Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How WV content is different, part 1

Based on my post yesterday, I got a few emails yesterday asking me to explain how I thought WV (web video) content should be different than TV content.

It's a big question, and the most honest answer is, "I don't know." None of us do. I do, however, have plenty of ideas, some of which we're implementing on Wallstrip. Today, I want to talk specifically about intimacy and authenticity.

Start with the premise that you watch your TV from 10 feet away and you watch WV from 3 feet away. In the "real world", if I watch a scene play out in a bar tonight from 10 feet away, I am a spectator. The players in that scene aren't aware of me and I have no impact on its result.

If I watch the same scene from 3 feet away, I am a participant. I may not be involed in the plot, but the players know I'm there (even if they ignore me). And if I'm watching a scene play out three feet away, it's going to dominate my field of view. I'll be immersed in it and not able to watch other things going on at the same time. Finally, I'm more likely to watch it subjectively. If I'm 10 feet away, I'm a more impartial observer. When I'm 3 feet away, I'm hearing every word, looking into the eyes of th players, and making my own judgements about the situation.

So how does all that translate into narrative and structural differences? Here are a few rules I stick to in WV. Of course, the idea with any visual storytelling is to figure out the rules and then find creative ways to break them.

1) The viewer will see the story more intimately, so tell it more intimately. Not just tighter shots and close ups, but stories that focus on one character. (I'm talking fiction or non-fiction storytelling here). That's one reason why Wallstrip is centered around one personality - our host, Lindsay.

2) Authenticity is the gate keeper. From two or three feet away, I can see all your flaws. I can judge for myself if you're lying to me. The realism bar for me to buy into the story is a whole lot higher. In terms of non-fiction, that means being self-reflexive, acknowledging when something you're doing is silly or risky. It might mean breaking the "fourth wall" and talking directly to the audience. In Wallstrip, we are relentlessly self-referential. We do shows about our lack of popularity, we talk about our audience and specific characters we've built out of audience members. We sometimes talk conversationally with the audience ("I know what you're thinking," etc.)

3) Be intimate with your audience. People think about "interactive storytelling" in literal terms - strict structures where audience members have an opportunity to influence the direction of the story (voting on American Idol, for example). But the best kind if interactivity is completely organic and unplanned. It's about carrying on a conversation. Every morning, I wake up and read all the comments on Wallstrip. I also read every blog post or web article that mentions us. I don't take action based on these comments, but they influence my understanding of who we're talking to when we're writing and directing. They give me a more complete understanding of the world I'm making narrative choices in. As Fred Wilson described, our Jack-in-the-Box show evolved from these conversations with our audience.

I've got lots more I'd like to say about how the web environment and user experience effects narrative and formal components of WV, and I'll do so in the next few days. The bottom line, though, is that WV is different. Jeff and I started our company BrightRED Pictures because we believe strongly that this is a new art form, with it's own conventions.

And, in the spirit of interactivity, we got our first real panner of a review yesterday in New York Magazine. While the tone seems decidedly, "we like to dog on anything the New York Times likes," I must admit - it feels damned good to be dogged a little bit. Get's the juices flowing.

While I didn't mind them dogging us, I was a little miffed that they took a shot at our investors. I can think of a lot lamer things to do with $500k than invest it in a few people who are trying to create something entertaining and take a chance in a new environment.

Besides... "Dumb, but Edgy" - that seems like the slugline for my life. If that's as bad as it gets, I'm a happy man.

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Anonymous Mark said...

Thanks. Interesting and thought provoking.

The NY Mag obviously hasn't caught on to Wallstrip's format: to talk about stocks at all time highs, then have some fun.

I'd tell them this, but they don't allow commenting!

Also, I think the past two week's Wallstrips (with a couple great exceptions- AGN and Super Bowl) have been the weakest stretch.

When Wallstrip deviates from your stated format it suffers.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Here's another question:
Should we be aiming for larger players?


How is it possible for these larger videos to load as fast as smaller and still retain quality. (non techie answer appreciated.)

11:43 AM  
Blogger jmixont said...

So ... web video is Bertolt Brecht!

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Howard Owens said...

I've written on this topic quite a bit on howardowens.com.

Personal Journalism.

When people download content onto their personal device, they have a natural tendency to feel a personal connection, or ownership, over that content. They expect personal communication.

It's one-to-one media. It's campfire media. Real communication, of course, can't help but be connected, authentic, intimate. People gravitate toward online content, be it video or blogs or podcasts, that have the sense of a real person communicating directly to you or me.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Adam Elend said...

The 9 is a perfect example of creating content that's a little too "televisiony" for the internet. The presentation isn't intimate enough, at least it wasn't last time I checked them out.

There are too many variables for me to say for sure how they mix image quality, small file size and frame size, but it's a constant battle. I'll look into it and see what I can find out for you.

2:56 PM  

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