by: Gary Hayes
Scorched. Hats off to the producers of this social, cross-media show, Ellenor and Marcus. Did they get their fingers burnt, is it over and was it a little too scarey?
As I have mentioned before in various articles sized posts on this blog and my cross-media item on wikipedia, Cross-Media is absolutely necessary today to reach a fragmented audience. But it is also extremely hard to do, both in terms of scale of production, online rights and also getting the many parts, that make up the whole, to ‘link’ to each other in a meaningful way. To make things even harder we have to consider a new layer today, that of social media and associated networks.
TV IS NOW NOTHING MORE THAN AN EVENT, LEARN TO GROW AROUND IT
I have been running the LAMP initiative for over three years and we have been helping top notch, traditional producers of TV and Film to take their first steps down this road. We were lucky on the third ‘incubator’ residential back in 2006 to have one of the eight projects called Scorched. This had at its core a ‘traditional’ 90 minute ‘what-if’ telemovie about an Australia on fire, no water and interestingly set in a future five years away. It was led by switched-on, Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau who were really open about trying to bridge the push/pull, shout-at/listen-to divide that permeates a broadcast dominated TV landscape - especially in Australia. Since this laboratory a few things have become much more dominant, Social Networks and particularly Facebook and YouTube have come to lead the thinking of cross-media creators and as much as possible I and others tried to help the team move forward with this, their ‘trial baby’.
(It was interesting that a few thought leaders in Australian cross-media game story design were actually mentors at that LAMP residential too including writer/producer Jackie Turnure now with Hoodlum (who are probably the world leader in this area) and Cross-Media specialist Christy Dena who runs Universe Creation 101)
BROADCAST STILL CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE? WHY BOTHER WITH ANYTHING ELSE?
The telemovie (which aired in Australia last Sunday evening) is without doubt the part that became the focii of the producers and Channel 9’s thinking. Everything else I feel was seen as peripheral and an unknown commodity to the team. Indeed sponsorship issues kicked in reflecting this - but that would be revealing too much! But the Firelight team stuck at it and created a range of alternate distributed media, fictional character profiles and faux web sites that extended (in pseudo ARG style) the story world outside the narrow confines of a scheduled transmission. Why do this? Why put in all those extra hours? What’s the point?
Around a single transmission on a winters Sunday evening, there is a small chance to pull a few 100 000s into your story - much of the audience will be nibbling away on their laptops and home office computers, getting ready for a busy week. These other online elements which often seem add ons actually help introduce the back story into a persistant ‘onine’ world. They spread the narrative across time and space.
Today, any TV show or Film without a range of social media scattered around it is effectively naked, producers must learn to clothe their ’single-point-in-time’ linear video story in online enhancements. This is nothing new, at the BBC I pioneered a lot of this ‘wrapper’ when eventually all programmes aired had a place for viewers to extend and discuss. This slowly grows your audience towards the ‘event’ (which is what TV is now of course) and keep them entranced and participatory long after - ready for the next ‘event’.
One thing that really reduced the effectiveness of the Scorched Social Media Entertainment campaign was the timing. The original plan, was to slowly build the interest in the show over 2-3 months but the broadcast TV schedulers decided, in their wisdom, to transmit a full 2 months ahead of schedule. This obviously threw the social web production into turmoil - some things you can prepare for, others make it even tougher than it needs to be. I feel for them, as I have created many cross-media packages in the past and I know they had prepared a range of crafted online layers that would have made the TV event much more compelling for by then, a ‘potentially’ captive and engaged audience.
SCORCHED HUB -THE CPN STORY WEB
The centre of their online cluster was a media channel site which acted as a hub. A faux news channel called CPN, or Cross Platform Network. OK a bit of an ‘insider’ name and with NineMSN branding sitting above it, it felt rather half-way house. But it served it’s purpose and gave a good sense of the story style with a range of fixed video, studio style news content - set off in the future 2021. What didn’t work well for me was embedding too much ‘viewer content’ and character supplements on this channel too. The whole front page was very busy and turned into a bit of a ‘video catalog’ site and played down the ‘viewer’ contributions. Give them their own space and make them feel ‘important’ vs literally buried underneath the ‘professional’ stuff.
