This is an interview with Hollywood screenwriter Mark Staufer, creator of The Numinous Place, an innovative, paradigm shifting work of fiction that draws in the reader with a blend of video, audio, historical documents and artifacts…all designed with one aim in mind…to pull you into one of the greatest conspiracies ever imagined!
We caught up with Mark a couple of days before he boarded a plane to travel to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he’s hoping to snag a possible deal with a major print publisher and generate interest from investors.
In addition to providing you with the audio, the complete interview transcript is also included below, along with links and screenshots for a richer experience.
Your host and interviewer is Dr. Ellen Britt, the co-founder of The Future of Ink. Ellen has produced and hosted a dozen telesummits and has interviewed many of the most well known and respected names in online marketing, as well as self-development.
Just click on the player arrow below to listen:
Ellen Britt: This is Ellen Britt, co-founder with Denise Wakeman of The Future of Ink and I’m here today with Mark Andrew Staufer, the curator, writer and director of one of the most exciting new digital publishing projects I have ever come across…
Now Mark, among other things, is the former Head of Production at Universal Studios Networks in London and is also a talented screenwriter, whose credits include a screenplay for Oscar winner Russell Crowe. Mark I’m so delighted to have you with us today, especially on such short notice. Welcome to The Future of Ink!
Mark Staufer: Thanks so much Ellen for having me! I’m really excited to have a chat with you.
Ellen: Fantastic! I have to tell you how this happened Mark. A couple of days ago, Denise Wakeman, the co-founder of The Future of Ink, sent me a link to a video trailer (Warning: rather gory first few seconds) and I was completely taken in.
Denise had seen your project on Kickstarter, and for our audience, it’s a funding platform for creative projects. She actually contributed to your project, was super-excited about it and she posted it on Facebook. Well, I took one look and emailed her and I said Denise, I just have to interview this fellow for the Future of Ink, and so I sent off an email and here we are.
Mark: First of all, can I just thank Denise for contributing…
Ellen: Absolutely, she’s very, very excited to support your project.
Mark: That’s awesome. And you know the whole Kickstarter experience was an amazing thing because of course you know it’s a crowdsource thing and what it does is it puts a project right in front of your potential audience. They judge it and the way they judge it is by contributing or not. And you have to reach the target, the goal you set at the very beginning and you’ve got thirty days to do it and it’s kind of like a 30-day telethon in some ways because you are constantly under pressure, on social media, pushing it out there and we made it, we made our target of $75,000 with not too much time to spare to be perfectly honest.
But I tell you what, the experience of doing this nearly killed me! And I’m not going to do it again.
Ellen: (laughs) You wouldn’t recommend it?
Mark: No I would not. But I tell you what it did do…it gave me confidence that the project, The Numinous Place is a flyer and the feedback I got and the press and the media interest and contributions from people like Denise blew me away. And I think that this has been the problem in terms of the publishing world that there is a little bit of skepticism…the reason they haven’t embraced digital and they haven’t embraced my project in particular is storytelling using all types of storytelling download in digital format. You download via an app onto your phone, onto your iPad, onto your computer.
And I tell the story using video and audio and newspaper clippings and tweets and documentation from the past and I think it’s kind of a scary new medium for traditional publishers. But they’ve really got to take a look at the way probably you, me and everybody else leads their life every single day of the week because we have this multi-stream of information coming in to us in all forms and I don’t think anybody just does one thing anymore. And that’s the way we experience life and that’s the way I think going forward, and the Numinous Project is a perfect example of this, that’s the way we are going to experience our entertainment.
Ellen: Well, Mark I’m really interested in this because I read on your webpage that readers are going to believe they are witnessing actual events unfold and it sounds like an immersive experience, almost like a movie. Other kinds of ebook projects and things have kind of claimed this in the past and I frankly have found them not to deliver. What makes your project different…how are you going to do this?
Mark: I’ll give you a little bit of history first. You know the backbone of the project is lucid dreaming. For your listeners that’s when you become conscious within your dream state so you literally wake up inside your dream and with practice you can control your dream state. You can become whoever you want, you can travel in time and you can virtually create a world and live in it and be what you want. It all started about ten years ago when I woke up from a particularly vivid dream and thought to myself wouldn’t it be amazing if science developed a technology to film dreams.
