Kill Screen's Jamin Warren on the Futures of Gaming
At the Futures of Entertainment, we've always been big proponents of gaming and gamers. I was thrilled to be able to interview Jamin Warren, Founder of gaming magazine Kill Screen. Kill Screen has some of the best game writing out there, and they're constantly proving the importance of games as a cultural form. Jamin Warren told me about why he founded Kill Screen, where Kill Screen's going next and the (lack of) interactions between gamemakers and fans.
Sheila Murphy Seles: Can you tell me a little about your background and why you founded Kill Screen?
Jamin Warren: I started as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, covering arts and entertainment there. I wanted to have my own niche, and besides reading, videogames were the only other thing I had done my entire life. But when I started writing about games, I quickly discovered two things. First, large media institutions like the Journal were not interested in games for either their commercial or cultural import. Second, the type of content for gamers was geared at teens and college-student. As someone in my 20s, there was little for me to express the type of game culture that fit into my life as someone interested, not just in games, but the intersections between play and art/design/music etc.
Other popular movements have had a gatekeeper that ushered them into maturity. Rock had Rolling Stone and then MTV. The Internet had Wired. Indie rock had Pitchfork and VICE had hipsters. That was the impetus for Kill Screen -- to embody this new, older videogame player. Gamers have grown-up, but their culture hasn't.
SMS: What are your biggest initiatives currently at Kill Screen?
JW: Currently, our biggest project is the production arm. My partner Tavit came from Atari and the Primary Wave the music publisher. Brands and agencies are looking for better interactive, game projects, but they don't necessarily have the know-how or experience building those. We know games so we can both build and guide them to create better branded experiences. This summer, for example, we built a project from scratch for Sony Music for Incubus to reinvigorate their fan-base. The game saw tremendous engagement (more than 6 min. of avg. playtime) and sparked a conversation.
On the cultural side, there's a big gap for indie gamemakers in terms of their economic ecosystem. If you're an independent photographer, filmmaker etc., you balance your creative work with your commercial obligations. Game designers have no such system as the games industry writ large is organized like Hollywood before the landmark Supreme Court case against Paramount. Gamemakers either have to work for traditional publishers or hope for their indie project to score a hit. By connecting agencies and brands with game designers, we're expanding their ecosystem to allow them to have a project-based system akin to the one enjoyed by other creatives.
SMS: What kinds of collaboration do you see in the game industry between fans/gamers and content creators?
JW: Traditionally, the videogame industry has done a poor job of engaging fans on their own terms. Nintendo is great example of this failure -- the Wii, for example, made it nearly impossible to connect with others online. Facebook integration on XBox Live and PlayStation Network is woeful. Those lack of dialogic tools is emblematic of a larger rift between those who play games and those who make.
One odd example is FarmVille, which perhaps represents an extreme. They A/B test every user experience and that game is in fact a perfect reflection of the desires of the community. This, of course, sucks the fun out, but it is a conversation they are actively having with their community.
I'm most interested in the user tools that are emerging to make it easier to make games. Microsoft's Kodu is designed for kids and Scratch is another "easy" programming language for game devs. There will be a day where game creation tools will be as commonplace as word processing software.
Collaboration across Borders: Interview with Seung Bak of DramaFever
Founded in 2009, DramaFever, an English language video site for Asian TV shows is now the largest US-based site of its kind, boasting over a million active users every month. I had the chance to interview Seung Bak, one of the founders of DramaFever about why the site has become so successful. He also told me about some of the collaborations DramaFever has been able to foster between American fans and producers of Asian dramas.
Ludic Narrans: Drew Davidson Talks Crossmedia Communication
One of my first classes at USC was in transmedia entertainment and storytelling and I plan to be teaching a large lecture hall class on transmedia in the Cinema School starting in the 2011-2012 academic year. My growing interest in transmedia is one of many reasons I have ended up here. I want to be closer to the entertainment industry to be able to watch some of the changes that are unfolding as this emerging conception of popular entertainment really takes root and I want to be in a position to influence the entertainment workers in training.
Think about how the generation of "movie brats," such as Spielberg and Lucas, influenced the American media. For generations, directors emerged from one or another of the guilds, bringing with them specialized skill sets. Robert Wise was an editor; William Cameron Menzies was an art director; most of them knew how to work with actors, but few of them had an integrated perspective on all of the technical skills required to produce a movie. With the rise of film schools, we got directors who knew the full vocabulary of their medium, who knew how to speak to workers with more specialized skills (who often trained alongside them and spoke a shared language) and who knew the history and genres that constituted their tradition. As Hollywood begins to embrace transmedia, a common concern is that there are few people who fully understand how to tell stories or create entertainment experiences in more than one medium: comic book people don't know how to think about games, say, or television people have limited grasp of the web. My own hope is that the Film Schools will once again be the space where future media makers get exposed to a broader range of different kinds of media and also develop the social relations and vocabulary to meaningfully collaborate with others who have specialized in different modes of expression.
For this to happen, transmedia entertainment needs to emerge as a subject not simply at USC but at film schools all over the country. And, indeed, I am hearing more and more from other faculty who are starting to teach such classes at their own institutions. That's why it is such good news that Drew Davidson, Director of the Entertainment Technology Center Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University, has produced a new textbook designed to introduce undergraduate critical studies and production students alike to the world of what he calls "crossmedia entertainment." (Full disclosure: the book includes a short piece by me which offers my definition of transmedia.) I have long admired Drew Davidson's contributions to the space of games studies, especially through the Well Played books, which offer smart, engaging criticisms of specific games by some of the top games scholars in the world, and his earlier book, Stories in Between is a hidden gem which already poses important questions about new and emerging forms of storytelling.
This new book, Cross-Media Communications: an Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences will play a central role in shaping how concepts of "cross-media" or "transmedia" expression get taught, encouraging educators around the world to explore some of these intriguing concepts in their classrooms. Over the next two installments, I will be sharing this interview with Davidson about the book and about his thoughts on all things crossmedia.
On Anti-Fans and Paratexts: An Interview with Jonathan Gray
If you are interested in Lost, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, Star Wars, Fan Studies, or Transmedia Entertainment and you are not reading the work of Jonathan Gray, then you aren't doing it right! And let's face it, if you weren't interested in at least one of the above, then you probably have simply stumbled onto my blog by mistake.
Given that I am interested in all of the above, I keep stumbling onto Gray's work and each time I do, I come away a little better educated than I did before. Gray has got to be one of the most productive -- and provocative -- writers working in media studies today. This guy really is an extratextual! And he's someone I'm finding myself working with more and more. He's a member of the Convergence Culture Consortium network of scholars; he's edited several books where my essays have appeared; and he's been working behind the scenes to help pull together our Transmedia, Hollywood events this month. And he's now teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I did my PhD.
So, it's a pleasure to share this interview with you. The first installment covers everything from his recent work on parody, popular culture, and politics to his long-standing interest in fans and anti-fans. Mostly, Part Two focuses around his significant new book, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (NYU Press, 2010). I wrote a blurb for this book, so I got to read it months ago, but it is just now hitting the shelves and starting to have a real impact on how we theorize and criticize everything from movie trailers to action figures.
Futures of Entertainment 4: From Cool Hunters to Chief Culture Officers: An Interview with Grant McCracken
One of the high points of our recent Futures of Entertainment conference was a presentation by Anthropologist/Consultant/Blogger Grant McCracken on his new book, Chief Culture Officier: How to Create a Living Breathing Corporation. McCracken is a lively and engaging speaker and one of the most provocative thinkers I know when it comes to addressing the social, cultural, technological and economic changes shaping the world around us. McCracken has long been part of the brain trust behind the Convergence Culture Consortium and he writes an exceptional blog, This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.