SPREADING THE WORDS
Where this project really started to work for me was in the characters and story threads that had just started to permeate the web. Although many of the sites were blatantly ‘under cooked’ it had all the hallmarks of traditional Alternate Reality Entertainment (or ARGames) - some political conspiracy, a few ‘personal’ websites but also real characters reaching out to us on YouTube and with profiles on Facebook. Cassie (the lady featured in the embedded clip above) as the main link to the show and her YouTube channel and personal website have within it something that the producers could develop further, a post apocalyptic story. There are some interesting comments on the YouTube site, but little conversation back from Cassie which is absolutely critical. Given time I believe this conversation between a knowingly fictional character and a real ‘participatory’ audience would have been the most compelling part of the whole package. The two existing sites are highlighted below:
DIGGING THE RABBIT HOLE
Once you commit to creating a cluster of fiction online the hard part is deciding how thinly to spread yourself vs how deep to go with a few threads. The Residents Against Water Theft is an example of somewhere in the middle. Like Cassie above they have a few videos and their own 5 or 6 page site and again over time this could have grown into something far deeper and may have sprung (excuse the pun) a life of its own. The two Residents Against Water Theft are linked below.
And now to the strongest links to the main Telemovie. A site about a premier Angela Boardman and the energy company with whom she had been very naughty with. OK I actually went to these sites after the TV transmission and found they were true to the narrative but left me wanting more - they are a veneer but nicely designed and ready for growth. Again I would have loved it for Firelight’s sake (the production company) if they had had time to develop this and allowed some conversations from ‘players/audience’ with the crooked premier. Perhaps she could have shown her flaws outside the drama so on TX we felt we already knew her. Simple and no doubt planned. The simple pre-tx character portraits are very nicely done regardless of the depth and I love the look and feel of Argon energy - it has a proof of concept feel but then I popped over to a few similar energy sites, many of the new ’save the planet’ ones exhibit a similar nievity in design too.
One site they linked too that provided a considerable element of depth was H20 transport. This was a 2012 site with some deep links and history about a scarily likely business in the future, water haulage. This element of the story arc was not apparent in the telemovie as it was linked from the Argon company aboce and one wonders (without spoiling the film) if this element is altered by the story itself if the site needs to update somewhat? After all the corrupt dealings between government and Argon corporation was exposed. Something about the company below:
Established in 1997, H20 Transport Group continues to offer our customers a superior level of service and solutions for the great environmental challenges of our time.
Our emphasis on customer’s needs has been the focus of our business since it originated over fifteen years ago as a small, family-owned water transport group.
Today, having grown to be one of Australia’s leading and largest transport logistics groups, we have built on our traditional base to become a widely recognized and award winning logistics provider in the national market place. Our comprehensive fleet of trucks and storage facilities, coupled with the friendliness and ‘can do’ attitude of our staff means whenever you need water in a hurry or need to move water, H20 Transport Group are well equipped to provide you with a total solution, at a very competitive price.
So talk to the company where great service is simply second nature – H20 transport group.
PLAYING OUT THE ONLINE DRAMA
Finally a little icing on the cake as Jade Hall aka Bushrangerhall, is Cassie’s boyfriend and has his own YouTube channel. He provides a little extra ammunition for Cassie’s story and gives it credibility. It would have been great to see a longer format drama play out online between these two and it might still. This was the intention and it had started on Facebook (see image below).
AN EXIT STRATEGY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ENTRANCE!