And as these things kind of happened, as this idea burbled and bubbled around in my head for a long time and I sort of started researching it a little more and discovered lucid dreaming and what that was and then the plot…and the narrative started coming through and the characters. So four and a half, five years ago when I sat down to write this, I wanted to create a story world that was completely authentic. A story world where you opened the first page or turned on your screen and the first thing you saw you went this was real, I’m in it, I’m collecting evidence, I’m researching with the protagonist, everything looks completely and utterly real, believable and authentic.
Now the only way you can do this is digitally, obviously at the moment. And actually at the moment to be honest when I started writing this four or five years ago…you couldn’t do it at all. And then luckily then the iPad came along and that was a Eureka moment for me of course because I went my dream can come true there is this machine that will allow me to do this.
Because the epub format is not sophisticated enough to do this and epub three will allow me to do some of the things that I’m doing in app form but not all of them. So roll on HTML 5 and the other thing we are really excited about which is probably aimed more at traditional readers…and when I say traditional readers, people like me who read books and pages and ink because I’m one of those guys, is the ability to actually transpose this whole experience onto a printed book.
And the way we can do that …and this is particularly exciting for me, because I think it’s the bridge between print and digital and this is the thing that will carry over traditional readers into the world of digital and open up this whole new experience. So with The Numinous Place, we hope at the Frankfurt Book Fair, to partner with a traditional print publisher and release the quadrilogy…there’s four books…in print form using an app on your phone so that while you read you can access video and audio and documentation on your phone as you go.
Mark: And that can be really exciting because you know my mum will do it and also from a purely financial standpoint, there’s still a hell of a lot of us who read books right?
Ellen: Right…so Mark, you’re about to hop on a plane tomorrow to go to Frankfurt is that correct?
Mark: Yes, Ellen, yes I am and you know Frankfurt is the world’s biggest book fair. I’m a Hollywood screenwriter and I’ve entered this weird world of publishing, this Bell jar that is the publishing industry with this kind of revolutionary way of storytelling. It’s a difficult climb and I’m finding it difficult to get near the publishers I need to get near.
However, Frankfurt does offer me that opportunity because I’m in a massive fairground kind of hall in this German city is the world’s biggest book fair, all the world’s publishers, writers, et cetera and serendipitously this year, New Zealand is the guest of honor and I am a Kiwi so I was able to sneak in a little bit under that umbrella and I’m also at a thing called StoryDrive which is looking at cutting edge media and narrative and I’m presenting The Numinous Place there.
Ellen: Oh wonderful…I was going to ask you what your strategy for Frankfurt is but sounds like you’ve worked out a way to get noticed there rather than just showing up and trying to convince folks.
Mark: I think, listen you’d just get stampeded to death if you just showed up, there are so many people there, and I think it’s in the order of thousands of publishers and these types are going. No, I’ve been lucky because I have been able to harness the New Zealand connection but also because there is this cutting edge forum for me, the StoryDrive part of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Frankfurt people have been very interested in my project from the get-go because no one else is doing what I’ve done. So I’m presenting it there and hopefully I’ll garner a bit of interest.
I mean look, for me it’s all about arranging a meeting and seeing the people and you know I really need to come away from Frankfurt with a deal with a traditional publisher for the print book and the ebook and a larger investor so we can go ahead and start working on the three other books. And the movie script and start getting together with a gamer, a gaming organization because we kind of have this dream of taking over the world, making A Numinous Place a worldwide phenomenon.
Ellen: Wow…it sounds like it…I was going to ask you if there were any plans for a movie but it sounds like you’re going way beyond that…a movie, a game probably cross platform …the works.
Mark: Yes, I think you need to dream big and I think that in terms of franchise potential The Numinous Place has that in spades because it’s a supernatural thriller, it’s a little bit…I guess the closest thing you could compare it with…it’s Da Vinci ‘Codish’ but with all the bells and whistles. So it’s an exciting new frontier that we’re entering and we’re able to appeal to a huge cross section of readers with the different formats. And I also think it will be the younger guys interested because of the technology and as I say my mom won’t be too frightened by it because she’ll be able to read it in print form.
Ellen: Right…but still be able to interact and get all of the digital goodies if she wants to with a simple app.
