Thursday, July 30, 2009

James Cameron, Would You Like to Date My Avatar?

San Diego, CA

July 23rd, 2009

Convention Center

Int. Hall H

(Zoe Saldana has just introduced Felicia Day to James Cameron...)

“Hello Codex, a pleasure to meet a fan as always, and aren’t you a sprightly thing.”

“Well actually my real name is Felicia but hello King of the World, I mean Mr. Cameron. It’s an honor meeting you. Your 'Avatar' clip was quite the visceral experience.”

“Wasn’t it? Didn’t you feel completely immersed in the world of Pandorum and the Na’vi?”

“Yup, totally felt like I was right there, fluorescent plants and 10 ft. tall blue avatars and all.”

“Excellent! Plus, I’m also trying to make a meaningful film about respecting our planet.”

“Wow, really? Cool. Have you seen 'The Guild'?”

“The what? Oh is that your web show? (Felicia nods) Well no, I’m sorry but have been a little immersed in making the next earth shattering film that exceeds 'Titanic' in both emotional resonance and aesthetic achievement.”

“Wow that’s cast and I just want to defeat Kael’Thas, he’s a frakking tough mob boss. And we also want to entertain our amazing fans. We made a music video about Dating our Avatar- did you hear about it? Really awesome, one of the Whedon brothers directed it and Sandeep got to rap.”

“Well that sounds lovely, look forward to checking that out one day. Maybe you’ll get a panel here next year."

“Oh we did, it was sold out.”

“Really? Well mine too of course. But great to hear and good luck to you and your show”.

“Yup, you too JC, Look forward to wearing some nifty 3-D glasses when you premiere in Dec.
By the way I think Zoe would make a great Wonder Woman..."

(Not that James Cameron has anything to do with Wonder Woman, that's Joel Silver)

Fade to Black.

Obviously this is nothing like what a meeting between James Cameron and Felicia Day would be like (or what it would look like in Final Draft). And I apologize if my description of either the Avatar screening or the WoW jargon (and Felicia’s use of ‘frakking’) was off as I a) couldn’t get into Hall H during the Con thus did not see the 'Avatar' footage and b) am not a WoW player (and googled WoW highest level and found that there are no levels?) so I used creative research to add a tinge of semi-authentic detail to the exchange. But why the fictitious exchange at all? Because it illustrates an epiphany that I had upon leaving The Con. I suddenly realized that Hollywood’s sparkling gem, their biggest spectacle teased during the convention, the future of entertainment itself, the 3-D movie, is just trying to do what 'The Guild' already does: make the audience feel like they are a part of the show.

It’s crazy when you think about it? Really good web content is such because it is interactive. 3-D movies are special because they take you out of the two dimension viewing experience and bring you into the aesthetic world of the story. Both mediums are aspiring to the same thing-to create a heightened emotional experience, thus bond, with the narrative and characters…but only one is authentic. Both are immersive, one is interactive.

What does interactive really mean? It’s such a buzz word amongst web producers as creating an immersive and permeable world around your show is the holy grail (and apparently something that is monetizable). Finding a clear, non-contested definition of the word is actually a little difficult but I like the following definitions:

-Interactional: capable of acting on or influencing each other
-Any type of media that allows the user to influence and react to it.

Another definition that isn’t pertaining to media but nonetheless has an interesting implication is this:

-Synergistic: used especially of drugs or muscles that work together so the total effect is greater than the sum of the two (or more).

Greater than the sum of the two. Isn't 'The Guild' reflective of that thought? Two Seasons of episodes + Fans doesn't simply yield the intense success that has befallen the show. Something else happened here (above and beyond favorable YouTube placement and ICM), something I can only attribute to the initial fan involvement in Season 1; the fans became veritable, vested producers. As most of you know, fan donations allowed for Season 1 production to continue; the show would have ceased production if it were not for the well clicked PayPal button. Yes, the niche fan base was already there because of the WoW tie in and Felicia’s name, but it was a good show, something not embraced by the mainstream Hollywood machine (as it originally a TV pilot) and they supported not only with their comments but with their credit cards. And Felicia and her team acknowledged these donors (both on the site and by thank you notes apparently) and thus valued them . This initial infusement of money allowed the show to continue, then flourish and finally find the wide and fervent fan base it now has. Look where the show is at- deals with Xbox/ Microsoft (which means Yahoo now too?), sold out panels and signings at Comic Con, Wil Wheaton now a cast member of the 3rd season. All because Felicia, Kim Evey and Sean Becker made a great show that fans found they could actually be an integral part of. They could comment, converse and even contribute. (The pic above can be found at this fan's blog)

Which brings us back to the 3-D spectacles of Hollywood. Competition for your entertainment dollar is at it’s peak, with the recession hitting everyone’s pocketbook and myriad narrative products vying for your attention. Plus our ability to accept visual spectacle is evolving exponentially. Our brains have adapted to processing special effects/CGI so we aren't particularly wow'ed when we see Los Angeles being destroyed by a massive earthquake due to the 2012 Mayan End Date or the Eiffel Tower crumpling to the ground because of some weird green energy lasso. But when we first saw dinosaurs in 'Jurassic Park', didn’t your jaw drop? Mine did, and my heart soared with the experience. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Now I take it for granted. The 3-D jump aspires to put the audience back into that place of awe, where movie going is special and moving and new. 'Coraline' and 'Up' had that effect on me. But the effect will soon fade.

Wanting to connect with other fans, and with the creative product itself will not fade, however. That’s what makes Comic Con such a viable platform for Hollywood to premiere its new products on. The fans are clamouring to have an interactive piece of the movies, stars and directors that they are fans of. Comic Con is really the only chance where die hard fans will be guaranteed geographic access to their heroes, maybe even have the opportunity to engage in a quick question and answer session with. If that fan/ Hollywood star/ filmmaker interactive experience is authentic and exciting, then thousands of fans at the panel will spread the seeds and viral word of mouth takes off. But that’s where the interaction ends. Instant gratification for the fan, but short lived.

So this is our chance. This is our chance as web content creators and pioneers of the digital entertainment space to embrace the opportunity of creating stories and worlds where fans are a valued and viable component. Let's step away from producing TV lite and move towards creating the best narrative experiences that we can possibly film, and then acknowledge that that is only one part of the equation.

Be back soon,

All Things T

1 comment:

Blake Calhoun said...

Hi Taryn, I really like your blog. You are a good writer along with having some good things to say! :)

While I agree with you that an "interative" show such as The Guild is admirable and can be successful, seems sometimes that style can be kind of gimicky (not The Guild though), especially if it's not done well.

I really believe more than anything if you create interesting multi-layered characters in a compelling story you can build an audience and a fan base - of course this applies to all forms of storytelling, not just the web.

Today targeting your audience is equally important, if not more important. Finding that niche. Because while you say The Guild has a "wide" audience, it really doesn't in traditional terms. Yes Xbox is a widely used device, but it's still targeted at gamers (and mainly young males). To me it's still narrow-casting, but that's a good thing and ultimately what makes the show a success.

In the end marketing the show probably ends up being the most vital piece of the puzzle. The web is soooooooooo over saturated with new "web series". Literally I hear of new ones everyday. When we created "Pink" there were only a handful of known online dramas (Lonely Girl, Prom Queen, Sanctuary, etc.) and so it was "easier" for us to break through (not easy of course). But today, wow, it's crazy how congested the marketplace is, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. Reminds me of the late 90s when MiniDV first hit and everyone was making indie films. The cream eventually rises to the top, but you really have to wade through a lot of crap to find it.

Long story short, I'm not sure that web TV producers or Hollywood really needs all the 3D, metaverse, transmedia, audience interactivity (although they're not bad and can obviously help in some cases), etc. - we just need to tell good stories to our particular audience - oh, and have a ton of money to help market them. :)