I had a chance to read Grant's book in draft form and have been eagerly awaiting its release because of the conversation it is going to spark both within universities and within corporations about the value of cultural insights for modern business and where those insights were likely to come from. When we launched the Comparative Media Studies Program a decade ago, one of our early backers encouraged us to train our students for jobs that didn't have names yet -- jobs which depended on their ability to think across media and to understand the intersection of culture, technology, and industry. Through the years, many of our best students went into industry, often into jobs created around their expertise and talent. Recently, we've called them "thought leaders." I've seen these same kind of students through the professional programs in Annenberg and the Cinema School at USC. I constantly meet prospective students with this kind of vision for their future, but so far, few academic programs have embraced this alternative professional trajectory for their students or have developed curriculum which encourage a more applied perspective.
McCracken proposes a new title, "Chief Culture Officer," and argues that the most powerful companies in th world need to have people in the top ranks of their leadership whose primary job is to attend to the culture around them. While some may disagree, I would contend this expertise is most likely to come from programs in media and cultural studies, anthropology, and other branches of the humanities and the qualitative social sciences. It certainly is not the expertise fostered in most business schools. If we take McCracken's arguments here seriously, they have implications for how we train our students -- not limiting them for an increasingly constipated academic job market but giving them the background and experience they would need to navigate through a range of other sectors being impacted by media change. And it also has implications for how companies think about their consumers, how they anticipate new developments and how they pay respect to more stable, slower changing aspects of their culture.
All of these issues surfaced during the panel discussion which followed Grant's presentation. Respondents included am Sam Ford - Director of Customer Insights, Peppercom, and C3 Research Affiliate; Jane Shattuc - Emerson College; and Leora Kornfeld - Research Associate, Harvard Business School. The moderator was William Uricchio, chair of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program. You can watch the video of the event here.
I was lucky enough to get Grant McCracken to address some of the key issues in the book in an exclusive interview for this blog conducted earlier this fall. Here, he lays out some of the key premises of the book and its implications for how companies and universities think about the future.
What do you mean by a "chief culture officer" and what role would such a person play within the modern corporation?
Corporations have been notoriously bad at reckoning with culture. They manage the "problem of culture" with ad hocery of many kinds. They call on ad agencies, consultants, gurus and cool hunters and, when all else fails, the intern down the hall. But there is no single person and, worse, there is no senior manager. Even as culture grows ever more dynamic, various, demanding, and participatory. So that's my argument: there ought to be someone in the C-Suite who's job it is to reckon with culture and to spot the opportunities and dangers it represents.
Your professional training was in anthropology yet you've spent much of your career as a cultural consultant. What kinds of advice have companies sought from you? What has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make from anthropology as it exists in the university to ethnography as a basis for making business decisions?
Sometimes I am supplying the ethnography, and this means quizzing consumers about how they see the world. This is culture from the bottom up, as it were. Sometimes I am supplying anthropology and this means reporting on the categories, distinctions and rules that make up our culture. This is culture from the top down, so to say.
As to the adjustment, it was a horrible slog for awhile, like riding uneven circus ponies. But eventually my academic self and my consulting self found a way to work together. There are moments of surprising coincidence and the interactive effect can be terrific. And then of course you find a way to respect the demands of Christ by forgetting Caesar (and the other way round.) The good news is that consulting forces a grueling pace of problem solving that builds skills for one's academic work, I think. And vice versa.
You cite "Cool Hunters" as enemies of the Culture Officer. What are the limits of the current "cool hunting" process and how does it lead companies astray?
The trouble with cool hunters is that they are a little like cats. Cats have more rods in the retina than we do and this gives them the ability to see movement better than we do. The price that cats and coolhunters pay for this adaption is that they are not very good at seeing things when these things are still. Which is a too elaborate way of saying cool hunters are maximally responsive to culture in motion and disinclined to take an interest in culture when more static. Actually, we can go further than this. Cool hunters are generally pretty hopeless when it comes to the deeper, slower and more static aspects of culture. They don't even appear to know that they exist. If one had to guess at a metric only something like 30% of our culture is fad and fashion. That means the better of our culture escapes the grasp of the cool hunter and the corporation who relies on him/her.
What is the argument for embedding cultural expertise within the company rather than outsourcing it through some kind of consulting firm?
There are two problems with hiring in culture expertise. Culture is increasingly various and changeable. Corporations are increasingly complex and changeable. To find the fit between them takes an exquisite knowledge of both. Hiring culture knowledge in gives the corporation a collection of partial views as rendered by people who may or may not understand the corporation. No corporation would dream of handling finance, technology, human relations this way. It's something that has to be done in-house to be done well.
What should humanities programs be doing differently in order to fully prepare their students for the position of chief culture officer?
Humanities programs turn out to be the heroes of the piece. It gives people the frame-shifting, assumption-jumping, intellectual nimbleness they need to reckon with the complexities of culture and the corporation. We spend a lot of time these days looking at new developments and asking, "is this something or nothing really?" and if it's something, "Ok, is this X1, X2 or notX at all?" The liberal arts are wonderfully good at cultivating this gift. Certainly, engineering and finance create formidable intellectual abilities. The most fluid, the most elegant mind I trained at the Harvard Business School was a product of the British military. So, clearly, many cognitive styles qualify. But the humanities have a certain advantage. They seem to endow people with the pattern recognition the CCO needs. Of course, the humanities have problems of their own. Postmodernism has turned many minds to mush.
One model for cultural analysis which has gained some traction in the corporate world is Eric Von Hipple's concept of the lead user. Von Hipple encourages companies to use early adapters as test-beds for their products, often looking there for insights which may allow them to innovate and refine their offerings. How does this model align with your claims for the value of ethnographic perspectives in the board room?
Lead users are useful. The trouble is they are so enthusiastic about an innovation they are perfectly happy to make any adjustments necessary to adopt it. And as Geoffrey Moore says, this makes them a bad guide to the larger market of later adopters. These people expect the innovation to conform to them. And this takes another order (and probably another round) of product development, which development must be informed by our knowledge of the cultural meanings and practices in place. Without cultural knowledge, the innovation cannot "jump the chasm" to use Geoffrey Moore's famous phrase. (All of this is Moore's argument.) Ethnography is especially useful as a way of discovering what this culture is.
You write about the "Apollo Theater effect," as you try to explain the shifting relations between cultural producers and consumers. Explain. Why may we be outgrowing the concept of consumption?
I take your lead here, Henry. As you demonstrated so early and so well, more consumers are becoming producers, and this makes us as Apollo theatre audience of us all. Because we make so much culture, we have become more observant and critical, and less passive in our consumption of other's productions. And on these grounds I've suggested that perhaps its time that we start called "consumers" "multipliers." I except your wisdom here: "if it doesn't spread, it's dead."
Some companies are now monitoring Twitter to try to see how consumers are responding to them. What are the strengths and limits of this approach?
This is a good and necessary idea, as a way of spotting emergent concerns around which consumers are organizing themselves. On the other hand, Twitter is very like a key hole. It's hard to see very much and unless we follow up with some more thorough inquiry, we are missing a great deal.
Many executives assume that cultural knowledge is "intuitive," something they absorb by growing up in a culture. Yet, you are arguing that cultural knowledge requires a certain kind of expertise. Why is intuition not enough?
Intuition is indeed the instrument by which we often deliver cultural insights, but it is also a way for the corporation to diminish cultural intelligence by calling them "soft" "vaque," and "impressionistic." As we become more expert, more professional and more disciplined about our study of culture, I hope we will encourage a new comprehension of what culture knowledge is and how it adds value.
Does the cultural knowledge companies need become even more of a challenge as companies start to do business on a global scale?
