Monday, 9 November 2009

First recording session

We stormed the studio at Resonance FM on Sunday 8 November to start recording our 10-part, Twitter-written drama series The Whale In The Room. Storming a radio studio is actually a very bad idea, because although the good people at Resonance FM won't assume you're the vanguard of a revolution arriving to take over the nation (that's their job, after all), they do appreciate a little quiet while their live programming is going out. They have these big red lights which mean, apparently, "shut up".

Our director James took a quick lesson in working the desk from our helpful engineer and minder Alberto. We found a glass of water for the day's featured actor, and got going. (No expense spared, you see.)

The approach we're using is to record each of the characters' lines on their own, and then combine them in the edit. The idea is to bring some flavour of the characters' separateness, as well as their interactions. This should preserve the Twitterness of the play while also letting it work as drama. It'll also let us use different recording venues, including, perhaps, outside locations.

The wonderful Kiki Kendrick is playing @fragharpy, or Francine Harpur, as she's known in the real world. Though, as Kiki demonstrates in her sensitive and insightful performance, Francine's connection with the real world may well be a little tenuous.

We worked from about 2pm to, um, sometime after 6pm, with a Costa's break at 4pm. All of @fragharpy's lines were captured, and we felt pleased with what we achieved. It's great to have the play up and running - Kiki's brought @fragharpy to life and the character is calling out to the others... Now we're lining up the other actors to do their pieces.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Slow progress

Where's everyone gone? Edinburgh, I suppose.

We're still trying to capture the cast for the production of The Whale in the Room. But as soon as we've signed them up, we'll be into that studio.

Don't watch this space - I'll watch it for you, mister.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Hurray for misappropriation, misuse and perversion

The Whale in the Room is mentioned in a piece by Resonance FM's Ed Baxter for Art of Digital:London. The full text is here.
"Secondly, there are projects which offer profound insights into the broader social meanings that digital applications have brought into being. The Flickerman, written and produced by Lance Dann, is a thriller series set in a world of information overload and obsessive compulsive on-line documentation. Its hero, Cornelius Zane-Grey, is convinced that his life is being secretly filmed and posted on Flickr, from the randomly accessed contents of which the narrative seems to derive. A classic ratiocinative tale of intrigue turned inside out, one in which the crime results from the victim's gathering of clues, The Flickerman is the most important radio drama - and one of the most important artworks - of the last decade. It is currently unclear if our next experiment in radio drama, The Whale in the Room, written entirely in Twitter by Paul May and five collaborators, will throw up similar surprises: but it seems likely, if only because creativity in the digital realm, as in so much pop culture, so often takes the form of misappropriation, misuse and perversion."

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Moving into production

I'm delighted to say that James Robinson, a producer and director with BBC Radio Drama, will direct The Whale in the Room for Resonance FM.

We are currently working out a schedule, deciding on production style, and discussing casting.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The law of unintended audiences

Yet another thing I should have figured out before we launched the tweeting phase of The Whale in the Room: since people are following the individual characters in real time as the writers tweet, this draft-in-progress already has an audience. From the few comments I've seen, followers seem to be able to keep up with the stream as easily as any other, though one person has mentioned that Tweetdeck's group function helps matters. 

But, at this stage, I don't know if anyone is responding to the stream as a drama or a narrative... I sort-of hope not, since I think (or hope) the dramatic shape will start to solidify during the script-editing phase, change during performance, and then transform again in the audio edit. And then in the listener's mind. But we'll see. At the moment the reader's experience must be a little like "tweavesdropping", as one of the Twitterplay's characters puts it in a recent tweet. 

It's an unusual, though not unpleasant, sensation to feel that an interested audience is looking over your shoulder as you write your scraps of dialogue. And this points to perhaps what is at once the most banal and the most liberating aspect of the project - that although there will be a lot of editing, there won't be any line redrafts. In other words, we'll cut and move, but we won't rewrite. The 140-character constraint is a great way of shifting the redrafting process to the brain, or to the unforgiving text input box on Twitter, or other client of your choice. I like the sense that although not all of my character's utterances will make the cut, the ones that do will go straight to audio.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Starting to write the Twitterplay

We've been tweeting for The Whale in the Room for about 24 hours now. (Not continuously... that would be crazy.) The characters, which were described very simply in the brief, are coming to life before our eyes as their imaginary lives start to unfold. They are also beginning to intersect with each other. I'm hoping for some good old conflicts to emerge too.

The process feels to me like a mixture of writing, acting and showing off. Maybe that's how improv feels? I've never had the courage to try anything like live improv (let alone the talent).

I'm also finding that tweeting my character @cynpa, while tweeting in my own right as @pilchard7, while getting on with my day job, is not as confusing as I feared it might be. I think this is because tweeting is a bit like day-dreaming. I can slip into Cyn's head and gaze out of her mental window for a few seconds, capture her thoughts, and send them out into the world we're sharing for the duration of this experiment. Admittedly, it would be harder to juggle these activities if I had a proper job that involved steering something, or cutting somebody open, or giving a damn about real people in real time.

