I have been lucky to know Jim Shomos for nearly five years over here in Oz. The first time I met him I was actually mentoring him at a two day networking event in Melbourne and he had a new project called ‘Forget the Rules‘. Like most ‘pushing-the-envelope’ project discussions at these emergent media development labs around the world, they tend towards a list of ‘feature wish lists, bells and whistles’ that are unlikely to see the light of day – not because they are particularly blue sky but more about the time, effort and funding required to get perceived ‘unknowns’ off the ground. So I was delighted to see Jim and his colleague Paul Baiguerra persevere during 2004/5 and create this first, notable innovative production.
It was doubly groundbreaking. Firstly for the hectic production task behind the tri-weekly simulcast on mobile, satellite TV and broadband web and secondly and most importantly as they were starting to dabble in an area I now call Social TV – TV-type content across platform and where the audience are more participative. FTR went beyond the basic vote for what should happen next each week as they also included viewer contributions – plot lines, props, music, script even physical appearances. Needless to say FTR went onto win awards (eg: Best Interactive Format 2006 MIPCOM Mobile & Internet TV Awards, Cannes, France) and a 2nd series.
I have since invited Jim to be a regular mentor on the team of 8 or so on my LAMP @ AFTRS residential labs and he brought a real ‘make-it-happen’ producer attitude yet was always willing to consider anything ‘out there’ for his own ideas. Once or twice though he demonstrated considerable apprehension and disbelief at myself and others evangelising about games and virtual worlds as a potential ‘new hybrid playground’ (eg: Mixed Reality Perfect Storm). So I was delighted when, a few months ago at a LAMP seminar, he rather non-chalantly (as is his way) said ‘oh I am doing a series with writer Clayton Jacobson that uses a game engine as background and seamlessly integrates live action into it’. OK that’s new for you!
Critically they had found a real reason to use ‘game environments’. Rather than develop traditional machinima (my post – machinima rivals animation) where its ‘all’ virtual and the ‘game story characters’ take centre stage, this allows them to tell more ‘accessible’ stories containing ‘real’ actors. Even more so they can develop much bigger stories than the usual ‘fare’ of low budget Australian drama or comedy by utilising a range of almost unlimited settings. Also, like Forget the Rules, they can produce it all very rapidly – and iteratively I suspect (I hope to pop down and see the production next week). The project is called Mordy Koots – another episodic short form comedy, but with a major production differentiator. Here is their trailer just put up on YouTube.
Now it is one thing doing a cool trailer video (which Jim has been touting around) but another to secure on-going funding, build relationships with the games company Ubisoft, attract broadcast partners and actually set up the ‘new’ production up for real – and, for a new property vs relying on extending an already well known media brand. This is where Jim and his partners really excel and is something you don’t see from many ’emerging’ media folk who tend to either copy trusted existing formats from elsewhere in the world, or end up creating ‘broadcast’ interactivity (CD Roms on the web!). Jim gets his head down and truly try’s something different. Here is a press release from Deb Fryers I just received that gives some more insight.
MORDY KOOTS SECURES NINEMSN AS EXCLUSIVE BROADCAST PARTNER
Today MORDY KOOTS Producer, Jim Shomos announced ninemsn as the exclusive Australian broadcast partner for the first series of MORDY KOOTS, the groundbreaking, movie and console game hybrid known as a MOGIE*.
“With ninemsn’s audience of nearly 10 million Australians each month, it is an ideal platform to screen the Mordy Koots series. We look forward to setting a blueprint for how entertaining narrative comedy can work for content makers, online distributors, brands and most importantly, Mordy Koots’ fans,” said Jim Shomos. Todd Forest, ninemsn’s Director of Content and Audience Experience, said: “Online video has grown rapidly in Australia in recent years with ninemsn currently streaming an average of 11 million videos per month. We consistently strive to find new and unique content for our audience at ninemsn and we are thrilled to be a part of such a creative, locally produced series which brings together gaming, online video and great Australian talent.”