Indeed, this is a challenge. How do we speak to several cultures and many segments with a single voice. There is a global culture in the works. It will be a long time coming, but it is coming. But as you and others have pointed out, the real opportunity for the world of communications is to move from the monolithic message to the nuanced, multiple one. We can speak to many communities with many voices, and this really takes a virtuoso control of knowlege and communication. The good news is that as we engage more consumers in acts of cocreation, they will help.
You've argued for advertising and branding as activities which are involved in the management and production of meanings. How would branding change in a world where more companies had chief culture officers?
Yes, that's my hope, that the presence of a CCO would make the corporation better at the production and management of meanings. At some point, I think, our destination must be this: a living, breathing corporation, that fully participates in and draws from and gives to the culture around it. We will have to teach the old dog many new tricks to make this possible. Old asymmetries and boundaries and assumptions will have to be broken down. The good news is that many of the old models are just not working and the corporation in its way has always been keenly interested in what works. I'm hoping the book will help a little here.
Grant McCracken holds a PhD from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology. He is the author of Big Hair, Culture and Consumption, Culture and Consumption II: Markets, Meaning and Brand Management, Flock and Flow, The Long Interview, Plenitude: Culture by Commotion, Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture, and Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. He has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and he is now an adjunct professor at McGill University. He has consulted widely in the corporate world, including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, Chrysler, Kraft, Kodak, and Kimberly Clark. He is a member of the IBM Social Networking Advisory Board.
The introduction to the site is here and a summary of the key points of the interview can be found here.
Xiaochang: How did you come to decide on an add-supported monetization model rather than a subscription model?
Suk Park: Given our research on the existing illegal platforms, the issue was about capturing market share. It seems unrealistic to come out with a pay-per-view model, which was the other alternative, when all this content was being offered for free. So the best approach to capture market-share fast, and away from the free sites seemed to be to offer an equally free site, but with much higher quality and a better user experience to get our brand out. Now does that mean that going forward we might or might not include a premium site without ads? That's still to be discussed. But given what we're seeing in the market, we've adapted our business model according to that.
Seung Bak: Let me just add to that -- I think over time we will offer a variety of ways for people to consume this content because there's a bunch of people who want to watch for free and will watch ads, and there's a lot of people who want to will pay for it without ads, and it's just a function of us trying to figure out how we can provide packages and offerings with people in a variety of spectrums. The real costs associated with different sorts of models -- it doesn't have to be an either/or kind of thing. The right answer is probably something in between and something we have to figure out in the coming months.
Suk Park: One thing's for sure: we will not get rid of our free offering.
Seung Bak: Yes, there will always be a substantial free offering. This is not a bait-and-switch game. We're trying to build a real destination site, and there's always going to be a free component. But there might be an opportunity for us to create some premium offerings that complement what we have.
Xiaochang: So coming out of beta, what sort of tactics will you be taking to get the word out about Dramafever?
Seung Bak: Let me just recap what we've been doing. As I'm sure you've noticed, our first priority was engaging the early adopters. The early adopters are people who are going to dramabeans and they other sorts of blogs and going to d-addicts and consuming on mysoju and so forth. Our main priority in the beta phase was to make sure that the site works perfectly. So right now, we still have some kinks to work out, there's lot of little things we have to fix and we're also developing new features so that the site will be more robust than what we have now. We're also trying to line up some anchoring sponsors to go with the initial launch. So there's a lot of moving pieces that we have right now. But I think that the goal is to have a very PR-driven campaign. So in the early phase, in the beta phase, there was a lot of working with the niche fan-oriented blogs. When we officially launch, we're going to engage a lot of the mainstream blogs and the mainstream blogs and the mainstream media to really kick it off with a big bang. I think the thing that we're getting right is that we got to make sure that we have a very good user experience and we reply to every single feedback that we get from people, which I think is unheard of. I think if you try to write mysoju and email, they probably never get back. WE're offering people a very high level of service even though it's a very free site. We're actively engaging the users and actively engaging the community and I think we're just going to build on that as we move toward our formal launch.
Xiaochang: Out of curiosity, how many people are you right now?
Seung Bak: There's a core team of 5 people: Suk and myself, and we have a CTO, and a developer and a graphic designer. And then we have an additional group of 10 people who are helping us in different freelance and consulting capacities who bring in different skill-sets. Some could be finance, some could be on licensing and sales or more strategic stuff. So, a fully staffed team and we'll just get bigger and bigger as we go along.
Xiaochang: Okay, one last question, which about the community you're planning on building. How do you see this community on your site as any way different than the communities that are on the sites like d-addicts that are already built elsewhere that are already talking about this content? What's going to make them want to do the same thing on your site?
Seung Bak: I mean, if you just look at the web in general, it's not a zero-sum game. Just because you have a community about a particular subject doesn't mean that no one else could have it. The approach that we're taking is that we're not trying to become d-addicts nor are we trying to become mysoju or soompie or any of these other existing places where people are hanging out. What we're doing is that we're hoping to ultimately compliment the sort of ecosystem of Asian entertainment in this country, so the features that we're building are very dramafever centric -- they'll be around the dramas that we carry, they'll be around the way people are experiencing content. It'll be around stuff that we're creating for people. So, we're not going to go out and create a wiki because that's already being very well addressed by d-addicts, and the people who are going to d-addicts are also our audience members and the people who are running it are potentially our friends and our partners. So when we talk community, we're talking offering features unique to our site.
The 4th installment of my interview with the founders of Dramafever.com delves into their relationship with fans and efforts to fulfill what they viewed as a clear market need. Of particular interest is the discussion on how they select content based on observing audience-enagement on fan-driven sites and the site's success in collaborating with the fansubbing community.
The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 2 of 2)
Last Friday, we ran the first part of a piece I wrote about Maureen Murphy, Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI). The second part of this piece deals with the challenges journalism faces in a spreadable media environment. Murphy explains how being an online-only publication has forced EI to address issues of credibility, crediting, activism, and bias.
Though the internet allows EI to reach--and possibly enlighten--a very large audience, Murphy also has some frustrations when thinking about the internet as a medium. "I think people take web media a little less seriously," she says. This is especially frustrating because the brand of journalism EI offers readers is much more complex--and arguably more serious--than much of what's found in the mainstream press. Still, the internet as an aggregate isn't governed by standards as strict as EI's editorial policy, so the same Google search can direct a reader to EI as well as other sites with varying levels of journalistic credibility. Of course it can be argued that many major newsrooms may have questionable journalistic standards, but there is an implicit level of trust that comes with the colophon of say, the New York Times or the Washington Post.
The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 1 of 2)
With the recent announcement that the Boston Globe might fold if it can't cut $20 million in union costs, the state of print journalism seems to be in a state of flux. The print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also folded to budget concerns, but the paper has continued to publish as an online-only news source. Are online editions the future of journalism? And how does online publishing differ from print journalism? As part of an assignment for Henry Jenkins's Theories and Methods class, I recently interviewed the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada, an online-only news source dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to get her opinion on the state of online journalism. Below, you'll find portion of my report.
Maureen Murphy is the Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI), a nonprofit online publication--found at electronicintifada.net-- that features news, opinion, and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Disclosure: Maureen Murphy is also my cousin.) EI was founded in early 2001 by Ali Abunimah, Nigel Parry, Arjan El Fassed, and Laurie King--four activists who had never met in person. Murphy explains: "The Electronic Intifada project started as a reaction to the corporate media narration of the second Palestinian Intifada. It was started by a bunch of activists who didn't know each other, but who were able to find each other through the internet." EI was originally conceived as a supplement to the mainstream news media's coverage of the conflict, but it has quickly grown to a news source in its own right. EI averages 3000-5000 unique visitors daily, and they got as many as 30,000 visitors a day during the recent crisis in Gaza.
