Origin Stories: The annotated original Media Show pitch document
Someone recently asked me for a description of The Media Show that would be “less jokey” than the video we have running for Kickstarter. “Natch, we’ve got that up online someplace,” I thought — and then went looking, and couldn’t find it. We have a ton of documentation up on the Media Show Case Study on Pressible, but one thing that I curiously left out while making that was the original pitch document that described what the show would be about, and why.
So here, for your enjoyment, is the document that sold AfterEd.tv (rest its pixellated departed soul) on producing The Media Show. It’s actually still not a bad statement of purpose. I’ll be annotating it here, though, because some things have certainly changed since 2008! I’ll post some other writing about the show’s rationale and the theory supporting it in the next week.
Programming Proposal: The Media Show (tentative title)1
This show is aimed at high schoolers and perhaps undergrads2, with the secondary goal of providing some springboards for teachers who might want to use our content to start discussions in their classes. Its goal is to start conversations about (youth) media production, copyright and ownership issues, media and technology in education, and the influence of advertising.
The show will be sort of an audience-interaction version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 – including the bits at the beginning of MST3K where the robots and Joel showed off their inventions.3 Episodes prompt viewers to produce content or capture happenings in their own neighborhoods – a phenomenon that’s already happening on YouTube.
The format on our end (for the prompts) will largely be puppet show, with three puppets and some human visitors. There may periodically be a need for still graphics, animation, or some live-action shoots outside the studio.
The puppets, like Willoby and Himrod4 (who could make guest appearances!) have very different personalities. Weena is a puppet who is constructed mostly out of someone’s old punk clothing – permanent-marker anarchy signs, ripped black jeans, safety pins, scraps of t-shirts, patches, studs, etc. She is a little bit hyper, always ready to make fun of advertising, talk back to the TV, or scream out “Smash the state!”
Erna, her sister, is a little quieter and slower and not sure about Weena’s attitude to TV. She is warm and fuzzy, like a teddy bear or Yorkshire terrier, and actually kind of likes most media – she makes her own fan videos and songs, writes fan letters to celebrities, and periodically hums commercial jingles to herself. When pushed, though, she can really turn on the charm, exuding a sweetness which is almost Stepford Wives-like in its intensity.5
Both Erna and Weena are jazzed about making media, but for very different reasons. Erna wants to revolutionize media, while Weena just wants to perpetuate fan culture.6 This puts both of them at odds with copyright law regularly.
Sometimes we also meet their nonverbal baby brother Franz, who likes to wave his muppety arms and direct everyone else in his own incoherent interpretations of movies. Human characters may also visit from time to time.7 (Findings from Sesame Street indicate people pay more attention to the screen when there’s humans and puppets on at the same time!)
Erna and Weena live in a forgotten storage room in a huge advertising firm in Manhattan. As such, they are basically scavengers, living and making media off things they find lying around, discarded, or things they’ve stolen. This is a good lead in for reinterpreting and repurposing media, as they can talk about things they’ve found. It also makes for a nice junky visually interesting pack-rat-style set (which I’d like to permanently establish in one of the downstairs set rooms rather than doing it greenscreen like Willoby and Himrod – less post-production work, and it will give the space a sense of cavernous depth).8
How an episode will go
The scene begins with Erna, Weena, and whoever else happens to be around establishing the theme of the episode with a little dialog – maybe the girls are having a fight, or one of them is working on a video, or has found something new and cool or else really shameless and tacky and dragged it back to the storage room. They might screen a video or present other media which would be an example of what we’re looking for in a contest.
The setting makes it possible to bring in guests from the media industry pretty easily as well – they might wander into the storage room, thinking it is a bathroom, and Weena and Erna engage them in conversation which a teacher might want to use in a media literacy class, or which might be interesting to students who want to pursue a media career.9
Some episodes will be interviews or responses to audience feedback. Others will present a new contest. Contests will invite media feedback from viewers – still images, videos, songs, dances, parodies of all sorts – which could either be sent to us or put up in our blog/YouTube comments. We’ll pick the best entrant, and he or she should win a free Media Show tee-shirt. (These should be really cool and artistic and not just logo-based, like the ones up at threadless.com – the kind of shirt that makes people say “where did you get that?!” There should be a series of them produced in “limited-edition” runs. Ian has agreed that he might design shirts for this. We can probably screen them ourselves pretty easily – I’ve done a little silkscreening before.)10
Erna and Weena are constantly at risk of being found out because they’re living where they shouldn’t and repurposing media which don’t belong to them. So some episodes will focus a little more on digital media rights, and these will have a sort of sense of urgency as the girls try to keep from being found out.
Possible contest/viewer response ideas:
- Interpret an ad/voiceover of an ad
- Fill in a word balloon on an ad (word balloon project)
- We swede a movie you made11
- Your questions for people in film industry/music industry/etc about what it’s really like
- Your questions about copyright and fair use
- Your questions about cease and desist letters from the RIAA
- Make your case for why your favorite show should not have been cancelled
- Find us a fake-ass website, or one you think is dubious, and we’ll tell you whether it’s legit
- Best defacing of an ad
- Our show needs a dance. Make us one that everyone can do.