Mark: Absolutely Ellen. And I truly believe this is the way of the future in terms of using your smartphone hand in hand with a book and watching stuff. It’s just such a perfect way of experiencing entertainment and I think that it’s going to take one of us to do this and then the floodgates are going to open. It’s not easy writing this sort of stuff. It has been slightly easier for me I guess in a way because my career has taken me through many different types of media: radio, television, all that sort of stuff…so I’ve kind of had the experience enough to be able tell a story using a newspaper articles and having narrative, then sharing a video and I’m able to do that without too much agonizing.
But it’s a bit tricky. And above and beyond that is building the tech for it. Now the guys who have done that for me is a U.K. digital agency called Brandwidth Innovation Labs and these guys have…I can’t really describe what they’ve done. They’ve made the tech side of it recently but it still works so beautifully that it’s just sweet and surprising when you read it.
Ellen: I can’t wait!
Mark: Listen, you will be first on the list for a download of the prototype.
Ellen: I’m really interested in your process. If we could just jump back for a moment, you said you know you have a great background to do this. Some of The Future of Ink’s readers will probably be interested in how you manage to…what is your work flow like…how do manage to pull together and write something like this and pulling from these various sources. You have any kind of process that you can identify?
Mark: I’ll tell you one thing. The only thing in the world that makes me really, really angry are people who say I love writing so much because for me, writing is the most agonizing process. And it takes me a long time and some days I will sit there in front of my writing machine and I will write a page just because I have to and the words have not been arranged correctly, they look awful…it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written or read in my entire life. So literally I have to…I write early in the morning because I have two small children and it’s the only time I get quiet.
I will drag myself out of bed at three o’clock and I will make myself a strong coffee and I will sit in front of my computer and if I’m lucky the gods will smile down upon me and I’ll set to work and I will literally dive into the world and not come up for air. But if I’m not lucky and I’m not mostly not lucky to be honest, I will spend two weeks in front of a computer and most of the stuff that I have written I will not consider a high enough standard.
Ellen: Hmmm…so basically it’s sitting down, getting your butt in the seat, to put it indelicately, and just digging at it until you get something that satisfies you.
Mark: Ellen, it’s hard ground…and you can read books, you can be taught things, you can go to as many creative writing classes as you want …I’m not one of those who believes you’re touched on the shoulder by the hand of God and you’re inspired that way. It’s a hard grasp even for the really good writers even those who pretend it isn’t they’re lying to you! It’s agonizing, nasty business and it’s lonely and most of the time you are doing it in the middle of the night or at times when everybody else is asleep.
It’s kind of a weird grey time when you get the inspiration. I get a lot of inspiration from my dream life. I find that a lot of ideas come from dreams. And in terms of incubating dreams, and by that I mean that if I have a plot point that I can’t work out and I’ve been agonizing over for a week or two, if I’m really thinking about that in my dream world it will come to me or an idea will land on me.
Ellen: Have you been able to use lucid dreaming itself to assist you in your process?
Mark: It hasn’t assisted me in my process. I’m relearning it. I have brought on a lucid dream consultant, an Irishman, his name is Dr. Rory MacSweeney and he has been working on lucid dreaming and chaos magic and plant research for the last ten years. The problem with lucid dreaming and the reason everybody doesn’t do it is because it’s quite difficult to actually achieve and it’s more difficult to create a stable dreamscape in which you can work. Dr. MacSweeney has kind of revolutionized all this. And the hero in my book, he’s a hapless hero, they are the best ones, has to learn lucid dreaming.
Because ultimately the story that I’m telling is about the scientific discovery of the afterlife. And the way that science discovers the afterlife is, as I said before, they developed the technology to film dreams and then they travel to the afterlife via lucid dreaming. And the hero in my story has to learn how to lucid dream. As we move through the book, there will be lucid dreaming instructions for the reader.
Ellen: Fantastic…I really love how you’ve taken this multidisciplinary approach to your research, everything from quantum physics to the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Dr. Stephen LaBerge’s work et cetera so it sounds like you’ve really, really been immersed in this, in fact I think I ran across something that said you consider this your destiny project. What did you mean by that?
Mark: I do consider it my destiny project and what I mean by that is that I think my entire life has come down to this moment. That I couldn’t have started writing this at any other time. That I wasn’t ready to write it at any other time. And my entire belief system has changed since researching this book. I have changed from an absolute and total atheist, lifelong, to someone who believes very strongly in, not a ‘god’ but in an energy force, the Tao if you will. My favorite book is now the Bagavad Gita. And who is attempting to lucid dream a lot more himself.
