Last week I spent four days on a residential workshop that brought together tv commissioners, producers and a bunch of content geeks (new media design, editorial and tech folk). The aim was to aid all our understanding of what makes brilliant, impactful multiplatform projects or, in E4 speak, the "tellyweb".
Each day left me exhausted and a little frustrated but always inspired, resulting in lots of late night scribbling of variously deranged thoughts - of which a selection follows.
Day 1: Content geeks are a bunch of bone-banging monkeys
So I’m a couple of glasses of white rioja in, and I confess to the people that commissioned the likes of Green Wing and Cutting Edge how exciting I found the recent introduction of user comments to Big Brother news articles and photos. I could hear the crackle as the glaze set on their eyes. Even my head was nodding a little before I reached the end of my own sentence.
Yes, my pedestrian example of an interactive feature is particular to my role and the challenges within it, but when I'm still getting excited about basic functionality it really highlights how hard it can be to produce sophisticated, large-scale interactive entertainment across platforms.
But you know what, the Roundhay Garden Scene isn't exactly The Sopranos now is it? But it was the first step in the evolution of audio-visual entertainment.
We just have to accept that on an evolutionary scale of online media us content geeks aren't single-celled, but we're still not all that far up the chain; remember Youtube was only formed in 2005. So er ... throw us a bone.
Day 3: To have a hit musical sometimes a fat transvestite has to do unspeakable things
Oh how they frowned as ARGs were explained, how they laughed as we described how and why we use Twitter (renamed “Dribble” by one wag); it really was a struggle to get people to understand the more fringe of our online activities. For example, red-faced and mumbling, I might as well have been a teenager explaining masturbation: “It [Twitter]’s good, not sure if it's good for me... Quite addictive really... Sometimes I have to force myself not to be on it so much.”
Then I received Divine inspiration – yes, that one – the dead, fat fabulous transvestite diva star of stage and screen and John Waters' movies.
It occurred to me that Hairspray is a multi-award winning musical on screen, West End and Broadway as well as a remade hit movie, but that’s not where director John Waters started out. Would Waters have got where he is, entertaining and enlightening millions of people and making millions of dollars, without having once made that [WARNING! this is gross] infamous scene from Pink Flamingos? I for one say no.
It's accepted that every creative medium needs the fringe movements and esoteric works in order to push the boundaries of what can be achieved within their genre – and online is no exception especially in (fast developing) forms. Participation in Virtual worlds or ARGs, even just publishing photos of yourself or your opinions on the web can be hard for people to comprehend, but that doesn't mean they're not worthwhile activities or are always destined for minority audiences.
Day 4: Creativity is polyamorous
Not a defence of any sexual incontinence, more an observation that by the end of the week it was obvious that what mattered most were ideas and creativity and how new technology and platforms afforded more and better opportunities to express those ideas. I truly believe that really creative people can apply their skills on any number of platforms with a bit more knowledge, experience and confidence.
I see evidence of this in projects like filmmaker, artist and author Miranda July and fellow polymath Harrell Fletcher's Learning to Love You More project which is not only a website but also a book, a touring exhibition, and radio broadcasts. Or in the daft works of Adam Buxton who, after pushing the boundaries on TV, has continued to do so online in his Youtube channel, even if that is sometimes with meat products.
It was a great experience and a salutory lesson in how cynics can become advocates with the right information and environment. It was also a great help for the likes of me to understand more about television processes and people. And finally, I learnt that us content geeks may well be a bunch of fat, polyamorous transvestite monkeys - but we're evolving at an amazing rate.