Stick your leg out in the streets of Adelaide and you are likely to trip over someone who’ll tell you they have an excellent idea for a short film.
If in the next few years you find yourself with a mobile that supports video, wave your phone about in the air and you’ll be just as likely to catch one of them. miniSeries is a project providing four teams of digital media artists and filmmakers within South Australia with $15 000 worth of project funding to produce “short films” or episodic storylines to be delivered in a series of installments to a mobile phone. miniSeries feeds into a nation-wide initiative called Mobile Journeys—a program of exhibitions, live events, public workshops, and production funding—as well as master-classes with renowned creative teams such as the-phone-book.ltd (UK) and AWARE (Fin.)
For the teams that received funding and are in production now, the challenge is to produce an engaging narrative experience for a small hand-held screen that is both episodic in nature and amounts to a total duration of five minutes or less. Teams may use any combination of image, text, film, animation and sound, as well as explore the multifaceted relationships with audiences and locations that an interactive mobile device can offer.
M.net consortium, based in Adelaide, will assist each of the teams in choosing the appropriate technologies for each production. The four creative teams have the opportunity to make use of M.net’s 3G mobile network to test the delivery of each story. Paul Daly is M.net’s Director of Innovation, and has played a key role alongside the corporation in facilitating the use of M.net’s 3G test-bed, technical support and consultation for 3G projects, such as Blast Theory’s I Like Frank in Adelaide and now the miniSeries project. Paul spoke with me at length about the importance of supporting the creators of experimental rich media and of the enormous possibilities the mobile phone holds as a platform for the distribution of story-telling, such as the use of game-play, interactive music-clips and “storyline development that you can subscribe to.” Telecommunication companies in Australia are fast approaching the adoption of ‘horizon’ technologies for commercial purposes. It is critical now that those artists and other creative content developers—especially those who are experimental pioneers in this field—are in the position to assert creative control and expect solid remuneration from the consumers and from the telecommunications companies that profit from their work.
UK’s creative team the-phone-book.ltd. are the invited guests of both miniSeries and Mobile Journey’s creative partners. Their mission whilst in Australia is two-fold: firstly to run workshops, master-classes and exhibitions that demonstrate the potential for mobile phone story telling, and secondly, to draw together a white-paper documenting the ideas that have emerged in collaboration with artists and creative organizations in Australia, such as DLux Media Arts and ANAT. One of the-phone-book.ltd’s ongoing agendas is to develop ethical business models that protect the right of content developers within a commercial framework.
With my ‘classic’ Nokia 1810 mobile phone, I’m for the moment able to support, SMS, smileys and a variety of other quaint ASCII-style images. Of course accounting for an audience that owns what the current market would describe as redundant technology brings worthwhile creative challenges. Balancing a phone interview from a busy restaurant with a bowl of fortifying soup Fee Plumley, Creative Producer of the-phone-book Ltd. Commented between sips upon this issue, as it was raised during a recently completed master-class hosted by Dlux Media Arts in Sydney.
“The idea behind our workshops are that they cover both the phones that you’ve got now, the phones that people consider to be the old brick a few years ago and the phones that are going to be available in the future. It’s about finding the right creative opportunity for distribution on any handset”.
Phone-Book.com is a new media literature experiment in which the-phone-book.ltd asked for contributions of what they dubbed ‘micro-stories’: using SMS to deliver potent narrative messages within bite-sized chunks of text that could be no larger than 160 characters per message:
Ben nervously rang the doorbell and stood down from the step next to his mother. A tall man with stubble opened the door; “Pam, what are you doing here, and…”
“Are you my father?” Ben interrupted.
“Yes I’m your Father,” replied the stubble faced man. “But that’s not your mother.”
Micro story by Chris Power, UK
Phone-Book.com is an interesting experiment, creating what Fee observes to be “a new genre of literature that was appropriate for [a] new distribution platform.” The formal restraint of poetic forms such as Haiku suits the restrictions of such distribution, such as the 5/7/5 measure of syllables, seasonal references, sentences that are required to capture what can be spoken in one breath. With such limitations, writers and readers are forced to read between the lines.
During the interview Fee reiterated the need for media artists and film-makers to consider the technology that is most appropriate for the content:
“We apply exactly the same kind of attitude whether it’s ring-tones, logos, picture messaging, multimedia messaging, any kind of interactive content, or any sort of film content: its about being appropriate to that kind of use.”
The question I have found myself asking about making rich media stories for mobile phones is this: “what possible advantage could a smaller screen with less resolution offer me in terms of a film experience that my local multiplex, the internet or even the telly can’t?”
The question of screen size is one many issues that the-phone-book.ltd have raised with participants during workshops. Watching conventional cinema we tend to accept and partake within a shared hallucination: one in which characters take on forms that loom over us with supernatural luminosity. Both Fee and business partner Ben Jones, Creative Director of the-phone-book.ltd, have observed some interesting discrepancies between judging what works on a big screen, as opposed to that of a mobile phone. Often the films which artists would rate as coming last—because they were too long or because the characters seemed to ‘remote’—would rate first when screened on a mobile phone. The most obvious reasons for this shift in appreciation is that on a smaller screen, the viewer would feel less dwarfed and therefore more connected with characters: as their live stories where literally in an audience’s hands. According to Ben, viewers demonstrated a sense not of control, but of “responsibility” for the characters they watch on the small screen, describing the relationship between character and viewer as “Tamagotchi-like”.
Beyond issues of screen size, the portability and connectivity of mobile phones is a fruitful challenge for film-makers, with an enormous amount of variables that must be considered in order to captivate their audience. What is the likely attention span for someone watching a small-screen work? Is the story interruptible if someone is watching an animated adventure on a train and they have to alight at the next platform? Is the film a one-off or does it have multiple outcomes? Can audiences affect the course of the narrative? During the course of the-phone-book ltd’s ongoing research, Ben has observed some key differences in the way in which different age groups access and share content downloaded onto a mobile phone, especially with younger generations: “Younger kids are used to borrowing and swapping phones, switching sim-cards. Someone arrives with a new phone and everyone wants to have a look at it. In this case they will be looking at the same content but on a variety of different handsets”. For an older generation mobile phones are more of a one-one distribution format within which “one person watches one phone in one little bubble in their own little world, and experiences it on a very personal level – Know your audience is the mantra that’s come out of this.”
During the Adelaide Film Festival (Feb 18 – March 3), the miniSeries program featured an educational program as well as Australia’s first ‘mobile phone booth cinema’. the-phone-book Ltd conducted a workshop for children on “personalising” mobile phones with ring-tones, logos and animation, as well as an Open workshop in which participnats took the 7 minute challenge: to produce a mobile phone work in 7 minutes. miniCinema—a showcase of international short films, viewed on 3G mobile phones was made available onsite at the Greater Union Cinema complex.
The miniSeries Productin Initiative is supported by the South Australian Film Corporation and ABC New Media and Digital Services. Other key partners in the miniSeries project are ANAT, M.net Corporation, DFEEST and the Adelaide Film Festival.
Samara Mitchell is a freelance writer, visual arts educator and public artist based in South Australia
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia.