Recently, I helped out, in a minor advising kind of way, on a new idea - a twitter movie. That is, a story told by twitter, including images and video. Told over several weeks it has now finished its run. If you missed it, but are interested, you can find out more at www.karenbarley.co.uk or re-read the tweets here.
I think it came out well. Strangely for me perhaps I feel I almost preferred the text parts to the video parts. But have a quick look and see what you think.
With using new conduits for narratives there is always a lot to learn. That is the fun part, but also the frustrating part. Just when you think you have got the hang of using the new approach, the project has finished. So I asked the storyteller behind the project, Kristi Barnett, about her experiences so we could all learn from them.
How did you find the interactive element of the story? Did people get involved? Or were they passive?
It was great. I chose to make the interactivity simply people’s reactions to her tweets and their replies to her on twitter (and Facebook). I used my phone to reply back because I was normally away from my PC when the story was rolling out. I had females and males interacting and replying to her and loving the story. They were really getting into it and I could definitely see she had a core group of fans. What was interesting was that even when people knew she was a character and this was a story, they would still interact and try to warn her or ask her how she was feeling. I loved that people were “playing” along with it. You can see some of the reactions to the story and her character here. I also got the sense that people did want to have a say in what Karen did and how she reacted, so it would’ve been nice if I’d had more money and time to give them a chance to dictate the story more. I wanted to shoot alternative scenes with the actors and alternative endings. Then guide the audience into choosing what Karen and Darren should do via the tweets. Then based on the majority I would choose a scene. Like one of those “Pick a Path” books. I also thought about running another Twitter account from the perspective of Darren or even the Other Darren at the same time. My God, I don’t want to think how I would’ve made that happen, lol. Maybe someone else can have a go in their own project. Also interestingly but not surprisingly, her twitter audience was much more reactive and responsive than the people reading on Facebook. I could see Facebook was reading them because people were hitting “like” on some tweets but the amount of comments was very minor compared to the way people reacted on twitter. But that’s why I think twitter is a great way to release a story with a character because of its dynamic nature; its immediacy and reactivity and the proactive sensibility of the twitter users. Facebook is quite static in that sense but that’s mainly because of Facebook’s tendency to siphon out news and information from your friends. Basically, you won’t see everything a friend posts on their wall because there’s a setting in Facebook that stops that from happening and not everyone knows how to turn it off. I knew that but I feel that each transmedia project should try and incorporate every platform in the hope it will reach an audience.
How did you find it, as a writer, having to react to that interactivity?
I was excited when people started replying to Karen, especially when they said the videos creeped them out. It would’ve been a challenge to respond to people’s replies if I didn’t have my HTC phone on me all the time. In my breaks at work I would check her replies and reply back, but I did it in very generic ways so as not to give too much of the plot away. It was a small challenge to answer people’s questions especially when they wanted to know more which would’ve involved me releasing some of the plot to that individual. But I got around it by saying things like; “I don’t want to talk about it just yet, it’s embarrassing for me”. I felt an obligation to reply to everyone who responded because I thought that audience member would leave the story if I didn’t interact with them, but that just wasn’t possible unfortunately; unless I spent the 3 weeks tucked away with my phone and pc like a sad writer type ;) There were moments when I realised I’d created a plot hole for myself in that I didn’t take into account how people would react. For e.g. A video was tweeted while she was “asleep” by Darren who was acting very strange. I naively thought no one would say anything to her, that they’d just watch it and wait. But when she “woke up” a few hours later, people had tweeted to her asking if she saw that video and she should check out what Darren did. (In the script she was supposed to discover the video had been tweeted herself later on). I couldn’t ignore those reactions because people would start thinking Karen is really stupid. So I had to quickly think of how to respond in a realistic way without jeopardising the plot. Based on that I had to change the way she discovered Video 22 which was meant to have been tweeted by the Other Darren, but I knew then that people would tell Karen, so I didn’t let the audience discover that one until Karen did, in other words it was not tweeted it was just left on Darren’s phone for her to find and tweet herself. I think there was also a few cheeky audience members who were trying to catch me out plot wise by stating things that Karen should’ve been thinking about or by remarking on an aspect of her career; (she’s a museum assistant who has studied archaeology and world history). I was just asking for trouble on that one lol. Once again, keeping my replies as generic as possible helped.
How important was the film / movie aspect. It seems to me that some of the most powerful elements were in the twitter text?