My entire belief system has changed. And that’s all come about from researching. It’s funny, because you know I said to a friend of mine the other day, I wonder if you can go on a spiritual quest through a character in your book? And that is literally what I have done. I’ve embarked upon this spiritual quest with this main character of mine that I call Henry Meat who started off I guess similar to me, but who has had to open his mind and really experience life and change his entire belief system the more he finds out.
Ellen: Do you think readers are going to be able to go on the same journey?
Mark: I really hope so, and if they don’t, I’ve failed. But I think I have set up a story world…I’ve constructed a story world within which they can immerse themselves enough and make decisions and choices as they go through it, that I don’t think anyone can come out of it without having changed slightly. Or having learned something, or laughed or hopefully I’ve achieved something in it. But that’s what I want to do, I want people to take another look at life and see it as the illusion it really is.
Ellen: Sounds fascinating…now the people who get the iPad version…I know you have the print book and that will have the app that you can…the print book will be stand alone I take it? You don’t have to do the app thing if you don’t want to? Although I know it will add to it.
Mark: Yeah, I’m not quite sure yet. My manuscript that I work off is print, right? It’s transcripts and descriptions and there’s lots of boxes and weird things around the page, architecturally different from probably anything else you’ve ever seen in terms of liking, because I’ve had to sort of make up the format as I go but I guess if I got a designer to look at it and change it and make it look beautiful, it would be readable. However, it doesn’t have the same impact. I hear you in terms of…I think probably in a print book there would be options, you could swipe and play the video or you can read the transcripts.
And that would probably be the best way to go because I think that one of the things people want in terms of books, and this is why books will always be with us, is the choice of when to stop reading or when to start reading, and how to read and how fast, how slow and you don’t get that in most other entertainment, you know, and I think that’s important. Book reading and book experiencing even in terms of The Numinous Place, is such a personal experience and therefore I think it’s much more visceral than anything else.
Ellen: What if people just get the iPad version…they will actually be reading some things as well like a book and they will go other places for the video, this and that or will it be a completely immersive thing with no reading?
Mark: Oh, no, no…it’s reading. If you imagine if someone presented you with evidence and telling you a story. And I think for us that was the logical way to kind of kick the quadrilogy off. And I don’t know perhaps when we get further into it we’ll change and make it a little more sophisticated but I don’t want to scare anybody and I’m truly a print guy myself and always have been. You know I started off in the world of newspapers, typing out copy on an Imperial 66 typewriter and handing that with a carbon paper to the runner. I come from that world.
So I don’t want to scare anybody and I think that a lot of trend media a lot of digital storytelling doesn’t resonate because it’s too all over the place. Because it doesn’t make story king. You’ve got to have a powerful story…it will never change. It’s been that way since the campfire, it will be that way, way into the future. Unless you’ve got a backbone of a narrative that really kicks butt, you are nowhere.
Ellen: That’s where I’ve found some of the weakness of some of the things that have dubbed themselves ‘interactive’ experiences in books…the narrative backbone, as you say, was just not there, wasn’t strong enough.
Mark: Yes, and my Brandwidth guys really get it. They understand and they’ve understood this from the get-go and that’s why they are really proud of their technology that’s the key…look, we get these wonderful devices, and we want to in some ways turn them into children’s books. We see Alice on the iPad and we go Wow! I want to do that for adults.
Adults don’t want to shake iPads and push buttons and honk horns, they want to experience a story and the way you do that is you deliver that to them in a narrative form and the way I’ve done that is, as I say, it’s my protagonist explaining what’s going on. And presenting the evidence in the form of news support or whatever it is at the same time. So it’s easy to understand, you don’t have to step in the garden and get a copy of the Sunday Times or listen to a radio show. It’s all there right on the dot, the entire world is created on the screen for you, or on the page for you.
Ellen: I guess maybe an obvious question is why not go directly to a movie?
Mark: That’s an interesting question. I guess because of the nature of what I wanted to tell in this story, I knew I’d have to go the book route first. And by that I mean if I had gone to somebody here in Hollywood, and said listen, I’ve got this screenplay here, it’s the first of six movies, and it’s about this…I would have gotten laughed out of my agent’s office. You’ve got to have the hit book first, it’s just the way it goes. And the other thing is I’m not quite sure it should be a movie or a TV series.
