I got the strangest phone call ever today. My cell phone rang from a number I did not recognize. When I answered, there were two voices on the line. This is what they said:
Man’s Voice: “911 what the nature of your emergency?”
Girl‘s Voice: “Um yeah, so um…I think my friends were murdered.”
Man‘s Voice: “OK, are your with the victims?”
Girl‘s Voice: “Yeah. With one of them. I slept with another one once. But it wasn’t on purpose. The one I was with understood. Why are you asking this? They’re dead.”
Man‘s Voice: “Miss, where are your right now?”
Girl‘s Voice: “I’m sitting in a chair.”
Man‘s Voice: “What part of town is the chair in?”
Girl‘s Voice: “It’s in a recording studio, in Silver Lake. I gotta go. They might come back.”
A few second later, I get a text from a different number that says this:
“Job for you, Pete. Triple homicide. Messy. Text Roxy and Michelle, have them pick you up. Quick, quick. No bullshits.”
This is not fiction, this actually happened to me today. I received the strangest phone call and text I’ve every gotten. It just happens both were a part a rather elaborate interactive online dramatic series production called Dirty Work.
Dirty Work is an interactive web series which combines a narrative with well-produced visuals, talented acting and an immersive interactive component which goes as far as actually calling and texting the viewer on their own cell phones as part of the plot line (Yes, you have to give them your cell phone number. Nervous much?).
It’s a concept for digital storytelling from Fourth Wall Studios. Dirty Work, and other interactive shows are all available online at Rides.tv. What is a “Ride”? This is how Fourth Wall’s CCO, Elan Lee explains it:
“A Ride is a storytelling experience that uses your life as the medium. It’s what happens when you explore all those shades of gray between video games and movies. A Ride is when characters from a story call you on your cell phone, written messages are delivered to your inbox, and bonus scenes get unlocked as you lean forward and challenge stories to enter the 21st century.”
Essentially, it’s intended to be an immersive experience. You aren’t just watching, and you aren’t just role playing. The idea is that you become a part of the story by actually interacting and manipulating the story itself.
In Dirty Work, it’s an experience that actually comes with a pretty talented cast including its star Mary Lynn Rajskub best known for her role as Chloe O’Brian on 24. And, though I want to avoid making this a review, the show itself is pretty compelling. There’s murder, mystery, gangsters and quite a bit of blood (the three main characters are professional crime scene cleaners, after all). Even Los Angeles Laker Meta World Peace (Ron Artest) makes an appearance. I know, what could go wrong?
Compelling? Yes. Creative? Absolutely. It may even be pure genius. But the truth is, all this interactivity just made me tired. It was a nearly 30 minute show (very, very long by web show standards) that was interrupted about a dozen times for various interactive features and it just plain wore me out. It also confused me a bit.
First I got a phone call. I would assume that a phone call to me would require my active involvement in the form of speaking. It did not. I just listened to two other people talk to each other. Then shortly after that I got a text addressed to someone named Pete. Am I Pete in this scenario? Nope, Pete is a character on the show who appears shortly after I get that text. Later on, I get another phone call. This time the call is from Pete, or at least it’s Pete talking. But it’s Pete talking to himself. So it turns out the phone call to me is really just a way for me to hear Pete’s inner dialogue while he’s talking to another character on the show. By the time I figured that out though, the two characters were almost done with their dialogue, which I had missed while on the phone listening to Pete talk to himself. And throughout the show, there are breaks in the action where you can choose to follow another storyline before being returned to the primary storyline. I actually enjoyed these shorts a good bit, though they weren’t particularly necessary. Also, you get emails during the show for some reason. They didn’t seem to have any relevance at all.
I’m tired just typing that paragraph.
I’m not criticizing the show overall, or the concept as a whole. The show, as I mentioned, was well written, acted and overall very interesting. I’d watch another episode in a heart beat…only I would need some time to take a nap after. And, the concept is amazing. They are finding ways to combine all the various entertainment and communications devices we all use every day to create a more interactive experience (except, by the way, the iPad. They don’t support that yet.). Only the execution leaves a little to be desired. If a character on the show is going to call my phone, I expect that character to say something to me and even for me to be able to say something back (even if it’s just yes or no answers). If I get a text, I expect the text to be relevant to me – not a text to some character on the show I have not even been introduced to yet.
In truth though, I could learn to accept that while I’m watching Dirty Work, I have to suspend my everyday expectations for how I normally use my phone. If it’s a device that gives me insights into the inner thoughts of characters, that’s great. If it’s a device that makes me a bystander listening to other people’s phone conversations, that’s great too. And, if I’m supposed to be an actual character on the show who is communicated with via my cell phone, that’s even better. But when it’s all of the above, it’s just plain confusing.
The bottom line? Dirty Work is 45 minutes worth spending. The show is good, the cast is terrific and the concept is innovative and thought-provoking. Yes, it’s a little exhausting and confusing, but the mashup of the web, television, smart phones and tablet computing is very much in its infancy. The search is going to be a little messy, but there is a holy grail of integration out there somewhere and it’s companies like Fourth Wall Studios, who are willing to takes risks and make mistakes, who might ultimately make entertainment history and find it.
|About The Author:
Robert J. Munson is a marketing and public relations strategist based in Baton Rouge, LA. His firm, RobertJMunson, specializes in modern marketing strategies including social media marketing, content marketing and corporate social strategy. Follow Robert J Munson on Twitter.