platforms, and new channels that we’re developing. It’s hard to really think beyond that right now. After that, who knows. But I am sure it will be exciting.
For more on Fourth Wall, visit their website here.
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