I am sure the Scorched team really started to consider what happens to these online living, approachable characters ‘after’ the TV event. It shows that you respect and want to engage with the audience if you take into account their ‘needs’ once they are engaged. So many times in the past we have seen a big viral campaign lead up to a TV show and then the whole thing is left to rot and die - indeed several social virtual world spaces, especially generically branded ones have succumbed to the same fate. In many cases the online drama is switched off but the worst case scenario is actually something that really makes me very sad - to see eager and loyal ‘fans’ and participators creating content, wanting a dialogue yet they are presented suddenly by silence at the other end. A relationship dies.
NOW THE SMOKE HAS CLEARED
Admittedly there were many things ‘I’ would have done differently, and unlike more innovative stakeholders, NineMSN seemed pretty insistent on making sure the ‘extras’ didn’t stray too far from its shores, hence a fourth wall breaking, branding situation on the main hub. I know many participants would have worked out that this was a fictional ‘package’ but they are also willing to suspend their disbelief if you don’t spoil it at every visit by having ‘real world branding’. I also know the effort, the 24/7 requirement of being in a hundred sites at once, and trying to do this scale with a small team can be back-breaking. For the larger scale ARGs a pyramid structure of puppet masters are put in place of course to handle large numbers of ‘participants’…remember cross-media services such as The Beast and I Love Bees were getting 3-5 million players, you are not going to manage those with a team of two!
The views on YouTube and visits to the websites are pretty small in real terms, but remember this is about engagement and dwell. Imagine you spent millions and months creating your 1 hour TV movie. Perhaps 500 000 intensely watch it (I say that as meaning, deeply engrossed vs background). So simple calculation 500 000 viewer hours. By comparison online is seen as minimal but hold on. Lets say only 20 000 are active online followers. Each spending about 60 minutes a week plugged into your distributed show which has been going for 6 months (24 weeks). Do the math. 20000*1*24 = 480 000 ‘user’ hours. But remember these are engaged and non-passive contributors, creating impressions across the social web that spread to another 500 000 and it grows and grows. The show is a blip - OK DVD sales for the main film and 160 minutes of HD extras increase that ‘dwell’ with the IP, but even that is generally only doubling the engagement with the story.
So what we have in Scorched is something that has real R&D value for all concerned, especially rather ‘heritage’ media, Australian commercial free to air TV. It was not as slick, deep or well managed as some of the higher end ARGs or online stories we see from the likes of Jane McGonigals (Serious ARGs - World Without Oil, Superstruct) or Hoodlums (Lost, Emmerdale, Fat Cow Motel, Spooks) of the world, but that is not unexpected considering the low budget that Scorched had compared with the others mentioned. Overall though something that will definitely open a few more Australian minds to alternative story telling and to be honest Australia is a world leader already in this space. Ellenor and Marcus now join those ranks. Well done to all.
FOR MORE INFORMATION THIS IS A CUT AND PASTE FROM A POST I DID ON THE LAMP SITE A FEW WEEKS AGO
There is a lot more than meets the eye to Scorched, destined to be Australia’s biggest landmark doco-drama event this year. The social media, community generated story elements that build up to and after the 90 minute tele-feature being transmitted on Chn 9 in December have been work-shopped through LAMP workshops, on-going consultancy and the 3rd residential in Perth back in 2006.
Marcus Gillezeau and Ellenor Cox are the co-directors of Firelight, the creators of this groundbreaking drama format. They are wonderful example of leading independent producers who have embraced the significance of creating entertainment that spreads across platforms and time but also draws in content from the audience and makes the whole ‘experience’ more collaborative and engaging.
