Happy New Year, y’all! It’s the first Five Questions of 2011! Since winning last year’s Streamy Award for Best Writing of a Drama, Compulsions creator Bernie Su has quit his day job to focus full-time on projects in the digital space: He recently wrote an installment of Tony Valenzuela’s anthology series BlackBoxTV and contributed upcoming episodes to the final season of Elevator. Below, he takes his life into his hands by dissing ninjas (sort of) and gives his thoughts on the future balance of power in the web content world.
1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?
The lack of definition, accessibility, and value of metrics.
We’ve all heard “what is a view” and “what is the value of a view,” but I’m also thinking steps beyond just views. What about a video embed and it’s value? What is a “retweet” really worth? A “like” or a “share” on Facebook? How easily trackable and accessible are these stats and what is the value of all of them? All these stats have value, some more than others, but right now they’re just undefined and many times inaccessible.
I’ll give you a personal recent example. For the episode of BlackBoxTV I wrote back in December I can go on my Facebook wall and see that seven of my friends posted the YouTube link on their walls — but I only see that because they’ve specifically tagged me in their re-posts. I can also go to each post and see the level of engagement (likes and comments), but I really have no easy way of seeing if anyone else (friends or not) has re-posted/shared the episode on their own walls and not tagged me.
I know there may be privacy issues, but I don’t need to see who exactly has posted the video, just the number of times that YouTube link has been shared with likes and comments. Statistics like these should have incredible value to any type of online campaign, whether it be branded, studio, or independent.
2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?
I’ll go with two:
“Webisode.” Hate it, always will. I do understand, though still dislike, its use in defining web content that is derivative of existing longer-form content (TV or film). The word just makes my skin crawl when I hear it to define original short form content on the web. They don’t call them Telesodes and they didn’t call it Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Moviesode VI.
“Ninja.” Specifically its use in describing how someone can do everything in a given practice. e.g “Social Media Ninja,” “Marketing Ninja.” I’ve always thought of ninjas as these covert agents/assassins without morals and honor who would do whatever it takes — lie, cheat, sabotage, poison, back stab — to get things done. A ninja of anything doesn’t sound like something the industry needs more of as we try to legitimize. Also if you’re really a ninja of anything, why would you announce it to the world?
3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)
I’d put $15 million into an advertising network that is specifically working with independent video creators that already have a significant audience to monetize against — a network that would help them raise the CPMs they are getting or even attach branding.
I’d put $20 million into several distribution studios that are collecting, nurturing, and pushing out content (like Machinima.com).
I’d put the remaining $15 million into companies that are doing app development focusing on interactive video content.
4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?
Future First Person Shooter, by Freddie Wong. From what I can tell it’s his most viewed video ever (BY FAR) and it’s only been out a few weeks. It spoofs Call of Duty: Black Ops and the attention to detail is impressive. Considering that Freddie has also had great videos this year with Andy Whitfield (Spartacus: Blood and Sand), Shenae Grimes (90210) and Kevin Pollak, it goes to show you that star power doesn’t compare to tying into an audience as large as first person shooters, especially using the biggest selling game of the year.
Also, Mama, a short film by Andres Muschietti. This is actually pretty old, but I was showing some filmmaker friends of mine this as a great example of absolutely gripping and thrilling short form content (which I am a huge fan of). It’s gore-free but still incredibly intense. So turn the lights off and turn the volume up!
5. WILD-CARD: In the traditional television world, the writer is in charge of the creative vision for a project. In the film world, the writer is subordinate under the director and producers. What’s the status of the writer in the new media world today, and how do you think it might evolve in the future?
It’s hard to say since most new media shows have the same people directing and writing, so it varies from project to project. It really comes down to who is the producer with the creative control.
Today you see that a vast majority of scripted (especially serialized) web content is shot all at once. Meaning before you start production, you have the entire season/feature/whatever all written out. You then shoot everything in one production run, release it over a block of time, and wait a while (if not forever) for the next run.
In scripted television the writer’s control comes as a necessity because the episodes are shot week to week, and at any given time you have four or six episodes at different states of production. The same time a specific series is shooting Episode 5, they’re prepping to shoot Episode 6, they’re editing Episode 4, they’re polishing the final draft on Episode 7, and they’re writing the first draft of Episode 8. It’s very much a machine because it has to be, production is ongoing and absolutely cannot stop.
For the future, as more scripted shows get bigger and locked into longer release schedules — e.g. weekly content over 24 weeks — while factoring in possible interactivity and being reactive to audiences, you’ll see that the creative visions will have to reside with the writers, just to keep up with production.
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