Because in some ways, when I look at a series like Lost, and I think Lost is a really good example of this, regardless of whether you believe they kind of choked at the end or somewhere along the line they lost their way…Lost was really something special. And that is, it kind of made all of us really think (chuckles) and that doesn’t happen too much on television. And I think that The Numinous Place is one of those experiences that whether it’s a TV series or a game in the future, and there’s lots of exciting neuro-tech stuff that’s going on there…we need the blueprint of the book. And these things will go hand in hand as we go forward.
Ellen: I was kind of playing devil’s advocate with the movie thing…
Mark: I know you were…
Ellen: I am definitely loving this idea of the print book with the app and the iPad and some folks are going to say why don’t you just make a movie and put it on the iPad? I think this is going to really expand our idea of what a book can be, in fact I love this quote from your website, it says, “Hold onto your seats and open your mind: the book just evolved.” I love that…it just sums it up for me I think.
Mark: Thank you…but we are probably going to get into a little bit of trouble with that. I think that the trailer that we put up and some of these quotes that they came out with, you know the Brandwidth guys put on at the beginning of the trailer, the most anticipated book of the year and I tweeted out half an hour after that went up, “J.K. Rowling just called me and said that she was ok with me saying this was the most anticipated book of the year!” But I guess you’ve got to walk the walk.
Ellen: You do, you do.
Mark: And to be perfectly honest, I am pretty confident about what I have in terms of a story, you know and having seen the prototype, what they’ve created for me in London, it’s exceeded expectations.
Ellen: And Mark, the screenshots you were able to show me have just blown me away. And these are just static images. I just can’t imagine what the whole thing is going to be like when it comes together.
Mark: It’s beautiful work. These guys have really done me proud and I think what tends to happen is that you get the creative guys and you get the tech guys and there’s this sort of battle between them about …no, no, no…I’m the one who decides here but you’ve got to understand that and in what situation…take the movie example, a movie with the best special effects in the world, unless it has a great plot and a great script and great dialogue, ain’t ever going nowhere!
A brilliant example of that is The Matrix. It’s a really good idea, a really good plot, great dialogue and fantastic special effects. But if you take any of those out, you ain’t got a great movie.
Ellen: It sounds like you are going to be able to bring all of these elements together in The Numinous Place and Mark if people want to go and find out more about this should we send them to The Numinous Place dot com would that be the best spot?
Mark: That would be a great place for them to go and I think we’re going to have the trailer up there in the next couple of days. There is a trailer on there at the moment which is an older one but it still gives you an overview and there is information on there. And you can sign up to be told what’s happening next. But hopefully, I’m going to talk to you guys later in the week…
Ellen: Oh, we definitely want to have you back and find out about your experiences at Frankfurt…I can hardly wait…
Mark: I hope I’m able to talk by that date, that I’ve not been stampeded in the main hall or beaten up by a publisher (laughs)…
Ellen: Well listen, can people still contribute to your Kickstarter project if they would like?
Mark: No, they cannot. Kickstarter is over, was over a couple of months ago. In fact, as soon as Kickstarter finished, we were on to the build up to Frankfurt. And I just have this feeling in the back of my mind that this is the beginning, that it’s going to always be that way in terms of you know, we just got Frankfurt out of the way and there was Book Two and it’s going to go on and on, which is not something I should complain about obviously.
But Ellen what it does mean is that I’ve got to go back into that dark room to do some writing and I’m not looking forward to doing that.
Ellen: Oh well…maybe Frankfurt will be so exhilarating that you won’t be able to wait to get back into that seat (laughs)…
Mark: (laughs) I hope so, I hope so…
Ellen: Well listen Mark, I am so looking forward to having you back after you return from Frankfurt and I wish you such luck there, to find the perfect publisher and investment partner.
Mark: Thank you Ellen and thanks Denise, it’s so great you guys have taken the time out to have a chat with me.
Ellen: Fantastic…well again, this is Ellen Britt, the co-founder of The Future of Ink, bye for now!
Got a question or comment for Mark Staufer about The Numinous Place? Post it in the comments below and when he has time after returning from the Frankfurt Book Fair, we’ll see if we can persuade him to stop by and respond.
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