The surrounding online service is a hybrid of an Alternate Reality Game, an Episodic drama delivered via social media sites (such as Facebook and YouTube) and a range of fake (faux) websites that are part of the futuristic element of the story. The main hub site is CPN News, a 24-hour live news channel broadcasting stories from 2012 and including many of the lead characters - these include notable actors Vince Colosimo, Georgie Parker, Rachel Carpani, Cameron Daddo and Les Hill. You can already follow one of the characters, Cassie, on her own YouTube channel Cassie Has Dreams - which follows her ‘accelerated’ story up to the beginning of the tele-movie. More from the team and the official press release below. More coverage here:
- Urban Cinefile - Scorched A Case-Study
- The West - Online Drama Begins Streaming
- GoArticles - Ninemsn launches first online-only drama Cassie Has Dreams
- The Open Press - First Online-Only Drama
- Yahoo - Online Drama Begins Streaming
- Daily - Online drama begins
- PR-USA - Nine MSN launches Cassie Has Dreams
Good luck on this project, there will be a great deal of expertise gained from this journey - for audience and producers alike!
SCORCHED is a groundbreaking all-media event incorporating television, online and user generated content that will revolutionise the way Australian’s engage with television drama. A gripping 90 minute tele-feature broadcast on the Nine Network will be augmented by an extensive 8 week interactive online drama series that will lead into and ultimately conclude the drama surrounding an ensemble of characters who find themselves engulfed by raging bushfires in a futuristic Sydney that has, due to the effects of global warming, completely run out of water.
In the two months leading up to the TV broadcast of SCORCHED the audience are invited into this future world-without-water through www.scorched.tv (which will be promoted and co-located at ninemsn). Upon entering this online world the audience is introduced to CPN News, a futuristic 24-hour live news station broadcasting stories from 2012. Our CPN news anchors guide the audience through the headline stories of the week focusing attention on how the ongoing drought and water scarcity across Australia has permeated all aspects of life as we know it. CPN’s main reporter Susan Shapiro (Rachel Carpani) is one of the main characters in the tele-feature. Many of Susan’s online interviews are with characters the audience will again meet in the TV broadcast.
CPN encourages the audience to send in stories and videos of what life is like for them in these hard times. These videos and postings are a featured part of the www.scorched.tv website and provide a novel way for the online community to interact with the future and see their offerings posted on a high-profile website. CPN also points viewers to their featured viewer of the week – Cassie Hoffman, an 18-year-old girl living in Bourke who has become obsessed with diarising her life on her website ‘Cassie Has Dreams’ to compensate for the loneliness of being one of the few remaining teenagers left in her dying town. The audience can interact with Cassie and the other characters via email, watch faux news reports and read numerous stories which set the scene on a national and global level
With potential synergies alongside Jane McGonigal’s Superstruct (”the world has 23 years left” collaborative ARG) happening in similar timeframe, SCORCHED is produced for the Nine Network by Goalpost Pictures Australiaand Essential Media and Entertainment, in association with FirelightProductions. It is financed by the Nine Network, Granada International, the Film Finance Corporation, the New South Wales Film and Television Office and the Australian Film Commission, and was developed through the Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP).
FIRELIGHT PRODUCTIONS SHINES LIGHT ON ALL-MEDIA SCREEN CONTENT CREATION
Firelight Productions are the original concept creators behind the multi-platform delivery of Scorched, a major 90-minute feature-length television and online event that will be broadcast via the Internet and on Nine Network Australia.
Scorched, produced by Goalpost Pictures Australia and Essential Media and Entertainment, in association with Firelight Productions, will revolutionise the way Australian’s engage with television drama. A gripping 90 minute tele-feature will be augmented by an extensive 8 week online drama series that will lead into, provide clues for, and ultimately conclude the drama surrounding an ensemble of characters who find themselves engulfed by raging bushfires in a futuristic Sydney that has, due to the effects of global warming, completely run out of water.
Starring Cameron Daddo, Vince Colosimo, Rachel Carpani and Georgie Parker, the Scorched experience will include the most sophisticated and comprehensive cross-platform element yet created for a television event in this country. The interactive online component will launch in mid August, leading up to the tele-feature broadcast later in the year.
Co-directors of Firelight Productions, Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau, who engineered the cross-platform delivery of Scorched over 2 years, are enthusiastic screen content creators with all-media capabilities who are at the cutting edge of cross-platform content generation in Australia. Their business began in 1997 as a production company specialising in adventure and social political documentaries for international television, but is now focused primarily on all-media projects after the couple identified a considerable niche in the marketplace.