Earlier this year, I conducted an interview with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the brains behind dramafever.com, a fully-licensed, ad-supported online streaming site for Asian media content much in the style of Hulu (for an introduction, check out this previous post). While I have already written a fairly extensive summary of the key take-aways from that interview (posted here), I thought some might be interesting in seeing the full transcript.
Below is part 1 (of 4 or 5, depending on the final transcript length), and deals mainly with a quick history of how the site came to be and its general premise.
On October 14, a YouTube video appeared on a new account entitled "vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin."
It bore no identifying markers of its creation beyond the names Vlad and Boris. A music video attesting a Russian crush on Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, it slowly began spreading via email, Facebook, and blog links. Within a week, it had surpassed 100,000 views, and appeared on television newscasts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Soon top political blogs like Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, and Talking Points Memo were linking to it; as of Election Day, it received over 430k views, over 600 YouTube comments, and maintains a perfect 5 star rating.
I was fortunate to be an early adopter of Vlad and Boris, having received the link from one of my former students. I've been tracking the video's spreadability, and have been impressed both by the quality of the piece (it's really re-watchable, which accounts for a good number of those views) and the dissemination with little effort by the producers. Certainly much of this success is due to how central YouTube has been to the 2008 election, as it's hard to imagine a video on any other topic making as big a splash so quickly. But I think much of its success is also tied to the underlying mystery surrounding the piece - is it really produced by a couple of Russians? Was it "professionally done"? (I've seen sites that suggest it was a stealth SNL piece.) What would it mean to the election if a VP candidate were the subject of sincere affection and/or mockery by Russian videomakers?
The truth is a bit more mundane, but still quite impressive. The creators of the video are four recent graduates of Middlebury College (three majoring in my department of Film and Media Culture) living in New York City. They told me about the video upon its release, and I've enjoyed monitoring its success. And I realized that the world of online video tends to be fairly anonymous, especially as videos are spreading. So I figured I would take advantage of the happenstance of my connection with Vlad and Boris to interview the creators and explore how they see their own practices and culture circulation.
Talking Transmedia: An Interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part III)
This is the third and final part of an interview with Jeff Gomez that I originally ran on my blog.
How important do you think hardcore fans are to the success of genre entertainment? How do such fans create value around your properties?
As exemplified by the efforts of many recent genre producers, the cultivation, validation and celebration of fandom are vital to the success of any genre rollout. It's interesting to note that two major genre releases in 2007, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and The Golden Compass were both released with either limited or no transmedia components designed to immerse a potential fan base into the fantastical worlds of the films--no one was indoctrinated into the fiction--and both failed spectacularly.
Genre fans are passionate. Passion is the least expensive and most powerful driver behind any endeavor. Passion can punch holes through the wall of noise that is media culture, it generates curiosity and leadership, and the passion of a base of fans can help to keep producers and creatives "honest"--forcing them to remain true to the core messages, themes, mythology and characterizations of the story world. Passion generates value, because it draws attention and is often quite infectious.
What do you see as the downsides of generating such passionate consumers?
On the other hand, passion can be blind and judgmental. Fan zeal can threaten to "box in" a property, potentially stunting its growth. It can generate negative "buzz" around a project, which can leak into media coverage and plant seeds of doubt in the general audience base. Despite the attachment of a well known director in George Miller for Warner Bros. upcoming Justice League super hero production, for example, many fans have expressed doubt around casting and story issues that have leaked to the fan media. These have raised concerns in the studio strong enough to postpone the start of production until after the Writers Guild of America strike ended. The delay allowed for the production to take a lower profile and for script and casting choices to be amended. Whether or not this will help the production remains to be seen.
Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part II)
What do you see as the challenges of generating content that appeals to both niche and mass publics at the same time?
Like any good story, content designed for genre-lovers or niche markets should contain strong characters, evocative issues and clear, accessible throughlines. Story arcs must be designed from the outset to feel complete and deliver on their promise.
Also importantly, the audience needs to be able to appreciate and enjoy the content as it is presented solely on the driving platform of the trans-media production. With Heroes, for example, the driving platform is the television series. Much of the success of the franchise hinges on the audience finding the show exciting, intelligible and complete.
What the producers of Heroes are doing quite well is in providing fans of the show with a far more expansive experience of the fictional universe of the show on the complementary or orbiting platforms of the trans-media production. This additional content is presented in the form of web sites, graphic novels, prose fiction, etc., and this material all takes place within the canon of the Heroes chronology. So fans are provided with the level of depth, verisimilitude, sophistication and complexity that they crave, but casual viewers are not required to seek it out to enjoy the show.
When the two approaches cross over, we have seen the potential for pop culture phenomena. The media's coverage of "The Lost Experience" for example, conveyed the fact that there was a greater architecture to the fictional universe of the Lost TV series than was originally suspected. The excitement generated by the transmedia components of the show helped to boost broad interest in it. The same can be said of similar approaches for both the Batman: The Dark Knight and Cloverfield feature films.
Also powerful on the home front, as families gather to watch Heroes, a teen fan of the show might recognize a peripheral character making her first appearance on a given night's episode as one he originally read about in the online comic. So our fan takes on the role of gatekeeper for the show, filling in family and friends on the backstory of the character, and giving them a greater appreciation of the show with his "exclusive" knowledge, and making the whole experience more entertaining.
In short, depth and complexity are built around the show, rather than weighing it down by presenting it front and center.
Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part I)
Jeff Gomez, the chief executive officer of Starlight Runner entertainment, spoke at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference last fall as part of a panel discussion on Cult Media, which also included transmedia creator Danny Bilson, Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, ; and Gordon Tichell from Walden Media, the company which produces the Narnia films. Not surprisingly, given I was moderator, the session quickly became a geek out festival mostly centered around issues of transmedia entertainment. You can enjoy the podcast of the event here.
As we were preparing for the session, we distributed a set of questions to the speakers, some of which were covered during the panel, some of which were not. Gomez recently wrote to send me his further reflections on many of those questions in the hopes to continue public conversation around recent developments in transmedia entertainment. I am running this on my blog and wanted to likewise cross-post it here on the C3 blog as well. Given that the C3 blog usually runs smaller pieces than mine, I thought I'd run a couple of sections of the interview today and more later this week.
First of all, though, here's a bio on Gomez:
As the Chief Executive Officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Jeff Gomez is a leading creator of highly successful fictional worlds. He is an expert at cross-platform intellectual property development and transmedia storytelling, as well as at extending niche properties such as toys, animation or video game titles into the global mass market.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (IV of IV)
This is the final portion of the interview I recently ran on my blog with Queensland University of Technology's Axel Bruns.
Is it appropriate to apply the same concepts to talk about our new roles as consumers/producers of culture and our shifting roles as citizens?
I think so, yes. It's not far to go from active cultural to active political participation, and we're seeing more examples of using the tools of produsage for political effect every day. Building in part on Pierre Levy's discussion of "molecular politics" in his Collective Intelligence, I've tried to develop a first rough sketch of this produsage politics - or perhaps produsage of politics - in my paper at the MiT5 conference last year, and extended this further for one of the later chapters in the book.
One thing, I think, is certain in this context: a produsage-based approach to politics would look significantly different from the current mass media-driven and ultimately industrial model of politics as it exists in the US, Australia, and many other developed nations. To bear any resemblance to produsage as it exists in other domains, to begin with, it would have to operate on a much more deliberative, open, and inclusive basis than political processes have operated during the height of the mass media age - and groups such as MoveOn in the US, and a href="http://getup.org.au/">GetUp in Australia may be early indications that such shifts are now being attempted by interested parties, if haltingly and uneasily.