Which leads me to ask... Is Twitter for writers? Are people who like Twitter all writers? Is Twitter the saviour of literacy? Traditionalists line up to spank technology as a force for dumbification, but maybe they ought to take a longer look at the Twitter phenomenon. It's not about celebrities - it's about voices... Voices that want air.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Writers

A (male):

Tom, a school art teacher who wants to keep up with the zeitgeist, while also avoiding family responsibilities by spending his life online.
Tweeting as: @tomxart
Written by: @manfromthezoo

B (female):
Francine Harpur, a designer of fragrances and freelance “nose” who wants everyone in the world to be happy – whether they like it or not.
Tweeting as: @fragharpy
Written by: @Antoniablue 

C (male):

Marvin "Sidebird" Debris, a dead pop star whose career spanned skiffle to glam rock, and who is now earning more than he ever did alive.
Tweeting as: @sidebird
Written by: @KalBonner

D (female):

Rhiannon, a twelve year old girl coming to terms with her mother’s new boyfriend. 
Tweeting as: @rhiannon97
Written by: @pensm

E (male):

Recently made redundant from his job as manager of a clothes store, Benson Fielder is thinking partly about growing his own veg and partly about getting his revenge on society.
Tweeting as: @beenfeeld
Written by: @gerryhayes

F (female):

Cyn, a personal assistant to a high-flying business manager, with ambitions of her own.
Tweeting as: @cynpa
Written by: @pilchard7

Friday, 24 April 2009

Choosing writers for the world's first Twitter-written radio play

We're almost ready to announce the writers for the project. There are a few administrative details to take care of, but I'm hoping we'll be able to reveal who's been selected soon. (We'd better be, because we need to start writing the characters on Monday!)

Several applicants for writers' positions on The Whale in the Room probed me on the criteria for selection. I had to answer that there weren't any. Since nobody has attempted this kind of project before, I decided not to apply any traditional selection procedure, but to try to follow the Twitter spirit in selecting the writers. 

Part of the joy of using Twitter at the moment is that the "rules" - or rather the etiquette, and habits, and subculture - of Twitter are emerging from its users. You don't need to go looking for Twitter for Dummies or to hire a "Twitter consultant". You just clamber aboard, and if you like what's going on, and you think it's for you, you join in. And, once you join in, you do your bit to change Twitterlife a little bit - to add your voice to the growing global conversation.

So, part of my approach to selecting the writers was simply to see how applicants used the medium: did they say interesting things, did they seem to want to entertain and engage with other people, did they look for new ways of expressing everyday things, did they delight us with their insights, did they seem interested in the flow of events and ideas taking place in their lives and in the online life we all share... 

At the same time, I tried to figure out whether or not applicants could and would write. Amazingly, I'd say that everyone who applied could write. I suppose if you've self-selected into a project like this, you're going to be an interesting and competent writer. So I'm tremendously heartened that so many talented writers could come together and, in many cases, get talking with each other because of this project. What wonderful people!

The "would write" part is much harder to figure. My experience with voluntary, unpaid, loosely managed projects is that it's easy enough to get people to say "Yeah, sure, I'll help out", but harder to get them to show up on the day. They don't really see your project as real, so they don't really feel like they're letting you down when they don't really turn up in real life to do any real work for real. I therefore had to try and make a judgement on whether or not applicants would step up to the task of tweeting in character over a period of two weeks - for the sheer love of doing it.

These are obviously rubbish criteria to use. Applying the first measure lets 99.99% of candidates through because only capable writers applied (plus a bot). Applying the second measure stops 100% of candidates because there's no reliable way of predicting future behaviour.  In the end, then, I guess I'm guessing.

Scary, no? But, in the world of recruitment, after controlling for bias, most selection is done by answering just three questions: Can this person do the job? Will this person do the job? And: Will this person fit in? I guarantee that no matter how sophisticated the selection process, these three queries form its tripod.  You can do the "can" question by setting aptitude tests or getting references. You can try to do the "will" question by asking candidates how they handled various situations in the past, and asking them about their goals for the future, and all that good stuff. The "fit in" question is possibly the most troublesome one, because it's the question that allows selectors to exercise their conscious or unconscious biases. 

In the end, I'm going with my gut. And with the knowledge that everyone who applied could almost certainly co-write a script through Twitter. I hope that people who've become interested in the idea of Twitter-writing through this project will also think about launching their own collaborative projects. The Whale in the Room doesn't have to be the only game in town. 

Finally, I'll mention that I've been sending my writing out for about 25 years now. This means that I could probably carpet the moon with rejection slips. Now, for the first time, I'm in the position of being a selector rather than an applicant. And it's clear to me that I'm not "rejecting" 170 people. I'm afraid there just aren't enough seats on the bus. But hey! There are other buses. And cars and cabs and trains and hovercraft and spacehoppers.

I give heartfelt thanks and writerly applause to everyone who's supported the project so far. I hope that, if you didn't get selected, you'll congratulate those who will tweet the play for us and cheer on their efforts. Stay with the action - and do listen to the play on Resonance FM when it's done. And keep tweeting.

A radio play scripted through Twitter

The Whale in the Room is a radio play for Resonance FM, with dialogue entirely sourced through Twitter. Six writers will tweet for six characters over a period of two weeks, and then the source material will be edited into (I hope) a coherent and entertaining narrative. Actors will perform the play for broadcast in 2009.

The project's original announcement is at  Please note that the deadline for applying to participate as a writer has passed.

175 people expressed an interest in helping to write the play. These volunteers followed @RFMplay for (at least) two weeks in April 2009, during which time I followed them, trying to find five writers to join myself in the scriptwriting task.