Gillezeau states, “The emergence of new screen technologies created strong demand on content that can deliver across a multitude of platforms. In addition to that, audience interactivity has become paramount to engaging the widest possible audience. Firelight has spent a number of years researching and experimenting in all-media content. Scorched is a breakthrough all-media event that is the culmination of our work to date in this area.”
Scorched is their flagship project, financed by Nine, Granada International, the Film Finance Corp, the New South Wales Film and Television Office and the Australian Film Commission, and developed through the Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP), which is Australia’s premier emerging media research and development production lab.
“When we started to develop the all-media concept for Scorched there was little that had been done before in Australia that combined such an extensive new media proposition with such a significant television offering as a prime time movie on Australia’s leading network.” says Cox. “We looked at overseas projects and were really making it up as we went along. The knowledge we have gained about all-media delivery through developing Scorched now informs all of our future projects and Firelight has become a leader in cross platform content creation.”
Scorched hooks the viewer in with an intriguing conservation message – the reality of global warming makes the idea of a city that has run out of water seem a likely possibility. Gillezeau and Cox wanted to bring to the mainstream audience’s attention the issues of water scarcity and drought in Australia but needed to find a way of making these subjects seem ‘sexy and entertaining’. Hence the concept of Scorched was borne. In the weeks leading up to the Scorched television broadcast, audiences are invited into this future world without water through www.scorched.tv to meet Cassie Hoffman - an 18-year-old girl living in Bourke who has become obsessed with diarising her life on her website ‘Cassie Has Dreams’ to compensate for the loneliness of being one of the few remaining teenagers left in her dying town.
Gillezeau explains, “Once you enter www.scorched.tv, you can follow a serialised drama (60 minutes of 2-3 minute webisodes) which unfolds on a daily basis. The prequel drama takes the viewer right up to the very first scene of the telemovie. Web enthusiasts will be able to participate in an interactive conspiracy-style investigation online, which will arm them with bonus material with which to enjoy one of the unfolding storylines in the telemovie when it airs. After the TV broadcast the drama continues with the sequel to the online story and continuing news reports.”
Firelight is currently supervising producer on Storm Surfers, Dangerous Banks - a documentary about big wave pro-surfers that will also have a significant cross platform delivery. Storm Surfers, financed by Red Bull, the New South Wales Film and TV Office, Discovery Networks Asia and Off The Fence (Netherlands) is one of the first documentary projects in Australia to utilise the new producer’s tax offset. It will air on the Discovery Network, prior to which fans and surfers from all over the world will be able to follow their heroes’ journey comprehensively online and, like the pro-surfers themselves, track the storm that will generate the big waves, and ultimately predict when the waves will hit.
Firelight’s mission is to produce innovative programming for all-media, multi-platform delivery, and to remain at the forefront of cross platform screen content creation in Australia and internationally. Upcoming projects include the interactive online drama series Innocent which follows the story of 6 accused young drug traffickers and the reality TV series Kids in Charge where a team of tweens has 10 days to deliver a Rock show spectacle.
Marcus Gillezeau is also the author of the critically acclaimed book ‘Hands On - A practical guide to production and technology in Film, TV and New Media’. The book has been an instant hit at universities and several major conferences across the country.
Since 1997 Firelight have produced more than 20 programs and series including My Home Your War (SBS), Cave in the Snow (SBS), Breaking Bows and Arrows (SBS), The Artist The QC & The Refugee (ABC), Painting with Light in a Dark World (SBS) and Afrika: Cape Town to Cairo (ABC and National Geographic). In 2001 they produced Australia’s first fully convergent, multi-platform documentary project Little Dove Big Voyage for Network 7. Their films have won numerous international and domestic awards and have screened all over the world on television and in film festivals.
For more information, please contact:
0403 819 644