Storythings Podcast – Graham Linehan and Cory Doctorow at The Story 2011

The Storythings Podcast is an irregular series of podcasts featuring talks, interviews and discussion with some of the best creative talent working across Film, TV, Theatre, Games, Art and beyond. This second podcast is a recording of comedian and creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd Graham Linehan and writer and blogger Cory Doctorow in conversation at The Story conference in February 2011.

In this conversation, Graham and Cory discuss how the internet has changed their writing practises, how it helps them structure and collaborate on stories, and also how they cope with its potential for endless distraction.

During the talk, Graham showed a picture that he used as inspiration for a scene in an episode of the next series of The IT Crowd. The picture is from the site Awkward Pet Photos and can be seen here.

Play the Podcast (25.07)

Download the podcast here. Subscribe via itunes here.

Unbound: books are now in your hands

Unbound is a new project that opens up the publishing process for authors. There are a number of books proposed by authors, and readers can pledge support at various levels, from ‘ebook’ to ‘lunch’, which promises lunch with the author, signed copies, goodie bags, etc.

Its a bit like a dedicated Kickstarter for authors, but I like the way they’ve set up the various funding levels, using metaphors familiar to book-buyers. They’re only taking proposals from published authors at the moment (the launch list includes Terry Jones, Amy Jenkins and Gavin Pretor-Pinney) which means this is far more of an alternative to existing publishing model than a truly crowd-sourced publishing revolution. It will be very interesting to see how it goes, though – this combination of fan involvement and crowd-sourced funding is exactly the kind of thing major publishers should be doing.

HBO | Connect

HBO have launched Connect, a new platform that aggregates various behaviours around their main shows. Built by Red Interactive, its a really slick package with a range of views on social media activity around the shows, including ‘Pulse’, which is a real time visualisation of tweets, etc; Feeds for each show, Visualizers of conversation threads; conversation events with stars, and connections across platforms for each show.

Connect is by far the most impressive and well executed product I’ve seen in the ‘second screen’ TV market, and it looks like it would easily transport to a mobile or tablet app. As audience behaviours mature around TV, we’re going to see more generic products around channels or brands, and less bespoke development for individual shows.

I’m not sure we’ve really even begun to explore the emerging vocabulary of user behaviour around TV, though, so I’d be wary of productising these emergent behaviours too quickly. We still need to push products around specific shows/genres and understand what people are willing to do, and more importantly, what is fun and engaging. Twitter and Facebook might be the most obvious behaviours right now, but its only the tip of the iceberg.

Storythings Podcast – Adam Curtis at The Story 2011

The Storythings Podcast is launching an irregular series of podcasts featuring talks, interviews and discussion with some of the best creative talent working across Film, TV, Theatre, Games, Art and beyond. The first podcast is a recording of renowned documentary film-maker Adam Curtis, talking at The Story conference in February 2011.

In this talk, Curtis discusses the difficulties of storytelling on the internet, issues a challenge to avoid the whimsy of the ‘circle of friends’ that seems to dominate contemporary media culture, and urges us to look beyond the surface of online culture to see the power structures that underpin it. Its a fascinating and challenging talk, exploring many of the themes that he develops in his new BBC 2 series All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

Play the Podcast (24.02)

Download the podcast here. Subscribe via itunes here.

The talk included two videos – one of a reporter for the BBC working in Afghanistan (not online, but the index of Curtis’ blog posts about Afghanistan are here), and one of a trailer for his work with Punchdrunk – It Felt Like A Kiss.

The Quantum Parallelograph

This is a lovely design research project – illustrating theories from quantum physics about possible parallel universes, this machine prints out alternate versions of your life. It uses Yahoo search and a series of inbuilt narratives to randomly generate versions of who you might be.

Its a lovely piece of storytelling, and a great way of illustrating some very complex scientific principles. It looks *gorgeous* as well.

Stuart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

Amongst the Crowd

Most of the discussion around social media and TV focuses on the technologies being invented, or the potential business models (or lack of them) emerging. But we don’t often talk about what it means for the writers, directors and other talent involved in making TV. This Guardian article shows a mixed picture, with Iain Morris, writer of The Inbetweeners, saying he loves Twitter, but the constant stream of feedback can be overwhelming:

“I watched the first three episodes of series three from abroad so effectively watched them via Twitter and I found it crippling. It made me rethink the fundamentals of how TV is made. Over nine months you make hundreds of decisions – character, plot, jokes.You used to get a review the following day from someone who had seen the whole and had an opinion of that – broadly they liked it or didn’t, and there were good bits or bad bits. Now you see every decision you made being torn apart in real time as it goes out and it can cripple you”.

This is one of the most interesting challenges facing creative talent right now – how is this new relationship with audiences changing the way you make your work? How much should you listen to the audience’s response? What kind of techniques can you use to talk to your audience, and how can you maintain control of the world you are creating? This isn’t about technology or ‘transmedia’, but a fundamental rethinking of how you tell stories, and in order to understand it, we need to look back a couple of decades to see how TV ended up being so cut off from its audience in the first place.

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New York Magazine on AMC

This is a great article from NY Magazine about the success of the AMC network in the US – home of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Waking Dead. Its really interesting to see how they learnt from HBO about going for strong, cinematic storylines with no star power, and how this suited the tone of the rest of their Classic Hollwood schedule.

It’s also fascinating to see how the network is balancing commercial necessities with the demands of talent and the pressures of a more mainstream audience. I love the innovation of selling advertising around the original Mad Men series to only one advertiser – as was the case in 60s US TV. Its a pity this wasn’t maintained – I can imagine this kind of narrative/advertising integration is going to be a lot more common in the next few years.



Storythings in the US

Storythings will be at the Games for Change Festival and various work meetings in the US from June 19th 2011. It would be great to meet up with other people doing interesting story-related projects. If you’d like to meet up, or you’d like us to talk about Storythings at your company or event, please get in touch.

Here’s the current itinerary:

New York: June 19th-23rd
Portland: June 23rd – 26th
Los Angeles: June 26th – 29th

As a *huge* Red Sox fan, invitations to Boston would be gratefully received. Although with the season we’re having, maybe not…

Shake-a-Rater: Realtime Gestural Voting for TV

The ever-innovative team at Monterosa (who we worked with on Channel 4’s Million Pound Drop interactive game show) have come up with a lovely new voting mechanism for live shows – the Shake-a-Rater. It uses gestures (shaking the iPhone in this case) to generate a rating that can be aggregated live within the show.

This feels like the tip of the iceberg – phone voting and A/B/C/D quizzes feel clunky compared to the range of subtle responses to live TV we’re seeing on Twitter and Facebook. Gestural response aggregators like this sit somewhere in the middle – simpler and quicker than phone/text voting, and as fun and expressive as posting a tweet. I’m sure there will be a lot more apps like this in the next year. I’d love to see someone using Kinect in a live show for audience feedback, for example.