One of the major obstacles to moving further along that road, however, are the mainstream media, who have oversimplified our understanding of politics to an eternal contest between left and right - this is politics as a sport, scored in opinion polls and delegate counts, and analysed from the sidelines by pundits and commentators. This leaves little room for nuance, for broad, constructive, and open-ended deliberation; such deliberation may take place (we hope) in parliamentary committees and party rooms, and (we know) in grassroots political communities from MoveOn to the central hubs of the political blogosphere, but the media play a very effective spoiler role that prevents these two sides from connecting successfully.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (III of IV)
Earlier today, I ran the first two installments of this interview with Queensland University of Technology's Axel Bruns, who discussed his core thesis about the blurring of the role of consumer and producer in the new cultural economy. In the final two posts, he extends this concept of "produsage" to explore its implications for knowledge production, citizenship, and learning, as well as provides us a glimpse into the innovative academic community which has informed his work. This interview originally ran in two parts over on my blog.
What are the implications of the produsage model for understanding how knowledge gets produced and circulated? You clearly are interested in this book in Wikipedia. What core insights can we take from Wikipedia that might be applied to other collaborative enterprises?
In the first place, perhaps, I think it would be great if Wikipedians themselves could draw some further insights from the way Wikipedia has developed so far, and better understand the drivers of its success. Its very success is a threat to its future survival, if it means that there is a growing disconnect between middle and upper levels of Wikipedia's administration and everyday users and contributors. The project has been remarkably resilient to internal and external threats, of course, but that doesn't mean that it will continue to weather any storm that comes its way. In particular, I would argue that Wikipedia should work to enshrine the prerequisites for produsage as absolutely fundamental, inalienable principles of the project, and protect them even against well-meaning suggestions for change. (That doesn't mean locking down its present modus operandi for all eternity, of course - but whatever changes are made must be made very carefully and with due consultation.)
The crucial question for Wikipedia and other produsage projects concerned with building and growing repositories of community knowledge is that of how to engage with those who are regarded as experts in their field, of course. Both sides of this debate have valid arguments in their favour, of course - people like Wikipedia dissident and Citizendium founder Larry Sanger point to the fact that clearly, different people do have different levels of knowledge about any given topic, while others believe that any a priori elevation of the contributor level of such experts (or ultimately, exclusion of non-experts) is unnecessary: if these people have superior knowledge and the sources to back it up, that knowledge should come through collective evaluation processes unscathed.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (II of IV)
This is the second part of an interview I conducted recently with QUT's Axel Bruns on my blog.
Your analysis emphasizes the value of "unfinished artifacts" and an ongoing production process. Can you point to some examples of where these principles have been consciously applied to the development of cultural goods?
My earlier work (my book Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, and various related publications) has focussed mainly on what we've now come to call 'citizen journalism' - and (perhaps somewhat unusually, given that so much of the philosophy of produsage ultimately traces back its lineage to open source) it's in this context that I first started to think about the need for a new concept of produsage as an alternative to 'production'.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (I of IV)
I have long regarded the Creative Industries folks at Queensland University of Technology to be an important sister program to what we are doing in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Like us, they are pursuing media and cultural studies in the context of a leading technological institution. Like us, they are adopting a cross-disciplinary approach which includes the possibility of productive exchange between the Humanities and the business sector. Like us, they are trying to make sense of the changing media landscape with a particular focus on issues of participatory culture, civic media, media literacy, and collective intelligence. The work which emerges there is distinctive -- reflecting the different cultural and economic context of Australia -- but it complements in many ways what we are producing through our program. I will be traveling to Queensland in June to continue to conversation.
Since this blog has launched, I have shared with you the reflections of three people currently or formerly affiliated with the QUT program -- Alan McKee; Jean Burgess ; and Joshua Green, who currently leads our Convergence Culture Consortium team. Today, I want to introduce you to a fourth member of the QUT group -- Axel Bruns. I presented this interview recently on my blog, but I wanted to share it here in a series of posts as well.
Thanks to my ties to the QUT community, I got a chance to read an early draft of Bruns's magisterial new book, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), and I've wanted for some time to be able to introduce this project to my readers. Bruns tackles so many of the topics which I write about on the blog on a regular basis -- his early work dealt extensively on issues of blogging and citizen journalism and he has important observations, here and in the book, about the future of civic media. He has a strong interest in issues of education and citizenship, discussing what we need to do to prepare people to more fully participate within the evolving cultural economy. As his title suggests, he is offering rich and nuanced case studies of many of the core "Web 2.0" sites which are transforming how knowledge gets produced and how culture gets generated at the present moment. He has absorbed, engaged with, built upon, and surpassed, in many cases, much of the existing scholarly writing in this space to produce his own original account for the directions our culture is taking.
In this interview, you will get a sense of the scope of his vision. In this interview, Bruns lays out his core concept of "produsage," explains why we need to adopt new terms to understand this new model of cultural production, and then explores this term's implications for citizenship and learning.
Countdown to ROFLcon: An Interview with its Organizers (4 of 4)
This is the final part of my interview with the organizers of ROFLCon.
I have spoken before with Kevin Driscoll, one of the organizers, about how it is a very specialized niche group that is being heavily represented. Can you speak a little to that? Do you see Roflcon as addressing a set of groups?
Christina Xu: This has been one of the most problematic things to me about planning the conference. At some point in the conference, I looked back and sort of realized that we were representing SUCH a niche-y group: almost all white, almost all male, almost all fitting in the "geek" subculture. This is weird for me because I'm not even white or male, but in the context of "internet culture" it didn't even occur to me that this demographic may not be representative for such a long time. But I guess it's not that weird, because this was the culture I sort of grew up on--it's the one I know the most about and identify the most with. So I think we did a really good job of covering all corners of that internet, but that's definitely not the internet that everyone is on.
Countdown to ROFLcon: An Interview with its Organizers (3 of 4)
This is the third part of my interview with the organizers of ROFLCon.
What about the people? What is it like trying to organize an academic conference around a largely non-academic list of panelists that may not have a lot of experience doing public (non-virtual) speaking? What were some unique considerations you had to take into account?
DIana Kimball: I think a lot of our guests were surprised to even be invited. There's still this holy grail of "real-world legitimacy"; even if you've gotten millions of views on YouTube, there's always this dream of being plucked out of a crowd and given a shot at something "real." I guess that's one of the main questions of this conference, and one of its main goals: what is "real" in an internet age?
Natalie Bau: Particularly with our keynote speakers, we tried to identify people who would do well with public speaking. Luckily, because so many of our keynotes are so invested in the internet, there are usually youtube videos which we can check out. I think we did have some questions about charisma early on. Over all though, I think we found people whose popularity on the internet really suggests that people want to hear what they will have to say.
Early on, we sort of just sent out a lot of emails asking people to come and we got over all, this really positive response from the community. However, a couple of people did ignore us - Jeph Jacques from questionable content comes to mind. A few months later, when we really started getting press people started asking us to be allowed to come instead. Its amazing how much reputation on the internet matters.
Countdown to ROFLcon: An Interview with its Organizers (2 of 4)
This is the second part of my interview with the organizers of ROFLCon.
Why do you think something like ROFLCon is necessary? Are there gaps in the current discourse around online/digital cultures that you hope to fill?
Christina Xu: I mean, these days my personal goal has shifted to not failing out of school...but otherwise no =P Often times I can be found raising a cautionary voice in the conference because I'm always really afraid that the convention/conference balance will be broken and we'll get too academic-y. I really don't want to alienate the internet community we're trying to give a voice to. If anything, my involvement with the conference planning has only emphasized that more.
But basically, yeah: internet culture is interesting in that a large number of the people involved in its creation are highly educated and really well-spoken, but no one had really asked their opinions on why this Internet thing got as crazy as it did. Also, we really wanted to meet Goatse in real life....sort of.
