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Connected Studio: how we made The Inventors

Jon Aird

Producer BBC Comedy

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We are about to launch our digital story "The Inventors", the result of several months work as part of the Connected Studio for Comedy. It has been a really interesting, exciting and challenging process and I hope you like the end experience.

We set out to work with colleagues in Future Media, and the digital agency Kanoti to explore digital storytelling by creating an extra online episode for the fantastic new series from Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith "Inside No. 9" which has just started airing on BBC Two.

Behind the scenes of Inside No,9 online episode - The Inventors

Things went more or less according to plan, but like all creative projects, there were a few bumps in the road. Ed Hime had written a brilliant story, but we needed to make sure it would work as a scrolling set of images with audio as opposed to video. In the process, the script naturally evolved, adding depth to the story as we went through several drafts. This posed a challenge in creating the interactive experience, because unlike film and TV where you have a great flexibility in re-arranging, adding and deleting sections of story at the end of the process, with this format it was more difficult to chop and change things without having an impact on the production time.

Like all digital projects, such as games, hopefully things will evolve so that in the future we have tools to create new stories more quickly and easily, but in the meantime, we all worked closely to ensure we could honour the script and make the experience as rewarding as possible while at the same time keeping the production manageable.

We cast Dan Renton Skinner (Shooting Stars, House of Fools) and Tom Verrall (Hotel Trubble) as the two brothers in the story and it was an interesting shoot because we were creating 'Cinemagraphs' rather than video. This meant the actors had to distill each moment into a short expression or movement which could be repeated in a loop. It was strange for them to begin with but by the end I think they got the hang of it. It's not so very different from normal TV production, but perhaps closer to a photographic shoot, with the audio recorded separately.

The end result allows you to dwell on individual images and appreciate the detail, in contrast to normal web browsing which seems to encourage you to consume small chunks of text, images and short video clips as fast you possibly can in order to get on to the next thing. It has been optimised to work on tablets, because there is something satisfying about using a touch screen to swipe and scroll through the story, but it's something you can enjoy on a desktop, laptop or smartphone too.

We also found that the audio became especially important to help tell the story - as in radio, to indicate when people were entering and exiting rooms for example. And we found that we needed to make the experience as easy and intuitive to use as possible. It is not highly interactive like a game, but nor is it entirely passive like television, it exists somewhere in between.

As screens continue to proliferate and it becomes possible to enjoy entertainment on any device in any location, it's interesting to consider how to best deliver engaging stories. It's easy to think of video as the best way of delivering scripted comedy, but hopefully this project shows the potential for using media in different ways to create an immersive storytelling experience.

Jon Aird is a Producer in BBC Comedy

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