I think they were equally as important as transmedia should be visual as well as literary. The story was always meant to be a piece of my writing that you engage with via the tweets. There’s no way you could really understand truly what was going on or what the characters faults and issues were without reading the twitter text in between the videos. That was a risky thing for me to do because I had no way of knowing who would be bothered to scroll back or go to her landing page to catch up on the actual tweets. This was as much an experiment for me as anything else so I just tried my best to provide as many platforms as possible for people to be able to read those tweets; Facebook, YouTube web links back to twitter and an archive site: http://karenbarley.tripod.com/tweets I knew that some people would just be catching some of the tweets but hopefully I wrote the script in such a way that she kept back referencing a lot of things so information was constantly being rehashed; like the Metal Detector Nerds element; I kept tweeting what she was doing, what MDN’s stood for etc. I hoped it would seem like a soap in that you could kind of understand what was happening without too much effort. But at this stage I have no way of gauging if people really did read all the tweets or went back or not. So yes, for this particular format of a live twitter character, she had to tell her story via the tweets. But the thing that made it really different and very interesting as a piece of marketing and as something that had not been done before, was not only the live 3 weeks that it happened, but the media she used to supplement the story. There’s no way this would be as interesting to the audience if she didn’t have videos and photos etc as well. Those videos were absolutely essential to convey the creepiness and the surreal situation Karen was in. I don’t think I could’ve have got that just via text. It is a type of horror after all, so although horror can of course be conveyed via prose, because she was a real person using twitter for her emotional support, she chose to use tweets. The tweets themselves definitely portrayed a sense of impending doom and tension but the videos were the bits that (hopefully) scared the audience.
What is you one piece of advice for someone else who is thinking of doing something similar?
Really study how the platform you’re intending to release the story works. I studied a lot of phone twitter apps to see how they show the media within the phone because I wanted things to be as direct as possible without any navigation away from whatever twitter client they were using. So some twitter phone apps weren’t loading the photos quickly or just providing links (which is not good in my opinion). You want to use a video client that most platforms have inbuilt players for on mobiles and on the web. So at this moment YouTube is the most popular. Then test how the websites and their software works before you start. Make test accounts and send the tweets to see if they automatically go to other platforms like Facebook so you don’t have to manually repost your story elsewhere. Always have a landing page with your story where people can see the whole media if they don’t or can’t view it on the other platforms. Then expect all of that hard work, testing and studying the software and websites to go down the drain when they invariably fail at some point. (I was constantly uninstalling and reinstalling apps and authorising Karen’s account because they’d just stop performing). Also as a side note for your actual “story time”; YouTube shows upload dates not public dates, so if you upload your videos prior to story release and then make each video public later on, the date it was uploaded is shown.
If you can get as many people on your team as possible to handle certain aspects then do so to ease the pressure and let you concentrate on the fun of the story as it’s coming out. Also, publicity is the key with transmedia, because it’s not as in your face as movies and there’s so much content online; really hone in on a niche that you think your story will appeal to and start contacting blogs and online websites to tell them that you have a story in line with what they’re interested in. So I went for horror as that’s very popular and horror fans just love being scared in any capacity, (and I love horror); then I contacted horror websites etc. If there’s something really unique about what you’re doing, then contact your local newspapers and let them know; this may lead onto bigger news agencies picking up on it. And try and make a trailer of some kind using your media. This will encapsulate in a very visual and real way what you’re doing and I say real because people take you more seriously when they see you’re not just talking the talk; that you actually did make something!
As I mentioned Twitter is a great writer’s medium – more so than any other social networking site just because we are always writing our tweets. And we tend to add a bit of flourish to the tweets so whether intentional or not we are being creative on Twitter. I wanted to incorporate the multimedia aspect by using the video and photo uploading features as well as ability to post links. I think if you can find something to write about on Twitter that will capture people’s imagination then people will follow – even if it’s just a blog or diary. Why not make a documentary-style blog using Twitter? “Diarize” what’s happening to your character and post videos as well. Can you imagine Borat being a Twitter character first of all? I can. These are some of the ways that Twitter can work creatively. If you want to market and promote a 60min story that is just one video and you’re bypassing distributers to get your audience, you can do that too. It does take a lot of promotional work but as I said to the BBC, there is an audience online waiting to be entertained so why not use it.
The youtube page is - http://www.youtube.com/karenbarley
The youtube page is - http://www.youtube.com/karenbarley