Countdown to ROFLcon: An Interview with its Organizers (1 of 4)
As many of you already know, on April 25th and 26th, MIT will be hosting ROFLcon, a convention/conference hybrid about internet memes and online popularity: what it is, how it work, and what it can do. Even in the growing tradition of events that are functionally both fan conventions and academic conferences (and the argument might be made that academic conferences are their own form of fan convention anyway), I doubt that there has ever been anything, for better or worse, quite like ROFLcon. The guests are a mix of academics, advocates, artists, and other people that don't fit neatly into any of those categories who did stuff that somehow made them famous on the internet. The panel topic range from civic media to meme infrastructure to advertising and marketing (I'll be moderating that panel, for those who plan to be in attendance). There is an entire panel devoted just to LOLcats, as well as a number of unmoderated talks, screenings, and presentations, including our very own Joshua Green's analysis of participatory systems and YouTube, and fellow CMSer Kevin Driscoll presenting on department favorite, Soulja Boy. Not to mention, with Brawndo as one of the sponsors, we will all be uncomfortably energetic.
Given the unique nature of the event, its guestlist, and its history, I managed to get a few of its insanely overworked organizers -- Christina Xu, Natalie Bau, Diana Kimball, Dean Jansen, and Rachel Popkin -- to take some time out from watching YouTube videos to answer some questions.
Give me an origin myth! Tell me how ROFLcon began: when you sat down and decided to put all of this together, what were you hoping to accomplish? What was the impetus for organizing something structured like this around internet memes? Why did each of you choose to get involved?
Children as Storytellers: The Making of TikaTok (Part Two)
I recently shared with you an interview with CMS alum Neal Grigsby and MIT Media Lab alum Orit Zuckerman, two of the key players in a new startup company, TikaTok, which is working to encourage children to create their own books and share them with other young readers. In this followup post, also cross-posted from my blog, we get a bit more personal as the two share their sense of how their MIT education contributed to their current projects.
Your site also seems to promote opportunities for collaboration between young authors and illustrators. Is this a way of introducing young people to the world of collective intelligence?
Neal: It certainly is, and although it was always on our road map to add this feature, necessity made us move it up the schedule. Our users demanded it. Drawing, and getting an illustration up on the site, can be a creative and technical challenge for many. The team went back and forth for a very long time about the possibility of providing a digital drawing tool before finally coming to the conclusion that it was a bad idea for several reasons. But if you could use the illustrations that other kids had already provided and pledged to the community, if only until a time that your own drawings would be ready, it would really help.
Children as Storytellers: The Making of TikaTok (Part One)
Considering the interests the Consortium has in issues such as participatory culture and innovative distribution platforms, I thought they might be interested in the first part of an interview I just ran over on my blog. I will share the second part here on the C3 blog shortly as well.
When our son was three years old, we began the practice of having him compose stories for us before bed. We traded off nights. Some nights we'd read him a story. Some nights he would make up a story which we typed out on the computer for him, word for word, without changes. Sometimes he would take a few friendly prods to get moving but we were very careful to preserve the structure and details of his imagination. We would print out the stories and have him draw pictures to illustrate them. We would then photocopy the whole and send them to his grandparents on birthdays and other major holidays as a time capsule of his creative life.
Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (V of V)
This is the final part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.
Sam Ford: WWE has been increasingly working to expand its mobile services. Where do you feel this might take the product in the future, and how will mobile fit in to the future of pro wrestling, in your mind?
Jim Ross: I think WWE Mobile is on the same path that the Internet created for our company. I think it's a new horizon. It's a new way of getting your message out. Telephones are becoming all-purpose, and now iPhones provide computers in your phones. Phones are not just something to talk to someone with today; they are now information sources. As the technology continues to evolve, the WWE is smart to be on the front end.
Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (IV of V)
This is the third part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.
Sam Ford: In addition to your work on WWE.com, you also run your own blog, J.R. What are the differences between writing on the WWE's official site and writing on your own site?
Jim Ross: What I write on WWE.com is a little different than what I wrote on my own blog on JRsBarBQ.com. That's done intentionally. I look at it as apples and oranges because there's a major difference in what I write on those two venues. I write my column every week for WWE.com, and they tell me that it does well and that people enjoy reading it. I believe that's because I infuse that column with humor and entertainment.
Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (III of V)
This is the second part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.
Sam Ford: J.R., what do you feel are the biggest changes in marketing and producing professional wrestling in the Internet era?
Jim Ross: I think one of the biggest changes would probably be the timeliness with which information is provided. When I was a kid, before cable television was invented, we got our one hour wrestling show in our area, and that was it. We got one hour a week on our local show.
Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (II of V)
This is the first part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.
Sam Ford: J.R., you have been involved with a variety of projects for WWE 24/7 On Demand. Can you tell us a little about the motivation behind that initiative?
Jim Ross: I have a theory that you really can't navigate the future if you don't understand the past. I think that from just a corporate standpoint and a young sports entertainer standpoint, it's really a great option for them to see how the business was and how it has evolved.
Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (I of V)
Over the next five entries, I'm presenting the transcript of a recent question and answer session I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment Monday Night RAW commentator and professional wrestling icon Jim Ross, known affectionately to wrestling fans as "Good 'Ol J.R."
J.R. has been a fixture in the wrestling world for decades now, growing up in the territory era and serving as a referee, an announcer, and a pivotal part of the organizations of Leroy McGuirk and later Bill Watts in the center of the country. J.R. worked for several years for Ted Turner's now defunct World Championship Wrestling and has been a key part of the WWE, as both an on-air personality and a pivotal behind-the-scenes force, since he joined the company in 1993.
When I taught a class on American professional wrestling last spring, the WWE partnered with me to officially sponsor the class, which included sending J.R. our way to visit with the class on two different sessions, as well as participate in a public question and answer event that has later been made available as a podcast. That podcast is available here.
Recut, Reframe, Recycle: An Interview with Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jassi, Part II
Earlier this week, I cross-posted the first part of an interview with media scholar Pat Aufderheide of the Center for Social Media and Law Professor Peter Jaszi, both from American University. Now that the second half of the interview is available on my blog as well, I also wanted to share it with the Consortium's blog readers.
Your team has had good luck developing a set of guidelines to provide more clarity to documentary producers about when their deployment of borrowed materials is protected under current legal understandings. Can you describe some of the impact that this report has had? What lessons might we take from those experiences as we look at the challenges confronting amateur media makers?
PA: Documentary filmmakers found their hands tied creatively, without access to fair use. So in November 2005 they developed a consensus statement, Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, through their national organizations and with our coordination, which describes four typical situations that come up for them, and what the principles of fair use are, along with the limitations on those principles. For instance, the Statement shows that in critiquing a particular piece of media, you can use that media to illustrate your point. The limitation is that you can't use more of it than makes your point. Common sense and good manners require that you let people know what it is (provide credit).
Recut, Reframe, Recycle: An Interview with Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jassi, Part I
I posted this entry on my blog yesterday from the west coast, having flown out to California to participate in 24/7 A DYI Video Summit being hosted by the University of Southern California. The event brings together videomakers from a range of different communities -- everything from fan video producers to activists who use Youtube to get their messages out to the world. I am thrilled to be participating on a plenary panel on the future of DYI Video, featuring Yochai Benkler, John Seely Brown, Joi Ito, and Lawrence Lessig, hosted by Howard Rheingold.
As I was getting ready to head out to the conference, I conducted an interview with media scholar Pat Aufderheide (of the Center for Social Media) and Law Professor Peter Jaszi, both from American University, and I thought I would share it with the Consortium's readers as well.
I've long been interested in the work Pat and Peter have been doing promoting fair use in relation to a range of different communities of practice -- including documentary filmmakers, media literacy instructors, and producers of online video content. We featured some of the work they were doing through the Media in Transition conference at MIT last year.
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (5 of 5)
This is the fifth of a five-part series of an interview I conducted in March 2006 with the pastor of a small Baptist church in Kentucky about how ministers use the media at a local level and the art of oratory in preaching. Rev. Darrell Belcher is the past or Echols General Baptist Church in Echols, Ky.
Sam Ford: Do you think the Internet, since it can stream audio and video, provides new opportunities for delivering sermons?
Darrell Belcher: I think we have a wonderful opportunity here, if it is used correctly. Television, radio, and the Internet broadens a pastor's horizons immensely. You can think about outreach here and can potentially have this be a religious realm, if you use it correctly.
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (4 of 5)
This is the fourth of a five-part series of an interview I conducted in March 2006 with the pastor of a small Baptist church in Kentucky about how ministers use the media at a local level and the art of oratory in preaching. Rev. Darrell Belcher is the past or Echols General Baptist Church in Echols, Ky.
Sam Ford: Do you find preaching on radio and/or television more restrictive than a regular sermon?
Darrell Belcher: I feel equally comfortable doing radio as I do delivering a message live. When you are with a congregation, you don't have any time limits or anything like that, so you can deliver live better than on radio because you don't have to figure out how to squeeze a message into 15 or 20 minutes. You don't have time to stop and deliberate on something and then start back. You just have to put it out there fast and get it out there. In front of a congregation, you have time to play with things a little bit while you are preaching.
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (3 of 5)
This is the third of a five-part series of an interview I conducted in March 2006 with the pastor of a small Baptist church in Kentucky about how ministers use the media at a local level and the art of oratory in preaching. Rev. Darrell Belcher is the past or Echols General Baptist Church in Echols, Ky.
Sam Ford: Tell me about your experience in preaching on the radio.
Darrell Belcher: Radio is completely different. For radio, you go into a studio. They sit you in a sound room, just you alone, or maybe they'll bring in a group of singers first who will sing, and then they put you in a sound room by yourself. They turn the lights on, and you know you are live on the air and what amount of time has been allotted to you. You have a time when you can start and a time you have to finish. It's not like preaching to the congregation; it's a lot harder, standing in there all alone, just preaching to the walls. It's a lot harder preaching like that than it is preaching at a church somewhere. You can't have any contact with anyone but the four walls in the studio. Of course, they have a little window there you can look through and see the person running the switchboard or whatever it might be out there. They give you your cues of when to start and when to stop, so you have to keep your mind on that, too. It's completely different than going into a church or anything like that.
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (2 of 5)
This is the second of a five-part series of an interview I conducted in March 2006 with the pastor of a small Baptist church in Kentucky about how ministers use the media at a local level and the art of oratory in preaching. Rev. Darrell Belcher is the past or Echols General Baptist Church in Echols, Ky.
Sam Ford: Darrell, how frequently do pastors in your position deliver sermons?
Darrell Belcher: I have done radio shows, and I used to do some things years ago for Channel 13 (a local station in Bowling Green, Ky.) There was a lot of filming done of revivals I have preached and messages I delivered back in Louisville years ago. 15 or 20 years ago, I preached a lot of revivals. I was healthy, so I travelled a lot. I would sometimes preach five or six revivals in a row, without stopping, plus pastoring a church in between. It was hard to travel, and you had to take off work if you had a regular job most of the time. I always tried to keep my preaching in front of my job. WHen I worked for General Motors, it was always a little harder to manage my work schedule with pastoring and revivals. But, I worked for about 20 years in my own business, so I could plan my work schedule around revivals, and have employees work for me while I was gone.
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (1 of 5)
Our C3 graduate students, as part of their course on media theory and methods with Henry Jenkins this semester, have been working on an assignment to interview a media producer of some sort. My recent post on Jesus 2.0 reminded me of my own assignment I did for Henry's class last year, when I interviewed a longtime Baptist preacher as my assignment.
I returned to the original transcript of the interview and thought I would include it here on the C3 blog, as it focuses on how religion has long dealt with how content fits into multiple media forms, and how to adapt messages for various audiences. As religion, and all media, are struggling with how to best adapt messages for a new media space--which we actually call "new media" in this case--it's interesting to see how individual pastors on a local level have been considering these changes in relation to the radio, televised preaching, etc.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)
This is the final section of a four-part series featuring an interview with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, who helped produce tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life.
Sam Ford: Electric Sheep is using this collaboration for the launch of OnRez, your viewer of the Second Life universe. What is it about the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration you all are producing that made this the best opportunity to launch OnRez?
Daniel Krueger: I can't speak for our software development team, but I think that it's always been something that Electric Sheep wanted to do, as far as making an easier interface for navigating Second Life. It's not traditionally a very intuitive space for new users, so we wanted to make something simple for new users to come in with. We launched it with this project because we wanted to provide the easiest way for CSI:NY viewers who have never used Second Life to be able to come into the virtual world. It's really a perfect opportunity to launch OnRez.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)
The following is the third part of an interview series being published today regarding tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the motivations, implementation, and plans for extending the popular crime drama series into a virtual world.
Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company's involvement in this project?
Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)
What follows is an interview with Electric Sheep Company producers Daniel Krueger and Damon Taylor about their involvement in the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration that launches with tonight's episode of the crime scene investigation drama on CBS. For a background on the crossover, look at this post from earlier today.
Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that's taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?
Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)
For those who haven't heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.
CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab's Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (4 of 4)
This is the final part of a four-part interview with the creators of a fan-led grassroots movement to raise money for charities within the Supernatural fan community. I have been publishing my e-mail discussion with three organizers for the group: Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What has been the impact of using various social networking sites to help spread the word of Fandom Rocks?
Dana: Utilizing as many networking sites as we are familiar with has been important because we know each site has a subsection of the viewing audience. Some people participate in more than one site, but often there is a specific site you spend more time at than others. We wanted to make sure we were reaching as many Supernatural fans as possible. However, we know it is also important to reach fans away from networking sites - potential fans on other forums and especially offline. We have plenty of work ahead of us to reach new fans. Recently, a fan on the CW Lounge forum responded to my post that she hadn't heard of Fandom Rocks before that moment, despite my posting there three times prior. This showed me we still needed to work hard at spreading the news of Fandom Rocks if we were missing fans who participated regularly at the network's Web site.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (3 of 4)
This is the third part of a four-part interview with the organizers of Fandom Rocks, a fan organized grassroots initiative within the Supernatural fan community which sponsors a variety of charities. This interview is conducted with three organizers for the group, Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What activities have you all engaged with so far?
Dana: We just completed our first campaign. Just over $2,000 was raised via fan donations and Cafe Press purchases. I traveled to Lawrence to visit the community shelter and give them our donation in person. While there, I also visited the soup kitchen across the street where shelter guests often receive their meals if the shelter is not serving. I also visited the humane society anticipating they would be one of the charities fans chose for the next campaign.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (2 of 4)
This is the second part of an interview with Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney, the three creators of Fandom Rocks, a fan-led organization from the Supernatural fan community dedicated to raising money for charities.
Sam: Why Supernatural? What is it about this show and this fandom in particular that encourages this type of initiative?
Dana: I think Supernatural falls into that category of show where it has an extremely loyal fan following, but it is on a lesser-known network with an imminent threat of cancellation. Fans want to keep their show, but they also want other people to learn about it and enjoy it as much as they do. Starting campaigns for charity accomplishes the goal of making more potential viewers aware of Supernatural, and it has the added benefit of making a difference in the world. It shows the "offline" world that online communities are formed by caring, intelligent individuals, much like themselves.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (1 of 4)
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Dana Stodgel, representing an interesting group called "Fandom Rocks," which Stodgel described as "a fan-created initiative to support charities and raise interest in the CW show Supernatural." She thought that the work they were doing might be of interest to the type of issues we look into here at the Convergence Culture Consortium.