“This project is an exciting convergence between traditional filmmaking and digital technologies,” said Martha Coleman, Head of Development at Screen Australia. “MORDY KOOTS is innovative both in form and distribution strategy. More to the point, it promises to be great content from a team who know how to make audiences laugh.”
MORDY KOOTS is created by Writer/Director Clayton Jacobson (Kenny)) and is a character driven comedy series for digital broadcast starring Shane Jacobson (Kenny, Charlie & Boots). The 10 x 3min episodes combine the realistic visual backgrounds and scenarios of Blazing Angels (Ubisoft’s- WW2 air force console game) with live action performances shot on green screen.
MORDY KOOTS delivers a unique look and original snack-sized entertainment built around the endearing – and soon to be legendary – MORDY KOOTS. Soon, even the wind will know his name…Production of Mordy Koots is fully funded by Screen Australia and will commence shooting Monday 28th September 2009.
Here is Jim talking about FTR and Mordy Koots at two recent LAMP seminars. The first from one on Machinima and the second on Innovation and Form (click the arrows to step between them)
[pro-player width=’480′ height=’252′ type=’mp4′]http://lamp.edu.au/podcast/lssm_machy_jim.mp4,lamp.edu.au/podcast/lssm_innov_jim.mp4%5B/pro-player%5D
BTW I am not totally sold on the MOGIE term, (sounds a little like BOGIE?!) a bit contrived, but what I do like is that their production methodology will be adopted by more and more great storytellers following in Jim, Clayton and other’s footsteps. For those following, there are many great game worlds to draw on. What I would really like to see is live action, in-game that extends and/or integrates more closely with the narrative foundations of the game itself – even a dual game/live action character sort of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ style series. The concept of using game background and compositing in live action is not new of course and there have been other examples recently (and indeed over the years). One of the most notables include ‘Escape from City 17″ from the Purchase Brothers.
Filmed guerilla style. No crew. First two episodes made on a $500 budget, not including previous capital. Valve (creators of Half Life) flew the brothers out to Seattle last year. and mentioned they were ‘blown away’ by the project on Steam.
1.5 Million hits in three days. 2 million in a week. #1 Top Rated video of all time on YouTube in one day. Stayed at #1 for a month.
I was going to put other examples but want to let Mordy Koots take the limelight on this post – highlight Australian innovation. Well just one then! Even 16 years ago we had companies like Cyan producing Myst which had increasingly more and more live action sequences running in real time while you played the game. Myst versions 2,3,4 & 5 used this technique to really move the story along and here is a little walkthrough (in french!) of Myst IV: Revelations to give you a taste of that. Ahead of its time?
The key in this new form is to have respect for the game itself and not to fall into the trap of using these ‘virtual sets’ as locations for locations sake. Just as you wouldn’t normally produce a comedy film at an ex-concentration camp, don’t poke fun at game worlds where potentially millions immerse themselves regularly. It is all too easy for non-gameplaying ‘filmmakers’ to do a ‘spinal tap’ dig at games and their players – that is a dangerous road to travel if you want to make it sustainable.
But the future is bright for storytellers like Jim and others who are open to using the vast armoury of story environments that are afforded by games and also social virtual worlds. The melding of games and films will come from two directions. Live action moving into game worlds like Mordy is one direction and of course CG & games becoming ultra photorealistic (think Beowulf x 10) the other direction. Finally the real opportunity here is to link these episodic stories with actual game-play. So stories told in-world are inextricably linked to and from the live action ‘cinematics’. This is where the audience can truly see the settings in the linear shows and then go and explore them and their embedded stories for themselves. Who knows perhaps Jim is already planning a kind of Mordy Koots / Forget the Rules hybrid – where game players can influence the story, the setting and the production of the live action ‘GameComps’ ? And naturally in the near future rather than watching this as ‘flat video’ you would watch the live action characters ‘in’ the game itself, happening around you! But that’s for another year.
What do you think of this new kind of filmmaking?