- Make us a video about your online protest
Possible episode ideas:
- Ad-industry ads up in Times Square (116th st on the A train????) Ask people on the street what they think these ads mean12
- Reading from this week’s AdWeek/Advertising Age
- Stories from people who have gone through modelling/art/film/etc schools which are really a scam
- Jaded media industry folks tell it like it T-I-tis
- Food photography: how they make it look so good13
Puppets and a set need to be made, obviously, and shirts would need to be screened. Then a few loose scripts should be developed for the puppets and people to riff off of.14 We should also identify some people in the media industry who’d be willing to talk to us.
From here, you may want to check out the report I wrote to the managing producers at AfterEd one year into production, which describes changes we made and suggests other new directions.
1) Tentative title, huh? Just like the theme song, which we also declared early on was sort of a placeholder, we don’t seem to have changed the title. It used to make us a little hard to search for, but after links from Slashdot and the EFF, we seem to have gained link cred for our name.
2) Have you ever noticed how there’s not much TV made specifically for a high-school audience? Educational TV has generally avoided touching that demographic with a twenty-foot pole, because high schoolers are known to “watch up” — they watch what their older peers watch, and avoid anything that looks like it will talk down to them. Hence, we don’t really censor our humor, because frankly other TV for young adults doesn’t, either. Though our “educational” feel probably still hinders our reach. It’s a fine line to walk, and we’re always looking for feedback on how to (not) do it.
3) We here at The Media Show are huge fans of MST3K. This was sort of an odd description of how the show would work, as to my knowledge MST3K didn’t really work off of audience feedback — there was just the “invention exchange” at the beginnings between the characters of Joel and the ‘bots and the Mad Scientists. I guess I was really reaching for that show as a shorthand touchstone of what our show would feel like. In the last few filmings, there was a fan-made (by our own Rob Vincent) head of the robot Tom Servo on our set.
4) Willoby and Himrod were two dotty professor characters invented and developed by AfterEd before we came along. They were performed by Skye MacLeod and Josh Anderson, respectively. Both Skye and Josh helped out our show a lot as camera guys, script reviewers, animators, music writers, and in a hundred other ways; AfterEd was a collective production space. Weena actually appeared in an AfterEd weekly introduction bit with Himrod at one point, though that video appears not to be up online anymore, and Himrod appeared in an episode of The Media Show that was never finished because it was considered too preachy and boring.
5) Now, this is a major change. If you know Erna, you know “quiet” is just about the last word to describe her! In the end, Erna ended up being a lot more like Miss Piggy – dramatic, bossy, and self-confident. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just how Abby stepped onto the stage and played her. Dramatically, it makes a lot more sense — it makes for bigger, funnier fights between the girls.
6) Everyone has historically had problems keeping the girls’ names straight, and I am apparently no exception. Weena wants to revolutionize media; Erna wants to revel in fan culture. Whoops! At the time, nobody caught it (doubtless because the names were too confusing).
7) Franz never really made it as a character, though we do refer to a bedwetting younger brother, Joé, in Get Outta Myspace. I think we may have been considering using the weird white humanoid puppet who appears in House Party as the brother at some point. That puppet was partly made by the woman who made Willoby and Himrod, a staff member at Teachers College; we finished him up. In other trivia, that puppet was also the original Hondo in the first staging of intern/Intern Nicola McEldowney’s musical Aisle Six, in 2009. We tended to refer to him as The Gimp.
8) Interestingly, we did eventually return to greenscreen, realizing it gave us more space and flexibility for big episodes like Red Shirt Revue and Where Spam Comes From. We got comments early on that our set in the closet (the show was, in fact, shot in a closet for most of the original episodes!) was too flat and too cluttered, so we did make changes. Recently, of course, we have been shooting in my living room, which sucks. We do not yet have enough lighting for reasonable greenscreen work. Hence the Kickstarter.
9)And that’s pretty much how things have gone, though the “wandering in” device didn’t really get used. It makes me kind of sad whenever I realize that despite my best aims of making this show something which people will encounter “in the wild” on YouTube primarily, and not in school, I still keep framing it in educational terms. I guess it goes with the territory of having developed the show at Teachers College, and having to deal with the demands of an institution like that.
11) The show first aired in the year Be Kind Rewind hit theaters, and many of us at AfterEd were jazzed about Michel Gondry’s idea of “sweding” or remaking movies on a low budget. I highly recommend the film for media literacy lessons!
12) This ended up being Selling You, which we didn’t get around to making until a fresh round of ads encouraging businesses to advertise on Bravo and Oxygen showed up in Manhattan in 2009. I was startled to find these ads in a subway station in Harlem, at 116th, where I was used to seeing crackheads; hence the note to myself on where to look for these ads for future reference. The appearance of these ads was, I figure, another symptom of the increasing gentrification of that neighborhood; there was a growing likelihood that high-rolling business owners or marketing types might be living nearby and using that station.
13) Many, many great ideas, some of which we’ve done, some of which we’ve refined, others of which fell by the wayside. We’re always experimenting with new formats, so some of these might yet get done. I’m totally still game to go interview a food photographer; they do some crazy things for their jobs!
14) Our scripting process has moved further and further from improvisation over time. While that has enabled us to be a little more firm in hitting “curriculum points,” I’m not sure that overall, it’s been a good thing. It’s possible we may return to improvisation a bit more in the next few episodes. One episode that was completely improvised, to good effect, was Weena Comes Out; as I remember it, we improvised it on our very first day filming, when the cameraperson du jour had stepped out for a second and we found ourselves with nothing to do.