As I examined the work of Fandom Rocks further through their Web site, I thought that the best approach might just be to do a multi-part interview with the organizers of Fandom Rocks here on the C3 blog, to get a better idea of the work they do, what motivates them, and how the activities a group like Fandom Rocks participate in can be understood in relation to the show, the network, the fan community, and the charities they work with.
This interview is conducted with Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What are each of your backgrounds, both in relation to the fan community, the network, and the pro-social purpose of Fandom Rocks?
Dana: I am a fairly quiet member of the fan community, contributing mostly to discussions with fellow fans on LiveJournal and some graphics. I do not have any connection to the CW network. As for the pro-social purpose of Fandom Rocks, I have been involved in other fandom charity events and participated as a volunteer and fundraiser for organizations offline as well, so it was another opportunity to give back.
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators, Part IV of IV
Here is the final part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here, the second part here, and the third part here.
JM: Zack mentioned that you decided you didn't want advertising - why not? I can think of a lot of reasons that might play into it, but I'm curious how it particularly shaped your plan. And given that, are you by default investing a ton of time and a bit of money into a project that cannot be "monetized" (to use an industry buzz word), at least initially?
ZL: We decided that we didn't want advertising for a few hard-to-explain reasons, but primarily because we wanted people to know we weren't making this for the money and that is a labor of love for both of us. So to answer your question, we are indeed sinking a ton of time and money into something that we're not trying to monetize. Whether it finds itself monetized in the end remains to be seen...
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (3 of 4)
Here is the third part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here and the second part here.
JM: What drew you specifically to the serialized format? And how much in advance have you produced & scripted? Is there room for change in the story and style based on feedback, or do you feel pretty locked in to your vision of where it's going?
ZL: We spent a long time in preproduction. We thought a lot about the themes we wanted to explore and went through several major rewrites. It was pretty painful sometimes, but we always made the decision to go back and rewrite when something didn't feel right, which retrospectively was always the right decision. I say always because it happened more than we'd probably like to admit; we took a lot of time to craft our ideas and to really pare them down to the best they could be.
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (2 of 4)
Here is the second part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here.
JM: So why an "urban western?" What brought you to that genre mixture, and where there specific films, programs, or other media that inspired you to try to create such a fictional world? The threads of influence that I see weaving through the project are The Wire (in part because I know Ryan's devotion to the series), early Spike Lee, Firefly, and of course classic John Ford/Howard Hawks/spaghetti Western films. What else helped shape your aesthetic?
RBK: Zack had been talking about writing a Western--I'll let him talk about his influences there--and I'd had an idea in college for a thesis on "hip-hop as the new American Western." In terms of ownership of property, personal freedom, living by the gun, disregard of the law, etc., I felt that hip-hop's relationship with American culture today was very similar to that of the Western fifty years ago (or thirty years ago with the Spaghetti Western). I never wrote that thesis--I wasn't alive during either of those eras anyway, so I couldn't really speak to the cultural climate--but once Zack and I started talking about internet video and Westerns, the idea came right back.
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (1 of 4)
This July, Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman launched an ambitious online serialized film called The West Sidehere. Rather than trying to generate attention on YouTube, these two young filmmakers, who met at their day jobs at MTV, are trying to offer something distinctive on their own terms, creating a visually rich and leisurely-paced genre mixture of the urban Western. The first episode has been up for around a month, and due to some technical challenges of no-budget filmmaking, the next episode won't be out for a few weeks.
To fill the gap, I conducted an online interview with Ryan, who is a former student of mine, and Zack, discussing how they see their project fitting into the online video moment and broader possibilities of independent filmmaking. The filmmakers speak to many of the issues surrounding convergent media--serialized storytelling, innovative distribution strategies, viral promotion--but places them within the context of ambitious creators trying to make something new rather than make a quick splash. Be sure watch the first episode to get a sense of the project and their combination of ambition and imagination - and keep an eye on these emerging filmmakers!
I am running four weekly installments of the interview in the Consortium's C3 Weekly Update, but I thought I would put the interview segments here after they appear in the newsletter as well.
This is the final part of the four-part series featuring an interview with WiredSafety's Parry Aftab.
Sam Ford: If the government's involvement is limited, what are your views on how to manage self-regulation?
Parry Aftab: The industry needs to do a lot of self-regulation because they have the power to respond quickly and create standards that will be enforced. Further, they should want to, because their insurance and banks and venture capitalists will expect them to answer to these questions when these social networking companies start getting popular. That's just good business to be prepared for these safety issues. Whenever the business environment require the companies involved to be smarter and more careful, I am always for self-regulations. I think MySpace had the best of intentions, and we worked with them for free. A lot of people are safer because we did that. The key to keep in mind is that these companies, for the most part, will do the right thing and the safe thing. No one wants to have something terrible happen through their site, and the people who work for these companies are often parents themselves, and we've all been kids ourselves once. A lot of what needs to be done for safety really are simple things these companies can do, simpler than many people think.
This is the third part of a four-part series with Parry Aftab, the Executive Director of the WiredSafety organization.
Sam Ford: Are you still working with MySpace?
Parry Aftab: When Rupert Murdoch took over MySpace, everything was put on hold with everyone for about 10 months while they were tring to figure out what to do. I personally wasn't very pleased with the company's responsiveness once Murdoch took over. I work with MySpace still, but we don't work with them in the same way we had before. They've hired their own lawyers now, and they are working with all the politically correct groups to work with. No one is embedded with them like we were in those days, but our mark is still there.
This is the second part of an interview with Parry Aftab, Executive Director of WiredSafety, an organization which focuses on safety issues related to children on the Internet and particularly on social networks.
Sam Ford: Tell us about what has now grown into WiredSafety and the work that you all do.
Parry Aftab: We are a network of 12,000 unpaid volunteers from 76 countries around the world. We have no offices; we operate virtually. None of us are paid a dime, including me. And we all come together to do different aspects of the job. I had personally been interested in Internet safety before I saw the picture of the little girl. I had gotten involved in writing a book on Internet safety and also did a piece on CNN. At the time, my argument was that you could protect children on the Internet, but it requires a little more of a thoughtful response and not knee-jerk reactions to just shut the technologies down. I self-published a book on these issues that ended up becoming a bible on Internet safety for some called A Parent's Guide to the Internet.
My early days were spent working to protect the Internet to well-meaning people, some of them in Congress, who were interested in curtailing or even shutting down the Internet. When I saw that image, though, I went from working primarily on protecting the Internet to protecting children from horrible things, such as online child pornography, cyber bullying, and a range of other issues. My work focused on trying to keep children from being sexually exploited and trafficked online, for instance.
Over the next few posts, I want to present an interview I conducted over the weekend with Parry Aftab, a leader in Internet safety movements for children who heads up the WiredSafety volunteer organization. Aftab, a lawyer, has worked with a variety of companies--including MySpace--to help develop their strategies on how to develop child safety protections and privacy settings while still maintaining as many of the features of the network as possible.
I first got introduced to Parry through a New York Times story by Brad Stone, in which she was quoted as saying that no good could come of children using Webcams. At the time, I wrote, "The problem is that people go to these extremes when discussing the issue. It has to be all bad because of child safety fears, with no balancing discussion of the many ways high schoolers could use tools such as video chat and Webcams."
Later, I received comments here on the blog from Aftab, in a post on DOPA that was part of my Access vs. Censorship series.